Eleven months ago, at the beginning of July 2023, we booked back-to-back cruises, for May/June 2024, with Oceania Cruise Lines sailing from Istanbul to Rome and then Rome to Seville in Spain.

Over the next few months, we purchased air tickets and made bookings at accommodations in a few cities where we would be stopping over in between sailings but it seemed such a long time to wait. We also had to select and pay for any excursions of which we wanted to partake well in advance. For us, these were done in January.

When 08 May 2024 finally arrived and we left South Africa we were really excited. We had chosen to visit Europe once more as in 2022 we were given a 2-year Schengen Visa which expired on 08 June 2024 meaning that we didn’t have to apply for another. We would be visiting a lot of places we had not visited previously as well as a few that we had. Two of these were Istanbul, Turkey and Tangier, Morocco both of which required their own visas. For Turkey this was easy. Download the application form, complete it, pay the fee and it arrived in the email within in 24 hours. Morocco was another story altogether. To apply online a South African had to have a 90-day Schengen visa and this was not possible for us. Our only alternative was to travel to the Embassy 900kms from our home city or to the only Consulate in the country 2000kms away. We decided that, for a one-day visit this was impractical, so we didn’t leave the ship on that day.

We were taken to King Shaka Airport, north of Durban, by very dear friends who ensured that we were not late for our flight. When we booked our flights, we were extremely fortunate to get Business Class seats at a reduced price on a special offer. This was our first flight to have such a treat so were thrilled. Prior to the flight we had access to the Business Lounge which was also something different.

We departed Durban on 08 May even though our first cruise only departed Istanbul on the 11th.  We had not visited Athens in Greece before and, are unlikely to get another opportunity, so we decided to 16spend a couple of days there first. We arrived in Athens, having flown via Doha, at 06:00 and had arranged to go to the hotel, leave our luggage and spend some time walking around the locality.

The taxi dropped us off a block from the hotel telling us that he was unable to get any closer. This surprised us as, the following morning, there were many taxis going down this street. In addition, we had been keeping an eye on his meter and saw that it read €42.50 but he said that the cost was €65 as there was a basic of €50. From where he got the other €15 we have no idea. Travellers, always ask the price of the trip before getting into a taxi!

It was a most interesting hotel as it was completely digitally controlled. During our flight we had received an access no to get into the front door and to our room. It turned out that this is also used to access the Luggage Storage room. There is no formal Reception facility as you can only use the facility if you have your access number. This is disconnected at 12 noon on the final day of your stay so no official checkout.

We first walked up to the road where the taxi had dropped us and, on the way, saw 2 very different churches situated very close to one another. The first was large with a prominent dome while the 2nd was significantly smaller and less grand. We learnt the following day that the first one had been a Reformed Anglican Church but, after the Greek War of Independence, it was taken over by the Russian Orthodox Church and is still that today. In 1853, the Anglicans built their new church in the same street.

      The Russian Church

The Anglican Church

We decided to get a 48-hour ticket for the Hop on/Hop Off bus to see as much as possible. The following day was the only full day that we had in Athens so with this we could start early on both days. Our main reason for visiting Athens was, of course, to visit the Acropolis. Before leaving home we had purchased tickets online and this is the best way to get access as the queues are very long.

On the first day, we alighted at a couple of interesting stops, in particular, the Olympic Stadium for the Inaugural Olympic Games in 1896 and then the very large National Gardens. We were very impressed how the stadium had been maintained for all these years. It appeared perfect at the grand old age of 138. There was a sign showing the statistics for the stadium and the two most significant were the capacity at <60 000 and the marble used for the floor and other structures weighed 85.100 metric tons.

The Olympic Stadium

The Stadium’s dimensions
An Olympic athlete

From there we crossed over and on the other side there were some statues and sculptures of Olympic athletes of that era. At that time only men were athletes and they partook in the Games in the nude and the sculptures were the same. There were also 2 statues of Greek leaders of which only one had a name on it. That was General Georgios Karaiskakis, a military leader and the leader of the Greek army in the Greek War of Independence in 1821. On the rear of the base of the statue was an inscription with the date 1827. The rest was Greek to me but, with the wonder of Google lens, it was translated as, “Gen George Karaiskakis. Be considered upright forever.”

Gen George Karaiskakis

We entered the National Garden, Zappion as it is known in Greek and is in the centre of the city, comprise 38 acres. It was established between 1838-1860, created by Queen Amalia, the wife of King Othon, and her German gardener Schmidt. It is beautifully laid out and the paths easy to walk. There were many orange trees and ripe fruit was falling to the ground from them. It seemed such a waste of beautiful looking fruit but the animals scampering around were enjoying the oranges. Further into our holiday we saw hundreds of orange trees, in almost every city, growing on the pavements, mostly heavy with fruit, which we learnt was intended for the homeless. A wonderful idea but it didn’t seem as if they were being picked by them.

Trees growing along the well laid out paths.
The football pitch before the game

Within the Garden there was also a football field and we watched some young boys playing a very noisy and boisterous game. At another point there was a well laid out children’s playground and also, within the Garden there were 2 or 3 restaurants but they were all very quiet on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

The football pitch before the game

Although we didn’t cover the full 38 acres by any means, it took us quite a while to exit the gardens and then to find our way back to the hotel. By now, it was late afternoon, so we collected our luggage and retired to our room which was large, clean and very welcoming.

Trevor uses our code to open the front door of the hotel