Since we were able to move into our new cabin on Friday we are free to join a special excursion for people who are doing what is called a “butterfly cruise,” or two back to back cruises. The excursion is called “Taste of Malta.”
The first thing we do is take a short ride to Hagar Qim, a site with pre-historic megalithic structures that date back 6000 years. These stone temples are among the most ancient religious sites on earth and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a large stone structure dedicated to the Goddess of Fertility dated from 3200 B.C.Nearby are other temples. We walk through the site and our guide fills us in on what we are seeing.
Next we go to Birzebbuga, a typical summer village.We stop for lunch at a restaurant, Ferretti, in an old Knight of Malta fortress. We are really not expecting anything great but the food turns out to be really good. John and I want to eat all the flat breads but the other women at the table are moaning about how it is so much to eat and how they never eat anything, blah, blah, blah. So I feel like I have to keep my eating to a minimum. One woman is especially annoying and just talks a blue streak about herself. She and the third woman at our table are doing what I like to call the travel sweepstakes. She’s been here and they’ve been there and oh they have gone on so many cruises. John and I mostly keep quiet. I want to tell her to shut up but I control myself.
Then we proceed to Marsaxlokk which is pronounced Marsa-schlock, an apt name. Marsa means harbor and I can only guess that schlock means useless souvenir trinkets. We walk along the harborfront and look at an array of small boats and run the gauntlet of souvenir booths selling their schlock. No doubt most of the stuff is made in China.
We get back to the ship around 3:30 PM and unwind for a bit before taking showers and heading down for Negroni sbagliato time. I think the word is out that we tip in addition to the standard tip that you have to pay up front. All the staff is bending over backward to help us out and make sure we are happy. Even the guitarist comes over and asks us to make a list of songs we would like him to play and how he is going to take the note that John wrote him about our appreciating his playing home to his wife to read. It is all a bit embarrassing.
We eat at Chef’s Table and have a repeat of Asian Panorama. I am not going to post any pictures with the exception of the superb dessert which I forgot to take a picture of last time. John asks our waiter if we can have the duck a little less well done and the answer is that it is pre-made. Then the manager comes over and the chef and the waitstaff to see how they can make us happier.So now we are going back on Monday when the chef will make us a special duck. I think everyone on the staff will feel happier once we have completed our two cruises.
Our stop in Crete has been cancelled as the winds are blowing between 35 and 50 mph and the boat cannot dock safely. We had really been looking forward to learning more about the Minoan civilization and visiting the palace at Knossos. From the pictures of the archeological site it looked amazing. We will have to put the visit to the palace on our to-do list for the future.
We do make a stop in the afternoon on the other side of Crete where the wind is less fierce but there is really nothing to do there except shop. We opt to use the extra time recuperating. Actually that is mostly me with my aching hips, back, and knee from all the walking and stair climbing of the last few days.
So the only pictures I took where ones of food. On 9/30 we ate at the Chef’s Table and on 10/1 at The Restaurant. The dinner at Chef’s Table is called Lotus and it is our least favorite of the ones we have had so far.
Then we had a day at sea on 10/1 where we did very little. The internet was in and out, we watched a little of the Viking stuff on TV. We had to pack up all our stuff and move it to our new digs at the front of the ship. We like this suite much better. It is roomier and has a nice protected deck. If it stops raining and the pool on our deck dries up, we hope to have some outdoor time. Other than that ate lunch. And dinner.
We ate at The Restaurant after negroni time. The ravioli were good. The swordfish less so.
Today we visit the island of Rhodes. Like many of the Greek islands it has a complex history of early civilizations and conquerors. Rhodes is uniquely situated to control trade between Turkey and the western Mediterranean. So taking the profit motive along with Christian/Muslim intolerance and throw in the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and you have a dynamic and sometimes tragic set of historical events.
As we walk through the old city we see festive and memorial squares, a bombed out cathedral, and the juxtaposition of the very old and more modern buildings.
The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem defended Rhodes in the siege of 1522 by the Ottomans. They were betrayed by one of their own and defeated. Most of their buildings have been repurposed.
The tour of the palace began with a trek up a steep staircase with no railings. It was pretty difficult for me and for many of our tour group. In the upper chambers there were mosaic floors which were taken from the island of Kos and cemented into the floor of this building.
Now we walk into the area which housed the Muslim population and their mosque.
Our tour is over and we are being released to go out on our own!! The first thing that John wants to do is get a beer and do some people watching. We settle into a table at Stergios Corner and each have a local beer called Zythos Vap. We are hot and tired from our excursion and this is the perfect solution.
We take our time strolling through the old city and back to the harbor.
Before dinner we head up to the Explorer Lounge for our Negroni Sbagliatos. Tonight they ask if we want our unusual usual. Allen, the guitarist, pats John on the shoulder. I guess we are becoming known amongst the people who hang out at the bar.
We have dinner at Manfredi’s tonight. We both have calamari fritti and then I have spaghetti vongole which is good but has too many extraneous ingredients and John has eggplant parmesan.
We have been to Santorini before on a Regent cruise ages ago. We had a very thorough tour at that time so, other than beautiful views, we felt we had seen a lot of what Santorini offers.
Our ship is parked next to a much larger one. We have tenders to take us ashore. There are only a few docking areas as the cliffs rise up from the sea and the only ways up are a scary serpentine road which is almost too narrow for the bus, a gondola, or a donkey. We take the bus ride up and the gondola on the way back down.
Our tour includes visits to two typical towns and a sampling of local foods and wine.
Our next stop is at a restaurant where we get a taste of traditional food and wine that they serve in traditional villages.
We finish our tour with about a 20 minute walk all steeply uphill to catch the gondola down to the tender to take us back to the ship. I really don’t know how the older and really out of shape people managed it. John and I were exhausted by the time we got back to the ship and so sweaty.
Since our cabin was tidy when we got back John suggested I take some pictures of it before I took a shower and collapsed on the bed.
We looked at some pictures from earlier cruises and this suite which looks basically the same is slightly smaller. The Viking Venus is new this year and I wonder if they tried to squeeze in a few more cabins.
Around 7pm we head down to the lounge for our Negroni Sbagliato cocktails, watch the sunset, and listen to the guitarist before heading over to dinner. We are at Chef’s Table tonight for the Xiang menu.
The weather continues to be beautiful with temperatures in the morning in the upper 70s. I feel like we picked a really good time to take this trip.
We go down to The Restaurant for breakfast today since our tour does not leave until 9:30. We order bagels and lox with capers and red onions. It is like Christmas breakfast without the beer! We sit next to a couple from Alaska. Apropos of nothing they start talking to us. John insists to me that he is not wearing his “talk to me” sign. I think he must be since random people talk to us twice today. Oh, and in my flurry of eating excitement I forget to take a picture of breakfast.
Today we are fortunate to have a very knowledgeable guide in the Archeological Museum. She starts out by explaining the three phases of early Greek civilization, the Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean. This covers about 2000 years from 3200 BC to 1100 BC.
Much of the remains from this era were found by Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy German businessman, who decided that Homer’s depiction of the Trojan War was fact and set off to find Troy and other sites mentioned in the Iliad and the Odyssey. He found many artifacts and ascribed death masks to Agamemnon and the other heroes of the story. Our guide says that the spectacular things he found were probably from someone very important but not Agamemnon.
It is amazing to see these exhibits and we marvel at the workmanship of these very early Greek civilizations. There is gold galore made into hilts for bronze swords, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
Next we are introduced to the next eras of Greek civilization: The Archaic Period (750 – 500 BC), the Classical Period (500 – 336 BC), and the Hellenistic Period (336 – 146 BC). Decorative pots are mostly geometric during the Archaic period.
During the classical period monumental sculpture arises heavily influenced by Egyptian sculptures.
While the males were always naked the females were always clothed.
The statues evolved over time into free-standing dynamic pieces.
We were given some free time to wander around on our own and saw many other astonishing pieces. While at the Palace of Nestor we were told about the tablets found in the palace which contained an early Greek written language. This syllabic writing from around 1450 BC was deciphered in the early 1950s and is called Linear B. The tablets are in the Archeological Museum in Athens. It was like seeing a small Rosetta Stone!
Finally we see frescoes from a house that was buried under volcanic ash when the volcano that left the huge caldera on Santorini erupted in the 16th century BC. Amazing!
After our time at the museum we ride around Athens for a bit seeing much of the same stuff as we saw the day before. We get back to the ship for a late lunch. (The fish curry was really good!)
We take a walk around the ship and play mini-golf again where I avenge my loss of the other day by winning over John by two holes. Yay!
Although John takes a nap, I try to power through the rest of the afternoon in hopes that I will sleep better. We go to the Explorer Lounge for what has become our new tradition of listening to the guitarist and having Negroni sbagliatos. The bar team does a pretty good job with them tonight.
We have dinner at The Restaurant for the first time and have a pretty tasty meal starting with foie gras then perfectly cooked pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta on top of lentils and butternut squash. We finish up with a fruit plate. (I have not been good about taking food pictures today!)
Today our ticket reads “The Full Acropolis Experience” and that is exactly what it was. We climbed up the hill, saw and heard about the ancient structures, visited the Acropolis Museum, and toured the city to see how the ancient and modern coexist in Athens. It was a lovely day for doing all this, not too hot and although the sites were fairly crowded we felt we got a good look at everything.
As we begin our ascent up to the Acropolis one of the first ancient structures we see is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone Roman theater structure, completed in 161 AD. The venue holds about 5000 people. It is still used for musical events.
I guess I thought the Acropolis was just about the Parthenon but there are many devotional buildings up here dedicated to different gods and goddesses.
To enter the site you go through a enormous gateway called the Propylaea that was constructed during the Pericles era from 437-432 BC. The gateway controlled who could get into the Acropolis site and gave the visitors a place to prepare for their devotion.
Near the Propylaea is the petite temple dedicated to Athena Nike.
The main event on the Acropolis is the Parthenon dedicated to the Goddess Athena.
“Construction started in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, democracy and Western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. To the Athenians who built it, the Parthenon, and other Periclean monuments of the Acropolis, were seen fundamentally as a celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory.” Wikipedia
Another important temple at the Acropolis is the Erectheum dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Its structure includes the Porch of the Maidens, Ionic columns in the shape of women.
We walk along the side and return to the main gate where we will start the climb back down.
Our next stop is at the Museum of the Acropolis. Here we have to show proof of vaccination and ID to get in as well as having ourselves and our stuff scanned. The museum holds the artistic treasures of the Acropolis.
I loved looking at the vases with their depictions of battles and everyday life.
Then we entered a sculpture section where we were mostly not allowed to take pictures.
After this we rode around the city for a while with our guide pointing out various stuff. We and our group were pretty tired out by this point. We were looking forward to a late lunch.
After lunch we had a little lie down. John went to sleep but I am trying to power through the jet lag. We go up stairs to the Explorer Lounge for some drinks and to listen to the guitarist until it is time for dinner. We have refined the Negroni Sbagliato recipe and our drink comes out better but not perfect yet. I think the orange slice needs to be muddled. We will try that tomorrow.
Dinner is at Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant. We order the branzino carpaccio again and this time it is available. Yay! John has a problem with his swordfish being under cooked and sends it back and decides on the fish special of the day, grilled Mediterrean sea bass with farro risotto. I am having that as well. It is very good.
We have our usual dessert of bread, honey, and parmesan cheese. The waitstaff thinks it is strange but know not to hassle us about it and not to try to take away our bread and parmesan cheese! Amarone grappa (golden grappa) makes a good pairing with our dessert.
There is no real post from Friday since we were at sea and all we did was eat, nap, and watch some Viking TV telling us about what we are seeing today (Saturday) and not to forget to do our spit test, wash our hands, get our temperature taken, and OMG do not lose sight of your guide at the Palace of Nestor or, heaven forbid, take off your mask for one second since Greece is a Category 4 pandemic place!
We ate Friday breakfast and lunch at The Restaurant which we refer to as The. We had dinner at Chef’s Table but since we are having the same dinner tonight I will post about that later today.
On Saturday, after another bad night’s sleep, we are ready for breakfast in our room and then we will get ready to go on our excursion. Unfortunately Room Service totally screws up our breakfast and what they do get right is cold. Maybe we need to rethink our breakfast strategy. In the meantime here is a picture of our first glimpse of Greece just as the sun is beginning to come up.
Our excursion today is 2 hours on a bus and 1 hour at the archeological site of Nestor’s Palace. Here is a little background about the Palace of Nestor from Wikipedia –
“The Palace of Nestor was an important centre in Mycenaean times, and described in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad as Nestor’s kingdom of “sandy Pylos.”
The palace featured in the story of the Trojan War as Homer tells us that Telemachus:
went to Pylos and to Nestor, the shepherd of the people, and he received me in his lofty house and gave me kindly welcome, as a father might his own son who after a long time had newly come from afar: even so kindly he tended me with his glorious sons.
The site is the best preserved Mycenaean Greek palace discovered. The palace is the primary structure within a larger Late Helladic era settlement, once probably surrounded by a fortified wall. The palace was a two-storey building with store rooms, workshops, baths, light wells, reception rooms and a sewage system.
The settlement had been long occupied with most artifacts discovered dating from 1300 BC. The palace complex was destroyed by fire around 1200 BC.”
So I am really jazzed to be seeing this old stuff. As my family knows I like to touch really old things which they heartily disapprove of. Hopefully I will not be led away from the site in handcuffs.
Our guide is very informative and we hear a lot of myths and info about olives and olive oil on our bus ride. As we drive along, the olive trees are everywhere and very full of olives. Olive harvesting begins in October. Some of the green ones are picked first and some left to ripen into deep red and black olives. The trees we see grow Koroneki olives. We have bought Koroneki olive oil from the Olive Press near Sonoma. The California climate is much like the Mediterranean climate in Greece and Italy and grows similar things.
We climb out of the bus and start to explore the Palace of Nestor who seems like an all-around good guy when compared to other Greek leaders at the time.
There is not much left of the palace. The wooden roof and walls have long since burned away. All of the frescoes and paintings are in museums so we are looking at foundations and imagining what it must have looked like.
The inside was highly decorated as has been discovered through fragments of frescoes and wall decorations. The existing decorations are in museums.
After an extensive look around and explanations by our very knowledgeable guide we have some time to poke around on our own. John finds an old tomb and then I hurry to try to find John before the bus leaves.
We take the hour ride back to the ship and settle in for some lunch. It is not crazy busy so waiting around for food is less troublesome. There are some really tasty lentils which remind us of the Afghani dal we make at home.
After lunch we walk on the upper track around the ship and come across a miniature golf setup where John wins by two holes.
Returning to our cabin, we take a short nap before cleaning up and getting ready for dinner. In the Explorers Lounge we have negroni sbagliati. John tells the bartender how to make it but the drink does not taste quite right.
Asian Panorama for the second night in a row at Chef’s Table. It is getting difficult to get reservations which is good for the restaurant but bad for us. In my zeal to eat this dinner both nights I forgot to take pictures of everything. The unpictured dessert was spectacular and that is an odd thing for me to say.
Since we pretty much want to avoid people, we decide that we are going to have breakfast in our room or out on the balcony most days. The balcony on our cabin is pretty nice with a table and 4 chairs (for all our non-guests) and a chaise lounge big enough for two people.
Today we are going on a excursion in Valletta. We view many of the beautiful golden limestone (Globigerina limestone) buildings with their Maltese balconies and various fountains and monuments. The old buildings and the modern ones blend harmoniously due to the use of the limestone which is the only building material available on the five islands that make up Malta.
While we have a restroom stop I busy myself taking a picture of a cat and myself. The Maltese have a comprehensive program for their feral cats neutering them so the city is not overrun with cats. A small cut in a cat’s ear indicates if the cat has been neutered.
Now we progress to St. John’s Co-Cathedral which is a high point on the excursion. Along with many other churches based on what sect of the Maltese Knights, the cathedral is plain on the outside and resplendent on the interior. This church contains two famous Caravaggio paintings, The Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome Translating the Hebrew Bible.
Leaving the church we do some more walking and end up at a building where we will hear a lecture about the Knights of Malta. Our small group is looking a bit bedraggled at this point since we have been on our feet for two hours and temperatures are in the 80s with fairly high humidity. So really the best part of the lecture is that we get to sit down in an air conditioned room. A Knight, Dane Munro, tells us all about what the organization does today which seems to be charitable work with a heavy overlay of Catholicism.
We return to the ship for a late lunch and I try to make some good choices but am thwarted by too many people lined up for salads and fish. We are not allowed to serve ourselves due to pandemic protocols and it really slows things down. I manage to get a salad plate but give up on the fish and opt for a plate of pasta where there is no line.
We return to our room and pass out for the next three hours. (Zzzzzz)
Dinner tonight is at Manfredi’s Italian restaurant. It is mostly very good although the first thing we order, branzino carpaccio, is not available. Apparently too many of the earlier dinners ate it all up.
We started our trip today which will be a combination of two cruises, one centered around Greece and the other in the Adriatic. Our two flights went smoothly as we connected through Newark on the way to Malta.
John was looking forward to some good German beer at the Lufthansa lounge during our layover but no alcohol was being served!
Flying domestically during the pandemic is pretty much like flying before except you have to wear a mask full time. Luckily both our flights contained no disgruntled passengers and mostly I just had sore ears. There is a lot of paperwork to be done before traveling internationally and once we reached Malta we had to prove our vaccination status through an app that gives them permission to verify your status and a EU form so they know where you are going and a health declaration. On top of that Viking, the cruise line we are going on, has a rigorous set of protocols and daily testing. Since they have had zero infections since they started up operations again in July, it seems to be working well.
Tomorrow we start our touring in Malta. Today was mostly taken up with getting unpacked and napping. And of course eating! We had dinner at the Chef’s Table and enjoyed fine cuisine and wine pairings. Our sommelier was someone we had met on our Southeast Asian cruise two years ago and he remembered John! So that was fun.
Everything was really delicious and the service was great! We are off to a great start!