It’s taken me a while to complete the ” All Aboard” Series, but I think it’s because when I write about it and hit that publish button, it means that my European holiday is really over. Done. Finito. That makes me really sad because I want to hold on just a little bit longer and savour the beauty that we experienced when abroad.
But alas, we are here and I have to let go, but I’m not all that sad because I get to share my amazing experiences with you guys and in turn get to enjoy my pictures all over again!
So let me start by saying that If you ever want to plan your next vacay, I would urge you to try hopping on a cruise ship and sailing around the world instead. It is the most hassle free way to travel in my eyes, in the sense that your hotel follows you through your destinations, Which is a huge time saver. I love travelling, but I hate the fact that if we in a place for a short amount of time we have to live out of a bag. Leaving you with an unorganised bag, tired and just wanting to wear the clothes that you have on already to not repack your bag for the 5th time in that day. It’s a nightmare!
It was my first time on a ship and needless to say I was quite nervous. Being a person with a chronic illness, there is a million thoughts that run through your mind like- Will I get sea sickness? Will the climate and altitude affect me? Do I have enough medication? If something happens, how will they get me to a hospital? You catch my drift. I had serious anxiety happening but as soon as we set sail. all my worries drifted because I had a whole world waiting for me to see it.
So lets begin the adventure- Il be sharing highlights of each place we visited, food spots you have to try and things you must see!
1st stop- Brindisi (Lecce)
What to Expect:
Brindisi has been an important port city since ancient times and is known as the “Gateway to the East.” Resting on the edges of the Adriatic Sea, it’s now an active trading and transport hub.
What to Do:
-Check out the Roman column and stairs, which signify the end of the Appian Way, a stretch of road that connected the city to ancient Rome.
–The port. It’s a little like beauty and the beast. There’s the sea, pretty buildings, palm trees, restaurants and the view of the other side of town. Then there’s the blight of industry, cargo ships and factories. M and I sat at the port waiting for the bus to pick us up from our little trip and to our amazement we saw a massive turtle come to the surface of the water for some air! It was so awesome to witness it!
-We only had about 4 hours in Brindisi so we stayed close to our collection point. We walked around the town and saw beautiful architecture on our walk abouts.
-Check out Brindisi Cathedral, located in Piazza Duomo, an 11th centuary cathedral built in a Romanesque-style. The original church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1743, so what you see to today is the 17th century reconstruction.
With the little time in Brindisi that we had, It was enough to catch a glimpse of the old town. There isnt much to the town, it lacks the glamour, but it has it’s own unique charm and is beautiful in it’s own way.
2nd stop- Katakolon (Olympia)
As the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Olympia is said to be one of the most fascinating places to see if you’re exploring Greece or calling into Katakolon on a cruise.
Olympia is in ruin – the Ancient Olympics started here around 8th Century BC, coming into its prime during the Classical Period around 500BC. Walking in the footsteps of the first Olympians chasing eternal glory, winning would often mean a celebrity-like status and their own statue in the grounds.
With all this praise I am so sad to tell you that we didn’t actually get to see the ancient ruins as lines were hideously long! The ticket price at the time was 12 euros per person, (we were under the impression that it was included in the bus ticket price which already cost us 20 euros each, so that got us a bit agitated that we had to pay more to get into the ruins) There was multiple school children doing tours and the influx of tourists was just insane so there was no chance for us!
We did however go to the Olympia Museum. Inside and outside the museum contains a vast collection of artefacts, including remains from the Temple of Zeus and the most significant collection of bronze statues in the world. PS- There is another fee to enter the museum!
Look I get that it is a historical site but the fact that we have to pay to see every little thing is crazy! So if you opt out from entering the ruins and museum, or like us, no chance of actually getting in, unfortunately there is nothing else to see apart from the little street near the bus park where you can grab some grub and shop for some gifts.
With time on our hands we walked the streets and gift shops looking for something to take back home with us. We stopped for an authentic greek sandwich which certainly left us with a smile on our face.. So it wasn’t all that bad!
3rd stop- Santorini
The place that everyone has on their bucket list and rightfully so! Santorini is incredible! For the little amount of time we had there- a good 6 hours, it was enough of a glimpse for us to want to go back and spend a week or more to really explore Greece and their marvellous islands.
What to Expect:
The Greek Islands have a fairly laid back culture and one where there is an emphasis on enjoying life and everything it has to offer. You can expect plenty of good food along your way some islands have a much stronger tourist culture than others, so this can dictate how many people you are likely to encounter that speak English.
Many of the islands are volcanic in origin, which tends to give them quite distinctive and dramatic scenery. This is particularly seen in Santorini, which has stunning villages making it one of the most romantic destinations.
The ships port in Fira where you will have to find you’re up to the top of the hill. You can either ride the cable car for 6 euros per person one way which is quick and efficient or hop on a donkey for 2 euros per person and ride the donkey trail up. M wanted the full “Greek” experience so we hopped on a donkey.
I hated it, with every being in my body because the animals are so ill-treated and probably sat with no water all day. If there was anything that really put a damper to Santorini, it would be that, my heart really ached for them. The trail up is rather scary as the donkeys hooves slip off the cobblestoned trail and because of the heat they tend to walk against the wall leaving you with your one leg completely grazed. Not fun at all. So if I were you, I would opt for the cable car and let the donkeys/horses/mules be. Please.
Keep it Local– When you reach the top of Fira and get through all the gift shops and restaurants etc, you will see countless signs of hiring out an ATV for the day. If you have time on your hands, id say do it. But like us, if your time is limited then I would highly recommend taking local transport. The buses are amazing as they travel to local spots every 35-45 minutes or so and is very reasonably priced depending on which town you want to travel to. A trip to Oia (The classic domed white washed buildings with blue shutters) will cost about 12 euros per person there and back! Be sure to buy it on the bus though, there are scammers in the area to make a quick buck or two!
Walk it– There is nothing better than discovering hidden gems and the only way to do that is by walking. Trek your way through the alley ways and discover the beautiful churchs, shop and restaurants!
Where to Eat:
There is so many amazing restaurants guys, literally I think anywhere you eat the food will be genuinely good BUT you have to make a stop by the Meat Corner Grill House in Fira. The chicken Gyros is beyond amazing! The restaurant is cool and vibey and the staff are awesome!
If you do, do a cruise like us and stop off in Santorini, give yourself ample time for travel. In total we spent a good 3 hours just in travelling to the spots we wanted to see. This included the ferry from the cruise ship to the port, the donkey ride up, bus ride to Oia there and back and walking to pick up points. Keep in mind that it’s a popular tourist destination so it’s busy! Preferred time to visit would be April-May. Crowds are few which leaves more time for those picturesque moments!
We will be back Santorini- You can count on it!
4th stop- Piraeus (Athens)
Let me start off by saying that Athens took me completely by surprise, in a good way! A place that I didnt really pay much attention to when we initially booked, but definitely a place that completely blew me away in terms of ancient history!
What to Expect
Athens is a chaotic, sprawling city with it’s mishmash of streets and smoggy air, has spectacular history peeking out from all over the city. You will come across spots that have the remnants of ancient civilizations residing on the land that look practically untouched — a feeling that the city just built itself around them and kept going on its sprawling way. And then there’s the Acropolis, which has a mystique completely together with and separate to the rest of Athens.
Exploring a new city is one of life’s greatest pleasures but it can be hard when you have a limited amount of time. So we opted for a 4.5hr excursion to the Ancient Acropolis that the cruise liner offered and it was well worth it.
Tips for visiting the Acropolis
Archaeological sites: The Acropolis is open until 7pm. All sites open at 8 am. Buy the 12€ pass (6€ for students) for entry to all sites. It’s good for four days. Be prepared to walk amongst alot of people- It is VERY busy!
Brush up on your Architectural History: at least for a general understanding of how old things really are, refresh yourself on the classical order. I wish I did but, having a husband who loves history, I was lucky enough to have him educate me on most of it.
Parthenon: Is incredible be sure not to miss it!
Beware of Gypsies: They are everywhere and are always on the prowl. Being South African, I must say we are quite ‘sharp’ in terms of spotting a dodgy looking type if we see one. They work in pairs. If a child comes up to you asking for money or they are playing an instrument (usually the accordion) it can be to distract you while the other child/adult pickpockets you. Beware!
On the drive back to the port, we stopped off at The Olympic Stadium. Built entirely of marble, this is where the revival of the games took place in 1896. It is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.
5th stop- Corfu (Greece)
Another Greek island we visited was Cofu and surprisingly, it was such a beautiful place.
What to Expect:
It’s an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea, so expect to see crystal clear waters with breath-taking views. Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George.
What to do:
On this stop, we had only 4 hours, so we opted for the City Sightseeing Bus Tour to see the island in a short amount of time! It’s really a great way to get around if you have limited time! They have stations situated everywhere, so they are easy to find. They offer two tours- Red Route (60 minutes) and Blue Route (90 minutes). We chose the Red Route which does 7 stops: Corfu New Port, Kanoni Hotels: Hellini, Royal, Ariti, Holiday Palace, Mon Repo Palace, Anemomylos, Spianada Square, Spilia Square and Old Port.
I recommend the Red Bus Route as they stop in Kanoni. There is an amazing restaurant at the Mouse Island view point where you get to see the little Island . Take a moment here cool down with the beautiful breeze and surrender to the gorgeous views of the harbour below.
Check out the Forts: Visit Corfu’s ancient Palacio Frourio (old citadel). It dominates the waterfront.
Walk around Town: Most of the houses in the Old Town date from the 19th century, but you’ll still find the odd arch that is so typical of Venice. Venetian or not, gawking at all the structures was fun
Visit some Churches: Corfu’s main church is dedicated to it’s patron Saint Spyridon, a bishop who was essential in the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). The saint’s actual body still lies in a sarcophagus inside the church, to the right of the altar. It’s quite an attraction for the faithful, we never got to see it as we were running out of time but from what we had read and saw from a distance, it looked incredible!
Even though our visit was short, Corfu Island is definately a place to consider. With beautiful beaches, stunning restaurants, extordinary religious sites and rich culture & history, there is no doubt that you wont fall in love with this place- We sure did.
Last stop- Kotor (Montenegro)
If there is one place that blew my mind from all the places we visited, it was Montenegro.
The night before, we were told by the cruise liner to wake up early for the Kotor sunrise because it would be the most magical sunset we would ever witness. Man were they right. The Bay of Kotor revealed itself in all her splendour. Glistening under the morning rays, the bay stretched around black peaks and a jagged shoreline, lined with red roofs and stone churches. M and I were speechless the Bay of Kotor was more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.
What to Expect:
Kotor itself was absolutely incredible. The old town is fortified on all sides, and even though the backside of the town is protected by a massive rocky mountain, there is still a stone wall which runs along the hill creating a little haven for the people who live there.
If you keeping close to the bay, expect to have a medieval feel throughout! It feels like your walking in a GOT movie set! It is a fortress after all and so incredibly beautiful!
Montenegro is on everyone’s raidar so expect a lot of tourists. Shops fill up quickly and soon you’ll find yourself lost in the crowd so be prepared.
Feline friends- There are cats everywhere!!! They really are pro cats and even leave little bowls of food out for the ones that rome around. So if you not much of a cat person, sorry for you…
- Medieval walls were added to over the years by whomever was ruling the city – the Byzantines or the Venetians, until it was eventually completed in the 15th century, creating a full loop around the city of Kotor.
- Montenegro shares historical similarities with other Balkan countries. Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Ottomans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Serbians have all controlled the rugged land at one point in the last couple of millennia or so. More recently, Montenegro was a republic within the former Yugoslavia. The twenty-first century configuration saw Montenegro joined at the hip with Serbia, forming the aptly named nation “Serbia and Montenegro”. Finally, only as recent as 2006, citizens of Montenegro declared independence from Serbia, and formed the young nation it remains today.
What to do:
Climb up to San Giovanni’s Castle– There is two entry points to access the steep stairs to the castle. They charge you 6 Euros per person to walk up to the castle. Being the last day, I was completely exhausted and told M that the climb to the top for me would be too much to handle. So we didn’t make the climb to the top, but friends that we made on the cruise told us that it was just ok and that we really didn’t miss much. Although the views are beautiful but the castle itself was nothing to rave about.
Ditch the map– Like I always say.. There is nothing better than to discover hidden gems on your own. So that’s exactly what we did, we ditched the map and discovered some beautiful churches, amazing little coffee shops and cafes and even found a market selling fresh fruit!
Even though our time in Montenegro was short, our experience was incredible. It really speaks wonders to just how incredible the country is. I would definitely go back to this beautiful country to discover all the other stuff that it has to offer..
Kotor is definitely a destination for nature lovers, foodies, wine buffs and historical architecture appreciators.
And there it is, an end to our magical time in europe, but we still have one more stop to do- Rome.
Stay tuned for our last post on our All Aboard Series!