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Cruise Ship Review
Holland America Line

Rotterdam VI

by Bernard Soltz

Rotterdam VI May 1998 Eastern Mediterranean/Black Sea Cruise

Rotterdam VI

Our trip began at the Philadelphia International Airport on May 14, 1998. The first thing I did after checking in at the airport was to get Lire for taxis, etc., in Rome. I found an open exchange kiosk and joined the queue. The kiosk charged a rather large fee for turning my dollars into Lire whereupon I resolved to avoid changing currencies in the future when possible. More about this later. Our overseas carrier of choice to Rome was US AIRWAYS. Seat assignments were made by Holland America and were a problem, as my wife and I were separated by an aisle and a row. We tried for months to get these changed, but to no avail. There was also some delay in our departure from the airport, but the pilots made up the lost time, and we arrived in Rome on schedule. The flight was uneventful.

Rome, Italy

Thirty-one years have elapsed since we were last in Rome. The airport was unrecognizable; the city, too, except for the easily identified landmarks. I did not expect the heavy traffic or the crush of people in the middle of May - I thought we were ahead of the tourist rush. The city was jammed with tourists, as well as with students on spring field trips. Holland America representatives met us after we cleared customs, and directed us to a bus pick-up area. We boarded a bus designated for the Grand Hotel Ritz, our "so called" first class hotel in Rome. Rooms were preassigned, and ours was ready upon our arrival. Yes, the room had a private bath, TV, and was rated "First Class" according to standards followed in Rome. But first class it was not. Believe me when I tell you that the dust on the drapes must have been there from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. I found a safe in a closet for storing valuables. Checking further, I realized that a strong thief could lift the safe and carry it out of the room! There is a wide range to the definition of first class, and the Grand Hotel Ritz just sneaks in at the bottom. Holland America used other First Class Hotels in Rome rated First Class Superior. That is what we paid for, and what we thought we would be getting. Not one of the other people we cruised with who were domiciled at the Grand Hotel Ritz cared for it. We were all dissatisfied, and disappointed with Holland America for sending us there.

Two restaurants I recommend are the Ambassiata Abruzzo and Cesarina. For a fun night out, try Ambassiata Abruzzo. You'll need reservations, as lots of locals go here. Now, about money conversion. I paid for our dinners using a credit card. Doing this insured that I received the current exchange rate for lire, and did not have to pay for the exchange transaction.

The Holland America staff at the Grand Hotel Ritz were very helpful. They assisted us in getting around locally, and ran some tours. On Saturday morning, we joined a half-day tour to the Vatican to see the recently restored Sistine Chapel. We were assured that joining the hotel tour, rather than going alone by taxi, would gain us early entry to the Vatican. This was my first lesson in credulity abroad - just don't believe everything they tell the tourists. The VaticanWe arrived early to find the Vatican literally besieged by tourists. We queued at the end of a long line, and spent well over an hour walking slowly towards the admissions office. Once inside, we were fortunate that our guide was very good, giving us excellent explanations of the art along the way, and a good tutorial on the painting in the chapel. We did this tour 31 years ago, without the crowds, but I enjoyed the tour more this time. On the way back to the hotel I learned that the Vatican receives 20,000 visitors a day, which explains the long lines.

If you want a real thrill when in Rome, take a taxi ride. A Roman cab driver can squeeze through tight spaces at high speeds better than Evel Knievel. We used cabs to get to the restaurants, and I used one alone on Saturday afternoon to visit a renowned Etruscan museum. I had checked out the museum on the Internet before we left home. Besides learning its hours of operation, I discovered that admission to seniors was free. Upon arrival, I announced my Seniority, only to be told that "free" applied to Italian nationals only. So much for "free". The museum was worth the $8.00 admission.

Trevi FountainWe were up and out early Sunday morning for our trip to Rome's port city, Civitavecchia. This was the day we were finally going to see the much ballyhooed flagship of Holland America, Rotterdam VI. Traveling in the first of two buses, we left the hotel about 8:00 A.M., early enough to permit some sightseeing along the way. Since traffic in Rome on a Sunday morning is very light, we got downtown quickly and took in some of the better-known sights. Among these was the Trevi Fountain, which required us to leave the bus and do a bit of walking along some narrow, cobblestoned walkways. Since it was rather early , I thought we would have the place to ourselves. But that was not to be. Other tourist groups were right behind us, and the place soon filled up. Fortunately, the light was bright enough for picture taking. Back on the bus, we did some additional sightseeing before taking the road to Civitavecchia. A rest stop at a gas station gave me the opportunity to use the last of my Lire: a couple of cokes, two candy bars, and later, a tip to our guide, brought me down to zero Lire, all without paying an exchange fee!

Civitavecchia, Italy

I thought our early arrival would put us on the Rotterdam shortly after noon, but we arrived just in time to find ourselves at the end of a long line of buses. Buses were dispatched to the ship one at a time. Did I say that Roman cab drivers were great in close quarters? The bus drivers have them beaten. Our bus did not stop at the ship, but went past it, all the way to the end of a small, concrete quay jutting into the Mediterranean. This is where the bus turned around to unload the passengers according to procedure on the way back. How small was this quay? It was so small that the front of the bus hanged over the edge while the driver turned the front wheels. Two women sitting behind me screamed when the bus seemed to be going straight into the sea. There were no guard rails. And I know why there were no guard rails - there would not have been enough space to turn the bus around. Very scary.

O.K., we were finally there, showed passports and boarding passes, and we boarded the ship. And what a magnificent ship it was.

The Ship

Though late for its maiden voyage in '97, the ship did sail in the Med before crossing the Atlantic and doing a turn in the Caribbean in '98. We were boarding her shortly after her return to the Med. Though she had been in service almost 8 months, she still seemed brand new. It was good to be aboard a cruise ship again; our last trip was in September '97. The Rotterdam VI was built in Italy at a cost of $250 million. She is 780 feet long, 105.8 feet wide, and has a maximum speed of 25 knots. The ship has 10 passenger decks, 658 staterooms, a passenger capacity of 1316, and a crew of 684. The ship is registered in the Netherlands, and is commanded by Dutch officers.

In addition to the facilities and features I describe below, the ship contained numerous, well- appointed bars, a library where you could pick up the Times, duty-free shops, gift shops, a photo shop, card room, and a video arcade.

Staterooms

All staterooms have in common a private bathroom, individually controlled air conditioning, telephone, music system, and closed-circuit TV. I always try to book a cabin that is low and midships; this location provides the least motion. Our cabin, 1890, met this requirement, and had all the features mentioned above. HOWEVER, be very careful when bending over the desk below the wall-mounted TV. When you stand, and forget that the TV is above you, you will get a very serious blow to your head. We opted for the queen-size bed arrangement, rather than twin bunks and it made the room seem larger! We had adequate space for clothes, and were pleased with the bathroom arrangement with a tub and shower.

ArtworkAfter eating lunch and stowing everything away, I did a partial exploration of the ship. The interior of the Rotterdam VI was designed conservatively, with good taste. Interesting pieces of art were displayed in the common areas, and included copies of the clay soldiers and horses from China. Another interesting piece was the ornate clock in the Atrium. You could see the top of it from the Front Desk on the Promenade Deck. Now it was almost time for dinner, and it was also time to find the most important room on the ship, the Dining Room.

Dining Rooms

La Fontaine Dining RoomThere are two dining rooms on the Rotterdam VI, the main dining room, La Fontaine, and the Italian dining room, the Odyssey. Food was also available on the Lido Deck at the Lido Restaurant, which is a cafeteria. The La Fontaine Dining Room is on 2 levels, occupying the rear of the Promenade Deck and the Upper Promenade Deck. A central staircase joins the two levels. Meals were served in 2 seatings, early and late. We chose early seating, and found ourselves at table for 4 on the upper level. Our table mates were fellow Floridians from Orlando, Mae and Irving, also retired. Service in La Fontaine was excellent, and the food was very good This was our eighth cruise, and we always rate the meals on the various cruise lines. I said the food was very good to excellent, but Theresa said no, only very good. She did agree that the food was almost as good as that on Royal Caribbean, but not as good as Celebrity. Some people may agree with her about Celebrity, but let me say that I never had a bad meal in La Fontaine.

Dining in the Odyssey Restaurant was by reservation only. We had dinner there about half way through our cruise and, I must say, the meal was excellent, absolutely authentic Italian, and just as good (maybe better) than the pricey meals we had in Rome. I was only sorry that I waited so long to make reservations.

 

The cafeteria on the Lido Deck offered a great variety of food all day. This was the place to come if you needed an early breakfast, or if you couldn't get to the main dining room in regular hours. I did meet some people who preferred taking most of their meals there.

Fast foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and pizza were also available on the Lido deck. I watched people eat that stuff with disbelief; why would they want this when gourmet food was available just steps away?

Entertainment

Queen's LoungeThe Queen's Lounge and the Wajang Theater offered shows every night. If this is not enough for you, there was closed circuit TV in your stateroom offering first-run movies. The Queen's Lounge, like the La Fontaine Dining Room, is on 2 levels at the other end of the Promenade Deck. Seats were comfortable, and the sight lines from either the lower level or the balcony were good. The Rotterdam VI has its own dance group which performed in the Lounge on a regular basis, and was spelled by guest acts. Some acts were repeated, with different material, of course. All shows were suitable for family consumption, and bore the stamp of approval of the ship's Captain, Jacob W. Dijk.

If you want a change of pace, or you're just anxious to see a recent movie, go to the Wajang Theater. Just remember to pick up a box of popcorn near the entrance to the theater before you go in.

Casino

For those who liked diversion of a different kind, or who wanted more action, there was the ship's casino. It is on the Upper Promenade Deck, midships. The casino offered most games of chance, had several banks of slot machines, and was closed when the ship was in port. You could try your luck, or just watch.

Lido Deck

This is where you'll find the swimming pool, beauty salon, the gym, sauna and steam rooms, juice bar, grille, and, of course, the Lido Restaurant. The swimming pool was a popular destination, especially on those "at sea" days. A sliding dome made the pool area a viable spot under all weather conditions.

The gym contained modern Cybex equipment, and included steppers, walking machines, stationary bikes, and free weights. I tried to work out here every free afternoon, and made good use of everything that wouldn't bother my right arm (I had a rotator cuff operation 10 months ago). Steam and sauna rooms located close by the gym afforded a great place to loosen up and relax after a workout. Workouts in the gym counted towards awards in the "Passport to Fitness " program. These awards ranged from a Holland America water bottle (requiring 10 stamps) to a Holland America jacket (requiring 105 stamps). Walks of 1 mile or more around the Lower Promenade Deck also earned stamps, as did participation in other activities listed in the Daily Program. When I accumulated 15 stamps, I exchanged them for a T-shirt. The workouts and walking weren't undertaken just for the T-shirt; on a 12-day cruise you have to burn off those gourmet calories, or pay the consequences. The rule of thumb for weight gain on a cruise is 1 pound for each day of the cruise. All that exercise helped me keep my weight gain down to 3 pounds, believe it or not.

The Sports Deck, just above the Lido Deck, housed the Crows Nest (a drinking place) and two practice tennis courts. Since I love tennis, (but couldn't play because of the rotator cuff), I checked on these, and was I disappointed. They were just what the brochure said, practice courts. You couldn't play doubles on them, or much else.

Launderettes

These are located on 4 of the 5 passenger decks. On a 12-day cruise, they can be the most important facilities you'll ever need. Yes, you can use the ship's laundry, but most, like us, opted for the launderettes. After 2 nights in Rome, and 5 days on the ship, we absolutely needed to use one. We waited until we had a full day at sea (May 21) and brought our laundry over early in the morning. So did everyone else. We stood in line, but got the job done. It's an experience no one should miss. Things worked out better the next time we used the launderette; no one was there at 6:00 am.

Dress Code and Demographics

Veteran cruisers know there are 2 formal nights on a 1-week cruise. But, they may ask, how many formal nights on a 12-day cruise? And the answer is, 3. There was a string of 4 casual nights in a row that was very welcome; it gave us all a chance to relax after steady sightseeing. Many people want to know if the men wore suits or tuxedos on the formal nights. My observation of the first seating was that half the men wore tuxedos. The women all looked lovely, of course, in fancy dresses or formal wear.

I can only guess about the average age of the passengers on this ship. I know it must have been higher than any I have been on. I heard that Holland America attracted an older group. Now I believed it. I am in my early 70's , and, when I looked at the people in the first seating, I felt young by comparison. This is all subjective, of course, so draw your own conclusions. No announcement was made, either, about the breakdown of the passengers by nationality. I am sure that more than half the passengers were American. I met many Canadians, also, and even heard one passenger say he was from Australia.

Money and Tipping

The Rotterdam VI, just like every other ship we've been on, ran a cashless society. Upon your arrival you found your computerized credit card waiting for you in your cabin. No money changed hands (except in the casino); all purchases were charged to your shipboard account. I liked the simplicity of this arrangement, and I must add that my final bill, which included the cost of my tours, my wine, and my wife's many purchases in the ship's stores, though high, was correct. So the system worked on the Rotterdam VI.

One of the things my travel agent had mentioned was that the Holland America Line had a no tipping policy. Holland America called it a "tipping not required" policy. They say that you are free, however, to extend monetary recognition if you wish. So, what are they really saying? There was no question about this at the end of the cruise when the Cruise Director mentioned the policy, and said you were free to tip if you wish. Half an hour later, when I went looking for money envelopes at the Business Office, I didn't even have to ask for them, as they were stacked on the counter for the taking. I guess the difference here is that this cruise line, unlike the others, doesn't offer guide lines for tipping.

Dry Dock Ahead

Long before we left on our cruise, I learned that the Rotterdam VI would be going into dry dock at the conclusion of her Mediterranean schedule. The reason given was to check the propellers and shafts to ensure that they would have the long operating life projected for them. It was also said that there would be no risk operating the ship in its present condition. I don't know exactly what this means, but I can tell you this: if you walk to the front of the Business Office on the Promenade Deck when the ship is under way, you will experience not just vibration, you will feel a steady bounce.

PORTS OF CALL

The Rotterdam VI sails the Eastern Med/Black Sea itinerary just twice a year. She was sold out for the May 17 sailing, and is likely sold out for the September sailing. If you're cruising in Europe, you have to make reservations 8 months or more in advance. The demand is heavy, and the supply of ships is low. However, this may be changing as more ships catering to Americans are transferred to Europe. All my tours were booked through Holland America. You did not need a visa for the Ukraine or Bulgaria if you used ship tours, but you did need a visa if you went off on your own.

Navplion, Greece

Available tours:

Mycenae and Palamidi Castle - 4-5 hours
Epidaurus and Palamidi Castle - 4 hours
Ancient Corinth and Canal - 4 1/2 hours
Mycenae and Epidaurus - 7 hours

I chose the half day tour to Mycenae and the Palamidi Castle. Since this tour involved lots of walking and stair climbing, my wife, Theresa, stayed on board. The ship dropped anchor in the harbor, and we tendered ashore. Waiting buses took us through the countryside, an agricultural area which produces figs, grapes, various fruit, and tobacco. We soon arrived at the entrance to the Mycenae ruins, which may date as early as 2000 B.C. Our excellent guide gave us our requisite history lesson, and provided good descriptions of all before us. I climbed to the top of the ruins, and the going was very difficult. If you elect to do this, make sure that you wear sturdy shoes. The rocks are sharp and will cut through all but the hardest soles. I was impressed with the ruins, but the light was too low for proper picture taking. And it got crowded here We were inundated by hundreds of Greek school children on a field trip. They were happy to see us and used this opportunity to practice their English. And they were all very courteous. But noisy.

Traveling back to the harbor, we stopped at the Palamidi Castle, which was built by the Turks, and later fortified by the Venetians. From the top there was a great view of the harbor, and lots of photo opportunities. I was impressed by the size of the fortress, but not much else. P.S. The school kids were here, too.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Available tours:

Ephesus - 3 1/2 hours
Ephesus - 7 1/2 hours
3 Ancient Cities - 6 hours
Exploring Ephesus, Priene and Didyma - 7 1/2 hours

The ruins of Ephesus are a "must see" attraction. I selected the 3 1/2 hour tour, which turned out to be more than enough for my wife. It was not as hot as we had been led to believe, but the tour entailed a lot of walking, much of it over rough terrain. I saw handicapped persons on this tour who were so determined to see Ephesus that they used walkers, canes, personal assistants, and whatever else it took to travel through the ruins. Our Turkish guide, who was very knowledgeable, brought everything to life for us. Like all the guides we would have on this cruise, he was excellent, with a name you will never forget-- Genghis Khan. Honestly. Ephesus was begun as a Greek city, eventually became a Roman city, and is known today primarily because it was here that Paul preached to the Ephesians. The 24,000 seat amphitheater where he spoke is still used today.

I learned that Kusadasi is primarily a summer resort, catering to people from all over the world who like to spend their vacations by the sea. When traveling to and from Ephesus we saw many modern seaside hotels that cater to these vacationers. And the tariffs are not steep; if you can afford the round-trip airfare, it's a cheap vacation.

Yalta, Ukraine

Available tours:

Best of the Crimea - 4 1/2 hours
Yalta Sights and Folkloric Show - 7 1/2 hours
Panoramic Yalta & Shopping Tour - 3 1/2 hours
Yalta Folklore - 3 hours

The more comprehensive Best of the Crimea entailed a long walk over uneven surfaces, and my wife just wasn't up to it after Ephesus. I therefore chose the Best of the Crimea for myself and the Panoramic Yalta & Shopping Tour for my wife. The highlight of this tour for me was the visit to the Livadia Palace, the site of the Yalta Conference in 1945 between the three Allied Powers: the USA, the USSR, and Great Britain. The tour also included a visit to the Alupka Palace, built by Prince Vorontsov between 1828 and 1846. Time and the influence of the former USSR have not erased the opulence of the place. I didn't know who Vorontsov was, but I did learn that he owned most of the real estate in and around Yalta. The man was quite enterprising in his day.

Yalta today is primarily a summer seaside resort. When the Ukraine was part of the USSR, the communists built lots of hotels called sanitariums. These are where the Russian workers stayed during their vacations. I saw these buildings from my bus, and many showed the wear of time. A few were in good condition, and some were imposing. All contribute to the Ukrainian economy, which is trying to succeed in today's market economy. This struggle to survive and succeed showed in the faces of the Ukrainian people. According to our guide, one of the biggest economic problems today is cash flow. Workers salaries are paid very late, sometimes 6 months to a year late, causing great need. It was also quite obvious that our guide ( indeed, all the guides in the Ukraine) was quite anxious to get our American dollars. The people are not as well off as the Turks, but they are determined to make the transition from socialism to a market driven economy succeed.

Odessa, Ukraine

Available tours:

Odessa City Highlights - 3 1/2 hours
An Afternoon at the Ballet - 3 1/2 hours
Odessa Full-Day Tour - 8 hours

We chose the City Highlights tour. Odessa, founded in 1794, is now the largest Black Sea port. Seeing Odessa was the primary reason I chose this cruise. My mother was born and raised in a nearby Shtetl (name unknown) and spoke glowingly about Odessa, a city she visited many times before she and her family fled the Ukraine in 1903. My thoughts on this tour were of her, and that I was going over the same paths she had known 100 years ago.

Our bus took us first to Shevchenko Park, which has an obelisk to the Unknown Sailor, and where an eternal flame burns. We also visited the Uspensky Cathedral and the Fine Arts Museum. On foot, we did Primorsky Prospect, Odessa's main street, where we saw the Palace of Count Vorontsov , the Palace of Weddings, and the Pushkin Monument. The highlight of this walk was the Potemkin staircase, which was immortalized in Eisenstein's film, " Battleship Potemkin".

I saw the same look in the faces of the people of Odessa that I had seen in Yalta. Like Yalta, Odessa is also a summer seaside resort, and it has problems in common with Yalta. These people are going through difficult times, and I wish them well. The Ukraine has much natural wealth, and it should prosper in time.

Nessebur, Bulgaria

Available tours:

Nessebur, Sunny Beach & Folkloric Show - 4 hours
A Visit to a Bulgarian Village - 3 hours
Black Sea Riviera & Bulgarian Folklore - 9 hours

Theresa elected to stay on board today, so I chose the Sunny Beach & Folkloric Show. Perhaps it was just as well that she took the day off, as Nessebur proved to be one of the poorest attractions on our cruise, in my opinion. I tendered ashore, boarded a bus, and was taken to the old city, a cobblestoned area which is home to some 40 churches and basillicas left over from the Byzantine Empire. Most of these are in ruins, or just memories. The icons left on the walls are what stays in memory. After an hour of this, we reboarded the buses and proceeded to the Sunny Beach Resort, just 2 miles north. Here, in a large tent affair, we we were entertained by a very talented Gypsy violinist, and a group of dancers who performed some folk dances in native costume. Cold food platters and local wine were also provided. The violinist and the dancers provided lots of photo opportunities, and a field day for video tapers.

The Sunny Beach area was lined with motels and hotels, and looked like a beach resort you would find in any part of the world. Our guide said that most of the summer tourists came from Germany, Scandinavian countries, and England. He remarked that he never saw Americans (except the ones on cruise ships) and wondered why they didn't come there. Which brings me back to my comment on Kusadasi: if you can afford the airfare, it's a cheap vacation!

Constanta, Romania

Available tours:

Full-Day Tour To Bucharest - 10 hours
Constanta City & Wine Tasting - 3 hours

The Full Day Tour to Bucharest afforded an opportunity for visiting storied Bucharest to those willing to travel by jet in a third-world country. This is one tour where we felt the risks outweighed the possible gains. So we selected the Constanta City & Wine Tasting tour. (We could not have gone to Bucharest anyhow, as the tour was sold out before we left Civitavecchia. All who took the tour returned safely.)

Constanta is Romania's second largest city. The city tour was less than memorable, and included a visit to a Folk Art Museum which underwhelmed me. The wine tasting at the Murfatlar Winery was very disappointing. I was impressed with the extent and good condition of the vineyards, and with the folkloric show presented in the caverns, but I was terribly disappointed with the six wines offered at the tasting; these were all bad. As a former certified wine judge, I predict dire consequences at this winery unless they get a new vintner.

I had to replace the battery in my 35mm camera, and finally found one in an out-of-the-way camera shop in Constanta. (In case you're wondering, the photo shop on the Rotterdam did not stock the battery I required.) The shop accepted American money, but could only give me Romanian money in change. The biggest surprise was the cost of the battery, only 83 cents; I had expected to pay 4 times that amount. The clerk calculated the value of my change in Lei (USD = Approx. 8600 Lei), and gave me about 1500 Lei in several bills. On our way back to the bus, I went into a small shop, held up the Romanian money, and pointed to the post cards on sale. The clerk understood what I meant, and held up 2 fingers. So I selected 2 postcards, gave her the money, and went back to our bus with a big smile on my face. Just as I had done in Rome, I had managed to zero out the foreign currency.

I was particularly perturbed by our Romanian guide, who painted Romania as an innocent, occupied country in WWII. I told him that Romania eagerly joined Germany as its ally in its war against the USSR, and that Romania declared war against the United States (Dec. 12, 1941). He shrugged; I don't think he understood. I see a real need here for knowledgeable, unbiased teachers. People should know the truth about their past. (He got a tip anyway.)

Istanbul, Turkey

Available tours:

Ottoman Wonders - 4 1/2 hours
Byzantine Treasures Of Istanbul - 4 1/2 hours
1001 Nights Evening Tour - 4 hours
Panoramic Istanbul - 3 1/2 hours
Mystic Heritage Evening Tour - 3 1/2 hours
Istanbul Full-Day City Tour - 8 hours

The Rotterdam spent 2 days at port in Istanbul, and offered 6 tours covering both day and night activities. We chose 2 tours, Ottoman Wonders and Byzantine Treasures of Istanbul, one for each day in port. Istanbul, a city of 12 million inhabitants, is easily the biggest attraction on this cruise. Its place in history is legendary, and its lure to tourists is understandable. But the magical allure of Istanbul was upstaged, if only briefly, by the Grand Princess, the world's biggest cruise ship. She was in port just ahead of us. The Grand Princess was beginning her maiden voyage from Istanbul. As we passed, it made the Rotterdam, a big ship itself, seem tiny by comparison. We tied up in a very tight space directly in front of the Grand Princess. Berthing the Rotterdam in that space was an outstanding feat of seamanship.

Our first tour, the Byzantine Treasures of Istanbul, took us to the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Chora Museum, and the Underground Cistern. Following this, our bus took us to the Grand Bazaar for shopping. While the sightseeing was interesting, the Grand Bazaar was exciting. This is a seemingly endless collection of shops under one roof selling everything imaginable for both tourist and non- tourist. The labyrinth- like corridors made it very easy for the novice to get lost. Each time we went down a new pathway, I checked for landmarks so we could find our way back. The souvenir hunter will absolutely find what he's looking for here. Leaving the Bazaar was equally exciting; you had to walk past a line of aggressive street vendors who, to sell their wares, put them practically in your face. The biggest surprise to me on this tour was the great number of tourists and buses. The reason was that the Grand Princess had 2600 passengers, and they were all going to the same places at the same time as we. The passengers from the Grand Princess outnumbered the passengers on the Rotterdam by 2 to 1.

Since Theresa was tired from our shopping trip the previous day, I did a solo on the Ottoman Wonders tour, which required a lot of walking. This time, our bus took us to the famous Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. Once again, we were joined by the passengers from the Grand Princess. I don't know where they parked all the buses! Topkapi got my vote as the most interesting of the sights; it included a top restaurant, and provided some great views of the Golden Horn.

Athens, Greece

The Rotterdam docked in Piraeus (the port for Athens ), Greece early Friday morning. Our bags had been packed and placed outside our cabin for pickup the night before. Passengers with early flights from Athens were up and out by 4:30 am. Since we were going to Athens for 2 nights, we were able to sleep later. We cleared our stateroom about 8:00 am and were called to our bus shortly afterward. In my pocket was a small amount of Greek currency which I had of necessity purchased on the Rotterdam the day before. The Drachmas would be needed for cabs and tips, and the ship charged a reasonable fee for the exchange.

There was sightseeing along the way to the hotel which included the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Palace, Hadrian's Arch, and the Acropolis. Leaving Piraeus, we saw another great sight, the Grand Princess, riding at anchor in the harbor. When we arrived at the Acropolis, we once more lined up with the passengers from the Grand Princess. It was so crowded on the way up to the Parthenon, we could have used a traffic cop.

Our hotel in Athens was the Athenaeum Intercontinental, a deluxe hotel (and the only hotel offered post cruise by Holland America). The Intercontinental was 10 times better than the Ritz in Rome, and cost us about half as much. Rooms were preassigned, and given to us upon arrival. Holland America representatives gave us an orientation lecture about 1:00 pm, which presented the tours available. We signed up for an evening tour which included a seafood dinner at a waterfront restaurant, followed by an outdoor Sound & Light show on the Acropolis. We dined al fresco, but it was raining, and as the rain intensified, the probability of the show being canceled increased. Our tour operator checked and, to our great disappointment, announced that the show had indeed been canceled. Unbelievable. Imagine being rained out in Athens!

On the following day, I arranged my own sight-seeing schedule. In the morning, Theresa and I went to the Plaka, the renowned shopping area for tourists, and in the afternoon, I went alone to the National Museum of Archaeology. It was a great day for Theresa, because she found me in a good mood when she picked out a gold ring and gold necklace of Greek design in the Plaka. That night, our last night in Europe, we dined at Dionysus Restaurant. Located at the bottom of the Acropolis, this restaurant offered some of the best views of the Parthenon.

On Sunday morning, we were up at 4:30 am, and on a bus to the airport at 5:30 am. Our British Airways flight to London's Heathrow (we couldn't fly nonstop to Philadelphia), left at 8:00 am. We had an unexpected delay in Heathrow, and used the time to do some duty-free shopping and have lunch. I spent most of the unused Drachmas on some duty-free candy, and the remainder in an airport restaurant. To my personal satisfaction, I had done it again; I had managed once again to zero out my foreign currency.

We arrived very tired, but on time, at Philadelphia International, having traveled through 7 time zones.

Line

Bernard Soltz retired from the Unisys Corporation in Paoli, Pennsylvania in July 1990 after 35 years as a writer, editor, and proposal director. He and his wife, Theresa, are snow birds who live in Port Richey, Florida and Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Bernard can be reached for comment at: bsoltz@gte.net.


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