Our Final Days at Sea

We recently had the most amazing vacation aboard Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam  and I have had a wonderful time writing about it.  I have discovered even more about each destination as I’ve researched them further and I have had the pleasure of reliving it all over again as I post the pictures.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed your time aboard with us.  Sadly, I will close this chapter of our overseas adventure and move onto the next story in an upcoming post.  There is still plenty more to come in the blog pipeline…

“Dad, wrap this up already – you’re putting us all to sleep!”

If you joined us thus far, you’ll know we visited Venice, Olympia and Athens in our first post and then Istanbul and Lesbos in the second post.  The final leg of our cruise transports us to Kuşadası,  Santorini and Argostoli.  As always, we’ll include some of our shipboard life and hopefully you’ll be able to stick with me – I’ve got a ton of pictures in this final post.

When I last left you, we were sailing away from the Greek island of Lesbos and I was getting knocked out of a blackjack tournament final table with some unlucky cards.  The only thing that could wash away that feeling of despair was some spiritual enlightenment.  Sure, they have a chapel aboard the ship – but I think strolling directly from the casino into the chapel is the sort of thing that the Big Guy frowns upon, so I waited for our port the following day.
We woke up in Kuşadası, Turkey – a beautiful resort town on the Aegean coast; wonderful in it’s own right, but not our intended destination.  We were set to visit, Ephesus – an ancient city with a plethora of historic treasures.  There are two main spectacles to behold within the vicinity of Ephesus – the Ancient City itself and the House of the Virgin Mary.  Since the terrain was difficult to access and far from the ship, we hired a private driver to bring us to the notable sites.  We first started with the House of the Virgin Mary, arriving fairly early in the morning.  This small home was said to be the final home and final resting place of the Virgin Mary, carried here to live out her final days by St. John, the Apostle.  Our early arrival time did little to help put us in a tolerable position in the queue (yes, I just “British’d” it up).  The house is both a Catholic and Muslim shrine (so… um, yeah – number one and two religions in term of size).  Given that fact, the line would normally be long – but we happened to arrive on the most “holy” of days.  The annual pilgrimage to the House of the Virgin Mary coincided with our visit and threatened to consume our entire day along with the thousands of other visitors cramming in to see a tiny house.

Jen and Julia in front of the House of the Virgin Mary
A bronze statue of the Virgin Mary welcomes all visitors

 As spiritually enlightening as seeing a 150 sq. foot home could be (admittedly, this was more my wife’s gig than mine), I was not thrilled at the prospect of standing in line under the hot sun all day.  I saw an alternative option and struck with military precision when the time was right.  First, I set out on a reconnaissance mission to scout additional routes for people with strollers.  Coming up empty handed in that department, I formulated a plan.  When I returned to Jen and Julia standing in line, I uttered the following words verbatim; “follow me, don’t ask any questions, don’t stall and keep up with my pace”.  You see, my wife is a perpetual “rule follower” and I am a habitual “rule breaker”.  Her innocence often thwarts my plans for easy advancement – but I think she was on board this time; moving at a snails pace under a hot Turkish sun will cause any mother to want to move!  We whisked past the crowds, through an outdoor church service and out the other end to a gate immediately in front of the house. It certainly helped that I was pushing a baby stroller and can dish a kind smile that I reserve for occasions like these.  My little stunt saved us an estimated three hours (no exaggeration).  Jen was pleased with my shenanigans for once… now maybe I can convince her to come over to the dark side.

Just a portion of the long line that was making the annual pilgrimage to see the house
Mary would not approve of my behavior – I did have a baby to worry about though
Jen lights a candle to ask forgiveness for my shenangins

Our next stop was the the Ancient City of Ephesus.  Artifacts excavated on site have proved that there were inhabitants in this area as far back as the Neolithic Age (6,000 BC), with consistent development throughout the Bronze Age and into the Archaic Period, when the city really began to prosper (650 BC).  The city changed from Greek to Roman and finally into Turkish domain in 1304.  Today, archeologists are constantly amazed by the plethora of treasures being discovered on a continual basis.  The prevailing theory is that they have only unearthed a fraction of the city (a lot of major discoveries were made as recently as the 1970’s), but limited funds have slowed down excavation and restoration efforts.  Some of the more notable discoveries are the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and the Library of Celsus, which appeared on the Turkish Lira between 2001 and 2009.

We passed this large Virgin Mary on the way to the Ancient City
Standing next to the Basilica Stoa
Julia decides to lead the tour for our little group
“Look at me!”
The Bouleuterion (100 AD) housed the meetings of the council
Julia and I hiked all the way to the top of the Bouleuterion
Street lined with archeological excavations
The Temple of Domitian (81 AD)
The Curetes Street – a main boulevard prestigiously equipped with marble paving and home to many boutiques
The Deep Traveler statue recovered in 2013 dates back to 1980 – Jen’s favorite piece
The Trajan Fountain (102 AD)
The Temple of Hadrian (138 AD) – one of the most stunning ruins along the Curetes Street
We discovered a seldom seen gem, the Latriana
Public latrines where residents would literally sit cheek to cheek
Family photo in front of the Celsus Library
Tiberius Julius Aquila commissioned the Celsus Library (110 AD) as a mausoleum for his father
Column base with writing from Ancient Greek times
A market enclosed the exit gate of the ancient city – I happened to love this guy’s honesty

The next stop on our cruise was the port I was most excited about above all our other destinations – Santorini, Greece.  Images of white homes with blue trim overlooking the Aegean danced in my head all night.  Our wonderful Cruise Director, Anthony and Location Guide, Tom would televise a show about each port prior to our arrival.  Through this in-room broadcast, I learned that Santorini (Σαντορίνη) sits perched high atop a cliff, with three ways to ascend.  You can traverse the vertical 260 meters (853 feet) by climbing a difficult 580 steps (not ideal for couples with strollers) or you could opt to take the cable car for a fast and scenic arrival.  Finally, you can chose to climb the absolute best way possible – by donkey!!  Believe me, it was not easy to sell this option to Jen – but I never take “no” for an answer.  We had an absolute blast climbing, laughing and trying not to fall off.  I don’t think Julia has ever had so much fun in her life and I haven’t laughed quite so hard as I did to the shrieks of pure terror coming from Jen.  The donkeys climb the pathway unassisted and will [at times] pin you against a wall while they wait for the overcrowding of ascending and descending donkeys to clear.  All in all – a wonderful experience.

“You want me to carry you AND you’re baby?!”
The guide helps us on – that was the last we saw of him, this donkey was on autopilot
And w’ere off
Julia wanted to take a turn on her own

Santorini is an island unlike any we’ve ever seen.  First of all, the entire complex of islands was formed by a volcanic eruption over 60 million years ago.  The city today is essentially what remains after a more recent volcanic explosion in the modern age (this area is the most active volcanic area in the South Volcanic Aegean Arc).  Santorini is financially supported by the bustling tourism industry; not surprising as ours was one of three cruise ships waiting patiently off shore for the tenders to bring passengers back and forth.  In fact, Santorini was the only port to provide their own tenders – much larger boats than any cruise ship could provide in order to bring more people ashore quickly.  It is actually quite smart of them to recognize that opportunity.

Horsing around with daddy
And then mommy
The blue ocean was simply magnificent
Julia is kind enough to share her drink with me
As well as her mother
This guy was selling freshly caught lobsters – look at the size of those beauties
Family photo
My two girls
“I love this place!”
The blue domed churches were exactly what I envisioned
Some of the resorts offered stunning views – of all our ports, we want to come back to Santorini the most
A city unlike any other
I thought this was a great “artistic” shot – I was later validated when I saw this image in a travel magazine
From Homer’s Odyssey?
Here you can really get a sense of the volcanic caldera upon which the city was built
The white houses and blue domed roofs were just as promised
Climbing up a portion of the volcano – just off the beaten path
Jen covers Julia from the sun
#HollandAmerica would have these amazing reception areas at every port before re-boarding the ship
Sailing away gave you a true sense of the grandeur of the island

After Santorini, we saw the end of our cruise approaching quickly.  I think we both somewhat dismissed our final destination, since neither of us had heard of Argostoli, Greece (in fact, when we woke up at port Jen proclaimed, “Oh!  We have another stop?!”).  Quietly dismissing Argostoli (Αργοστόλι) as, “just another stop” was foolish since it turned out to be one of the most pleasant days we experienced.  The island is one of the larger of Greek Isles and was has the pleasure of hosting gorgeous beaches.

Family photo in front of the aqua-green waters of Argostoli
We passed through a brief section of woods before arriving at the beach
The beach opened before us like a butterfly spreading it’s wings for the first time (too much??)
You can never go wrong when you can rent straw beach umbrellas for the day
There were tons of people in the warm water

When we pulled away from Argostoli, we had one final “formal night” aboard the ship.  Holland America went all out for this final night and served lobster tails and filet mignon in many of the ship’s restaurants.

Family photo in the Manhattan Dining Room on the formal night
Jen and Julia get ready for their meals
We started with foie gras
We each ordered surf and turf

The last day aboard was a sea day and so the world was our oyster.  As always, there were plenty of activities to keep us entertained.  One activity in particular caught my eye – a behind the scenes tour of the Nieuw Amsterdam’s amazing kitchen.  We got to walk through their massive, industrial kitchen and I learned a few interesting facts about our ship.  A kitchen crew of 150 individuals prepare food for 223 service staff to serve the guests each day.  Each week 11,830 lbs of meat is consumed aboard the ship.  A fact that I thought was staggering until I learned that 1,675 lbs of butter is also consumed each week (yuck – heart attack)!  The tour was wonderful and the crew gave Julia one of their display crabs made from cooked bread dough.

The Executive Chef, Daniel Hergic poses with two of his chefs
A display of some of their finer beef and lamb
The form of their “bread-animal” displays before they were cooked
And then the final product.  Julia got to keep the crab (the missing gap in the middle)

Included in the cost of most cruises is unlimited food at a variety of restaurants (casual dining, poolside dining, room service and the main dining rooms).  Many cruise ships also offer the option to pay a nominal fee for more specialized dining (usually between $15 – $35/pp).  On our previous cruise, Norwegian Cruise Line had a Japanese steak house complete with hibachi show.  On our last day aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, we decided to try two of the three specialized restaurants.  We had a lunch of dim-sum in the Tamarind Restaurant, an upscale Asian specialty restaurant and then finish our cruise with a celebratory dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, a five-star steakhouse.  Our last dinner was made even more special when the casino sent a bottle of wine to our room prior to dinner and then another one to the table as we dined!  What a wonderful way to cap off the most amazing vacation of our lives.

We started with a hot and sour soup
Asian Herb Szechuan Sesame Salad
Steamed classic dumplings and a mixture of items from the wok, paired with fried rice

Later that night, at the Pinnacle Grill…

Jen started with a lobster bisque made tableside
Lobster bisque with crème fraîche and aged cognac
My caesar salad with homemade dressing, grated parmesan cheese, garlic croutons and anchovies, prepared tableside
My porterhouse with horseradish-mustard and master chef’s green peppercorn on the side
Jen ordered the lobster tail on a bed of wilted spinach and arugula, with “mango-churri” pesto sauce
Julia thanks Captain Edward G. van Zaane

Thank you Holland America for hosting us and thank you for reading all about it!

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