Friday 18th July 2014
Having spent last night at London Heathrow Premier Inn for the grand price of £29, and enjoyed happy hour of Buy one, get one free, on bottles of wine we were awake very, very early to get to Terminal 5 for our British Airways flight to Istanbul. We were there so early that checkin’s hadn’t opened, baggage drop off wasn’t open, and once through to air side non of the shops or restaurants were open. We waited very patiently for Gordon Ramsey Plane Food to open and then tucked into a very nice breakfast, although in hindsight full English was a little over ambitious for me at that time of the morning. I wasn’t looking forward to my flight. We had been allocated row 13 for one thing, and I dont like flying. It was also over the wing, and according to SeatGuru had a misaligned window! It wasn’t looking good. But the time soon passed, we were on the edge of the wing and my window was in line with the seat. Add to that, that I had a few vodkas and wine with my meal and all was ok with my BA world.
Istanbul airport was an experience, or should I say the people that the people that flew into there at the same time as us that day were just downright rude. I seriously thought Mr C was going to flip in the passport control queue. Some people from foreign lands just dont understand how to queue. Even the immigration officers were loosing their cool with them. Having survived that we then had to survive the baggage carousel, where the pushing and shoving continued. I just stood back and let Mr C deal with it. Thank goodness I had pre booked a transfer. Man displaying our name was quickly located and we were whisked off to our own private transfer to Holiday Inn, City Centre, Old Town. I was unsure what to expect, and I nearly cancelled 24 hrs earlier and swapped for another, but I was glad I stuck with this. Ideal location, excellent staff andf service throughout. Tram stop right across the road. It became an even better choice when the nice receptionist uttered the words “Welcome to Holiday Inn, you have been upgraded to a suit” Got to love those words. Concierge took care of the luggage and we were seated with complimentary drinks whilst we waited for the room to be prepared. The suite was certainly big and spacious, if a little odd. The Jacuzzi in the middle of the room tickled me, but hey, Im not complaining. It also looked over the pool and gardens and not over the busy road, so even better.
No time to sit around I had a Grand Bazaar on my to do list. I enquired with the concierge how much a cab would cost me and based on the large intake of breath he gave as he advised it would cost 23 Turkish Lire we thought that sounded as expensive as he had made it sound. He told us to get the tram for 4 Turkish lire. Which we did, but I didn’t appreciate having to stand for all 7 stops on a very hot day. but it all adds to the experience.
The Grand Bazaar didn’t disappoint. It had been 16 year since I was last here, and it is still pretty much the same. A total maze in which to get lost, among the leather goods, tat and of course carpets. There is only so much one can take of “you come look lovely lady. You buy nice leather coat” Why do I want or need to even think about wanting a leather coat on a day which is exceeding 40 degs. And as for a carpet, no I simply just don’t want one, thanks ever so much. We had fun in there, but it was hot, it was rammed with people and it was all getting a bit much, especially as I already had a headache. We lasted about an hour. We made a couple of purchases of Turkish delight and tat and got out of there. I thought I was heading out the same entrance that we went into, but I was wrong. we exited by one of the temples just as they were being called to prayer. Haunting sound! We sat for a while in the square while Mr C got directions off his phone and we set off on foot to see the Blue Mosque. It wasn’t far really, but bear in mind the heat and the fact that it was down towards the sea which meant it was down a flippin’ big hill. Mr C became tour guide down the back streets, until I spotted a Celebrity Cruises walking tour. Where else could they be going other than the Blue Mosque? Mr C wasn’t convinced, and a bit of a domestic followed. But I of course won, and Blue Mosque was soon in sight. We walked all the way to the steps of the Blue Mosque, turned and looked at the Red Mosque, and that was another tick in my box. seen it, done it, we can go now. I don’t do culture very well! Now at this point, I really, really needed a cab, but the roads appeared to be in gridlock, so back up the hill we trecked and jumped on the tram. Oh the tranquillity of the air conditioning, total bliss!
We decided to eat in the hotel on the roof terrace. All you can eat buffet for 17 Turkish Lire and I have to say it was very nice. I drank Fanta due to the ever increasing headache. Another call to mosque, which we soon discovered was right next to the hotel, added t the ambience! We sat by the pool for a while just chilling in the cooling evening air, but it was still hot by any standards. I was most amused when we climbed into bed and yet another call to mosque went out. Mr C was less than impressed and threatened to do all sorts of things if that continued into the night. Thankfully it didn’t and it made me chuckle.
Saturday 19th July 2014 – Istanbul
Woke up early to blue skys, and the sun rising nicely in the sky. Only problem was I had the mother of all headaches – something which have been attacking me for the last few weeks. It was an interesting hour or so as I tripped out on codeine, something which I am not very compatible with, but I was willing to do anything to kill this headache. It nearly got the better of me but I won in the end. By the time we got to breakfast there was an almighty thunder and lightning storm and the day wasn’t looking good. As much as we hoped it was just a flash storm which would pass, it didn’t! The Concierge had collected our cases from the suite and a car was waiting to take us to the port. I was escorted to the cab by the concierge with his big brolly, and I’m sure he would have done the same for Mr C, but he is far too impatient and made a dash for it.
Istanbul traffic is bad at the best of times, but today it was horrendous, its a good job we weren’t in a hurry. I dont think they have the best of drainage systems in Istanbul and this torrential downpour was far too much for it. It was just flowing down the roads like rivers in places. As I say it seemed a very long way and sitting in traffic wasn’t helping. I hoped that it would suddenly stop and be cleared by the time we got to the port. That was another thing, when we eventually arrived close to the port the cab driver proudly showed us a Celebrity ship. Oh no, that’s not my ship!! He seemed most put out, shook his head and made some phones calls. Three times he asked me if I was sure if that was not my ship?! I think I would have made him happy if I had said yes, but it wasn’t the one, I did not want a ship with blue funnel and big white X on it. We drove along a little further and I could see more navigation flags running along a ship, but I couldn’t see anything else other than a golf net and a satellite globe. I pointed and told him that was my ship. Now he was confused! Where had I seen a name? Was I really sure? He swung the car round in the heavy traffic, beeped his horn a lot and approached the same dock gate we passed a while back. People were unloading cabs on the roadside, and getting drenched to the skin within seconds. No way, I was not getting out here and walking. For one thing I had a thin white cotton dress, and lets just say it wouldn’t be a good look once wet! Nice cab man took the hint and took us right to the shed doors. I can’t describe just how wet people with their luggage were. The cab stopped in about 5 inches of water. I took one look at it and took off my shoes and ran for it. You would not believe the amount of looks I got as if to say I was the crazy fool, but really, who was the crazy one? The woman that saved her shoes from some filthy deep rain water, or the one who waded through it, and ruined an otherwise good pair of shoes? I rest my case. I left Mr C and the cab driver to get wet and get my cases safely into the embarkation shed.
It was just beyond total chaos in the embarkation shed. People were dripping like drowned rats, nobody knew what to do with cases, nobody was directing us correctly, the roof was leaking and a waterfall was coming down in the middle of it. It was leagues apart from the usual Welcome to Oceania Cruises that myself and Lizy experienced in Venice last year. I blame the weather. I doubt very much if Oceania were impressed by the set up either, we weren’t even anywhere near our ship.
So, bags were dropped off, security scanned and onto checkin, no queues, so all good. However, we were handed our cruise cards which I checked to note that they weren’t ours. Bemused, the girl took them back off us and asked a colleague for help. Much discussion later we were handed a second set, not ours either. oh, I was thinking someone else has got our suite and the Owners Suite has my name on it this cruise. Even when the correct cruise cards were found I wasn’t convinced that I was still in the suite I booked.
Through passport control and I was handed a big Oceania brolly and advised I had a long walk ahead. Like I say, I’m guessing that Oceania were not impressed by the embarkation facilities today, and neither was I. We had to walk along the dockside the full length of a Celebrity ship before we got sight of Oceania Riviera, but at least the rain was easing. In fact, by the time I got to the gangway it had just about stopped.
Just gone 11.00am and we were onboard, upto deck 12 and they tried to direct us into lunch, but really I had only just had breakfast. We took up residence and my Big O was soon in my hand and I was even feeling the rays of the sun as it broke through the clouds. Welcome onboard Oceania Riviera.
We lazed for quite a while, until 1.00pm when they announced that suites were available. Oh I am liking my suite! Lovely big bed, 1000 count finest cotton sheets like silk, dressing table with makeup compartment and light up magnifying mirror, separate desk area with lap top, coffee table, sofa and chair, separate dining table and more cupboards and drawers than I know what to do with. We also have a walk in wardrobe again with drawers, shelves, hooks, shoe rack and more than enough coat hangers – even for me! we have champagne on ice, a fridge full of soft drinks and bottles of mineral water. There is a lovely tray of sweet canapés. Its quite a lot to take in. Oh and the balcony has lovely rattan armchairs, nice, I like it!
Time for lunch on the aft terrace. That of course was started with a glass of champagne. I had a nice light lunch of poached salmon and lemon sauce with a little salad. Mr C was like a kid in a sweet shop faced with all that food! He just cannot believe the choice and the freshness of it all, not to mention the quality. I seriously challenge anyone to find a buffet at sea of this standard. The sun was gloriously hot on the aft terrace and I enjoyed a nice glass of Nobillo with my salmon. For desert I had the most lush strawberry and lemon ice cream.
Time to tackle the unpacking, but with so much storage space it was soon done. Mr C hasn’t had a look at the ship yet so I took him on best guided tour, which somehow ended up in the Martini Bar. Oh go on then! Mmmm, Time for Muster drill and conveniently the Martin Bar is our muster station, so Mr C was despatched for life jackets.
I needed a rest, my headache was lingering so I went in search of tablets of the non codeine variety. I had a nice soak in my Bvlgari bath salts and dressed for dinner. Now, knowing that my headache was lingering I should have known better than to head to the Martini Bar for pre dinner drinks. It was a bad move. It was so bad that I couldn’t even finish my Appletini! Yes, I’m officially poorly. Dinner was looking like a non starter for me. We sailed at 8.30pm so we decided to go out and see us sail under the bridges of the Bosphorus. It was impressive in the dusk of the evening. Extremely windy, but impressive, and I felt it was blowing the cobwebs out of my head, so I found it quite soothing to my brow. Mr C was less impress by the seemingly arctic conditions though. I do like a good bridge to sail under though, especially a pretty lighted up one. I still gasp like a little kid when the funnel nearly hits the bridge.
We agreed on an early night because I knew my head was about to implode. I had two cocodamol while Mr C had Butler Rozario serve him soup and a burger, with a bottle of bud, on a fine linen table cloth with polished cutlery. Oh he’s a classy bloke, he could have had anything from the Grand Dining Room menu and he chooses a burger!! Oh, now he has found the DVD menu, hundreds and hundreds of DVD’s on there for him to choose. Oh, he is a happy, happy man this evening!
Sunday 20th July 2014 – Nessebur, Bulgaria
I confused myself by waking to see the sun rising, looked at my watch to see it was 3.19am, yep I had forgotten to advance my watch 2 hrs to Turkey time. It was a lovely sunrise and already very warm. I had slept well and someone had taken my headache away, so all is good. Mr C had been a busy boy last night. He had also ordered room service breakfast for 7.00am so I was greeted with tea, toast and some cranberry juice. He says its just a snack until breakfast! He likes his food. Rozario was very chatty and chirpy this morning. He is coming back later to take the clothes for complimentary pressing. Got to love a Butler and a suite!
No queuing for a tender ticket this morning to go ashore. It pays to be early. Passports were required to go ashore this morning and you would be surprised how many people did not read the Oceania Currents, see the advice on the TV, or listen to the constant announcements! You had to take the tender ashore, walk quite a distance to passport control and oh boy some were they not impressed when they got refused entry and turned back to face another tender journey back to the ship to collect their passports. In some ways passport control seemed quite lapse, as in if you had a passport in your hand they just waved you through, but on our tender on the way back, two passport officials boarded the tender, demanded passports of 4 Japanese and then escorted them off the tender again! Ooh err!
Nessebur was a pleasant enough place for a wander around. All the shops were open, but mainly tourist tat. It was a complete contrast to Istanbul yesterday. There you couldn’t even glance at something in a shop without being told it was a very good price, and nagged to purchase. Here, it doesn’t matter how much interest you show in something they make no attempt at all to serve you. I could have bought a dress, but she didn’t want to get off her chair to encourage me, plus I was unsure about the conversion rate from their foreign currency, so the dress stayed there, shame because it was a lovely white linen dress and when I got back to the ship I worked out it was less than £15. A bottle of beer in a bar was 66p!! That’s how cheap it was in Nessbur. Like I say, a really pretty, cobbled street sort of place, but it was hot and we both just wanted to chill out, so back on the tender, a quick change of clothes and we were soon on those super comfy sun loungers by the pool with a nice cool Big O in hand. We stayed there for a few hours. I even had a dip in the pool. We had lunch in Waves which impressed Mr C because the quality of the food on here is on another level, even something as simple as a hot dog. I had vodka lemon sorbet for desert which was rather lush.
After our busy of busy days we needed a rest so returned to the suite where the Princess and the Pea bed was calling us, and within seconds I was checking out the inside of my eyelids for a lovely peaceful sleep. I woke up not having a clue where I was. I could hear sea, and someone shouting, it was all very confusing. Rozario delivered our canapés of chocolate dipped strawberries and fruit kebabs on a banana leaf, both of which were delicious.
It was Captains Welcome aboard drinks this evening which basically means its a free bar for nearly 3 hours, not that affects us as we have the Prestige drinks package with all drinks included, but rather generous of El Capitain and his Senior Officers. Needless to say that Martinis was rammed when we went down at 7.15pm, but we found a couple of bar stools and were entertained by the man from Quantum Leap who now happens to be a bar tender onboard.
Dinner this evening was in The Grand Dining Room and I was so happy because my Cappuccino chocolate coffee cup was desert, its amazing. I had a delicious rib of beef too, the food on here is just perfection. The Nobilo wine was very free flowing, and I finished with rather a large cointreau, yes we struggled to walk out in a straight line much to our amusement. Mr C went for a virtual bet in the casino on the roulette wheel. He’s not wired up right! We took a walk up to Horizons which was totally dead as everyone was in the show which I had forgotten about, but the waitress seemed excited to see us and enticed us to sit down and have a drink. All of a sudden the band came on, a bus load of people arrived and the party had started. The dance floor was rocking and we did some boogying from the comfort of the sofa. Mr C had discovered that Remy Martin is included in the drinks package and its safe to say that after two of those he had trouble negotiating a path back to the suite.
Monday 21st July 2014 Constanta, Romania
I was wide awake for sunrise this morning again and some very unearthly hour, but once I’m awake that’s me for the day. We were in Baristas just after 6.30am enjoying a nice latte and a croissant and watching us arrive into the port. I do love an empty ship that’s feels as if it is purely my own. We took breakfast on a deserted aft Terrace basking in the warm sunshine. The choice and standard of quality of the food is almost beyond words. The selection of breads and fruit just fascinates me. I had a plate of fresh mango and melon, glass of fresh orange and a toasted salmon bagel. Mr c had a full cooked breakfast, but again he commented that he was over spoilt for choice. After breakfast we took up residence by the pool on a comfy sunlounger for a rest. Mr C has one of the double day beds and is quite content with his day. We haven’t decided whether we will go ashore or not today. Rozario has warned us of pickpockets etc, and the Oceania Currents advises not to go ashore with jewellery on, a lot of money or expensive cameras as they will rob you at knifepoint. Someone else also told us of other scams such as people dressed like policemen demanding passports etc, just to rob them. We will await reports from our fellow passengers before we attempt it.
We really did not fancy going ashore at all, but will reserve judgement until this evening when others have been ashore and can report back as to what is there. so far, not a lot by all accounts. I think it is the port for a very long tour Bucharest and or the Danube hence the overnight stay.
Most difficult part of my day today was deciding whether to go in the pool and what to have to drink – being so hot you will be pleased to note that I drank a lot of mineral water. The pool was fabulous and to be honest I could live in there on days like today. I was no sooner out and dry than I was back in to cool off. the Jacuzzi seemed a little to warm.
Lunch was Mr C’s choice of Waves Grill again. He is working his way through the hot dog burger and today opted for the Mexican Hot Dog. I had the Q-Ban sandwich, a most yummy mix of pulled pork, and melted cheese. After lunch we decided enough was enough and retreated to the cool sanctuary of the suite. Ah Bliss.
We did decide to set foot on this foreign land and Mr C escorted me to the terminal building to purchase a fridge magnet. We passed through passport control as we went in, and 5 minutes later when we came back out. But everyone said that the town is not worth the effort. There is a nice beach a taxi ride away, but why go to a beach when you have a ship with everything you want and more.
We are dining in Toscanna this evening so I decided to dress up a little. Dress code is country house casual but I decided to go a notch above that this evening. Mr C wore a light suite without a tie and I wore a nice Jenny Packham dress which is maybe edging more towards the cocktail wear but it doesn’t bother me how others dress. In general the dress code is very smart. Think Coast or Karen Millen type dresses and you won’t go far wrong, or smart trousers and nice tops etc. Many of the men do wear jackets and open neck shirt. However, because we are on an overnight in port, and its deck party night, the dress code appears to be a lot more casual tonight. But am I bothered?!
We had our pre dinner drinks at the bar in Martini with the entertainment of the pianist, and when he had finished Quantum Leap man behind the bar is a whole act of his own.
We arrived at Toscana at our allotted time of 8.30 but the maître de seemed keen for me to have a table by the window as he felt the tables of two he did have weren’t the best. Maybe he could see I had made an effort lol. We decided to go and sit outside and watch the sunset over the dock. It was such a good sunset that even the dock looked good. By the time we got back he had a table for us. the meal was just superb. Everything I chose was just a pleasure to eat. The wine service was spot on and the sommelier suggested the wine for Mr C which he really enjoyed. A perfect dining experience. The pasta was perfect, the soup delicious and whats not to love about the deserts?
Outside on deck the deck party was in full swing and we stood around and watched for a while before retreating to the tranquillity of Martini bar for a night cap or two.