Posted by: frroberts | February 3, 2016

My brother’s travelogue for the footsteps of Saint Paul

June 24, 2015

Meet in Chicago – ORD. This should be fun!

Most of the people have arrived early.  Lots of variety of amount of luggage.  I figure out that I seriously under packed.  One pair of long pants; the forecast is very warm, but with the guidelines for some of the religious sites, I guess they will be worn more than once.

June 25, 2015

Arrive in Zurich.  Change money there – we’ll need some Euros and Turkish Lire.

Arrive in Athens; bus to hotel.  Meeting room with luggage while we wait for rooms to be ready.  Out for a stroll of the surrounding areas.  It actually looks pretty rough (lots of storefronts appear to be closed and many have graffiti on them), even around the Orthodox Church and café areas.  We get in the rooms and clean up before dinner and Mass. Some of us go up to the roof for a drink later.  Nice view.

June 26, 2015

Eat breakfast. Bus to departure point of ship (Lavrion is the name of the port). The ship is the Celestyal Crystal. We are underway at noon.  It is a rather unceremonious departure – not like the old episodes of “The Love Boat.” After lunch, it’s time to get familiar with the boat layout – I get a workout and go to the sundeck where my legs get burnt – I guess the sunscreen needs to go ALL over.  We have Mass before dinner this time and faith sharing (give thanks for graces, like Mary did).  I opt for the sit-down dinner this time.  It appears the menus are the same, the portion control is much better on this option!  After dinner, there are drinks by the pool. I’m going to stay up until midnight when the ship hits the Dardanelles Strait.

About 1:30am. Loud noise and sudden stop!! Oh my gosh! We hit something!  I swing the door open to hear some crew members coming from the front of the ship saying “we need to get the captain” (apparently, he wasn’t already at the controls). We scramble to the decks with life jacket in hand. I thought the collision happened on the front/right side, so I go that way, just as a crew member is closing off that part of the deck. A passenger comes out and says that we hit another ship.  There are three announcements – the first one is that the ship is “safe and stable,” then after there is the distinct smell of some kind of fuel the urgent message is “Don’t smoke! Don’t smoke!”  About 30 minutes later, the captain announces that he has personally inspected the ship after the collision and the ship is “safe and stable,” but after reviewing with the authorities we will be dropping anchor.  The good news is there are no injuries reported. Then the direction is that we should returned to our cabins to be certain that everyone is accounted for.  I took my time and after about 30 minutes more, a steward come up to me and asks for my room number – and proceeds to write it down on his hand!  It is then when I figured we should have had another gathering like we had around the lifeboats – with a passenger list – like we had earlier.  At about 3am, it starts to get quiet, so everyone goes off to bed.



June 27, 2015

Wake up after staying up until late. After breakfast –about 9am – Fabrizio gets “an advance copy” of the announcement (it wouldn’t be communicated until about noon), which says the cruise is cancelled; they are arranging a tour of Istanbul and a flight to Izmir (Ephesus) with buses and hotels in-between, ending with a new, free cruise back to Athens and time for our original tour of Athens.  On the original announcement, there are not a lot of details.  What they did say was that the original cruise cost will be refunded and the balance of the agenda will be complimentary. In addition, another cruise in 2016 is offered. Some of us stayed awake, other nap while we wait on board. Mass is in the room at 4pm.

About 6pm. Finally, we get our passports and mark the luggage. At 7pm, we meet in the lounge to “dis-embark.” Fortunately, Karen is okay after I hit her on the head with one of the cushioned chairs I was moving to make space.

Later, we load on a ferry and go ashore in Gallipoli, Turkey.  We pick up our luggage – randomly placed on shore next to a pier – and get on an “Italian” bus and then wait an hour before departing.  Some people have to use the restroom, which is pretty primitive, even though we were parked next to “Atak Lunapark,” which has the look of a small fairgrounds. I read Living Faith aloud, (which actually was for 26-June) “Wishing away our suffering,” which was very appropriate for the day.  We finally leave at 10pm for what we were told would be a 4-5 hour bus ride. We drove for 40 minutes, to Sarkoy, take a 25min ferry ride, and a short drive to a customs house, arriving just before midnight. Without details as to what the plan was in advance, it seemed like the beginning of the trip was disorganized at best.  After waiting in line (five other buses also unloaded at about the same time) for 1 ½ hours, we got back on the buses a drove for 35 minutes – on what seemed to be a backroad at first –  and waited to take the ferry (back?) to the original route.  By 3am, we were on a four-lane road, seemingly on the original route to Istanbul. We stopped at 5am for a bathroom break. We still don’t know where we are staying (I fear it is at a roadside hostel).

June 28, 2015

Just before 7am. We arrive in Istanbul. The announcement is made that we will be staying in the Hilton hotel, with about 200 other people checking in at the same time.  We see a “welcome table” with bottled water and fruit, but after an hour, we leave our luggage and go downstairs to breakfast.  After a fabulous meal, we came back to find some of the luggage (some was taken to the rooms); now there’s a chance to get a shower – the water comes out like a warm rain from the 10 foot-high ceiling – and a nap before the Istanbul city tour departs at noon. Unfortunately, our luck does not continue, as Bernadine injures her knee and Karen has a bad abrasion on her forearm. Joanie avoids being the third to fall, as she tries to help Karen, and just avoids falling down herself. The cause of all of this was uneven cement squares through a water hazard.   We get on the bus, and the injured are tended to.

We see the Hagia Sophia (formerly a Christian basilica, then an Imperial mosque, now a museum) which dates back to the 6th century AD and the Blue Mosque, which was constructed more than 1000 years later. We had a nice lunch and then went to the Topkapi Palace (the Ottoman Sultan’s residence between circa 1450-1850). There are four courtyards and, after a short introductory overview, we were free to choose which of the places we wanted to see in the complex.  The main areas were a parade courtyard, the kitchen courtyard, a museum courtyard with various relics and jewels and the private courtyard – including the space for the Sultan’s harem. Compared to the Hagia Sophia, the Palace and its contents didn’t seem so old.

About 7pm. We returned to the hotel and have Mass in a ‘grand’ conference room.  By the time we get to dinner, the buffet has dwindled, but there is plenty to eat.  We ate in a separate area, as the hotel’s main dining area was catering to the well-healed Muslims who were celebrating a Sunday-evening ‘feast’ during Ramadan.

Later that evening, we got word that there were 2 planes leaving from Istanbul to Izmir; fortunately, we got the one at 11:30am, leaving the hotel at 8am. We requested the tour operator to be sure that we still had time to see Mary’s house in Ephesus. Late that night I did some research on Celestyal’s Odyssey and Olympia (and Crystal) cruise ships.  My original idea was to confirm the agenda of the new boats we might be on.  I also gathered some historical information about the Crystal, which has seen its share of mishaps previously.

June 29, 2015

6am wakeup, with plenty of time to get another shower, enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet, pack our luggage and load into our bus for the 8am departure. Bernadine now has a wheelchair. No others are feeling any ill-effects.  We arrive at the airport at 9am. Barbara left her Passport at the hotel – luckily there is time for it to be driven to the airport without incident. Our gate gets switched- apparently we will be taking a commercial (not chartered) flight. We board the bus for Ephesus and stop for lunch at the Hittite Hotel.  Our tour guide’s name is Fahmi (“follow Fahmi,” he has the yellow umbrella). He is entertaining and he tries to teach us things – that Alexander the Great’s general  built Ephesus, that Austria financed the archeological work, the town was abandoned because of a malaria outbreak as the harbor filled with slit, etc, etc.  He also gives his opinion freely about what to buy and where. Buy Mary items, tourbooks and rugs.  We had a short visit at Mary’s house – which was discovered after a description of a nun who had a vision.   We then headed to the marble road of Ephesus and heard about the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  We hear a lot of history of Ephesus. As we start on what would be a long walk, Karen and Bernadine stay back. There are lots of re-constructed buildings and it was a long walk from beginning to end. Lots of picture opportunities along the way – from the public toilets (really?) to the library, complete with banquet tables close to the end.  Big Amphitheater as the walk concludes and leads to a shopping area. By then most of us were ready to get going. The goal was to get back to the hotel by 8pm – the prospect is another late day.  One more stop at a rug dealer, to look at a rug production demonstration while sipping on Ouzo. No one comes close to buying, although Tiffany identifies the one that costs $150K. I think all of us guessed way low.

The hotel is the Charisma with lots of marble and a nice dinner buffet, especially the desserts. We had Mass at 9pm; the Browns connected with a woman from the UK to join us. Chris spoke about Paul and had good context for our journey – suffering and re-birth. We finally retired to bed about 11pm and there was time to catch-up on the Greek financial crisis. The adventure is set to continue tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.

June 30, 2015

Wakeup to a great breakfast buffet and a walk of the terrace.  A few people dip their feet in the Aegean Sea. We get ready to the port of Kursadasi.  We get on the Celestyal Olympia and it sails at 1pm. I accidentally found out about the all-inclusive alcohol that was added to our cards on the Olympia before we arrived in Patmos. We arrive on Patmos, the island of St. John the Evangelist. We tour the museum, hiking to the top of the hill and the tour included a cave where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. Inside the cave a church (Orthodox) is now located; the resting place for St. John’s head is featured in the church. The museum was inside a monastery where we saw many artifacts in glass display cases. We get back on the boat at 11pm.

 July 1, 2015

Shortly after wakeup, it is time to go to the island of Rhodes.

There were a few excursion to choose from – a couple of medieval tour options, a walking tour and a chance to go to the beach. A small group of us chose the beach. We rented an umbrella for a few hours and walked the beach back and forth while getting lots of sun. There was another shopping opportunity at the old town. When we returned to the boat, we met for Mass at 6pm and a faith-sharing discussion about asking God for things not just when we are in trouble. It was tied to Father Christopher’s homily about letting God transform us, not just return to something that is comfortable. Many of us ate dinner on the pool deck and had crepes for dessert. It was the night for formal dress. After dinner, I checked out Horizons Bar on the top deck. By that time, the rest of the group now knew about the AIA package.  Next, in the Muses Lounge, there was the Olympia version of “Dancing with the Stars.” The last option for the evening was the Eclipse Bar for the Latin band “Los Magnificos.” Then to bed.

July 2, 2015

Early wakeup and breakfast to go to the Minoan Palace Excursion. Yes, it is an archeological find, but mostly piles of rocks that were found in the early 1900’s and ‘rebuilt’ then. (See, I am tiring of the different piles of rubble we have been looking at.)  After hitting a couple of souvenir shops, we ride the bus back to the boat.  We have Mass again in the kid’s play area and then we had a review of our disembarkation process with Fabrizio.  There was a lunch opportunity in the sit-down dining area with four charming women from Australia – one born in Poland, one with the character pilot story, one older lady posing as a cougar, and one daughter). We have the 1:30pm meeting about the settlement letter. There’s time for a workout and the arrival at the port of Santorini, by tender.   Santorini is an area that is actually in a caldera of a volcano, obviously now filled with water. It was a spectacular entrance to where we anchored. We took a bus up the mountain and then to the city. No wonder this is the most photographed place in Greece.  Beautiful!  We had a chance to shop and take pictures and explore the quaint town.  Then it was back to the boat and we set sail just as the sun was setting behind the ridge over the water.

July 3, 2015

We arrive at the Athens port before 7am.  The bus picks us up at 8am.  We unload the luggage again to the hotel rooms (we are getting a lot of practice moving luggage). We take the subway to the tourist area and are ready to stop for a break at a sidewalk diner. The choices were coffee, a snack, even some ice cream.

We walked together to Cathedral square (site of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, which was undergoing an exterior renovation) and then proceeded to the Ancient Agora area. This is a collection of excavated buildings – some dating back to before the birth of Christ.  Most were only fractions of their assumed original structures.

Partway through our walk around the circle of ‘Parthenon hill,’ we stopped at the Church of the Metamorphosis, built in the 11th century.  After that, we wandered the Parthenon Museum, which housed some replica pieces and lots of historical information that will benefit us on our visit to the actual Parthenon tomorrow.

Finally, we returned via subway to the hotel for dinner and a chance to rest our weary feet. Many joined on the rooftop after for drinks and the sunset.

July 4, 2015

We start the day with a bus trip to Corinth. On the way, we see abandoned buildings and graffiti all around. The tour guide Irene seemed to be northern Greek, and she gave many facts, including the story about the deep, narrow channel that has a fairly large boat going through. One of the better stories she tells is about the boats pulling other boats through the isthmus.  In Corinth, we realize that the Old City was underneath the New City.  Apparently, the farmers were reluctant to give up their land. We saw the museum, which was robbed in the 1990s. It had many statues and many didn’t have heads (portraits were ‘exchanged’) and then we went into the garden and walked around. It looked like Ephesus, but older. Old Corinth was also far away. New Corinth is now at the coast. There was also a Fort that was on a mountain high above.  We had a chance to get a snack (I got baklava) in the tourist area and then boarded the bus for Athens.

On the bus tour, we stopped at the original Olympic Stadium. It appeared the amphitheater was constructed of marble. After a short time there, the bus took us to the Parthenon.  It was interesting to visit, but I believe it was a good thing there was a chance to get some perspective while looking through the museum the day before.


There was a lot of construction/preservation going on and seemed to be many parts of the structure that were missing or needing help.  The view of the city was good from the top.  We actually didn’t spend very much time in between climbing the steps up and down.

We all stopped a diner close to the entrance of the square late in the afternoon and had a good meal all together.

We board the subway to go to St. Dionysius for Mass at 5:30pm.  We had heard that there was going to be a political rally close by later this evening to support a ballot referendum vote in the upcoming few days.  After watching the coverage on the news that evening, I think we were fortunate to back at the hotel before the rally started.

Dinner at the hotel. Many joined on the rooftop after for drinks and the sunset.

July 5, 2015

Start the trip back to the US.

All uneventful, thankfully.

The revised itinerary caused us to miss out on Symi, Chios and Mykonos, but we gained Patmos.  On balance, no big loss, but we gained something.  And WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!

Update in January 2016:

The new cruise date is April 1, 2016 – departing from Montego Bay Jamaica and cruising to Cuba.


  1. Theron, thank you so much for sending out this log of our journey. I have a bad habit of forgetting the names of places, so you have definitely filled in the blanks. Hope all is well. Suzie Brown


  2. Great job! Thank you for sharing.


  3. Thank-you!!


  4. Awesome!! Reliving the last cruise is making me so excited for the next one!! Just think…if we hadn’t crashed, most of us wouldn’t be heading to Cuba!!


  5. I enjoyed reading & having all the details. Thanks, Ann


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