Sunday, January 30, 2011

Notice of Slight Policy Change

Historically, the purpose of this blog has been to choose some destination in the world and pick out my favorite accommodations there.  The posts always included plenty of photos and usually some background on the location. (Most recently we added a mini-series chronicling an Oceania cruise itinerary, but still with hotel picks.)

Often there are a number of fabulous hotels or rentals, and I agonize over which is my very favorite. Sometimes I’ve included more than one but sort of felt that I was “wimping out” when I did that.

I’ve decided that isn’t wimping out. There are many factors that go into hotel selection. Some are: personal style preference, location (including views), and price for dates of travel. So how can it hurt to share with you a greater breadth of what’s available?

Going forward I'll still research and click on every upscale hotel in a location. If there is a definite ScheckTrek pick, I’ll let you know. But most likely I’ll include photos that speak to me, from a variety of hotels. A bonus for the reader is that it’s likely to give more depth and richness to our knowledge about the area’s architecture, as well as its travel options. I’ll still include background information regarding history, geography and/or things to do there.

I hope you enjoy the tours!

Vicki Scheck

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oceania Cruise: Athens

Evzones, changing of the guards, Athens, Greece.
(Photo courtesy of Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

This is the 10th and final post in our series which has covered the “Grecian Glory” itinerary of Oceania’s newest ship, Marina. In fact, as I write, Marina has now left the Genoa shipyard and is on her maiden voyage heading for Miami, where she will be christened.

Here’s a final look at her in this series.
(Photo from Oceania Cruises)

Marina’s final stop on her “Grecian Glory” cruise is Athens. Of that ancient city, you have no need that I write. However, a photo tour is always in order! I searched 3,000+ photos of Athens to select the 10 below.

Evzones, changing of the guards, Athens, Greece.

(Photo courtesy of Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

The Evzones (Presidential Guards) guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament Building. There’s a changing of the guard every hour, and on Sundays a grand ceremony is accompanied by a military band.

(Photo courtesy of Trent Strohm)

Parthenon - Athens
(Photo courtesy of Ryan Healy)

Zappeion, Athens, Greece
(Photo courtesy Tomasz Zdandowski)

Athens 020
(Photo courtesy of Royal Olive)
Corinthian Columns

Ionic Order - Athens
(Photo “Ionic Order” courtesy of Ryan Healy)
Ionic Columns

Ancient Agora of Athens
(Photo courtesy of Camelia TWU)
Ancient Agora of Athens

(Photo courtesy of Tilemahos Efthimiadis)
Agia Eirini Church

Athens Metropolitan Church - Μητρόπολη Αθηνών
(Photo courtesy of Spiros K)
Athens Metropolitan Church

Athens trip 2007 622
(Photo courtesy Pretty Kate Machine)


There are two hotels I like very much in Athens. Both are 5-star, and both have an excellent TripAdvisor guest ranking of 4.5. One is the Hotel Grand Bretagne, and it is over-the-top luxury, especially in its suites. However, its average prices start where our pick hotel’s leave off.

SCHECKTREK PICK: Classical King George Palace

A reviewer said of the Classical King George Palace, “This is a fairytale hotel, and you will feel like royalty.” Looking at the photos, that’s easy to believe. (Photos from Expedia unless otherwise noted.)

Rooms are individually decorated, so the guest room photos below are only a sampling.

Tudor Hall Restaurant

(Photo from

This brings us to the end of our special series, chronicling Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise, which will take place this May. Since November 18 we’ve made virtual visits to Venice; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Zakynthos and Monemvasia, Greece; Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey; Delos and Mykonos, Greece; and finally, disembarkation in Athens. We hope you’ve enjoyed the tour as much as we’ve enjoyed presenting it.
Join us again next week as we resume our pick for other exciting destination somewhere on the planet.  And meanwhile, happy cruising, Marina!

(Sorry, this photo of the Classical King George Palace prefers to be at the end of the post!)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oceania Cruise: Delos and Mykonos, Greece

Since November 18, 2010 we’ve been covering the itinerary of a specific Oceania cruise: “Grecian Glory.” This cruise – which will include the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic Seas – will be on Oceania’s brand new ship, Marina. In fact, as I pen this on January 16, 2011, we are just 5 days away from Marina’s maiden voyage to the U.S., where she will be christened.

Each week, in addition to providing information about one of “Grecian Glory’s” ports of call, I include photos of various staterooms and/or public spaces. This week I’ll feature the Oceania Suite, as well as some of the activities on board.

First, the suite. At 1,000 sq. ft., the Oceania Suites are the third largest on the ship, after the Vista Suites (1,200 sq. ft) and the Owner’s Suites (2,000 sq. ft.). They’re available either forward or aft on the ship to provide unparalleled views. In addition to butler’s service and numerous amenities, the suite includes a private Jacuzzi on it’s private veranda. That would be enough to sell me on it right there!

Below is just a sampling of activities aboard ship. You’ll notice that I include drinking coffee as an activity! (Cruise-related photos and quotes from

As you sit ensconced in a tufted leather chair in Marina’s welcoming library immersed in the latest bestseller, you are drawn by the aroma of freshly-brewed specialty coffees to Baristas, Oceania Cruises’ new coffee bar directly adjacent to the library. A stunning arc of floor-to-ceiling windows provides panoramic views high above the glittering sea as our master baristas present you with the finest espressos, frothy cappuccinos, delightful pastries and homemade biscotti. A comforting yet stylish enclave, Baristas offers the tasteful chance to relax and savor the moment.

What a place to have your morning (or afternoon) cuppa!

Rather than just watching others create and merely taking notes, the best way to acquire new skills is through hands-on learning. It’s especially true with regard to culinary and artistic endeavors. Working side-by-side with an expert in the field is the ultimate way to master talents such as how to make a perfect soufflé or how to sketch landscapes in charcoal. Nothing rivals the hands-on experience, so we have created two magnificent learning centers onboard Marina, Bon Appétit Culinary Center and Artist Loft Enrichment Center.”

Sample a fine assortment of wine, scotch, champagne, cheese and chocolate or take an opportunity to improve your knowledge of wines by conversing with Oceania’s head sommelier.”

The 9th and 10th ports of call are two Greek Isles: Delos (from 8:00 a.m. till 12:00 noon) and Mykonos (from 2:00-8:00 p.m.)


Greece - Delos: Maison du Cleopatre

Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz
House of Cleopatra

Delos is an uninhabited island located in the center of a circular ring of islands called the Cyclades. It’s a site of considerable archeological interest, disproportionate to it’s size of only 2.4 miles. Regarded as the birthplace of Apollo, the ruins are largely of temples of pagan worship. In 1990, UNESCO included Delos on the World Heritage List, saying that it is an "exceptionally extensive and rich" archaeological site which "conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.”


Mykonos is known as a party island by night, but many tourists go for its white-washed buildings, crystal clear waters, and to see its working, 16th-century windmills. Following is a photo tour of this picturesque island.

Hotel Tagoo, Mykonos
Photo courtesy of BluEyedA73 (

(Photo from Expedia)
Palladium Hotel

Is is just me, or do you also feel a fresh, clean island breeze just looking at this open-air restaurant near the sea?

Mykonos Windmills
Photo courtesy of Frank Camp (

Mykonos (13 of 14)

Photo courtesy of Sheyneg (
Such clear water!

The Real Mykonian

“The Real Mykonian,”
courtesy of Vassil Tzvetanov (

(Photo from Expedia)
Rocabella Mykonos Art Hotel and Spa

(Photo from
Porto Mykonos Hotel

Mykonos, Greece

Photo courtesy of Elliot Freeman (

ScheckTrek Pick for Mykonos: Cavo Tagoo Hotel

(Photo from Expedia)

(Photo from Fivestaralliance)

(Photo from Expedia)
A bedroom in one of the suites.  Very rustic sinks!

(Photo from Epoque)
The Spa

(Photo from nbportal)
The hotel has unique touches throughout.

(Photo from Expedia)
If this is indeed the restaurant, as I saw it labeled,
this part of it seems so intimate.

(Photo from Expedia)

At 8:00 p.m. on May 15, the Marina will set off for the last port of call on the “Grecian Glory” itinerary: Athens!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Oceania Cruise: Santorini, Greece & Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey

(Photo from, courtesy of Carmen Alonso Suarez,

This post addresses ports #7 and #8 on the “Grecian Glory" cruise of Oceania’s newest ship, Marina. Marina is due to be christened in early February 2011, and this cruise will happen in May.

(Photo from Oceania Cruises)

Port # 7 on the cruise is Santorini, Greece, one of the major tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, and one that is definitely on my bucket list. I covered Santorini in my June 27, 2010 blog, so I’ll just post a photo on this one.

(Photo from Residence Suites in Santorini)
View over Santorini's Caldra

Port # 8 on the cruise is Kusadasi, Turkey.

Kusadasi Panorama

Daytime temperatures should average about 68 degrees in May, and there are several interesting things to see and do in Kusadasi. One of them is—would you believe it?—to sip Starbucks! Also, Kusadasi’s local bazaar, said to be the second largest in Turkey (behind Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar) is a good place to shop for leather goods, jewelry, and oriental rugs. Click here for a few more suggestions.

The primary reason for a port call to Kusadasi, however, is because it’s only about 11 miles from Ephesus. (Take the cruise line’s shore excursion, or for busses, walk up into the town center and take the bus to Selçuk—they run every 15 minutes or so. Taxis are also readily available.)

At the end of my last post (Monemvasia, Greece) I mentioned the popularity of Ephesus among those I know who have cruised there before. It was not just, “I loved it!” or even, “It was my favorite stop”; but it was more along the lines that it was the favorite stop for everybody in the group. I hope this will illustrate some of the reasons, though I have a feeling we’ll only fully "get it" when we witness it in person.

Once a trade center for the ancient world, Ephesus was the second largest city in the world in the first century B.C., and was for many years the second-largest, behind only Rome, during the Roman Empire. It was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. And it was a city of biblical import, playing host to both the Apostles Paul and John. One book of the Bible, Ephesians, was written by Paul to that city’s believing population. The city was further mentioned by John in the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse) in about 95 A.D.; and some scholars believe that when he penned that work, he did so from Ephesus.

The Apostle Paul actually caused a two-hour uproar in Ephesus regarding Diana (Roman name), or Artemis. That the city was home to the Temple of Artemis, and that that temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, probably explains the tumult if one were to come in promoting another God!

(Photo courtesy of Zee Prime at cs.wikipedia)
Model of the Temple of Artemis at Miniature Park,
Istanbul, Turkey

The Temple of Artemis was the largest building in the world, according to Pausanias, the 2nd century A.D. geographer. The oldest remains of a previous version date to the 6th century B.C., Hellenistic Age. “Pliny [1st century Roman author] describes the temple as 377 feet…long and 180 feet…wide, made almost entirely of marble, making its area about three times as large as the Parthenon. The temple's [inner chamber] was enclosed in colonnades of 127 Ionic columns, each 60 feet…in height” (Wikipedia article on “Temple of Artemis”).

The temple has suffered repeated disasters and is today reduced to a column sitting on swampy land. Most of its artifacts are in the British Museum in London; some are in the Archeological Museum, Istanbul. The genuine statue of Artemis can be seen in the nearby Selçuk Museum.

(Photo courtesy of Julian Fong)

The jury is still out as to whether those are breasts, eggs, fruits or—lovely thought—the testicles of bulls.

“Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city's original splendor…” (Wikipedia). There is something about being able to walk in and among these ancient ruins that is a big part of Ephesus’ appeal to tourist.

(Photo from
Celsus Library

“The Library of Celsus, the façade of which has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces, was built c. 125 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila in memory of his father and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. Designed with an exaggerated entrance — so as to enhance its perceived size, speculate many historians — the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light” (Wikipedia).

Terrace Houses

Under current excavation are seven Ephesus terrace houses, the ancient dwellings of rich Ephesians. The oldest date from the 1st century B.C., and some of them were in use until the 7th century A.D.; and sizes range from 1000 to 6000 sq. ft. Two of the houses have been opened as museums, and on weekdays, visitors can see the archeologists working. (This has to go on my short list of things to see there!)

These homes had all the modern amenities of their day, including heating, hot and cold water, toilets, and possibly a private bath. They were mostly two-storied, with inner courtyards that were open-air. Windows and balconies faced the courtyard, not the outside world, to help protect the property from burglars. (Sources: and

Public toilets, built in the 1st century A.D.,
with a drainage system
I thought I had seen it all when, on tour of a Virginia river plantation, we were shown a 5-seater outhouse. What do they do, I wondered? Post men’s and women’s hours? But this one takes the cake. Since there was an entrance fee to use the public toilets of Ephesus, I suppose it was only the well-heeled who sat practically hip-to-hip, facing the center of the room (and each other) as they all…well, you get the picture.

Early Advertisement

Perhaps just as interesting is the explanation behind this inscription on the marble road. It is considered the first advertisement in history and is believed to be an advertisement for the brothel. “There is a footprint on the advertisement, one finger showing the library, and other showing the brothel. The known explanation of this sign is that the footprint shows that one should turn at that point; the woman's head symbolizes the women waiting in the Brothel and the heart shows that the women are eager for love” (

Temple of Hadrian

The Temple of Hadrian, built before 138 A.D. and dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures on Curetes Street.

ScheckTrek pick for accommodations in Ephesus: as yet undecided.

The remaining ports of call for Oceania’s “Grecian Glory” cruise will be the Greek locales of Delos, Mykonos, and Athens.

Till then, sweet dreams and smooth sailing!

(Photo from Oceania Cruises)