My Guide to Santorini, Greece

Santorini is one of my all time favourite destinations to visit. I absolutely LOVE this island. I love it so much, I’ve already travelled here twice in the course of just over a year. It’s more than just romantic, it feels like another world. The sunsets here are incredible, and the charming towns that line the clifftops are beyond beautiful.

You can get to the Cyclades island of Santorini a few ways. Located in the Aegean Sea, most people visit Santorini for the day via cruise ship. You can also fly in (airport code JTR) and even arrive by ferry from Athens (or from many of the other Greek Islands) for longer stays.

If you’re visiting by cruise ship, you will have to tender (your cruise ship anchors out in the caldera and you are ferried onto the bottom of the cliff of Thira (Fira). You will then have a few choices. You can take a gondola/cable car to the top of the cliff side, a boat to Oia (sounds like EE YA), walk up the stairs or ride a donkey up. I’m going to be very honest, please, please, please do not ride the donkeys up the hill. They are overworked, working in very hot conditions and getting injured. Conde Nast Traveller wrote an article on the donkeys of Santorini that you can find here. Please keep in mind being a socially responsible traveller, especially when it comes to animal welfare. The cable car up is €6 per person, per direction, so €12 per person round trip. I recently did the boat to Oia option on my last trip, taking a boat from where the cruise ship tenders drop off. This option was €15 per person which includes the boat to Oia, bus ride up the hill into Oia and then the bus ride back to Thira.

Getting Around Santorini:

If you decide to check out Thira first, once at the top of the hill, you can’t help but take in the magnificent views. This island is just beautiful everywhere. Thira is one of the main towns on Santorini. It’s where you will find the main bus terminal (public bus system run by KTEL). A bus ticket to most areas on the island is around a €1.80 to €2.50 per direction, honestly it’s a great deal and the public buses are coach style buses. A bus from Thira to Oia will cost you €1.80 per direction.

Here’s how to get to the bus station from the cable car (red dot is the cable car, yellow dot is the bus depot, it’s about a 10 minute walk):

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Taxis on Santorini are limited and can be expensive. Renting a car, motorbike and/or ATV is the other option most visitors opt for. Rough costs for this depend on the depot and rental company used.

Things to see and do:

There are so many things to see and experience on Santorini. It’s a place to take in the beauty, relax and unwind. I’ve broke down some of the top sights and things to do based on each town.

Oia – Probably the most iconic town that tourists flock to. Here in Oia, my favourite thing to do is just to wander the streets and enjoy the sights. I love photographing the whitewashed homes, clinging to the cliffside. It’s just an incredible view. If you’re here for the day, visit early in the morning before the cruise ship crowds descend on this small village. Once 11:00am rolls around it can be very busy here as it is such a popular destination. Crowds don’t dissipate until later in the afternoon depending on the cruise ship schedules. Sunsets are absolutely amazing, however Oia can still feel quite busy if there is still a ship in port. There are several restaurants that have stunning sunset views, where you can order a bottle of prosecco or champagne and enjoy the experience. Oia is a tourist town, however there are a few locals shops here offering some beautiful unique products and gifts (don’t miss the Atlantis Books Store and a store called Nama). Oia to me it’s one of those places to explore, take amazing photos, grab a seat at a restaurant, enjoy a glass of wine with some amazing Greek food and ponder life while taking in the view over the caldera.

Thira – Thira is a place that most tourists arrive, it’s where the cable car brings thousands of tourists almost everyday in the busy season. There are a few local shops here, however it can also be a great starting point to exploring the island of Santorini. Santorini has some amazing wineries and breweries. One wine tour in particular is with Santorini Wine Adventures, they offer a great half day tour visiting three local wineries on Santorini learning about how the volcanic earth here help creates some great wines.

Red Beach (Akrotiri) – One of the most scenic beaches on Santorini, within walking distance from the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, a site not to miss. The site is covered and  enclosed to protect the discovered and very well preserved ruins from the Minoan Bronze Age. Red Beach itself can be a bit tricky to get onto depending on the level of erosion, but it’s a beautiful and unique beach.

Where to eat on Santorini:

Oia – My favourite place to eat in Oia is Lotza Restaurant. The food here is fresh, home cooked and just delicious. It’s a very quaint restaurant with amazing views overlooking the caldera.

Other restaurant options in Oia are Karma and 1800, for something sweet try Lolita’s Gelato on a hot day and Melenio Cafe for an amazing dessert.

Thira – Located a short walk from the Thira cable car, Volkan On The Rocks serves up amazing locally sourced food, their very own wines and beer called Volkan Beer.

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Other restaurant options in Thira are Fanari and Theoni’s Kitchen.

Whatever you see and experience on Santorini, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful island to discover and is full of history. Santorini is one of my favourite places I’ve ever travelled to and has a very special place in my heart.

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If you have any questions about travelling to Santorini, leave me a message!

 

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 8

Day 8 – Katakolon (Olympia)

I woke up this morning quite early, about 6:30am. I’m a bit strange as I sleep with the curtains wide open in my balcony stateroom, so the natural light wakes me. I also wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to beautiful starry skies and just take it all in. I love travelling and I love cruising. We arrived into Katakolon just after 7:00am, its a very small, quaint (and lush) town, right near where we docked.

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I went up to Raffles and has a light breakfast at the aft of the ship and noticed another ship sailing towards us in the distance. So far we’ve been lucky. We had just us docked in Livorno, us and an MSC ship in Cagliari, just us again in Heraklion, us and 3 ships in Athens (Seabourn, Celestyal and Princess) and just us in Santorini. As I finished my meal, the Royal Princess came into full view. We were able to get off the ship before the Royal was docked and I knew we had the advantage… it was going to get crazy here by this afternoon…

I did book a shore excursion here, I did the Exclusive Ancient Olympia tour though Shore Excursions Group. Our group was about 14 passengers just from the Spirit, so once we were all there, off we went (thankfully ahead of the Royal Princess guests). It was about a 45 minute drive stunning drive through the Greek countryside to Olympia. I actually really like Greece, it’s a beautiful country. It has quite a diverse landscape as well. Very much reminded me of the Okanagan Valley here at home in British Columbia, just with more olive trees 😉

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Once we arrived in Olympia, we parked and were each handed a bottle of ice cold water for our walk. We walked to the gate of the archeological site and were given the opportunity to use the washrooms before we started off (thank goodness as on the way back we found out they were no longer in service as they got back logged once the big excursions arrived), “eww” I know, but it’s reality haha…

Our guide did an amazing job of walking us around the site, stopping under trees for shade whilst explaining the history of the Olympic Games and the sites we were walking though. She had diagrams of what the buildings would have looked like back in the day and how far they needed to excavate to reveal the site we were walking through today.

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I was also thankful our tour was here when it was, we were one of the first tours here, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves for the first hour and a half (which was amazing for photos), then the cruise ship tours arrived just as we were sent on our way for free time.

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The hill in the distance shows how far down they had to excavate to uncover Ancient Olympia

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We also got to see the place where the Olympic Torches are lit before the Summer and Winter games. I was here in August and they would be lighting the torch for the Pyeongchang Winter Games at this very spot in October. Humbling…

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It was so neat to wander and see the different types of architecture and it’s evolution and additions through the years this place was used. The stadium here is actually the very birthplace of the metric system and units of measure as we know it. The measurement of this stadium became the measurements of a “stade” about 600 feet or 180 metres.

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After numerous photos, we had some free time to explore the village of Olympia. So, back to the favourite pastime… shopping. I needed some new shoes badly. A few of my shoes had been tattered from the walking and cobblestones by this point (one pair broke within the first 250m of walking in Rome), so shoe shopping I went. Looking back, I should have bought the store. I found a brand of shoes called Parex. Amazingly comfortable and lightweight. I bought a pair on the shoe sale rack for €25 and am now fully regretting not buying a suitcase full. They are honestly the most comfortable and durable pair of sandals I’ve ever owned. I can’t wait to go back to Greece this October and literally buy the stores out. After shoe shopping, magnet shopping and a gelato later, it was time to board the bus back to Katakolon.

Once back in Katakolon, we were dropped near the port, however I walked to the town to check it out as I wasn’t ready to board just yet. This was our last stop in Greece, so I was still on the hunt for a couple more souvenirs aka Ouzo. I headed into a cute store closest to the pier and bought some Ouzo, along with a “Greece” magnet. I did find more of the Parex sandals and shoes in a couple boutiques here too, but didn’t buy another pair (again, full of regret)… Along the waterfront of Katakolon, there are plenty of restaurants and bars offering fresh seafood to ice cold beers (with free wifi of course), so I grabbed a chair, ordered a Mythos and checked in with home.

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Heading back to the ship, the line was quite long while waiting to board. They had an issue with one of the check in security computers, so it was one line in for about 20 minutes. The staff did try to help by handing out ice cold towels (ice cubes still attached) and cold drinks which helped as we waited in the hot sun. I was actually surprised that the Royal Princess departed before us, even though she arrived a good hour after us.

Once back on board, I changed and headed for the pool and relaxed for awhile. I was in a journalling mood today, so that night I relaxed in Galaxy of the Stars for awhile listening to the live band, sipping a refreshing gin and tonic as we sailed out of Katakolon. For being such a great lounge, I was taken back by how empty it was sometimes. After enjoying a beautiful sunset, I had a light dinner in Raffles and called it a night.

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 8 – Katakolon:

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Next up… Valletta, Malta!

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 7

Day 7 – Santorini, Greece

Visiting Santorini has been a place on my travel bucket list for years. I woke up again before sunrise as we were sailing into Santorini. I was so excited!

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I wanted to be one of the first ones off the ship as I knew the gondola up was going to get full very quickly, so I went down to Cagney’s for breakfast at 7:00am, had my french press Lavazza and one eggs benedict. After breakfast, Karin (the concierge) informed myself and another couple that the first tender was ready to accept passengers. We were then escorted downstairs, past everyone that had lined up for the tender (we didn’t even need a priority tender card), and walked onto the first tender in front of the line. Upon arrival to the gondola, I noticed another error in the Greece Lonely Planet guide, it said the gondola was €5 round trip. Its actually €6 each direction, so €12 round trip. It wasn’t a long wait as I was on the first gondola ride up.

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At the top, once in Fira, it was time to rush to get to the public bus stop, I only had an idea where it was, so I did miss the bus by five minutes which was slightly annoying. Here is the map of Fira, the red dot is the top of the Santorini Cable Car, the blue lines are the easiest walking route, yellow dot is where the bus station is located (it’s about a 10 minute walk):

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So I had a bit of time to kill (about 35 minutes), so I walked around that immediate area. As it was so early in the morning (about 8:00am), there wasn’t a whole lot open, so went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Oia to arrive. The bus arrived and I’m glad I was early as the crowd had tripled in size waiting for the same bus. I scrambled onboard and grabbed a seat. The ticket agent came onboard and took our €1.80 for a one way ticket to Oia. Not a bad deal. About 20 minutes or so later, we were in Oia.

I can’t describe the complete beauty of this place. It’s absolutely stunning…

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From the bus stop, its a block into one of the main streets, where you can just wander and take in all of Oia’s magnificent views. I was so glad I did Oia this way, I was here ages before most of the crowds from the ship. I think we lucked out anyways as it was only our ship here, with a few day tours from a ferry I believe. I was shocked I was able to get so many photos with NO ONE in them 🙂

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This place is honestly incredible, I knew it was going to be beautiful, but this place took my breath away around every corner. I did buy a few souvenirs here and after a morning of really walking around, I worked up an appetite. I found a really cute cafe with a balcony overlooking Oia with incredible views. It was called Lotza Restaurant. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water (I needed it at this point, it was again a hot day) and Tzatziki, followed by a Greek Salad and a Spinach Pie. The food here is AMAZING, just like the view from the patio! I’ll be going back here this year in October during my next Mediterranean Cruise!

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It was then time to start wandering back to the bus stop to head back to Fira, I was so glad to have just wandered Oia. I really got to relax, take my time and take in the atmosphere here. I would have hated to be ushered around like in some of the ship tours I saw. I found a few cute boutiques on the way back to the bus, and did buy a few knick nacks.

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On the bus, I paid my €1.80 and stared out the window, totally melancholy, taking in the wondrous day I just experienced. Again, so grateful…

Once back at Fira, I walked back to the gondola, however still had a bit of time to kill. I found a bar with a view, this time of the bay with the Norwegian Spirit anchored below and free wifi. I ordered a beer called Volkan, a local beer made here on Santorini. It was really refreshing and great tasting! I’m normally a wine drinker, but this trip seemed to be more beers haha…

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It was then time to head back down to the ship. I boarded the gondola, again reminiscing of the perfect day I had. The tender line wasn’t too bad, I was actually expecting worse, perhaps because it was only us in port today. Once back onboard, I went to my room and changed into my swimsuit and headed to the pool and went swimming. About an hour later the ship sounded it’s horn, probably a 30 minute warning to passengers already not onboard that we were leaving soon. As we raised anchor, I headed back to my stateroom and watched our sail away from my balcony. I opened another bottle of prosecco and “cheered” Oia as we sailed by, thanking the universe for such a great day…

It was then time to get into my white cocktail dress (it was the “White Hot Party” tonight), and head to the Latitudes cocktail party. Again it was nice to connect with the officers and some of the other guests. Had a couple more glasses of prosecco and a glass of white wine to go, where I met up with friends again to watch “Mistika” Magic Show at 7:30pm. I thought it was going to be tacky, however the show was great! I actually really liked it! We then went to the Garden Room (another MDR) and had a late dinner. I had a spring roll to start, followed by a primi of carbonara then my main course of chicken cordon bleu. I had an amazing tiramisu for dessert.

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It was then time to head up for Norwegian Cruise Line’s Signature “White Hot Party”. As soon as I got upstairs, I honestly was beat. It was a long day in the heat again, and the tiredness hit me full on. I stayed for awhile to enjoy the music and a bit of the party. Then it was time to call it a night…

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 7 – Santorini:

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Next up… Katakolon (Olympia)…

 

 

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 6

Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens)

Woke up quite early this morning, just before sunrise and was very thankful I did. As this trip went on, I felt a new theme in a sense for more than just the cruise but in how these places were effecting me personally… Gratitude… It was a beautiful sunrise this morning just as we were docking in Piraeus, the main port area near Athens. I sat on my balcony for quite some time, drinking coffee watching the sun rising and just relaxing, with the ferry traffic coming and going. We docked at about 6:30am, earlier than our 9:00am scheduled arrival.

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I then headed up to Raffles and ate outside aft, again overlooking the port. This is another favourite place for me on the ship by far! After a light breakfast, I headed back to my cabin, grabbed a few items then ventured out to meet up with my tour. The tour I did here in Athens was through Shore Excursions Group called “Exclusive Athens with Free Time in the Plaka”. We met our tour guide just outside the terminal and boarded a bus to Athens. We did a driving tour of the city, making a few photo stops along the way. We drove by the now mostly abandoned 2014 Olympic venues. Some they are renovating and trying to utilize, others are just now in a state where they’ve been abandoned for too long and are in need of more repair than it’s worth.

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One of my favourite photo stops on the tour was of the Ancient Olympic Stadium, I love history. With Peyongchang 2018 on my mind, it’s crazy to see how far the games have come. This is where I also felt the first touches of Greek mythology come to life. Statues dedicated to Athena, Apollo and Zeus abounded throughout the city.

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After our city tour, we were dropped at the Acropolis and most of the group opted to do the guided tour of the Acropolis. I decided to skip it as I knew one day I’d be back. It was getting hot and the Acropolis had quite a bit of scaffolding around it, so I thought I would just wander the streets of the Plaka. I was so happy I did this. We were each given an ice cold water bottle at no charge after departing the bus, which came in handy let me tell you. The Plaka has some very touristy spots, but there are some spots that are very “local”. I was worried about visiting Athens, as most clients and friends tell me it’s not a nice place to visit, dirty and just not pleasant. I actually had quite the opposite experience.

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Walking and wandering the streets of the Plaka was great. Athens does have a bylaw that no buildings in certain areas of the city are over six stories tall, this is so that where ever you are in the city, you can view the Acropolis. I spent the last while at the Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian. I did do quite a bit of research on historical architecture before I left for Italy and Greece, so it was awe inspiring to see the different types of columns and just imagining how these massive structures were built in that day and age. The Temple of Zeus utilized a Corinthian style of column, whilst the Arch of Hadrian an smaller version of the same style.

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Arch of Hadrian with the view of the Acropolis through it…

Temple of Zeus by WanderlustJourney.ca

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After a day in the heat, I had an hour to kill, so I found a rooftop patio and had a beer overlooking the Plaka and the Acropolis in full view.

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It was then time to say “good bye” to Athens and head back to the ship. Once back onboard, I changed into my swimsuit and took a much needed swim in the pool. I bumped into friends in the pool and had a drink with them in the Bier Garten afterwards. After sail away I headed to my cabin and got ready for dinner, I was eating at Windows again. I was again seated at the very back of the ship at the large windows, which was a great view of leaving Piraeus. I was hungry after all the walking I did today, so I ordered two appetizers tonight, a tortellini caprese starter and an order of shrimp pot stickers, my main course was the beef brisket (they had me at Guinness mustard sauce) and a white chocolate coconut mousse for dessert.

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I then caught the 7:30pm showing of the Spirit production cast in “Soul Rockin’ Nights”. It was pretty good, great singing and dancing. After the show, I changed back into my swimsuit and headed back up to the pool. At this time the pool seems to be empty and you can normally get an entire hot tub to yourself. After, I wrapped up and went a deck up to the Bier Garten and had a gin and tonic under the stars, with fading sunlight in the distance. I noticed at this point we were cruising very slowly, many large ferries leaving us in their wakes, next up was Santorini, so it wasn’t too far away. As this was the case, I headed to bed, I wanted to be well rested for the next day. When I got back to my room, a little bear friend was waiting for me…

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens):

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Next up… Santorini!

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 5

Day 5 – Iraklion (Heraklion), Crete (Greece)

Today I was officially in Greece…

Woke up around 8:00am local time to views of the Island of Crete, the clocks did go ahead one hour last night. I went for breakfast at Cagney’s again, ordering only one eggs benny as two is just too much for me. I did have to deal with an overcharge at the gift shop this morning, so headed down there and got that sorted. How did I notice there was an overcharge? I use the Norwegian iConcierge app when sailing on a Norwegian ship. Once you’re onboard, you can track your onboard account, what’s happening that day on the ship (even get a sneak peek to other activities on other days before you receive the daily), and you can pay to use it to message others.

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After dealing with that I headed back to my stateroom to watch the sail into Iraklion, Crete. It was quite an interesting, busy port, with a historic fort still attached to one end. There were several ferries, and an airport very close, so spent a bit of time watching the planes take off as boats were coming and going while we waited to be cleared by the port authority.

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Cruise ship leaving, plane taking off as we arrive…

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Arriving to Heraklion, pilot boat on it’s way

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Pilot boarding the Norwegian Spirit

Iraklion (or Heraklion), is the fourth largest city in Greece, and is close to ruins of the Palace of Knossos, where my name was first found anywhere, Ariadne. Princess Ariadne helped Theseus to overcome the Minotaur, which to Greek mythology was under the Palace of Knossos. Heraklion is known as Hercules’ city, and is full of history.

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Once off the ship, you board a free shuttle to the port terminal. If you want the best price to get around, I did the public bus. It costs €5 for a day pass. Once you exit the terminal, you will see the small manned kiosk to the left across the roundabout. From here you can take a bus up to the Palace of Knossos. Today was HOT. This is also where the Greece Lonely Planet guide let me down, it mentioned that the entry price was €6 per person in the guide I had (only a year since printed). Once at the admission gates, there was a massive line and the price was €25 per person… Mmmmm nope, don’t need to see it that badly. I got fed up standing in the heat and decided to hop back on the bus to go explore Heraklion. I realized afterwards that this also could have been a “cruise ship day” price…

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I collect Starbucks mugs from all over the world (just kinda started to happen, so I kept going with it), so I found a Starbucks and got a set of two demitasse mugs. I like the idea, as I can grab a mug and sip a coffee with memories of the place I picked them up at…

This is the one place I wished I had actually done a tour. I enjoyed walking around, but it’s just another seaside city. I think doing a wine tour here would have been a lot more fun, heading into the lusher valleys. I had a Greek beer near the end of the pedestrianized road after you guessed it… shopping, and just enjoyed the view in the shade. I found out a bit later that they did have wifi, so again checked in at home. From here the sun was starting to set a bit, so instead of bussing it back to the port, I did walk. It was maybe a kilometre or so to the terminal from here.

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Once at the terminal, I boarded a shuttle that took me back to the ship, where a cool towel and drink were waiting on the gangway for us. Once back on board, I headed up to my room, relaxed then started to get ready for dinner at Le Bistro.

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I noticed we hadn’t left the dock quite yet and walking outside the wind had definitely picked up. I watched the final bit of the sunset on the promenade before my dinner reservation was ready. I was seated by the window and at that time I noticed that we were trying to leave but couldn’t. The wind was pushing us back to the dock. Even mid ship at Le Bistro, I could feel the ship trying to maneuver, but wasn’t going anywhere.

Dinner at Le Bistro was heaven. I had the scallops to start, followed by the most amazing french onion soup. My main course was the beef tenderloin and dessert was a hazelnut chocolate torte. Everything was beyond amazing.

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By the time I finished dinner, we had finally started to move, probably three hours or so after we were originally set to depart. I could tell that it was full steam ahead to keep on schedule. After, I headed up to the Galaxy of the Stars, had a nightcap of a Moscow Mule (in the souvenir tin mug) and listened to the live music for about an hour, then called it a night. When I arrived back into my room, a towel rabbit and my daily were waiting for me…

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 5:

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Next up… Piraeus (Athens)…