Friday, September 15, 2023

Making Up for Lost Time Part 2

Following our short Danube River Cruise, we flew from Vienna to Rome where our next adventure began. We have been to Rome before, so having just part of a day to do some exploring was fine with us. Rome was packed, hot and dirty so no extra time was needed for me.

Regent Mariner
On August 14th we took a cab from our hotel to the port to board the Regent SS Mariner, a 700 passenger ship. We have always cruised on the 3,000-4,000 passenger ships in the past, so this was a different experience. It was nice to have fewer people on board, yet we still had access to multiple restaurants, a swimming pool, evening shows and a casino (which is not our thing, and we never stepped foot in it.) The Regent offers free alcohol all the time (unlike the river cruises which give you wine and beer options only at lunch and dinner), free (for the most part) excursions, free laundry service, and no up charge for any of the restaurants.

While the Mariner is one of the older ships in the Regent line, it was still very nice. Our stateroom was spacious and had everything we needed. Service onboard was good for the most part, and the food was plentiful and tasty. A bonus is that the ship had a pickleball court on it!


We met up with our long-time friends on the ship. We have traveled with them extensively, including the trip to South Africa earlier this year. It's so great to experience new places with people you can truly relax around because you know each other so well. Being able to see them twice in one year was a real treat!

Salerno, Italy
First port of call was Salerno, Italy. For our excursion we choose to visit the historic Herculaneum archeological site. While it was quite a drive via bus to get there, it was amazing to see the ruins of a town that was built in 1243 BC. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD buried the town in ash, and it wasn't until the 1700s that the town was rediscovered. 


Messina, Italy
Our second stop was Messina on the island of Sicily. We took a bus to Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano. It is known for Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-­Roman theater still used today.


August 17th was our one and only day at sea, and we welcomed the opportunity to relax for the day as the excursions had kept us on the go. Friday we came into Santorini, Greece. We opted for one of the paid tours, which involved a 7 1/2 hour day that included a stop for lunch and wine tasting at a local winery. We visited the archeological site at Akrotiri village, which can be traced back to 4,000 BC, and then toured the village of Pyrgos before stopping at the Aroma Avlis Winery. The afternoon ended with a walk through the village of Oia, one of the most beautiful stops on the whole trip.

Santorini, Greece
Ephesus, Turkey
August 19th was our 45th wedding anniversary. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined we would spend it in Turkey. We docked in Ephesus, which is a city in Turkey's Central Aegean region. Here we toured the Ancient Ephesus Archeological site, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Oia was my favorite beautiful spot, the archeological site in Ephesus was my favorite historical spot. Ephesus was founded about 10th century BC. The ruins are beyond fascinating.
Ephesus ruins
Gythion, Greece
The next day our stop was Gythion, Greece. My stomach was not too happy following a breakfast that included some questionable fruit, so I remained on the ship while the others did their tour of Mystras. I spent some time on a lounger under the shade as well as my first and only foray into the pool. I essentially had the area to myself, so that was kind of nice following all the crowds we had been in on the excursions. 

Corfu, Greece
Fortunately I felt better the next day for our port of call at Corfu, where we did a walking tour of the town. Corfu is an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea. While the area is beautiful, it was incredibly crowded and our bus had a terrible time trying to navigate the narrow roads.

Tuesday we arrived at Dubrovnik, Croatia. We had a wonderful guide who told us the story of the town. We began with a cable car ride up to Mount Srd, where we visited the War of Independence Museum. After the cable car took us back down we toured the old town of Dubrovnik, which is also a World Heritage Site.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our cruise ended in Venice, where we spent the last night on the ship in port. This is not necessarily a good thing as the the location is in an industrial area and adjacent to a camping or perhaps trailer park.  We did have an excursion here, and we elected to go to Murano and Burano. We have been to Venice before, and were spending a couple extra days there, so we did not need a tour of Venice. 

At Burano we visited a shop where they make lace by hand, which was very interesting. The colorful shops and houses make Burano a fun stop on the tour. On Murano we visited a glass blowing factory for a demonstration. It was so incredibly hot that I ended up going outside for some relief.
Burano & Murano
We spent an extra two days in Venice with our friends before flying from Rome to London before catching our flight to Charlotte. This was an incredible three-week adventure, and I'm glad we got to experience two additional ways to travel by ship. It was fantastic to do carryon luggage only, and that's what we will do in the future whenever possible. My big takeaway was to not travel to Europe in August. It was hot and crowded, and that took away from the experience for sure.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Making Up for Lost Time

Budapest, Hungary
This is a year of make-up travel for us. Because we stuck close to home for the first three years of Covid, we decided to take some trips in 2023. We recently returned from our first ever riverboat cruise, which was followed by travel on a larger ship on the Mediterranean Sea. There was a lot to love about both forms of transportation.

We flew from Charlotte to London on August 5th. This is the second long trip that we did with carryon luggage only. The South Africa trip made a believer out of me. No more hanging around the airport waiting for our bags to come off the carousel. And no more lost luggage! 

After a long layover (8 hours) we then flew from London to Budapest. We spent a couple days touring this beautiful city before it was time for our cruise. Budapest is a charming city, very clean with friendly residents and lots to see. I had heard that if I liked Prague, I would love Budapest. I have to say that while I enjoyed Budapest, I have found no city yet that compares to the storybook feel of Prague.


Avalon View
On August 9th we boarded the Avalon View, which was docked a short walk from our hotel. I was not familiar with this ship line, but it was the only one I could find that worked time-wise with the later cruise we were taking with our friends. It turned out to be a great selection, as the ship was new, and the staff and food were great. The stateroom was a generous size, with a large bathroom and the bed facing the sliding doors.

This was a short cruise on the Danube River from Budapest to Vienna, with stops in Bratislava, Slovakia and Melk, Austria. Not knowing if we would like river cruising, this was a perfect trip to get a feel for the experience.

Bratislava is a pretty town along the Danube. We did a walking tour of the area in the morning, and then hiked up to the castle after that. We had met a couple from Louisiana and another couple from California on the boat, and the six of us ended up spending a lot of time together. 

Bratislava, Slovakia

Our next stop was Melk, Austria. There were low-lying clouds in the area when we docked, and the setting was beautiful. We took a short bus ride to the town center for our tour of the palace and the town.

After the tour we had time to walk through Melk before making our way on a path through the woods back to the boat.  

Melk, Austria
This cruise ended in Vienna, where we had an opportunity to have one last dinner with our new friends before we all parted ways for our next adventures. We had an opportunity to see a bit of Vienna before it was time for us to fly to Rome. It's definitely an interesting city, and one I wouldn't mind spending more time in.
Vienna, Austria
We both very much enjoyed the intimacy and ease of river boat cruising, and it is definitely something we would consider again for future travel. With only 166 passengers on board, it was easy to meet the other folks at meals and on the excursions. I'll cover the next part of our journey on a 700 passenger ship in the next post.