Days 8 and 9
After meeting the tour group the night before, we actually slept in a bit. In the morning, Cheryl and I wandered around Athens for a while; I don’t think we bought anything, though we did partake in the authentic Greek experience of buying cinnamon rolls and coffee at Starbucks. In the afternoon, we boarded the boat and headed out to sea. There was some confusion with our rooms, though, which might require a rundown of the tour members to explain. We have:
Cheryl, Tim, and I: Booked a quad room to share
Todd and Tracey (sp?), the Americans. Booked a twin-share room (I think).
Tara (?), Canadian girl from Montreal
Paul: the “quiet” Aussie from the night before
The rooms we ended up with were:
Room 1: quad share. Me, Tim, Todd, Tracey
Room 2: quad share. Tara and Cheryl
Room 3: twin share. Paul.
There were a few problems with that. Cheryl and Tim and I had booked together, and we thought we shouldn’t have been separated. Todd and Tracey didn’t like the fact that we had three rooms but were cramming for people into one of them (and neither Todd nor Tracey are particularly slim). I didn’t really want to spend an entire cruise sharing a room with the Americans, since their personalities don’t really match me and Tim. So after some finagling, we ended up swapping the guys around, so that me, Tim, and Paul are sharing room 1, and Todd and Tracey are in room 3.
This has worked out really well, because Paul’s a lot of fun. I don’t know why he was quiet the first night, but it turns out the reason no one could find him the first night is that he had taken off to a bar. We’ve all bought drinks cards now, meaning that Tim, Cheryl, and I have unlimited non-alcoholic drinks for the duration of the cruise, at a cost of 8 Euro per day. Paul bought the alcoholic card, giving him free or discounted alcoholic drinks (depending on the drink), at a cost of 20 Euro per day. We’ve claimed one of the tables in the Riviera Lounge (by the pool) as our own, made friends with one of the waitresses that works there (Leysa, pronounced Lisa), and have been spending a lot of time sitting there chatting and drinking. I worked out that I had something like 25 Euro worth of drinks in the first evening. Yay for cruises!
That pretty much finished off Day 8 of our trip.
The next day (today), we pulled into Istanbul at about 3:30 or 4:00 PM, later than expected. Unfortunately the weather was terrible (cloudy, a little rainy), so the alleged beautiful view was ruined by the fact that the rain obscured the view and, combined with the wind, made standing on deck unpleasant. But I got a few pictures anyway (not in this blog posting, because the boat doesn’t have wireless on board, so posting this is a little inconvenient, and pictures would just be worse).
Speaking of the boat: It’s got 10 decks. The first is a mystery: it’s not on the maps and the stairs don’t go there. A few decks are just cabins (like deck 7, which we’re on). The higher decks have the pool, hot tub, casino, bars, restaurants, dance club, and stage. Down below (deck 3) are things like reception, the duty-free shop, etc. You can get outside on at least decks 6-10 and probably even lower, but of course only the upper decks have much outdoor surface area.
Also, apart from our group and the crew, I’d be surprised if there were a dozen people under forty on the entire ship – approximate population: 1000 guests, 400 crew. We rather stick out.
Almost immediately after pulling into Istanbul, we left on our first excursion. We got Turkish customs cards: little slips of paper saying “Yes, this person is allowed to be here”. In a vaguely terrifying system, we handed in our passports before boarding the ship. They’re apparently being kept in a safe somewhere, and when we pull into port, the ship’s crew takes care of making sure that the port customs officers have access to them. Our tour manager (Dan) claims that the system works, and they’ve never lost a passport.
They have, however, lost a boat. Apparently one sunk; last year, I think. I’m told you can find it on Youtube, since it took 20 hours or so to sink, and the passengers had plenty of time to get off and videotape it. The story is that the government-issued topographical maps were wrong, and the water was shallower than the maps indicated.
Anyway, we went to the Istanbul spice market (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) and the grand bazaar today, and bought ridiculous Turkish things. I was all set to buy a fez, but it turns out no one wears them anymore, so the only ones available are cheesy-looking things manufactured for sale to tourists. Most of the excursions (including this one) are organized and run by the cruise line, not Contiki…but after the official trip, we stayed behind with our tour manager, and instead of getting on the bus to go back to the boat, we went to a Turkish bath, where we sat in a sauna and lay down on hot marble and got scrubbed and massaged and everything. It was definitely an experience, and one I’d be willing to repeat. Afterwards I had what is certainly the freshest cup of orange juice I have ever had, since it was squeezed (from about three oranges) while I waited.
Right now, most of the group has gone out to smoke those ridiculous hookah pipe things. Apparently there’s a “sheesha” bar around here (don’t know if that’s spelled right, but that’s how it sounds), where you can smoke sheesha pipes with flavoured tobacco. I didn’t go because I’m not feeling well anyway; the last thing I need is smoke in my lungs. I think Cheryl and I are the only ones that stayed behind.
Yes, I’m unwell, and so is Cheryl. I think we both have a touch of the flu. Cheryl thinks the water in Italy did her in. I’m having additional problems, primarily because there’s a lot of smoking on the boat and the weather’s not nice enough to be outside (or for them to open the retractable roof over the pool/lounge/bar area that we stay in). My throat and lungs are extremely unhappy about this. I’ve also got at least three canker sores right now, which don’t help matters. The busy schedule, weird sleep patterns, irregular eating, and foreign viruses and bacteria have caught up to us. Cheryl’s got it worse than I do, and has been going to bed early. I feel bad for her: I’m a little sick, but she’s ill enough that it’s affecting her ability to enjoy the trip.
Other than that, though, we’re having a great time. The rest of the tour looks promising. I’ve heard a rumour that there’s wireless internet available somewhere, but I don’t know where, so I’ll just keep this post on my laptop and upload it whenever I get the chance.
Tomorrow, we do sightseeing in Istanbul (Blue Mosque, St. Sophia’s cathedral, Topakapi Palace), and then pull away from port at night and head off to I-forget-where. There’s apparently a donkey ride in my future, though.