Wednesday, June 1, 2011

DAY 6 – Zakynthos, Greece (Oceania Cruise)

Vicki and Al on top of the world in Zakynthos, Greece

What a great day in Zakynthos!!

Actually, we were a little concerned at first in that the seas were quite choppy, and the tenders were having difficulty in coming alongside the ship. Obviously, safety is the crew’s first concern, so shore excursions had to be delayed by about an hour until they felt confident that shuttles could proceed to the shore without incident.

One of Marina’s lifeboats, used to shuttle passengers to shore

Inside the lifeboat tender on the way to Zakynthos

Waiting patiently on shore was Jackie Boots Gklavas (also spelled Glavas) and the bus for the independent tour we and others had booked through Nefis Travel. We cannot say enough good things about Jackie and Nefis Travel! Due to rough seas, we were not able to take a boat to (and into) the Blue Caves as planned. That was unfortunate but couldn’t be helped. However, Jackie made it up to us, first of all by cutting the price of the tour. She then quickly reworked the itinerary and still gave us a full day of sightseeing, including a little museum out in the middle of nowhere (well, in Pigadakia, to be more specific).  My favorite part of the museum was their bathroom!

The bathroom door was a rug at the Vertzagio Folk Museum, Pigadakia, Zakynthos, Greece

All the conveniences of home in the bathroom at the Vertzagio Folk Museum, Pigadakia, Zakynthos, Greece

Vertzagio Folk Museum, Pigadakia, Zakynthos, Greece

A local market in Anafonitria with handmade offerings, which had tastings of various
local goodies and wine prepared for our arrival (Zakynthos, Greece)

A stop at the platform overlooking Navagio Beach (a.k.a. Shipwreck Beach)
for THE photo op of Zakynthos

At a tiny monastery on Zakynthos, Greece

We enjoyed a light lunch (Jackie covered the cost of the food), at a taverna in Giri where you could almost think you were the first Americans ever to set foot there.

Window at the Tabepna tavern in Giri, Zakynthos, Greece

Jackie surprised us all by picking up a guitar and playing / singing Greek folk songs while we ate. Great voice for folk music! After a song or two, the owner took the guitar (and later, harmonica) and sang to us, while Jackie harmonized. What a treat!

Jackie Boots Gklavas, of Nefis Travel, in Zakynthos, Greece

Click here for a YouTube posting of Jackie's folk singing.  It's worth a listen.  Click here for a second one, produced by Nefis Travel (with a little Bob Dylan action).  Either or both can provide you with some Greek music while you finish reading the blog -- and maybe, if you're like me, even after!

Oops! Busses come head-to-head (well, almost) in Zakynthos.

We later made another photo stop with a panoramic view.
Café in Zakynthos, Greece, with Marina anchored off-shore

This was an incredible day, driving past vineyards, olive groves and farms, and marveling at all the different blues in the sea. Having a tour size of 18 people was perfect (though that could vary day by day, depending on how many booked the tour). We never felt rushed or “herded.” As people started feeling they were ready to move on from one place, they started gathering by the door of the bus, others saw it and joined them, and soon we were all there and moving down the road. The whole thing was delightful.

Jackie taught us a lot, too. Zakynthos is an island in the Ionian Sea, and it is the Ionian Sea that boasts the deepest part of the Mediterranean: 17,280 feet, or 3 miles! The oldest tree on the island is 1,500 years old.

On Zakynthos, it wasn’t unusual to see unfinished houses that were two- to three-stories high, but only the first floor was finished and inhabited. The upper floors were just the concrete shell. Jackie explained that people build their homes with the expectation that their children will eventually, when older, finish the upper floor(s) and live there. But another reason for leaving them unfinished, if we understood correctly, is that no taxes are paid as long as the houses aren’t finished.

Back at the ship, I was able to go to a photography class, one of several that was held during the cruise.

Onboard photographer David Smith taught us some special effects.
Clearly I need to work on my technique!

The cruise also offered cooking and art classes. So many options, so little time!

That night we had reservations at another specialty restaurant: Red Ginger. All the restaurants were excellent, but Red Ginger seemed to be a favorite of many passengers.

When making reservations for the specialty restaurants, you can specify whether you want a table for two or to share with others. We opted to share and were seated with Lana and Ed, a fun couple from Canada.

Lana and Ed

At Red Ginger, aboard Marina (Oceania Cruises)

What was this?  After the appetizers, we found out.

At Red Ginger, aboard Marina (Oceania Cruises)

It was a hot cloth to wipe our hands after eating the appetizers.

We had such an enjoyable evening at Red Ginger, and my Tom Kha Gai soup (lemongrass, coconut milk and chicken) was amazing!

TRAVEL TIP re NOT GETTING RIPPED OFF: While in Zakynthos, Jackie had warned us ahead of time that the ice cream cones at our final stop should only cost €1.5. Sure enough, the vendor tried to charge us €2.5. When I balked, he pulled out a price list (hidden before we arrived) that actually said €1.5, adding, “But that’s for one scoop, you got two scoops.” I handed the cone back to him, saying, “But I didn’t ask for two scoops,” at which point he responded, “Take it. Our gift.” (Right.) I let Jackie know, and she went over to talk to them about it.

Lessons learned: look for posted prices whenever possible. Better yet, if you have a tour guide, ask her what something should cost before you purchase.

CRUISE INFO re INDEPENDENT SHORE EXCURSIONS: When there was some question about whether we’d even be able to go ashore due to high seas, we were really glad we hadn’t been required to pay any money in advance for our shore excursion. But after a private conversation I initiated with Jackie, I came to see there are two sides to this (as there are with most things!). There were some passengers who’d reserved the tour but didn’t show up. Since they hadn’t canceled with her, we all ended up waiting for the next shuttle, so as not to leave without them. In addition to all of us waiting unnecessarily, Jackie had rented a larger bus than needed because of the additional reservation(s). Some local tour operators are now thinking they might have to ask for a deposit with reservations. Obviously that would be a chunk of money to lose if tenders can’t get ashore through no fault of the passenger. A solution is to book the cruise line’s tours, but those tend to be costlier to begin with. It’s an interesting conundrum.

CRUISE TIP re SEASICKNESS: Due to seas that were a little rough for tendering ashore, Oceania’s reception desk gave out packets of seasickness pills to any who wanted them.  We picked up some for the journey, not quite knowing what to expect from the waves. Of course, there is always the question: should I take a pill now, proactively, or should I wait and see? We noticed that the medication could cause drowsiness, which would not have been a happy side effect for our shore excursion, so we opted to wait, which turned out to be the right decision in our case. It was no problem at all; in fact, we weren’t aware of anyone who experienced seasickness on the entire cruise.

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