TRAVEL REVIEW: All aboard for sights, culture and a lot of fun

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When I read Costa Cruises’ itinerary to the Black Sea it set my adrenaline going. Five countries, and nine ports of call, each with spectacular sights and different cultures further increased my enthusiasm. When I saw the cost I picked up the phone and said: “Yes please.”

Costa Deliziosa’s first port of call was Katakolon, Greece and after a scenic drive we arrived at Olympia, the legendary home of the Olympic Games.

Nestling in a forest valley at the foot of Kronion Hill you are whisked back in time to 776 BC when the winning results of the events were first recorded.

We meandered through the preserved ruins of the Olympic village and marvelled at the Temple of Zeus, the God who athletes paid tribute to.

You can’t fail to walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great at the temple he built. You see the stadium area which hosted 45,000 spectators.

As I gazed in awe, the immortal words came to my mind: “They place a laurel wreath around your head, you are the Olympic champion.”

The following day, a row of white windmills beckoned us to the charming Greek island of Mykonos.

Local musicians playing traditional music in tavernas create a relaxed atmosphere, helped by sipping a local beer. Sailing from the island at sunset the windmills reflected a mystical image.

From the next port, Izmir in Turkey our ship’s excursion took us to the shrine of the Virgin Mary, declared a Holy sight of pilgrimage in 1892. Set amongst the lush greenery of Mount Bulbul, a tiny church stands on the foundations of the humble house where it is said she lived the last years of her life. The next part of the tour was the ancient site of Ephesus. We walked down the marbled Curettes Street to the library of Celsius and absorbed its grandeur – a sight to behold.

Early morning sailing into the Golden Horn, we caught our first glimpse of Istanbul, the only city in the world that straddles two continents – Europe and Asia. Planning your day is simple, as all the major sights are within easy walking distance.

We started at the Grand Bazaar, an Aladdin’s cave for shopping and fun to participate in the friendly bartering.

A short stroll taking in an atmosphere that is quietly vibrant brings you to two of the most spectacular sights of the city, Hagia Sophia which has served both as a church and a mosque, now a museum captures your interest through its history and splendour.

A small park separates this from the Blue Mosque, named because of the magnificent interior with its large collection of blue tiles. Adjacent is the Hippodrome, once the home of Roman chariot racing where we sat absorbing the flavours of Europe and Asia.

Final stop was the Spice Bazaar which oozes an oriental atmosphere.

With goods at keen prices, we happily parted with our spending money. Sailing out of Istanbul was a spectacle, 14 miles of magical backdrop seen while relaxing in the ship’s jacuzzi on deck.

Overnight sailing through the Black Sea brought us to Constanza in Romania.

Our tour highlight was a visit to the Murfatlar Vineyard and its original wine cellar.

We were greeted by staff in traditional costume and a welcome white brandy, smooth with a little kick.

We were entertained by Romanian folk music and dancing and the atmosphere soon became lively.

Different music and types of dancing, with changes of costume reflected the various regions of the country, and the local food served was simply scrumptious.

By this time we were half way through our cruise and evenings on board Costa Deliziosa were something to look forward to, gorgeous food and great shows in the theatre were spoiling us, and we didn’t mind one little bit.

Our first port in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian city of Odessa impressed us with its fine buildings situated in tree- lined avenues, made possible because Catherine the Great of Russia gave builders a three-year interest free loan, which attracted the finest architects from Europe.

The museum of Fine Arts hosts a fine collection of masterpieces, sights of elegance in an extremely beautiful city.

Waking up the next morning, we were greeted with blue skies, therapeutic air and panoramic views of Yalta and the Crimea coastline.

Our tour started at the former Tsars’ summer residence known as the White Palace which hosted the Yalta conference between the allied powers of the USSR, USA and Great Britain.

Its rooms have been preserved as museum areas, each one playing a significant role in shaping world history, after WW2.

I stood behind Sir Winston Churchill’s chair in the conference room, and wondered what may have been said.

Journeying along the Crimea coast gave us great photo opportunities, including the Swallow Nest Castle perched on the cliff edge, then on to the Nikitsy Botanical Gardens with more than 50,000 species.

After a relaxing day at sea we arrived at the port of Piraeus.

Getting into Athens proved to be expensive by taxi, so we chose the “hop-on-hop-off” bus service at only 10 euros return which took us to the Acropolis.

Exploring it created a lasting image.

Strolling around the neighbouring district of Plaka, the old part of Athens, we became absorbed in the sights, smells and sounds of Greece.

Lunch in a local Taverna included various hams, slightly salted cod, freshly baked bread, washed down with local beer at a cost of only 7 euros each.

Our final day’s sea journey took us to the last port, Rome.

We started with a visit to St Peter’s square and its fascinating Basilica.

From there we went to the Trevi Fountain, a perfect location for a picnic lunch.

We made our way to the Coliseum, then explored sights such as the Imperial Fort, Circus Maximus and the monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, all within a short walking distance. .

This was a cruise that offers spectacular sights, cultural experiences, fun times and made daydreams a reality.

Waking up in different Countries is exciting, and getting there is just plain sailing.