Though we saw the eclipse while cruising on the Black Sea, we cruised other waters as well: notably the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the two famous straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. As in each of the other eclipse trips we have taken, we combined the 1999 eclipse viewing with tour visits to places near the site where we viewed the eclipse. The following cities were on our itinerary for this eclipse cruise:
We flew to Athens the day before taking the cruise ship and arrived in time to see some of Athens on our own. The hotel was closer to the port of Piraeus than to downtown historic Athens, but they had a nice little shuttle bus which we took that afternoon to Athens proper. We wandered a little in the beautiful National Gardens, continued to the Parliament building, in front of which they have the guards in their skirted uniforms, guarding the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier, and then continued into the large area called Plaka, at the foot of the Acropolis, which is an old part of the city that has become a large "touristy" place for shopping, eating and wandering around.
Before boarding the ship the next day, we were picked up at the hotel and given a guided tour of, mainly, the Acropolis, though we also had important, interesting things pointed out as we drove along, such as Schliemann's Mansion (discoverer of Troy), the University, and National Library complex. We did stop to see and take photos of the Old Olympic Stadium that was in beautiful condition.
The highlight of the Athens tour, of course, was the Acropolis itself. There is evidence of much rebuilding; the Parthenon for example has scaffolding inside it as they appear to be restoring the inner temple; but, as you no doubt know, these are ruins of Glorious Greece! We especially liked the smaller temple called the Erechtheion, the one that has columns called caryatids that represent female figures. Talk about Greek columns!! What a treat to see!
It was night time when we cruised the Dardanelles and most of the Sea of Marmara, so we arrived at Istanbul at about noon. We had arranged for the optional tour, by bus, with guide (as we did in practically all the places we docked). So, off we went to visit the amazing area by the Golden Horn which contains the famous Hagia Sophia Church, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. Hagia Sophia was built by Constantine in the third century. It's the one that ended up being the only Byzantine cathedral and Christian church in what, of course, is a very Muslim country. It's now a museum, and being renovated and repaired (there are enormous scaffoldings inside it; the workers way up there looked like little midgets, it's so huge). The very beautiful mosaics of Christ/Saints/Virgin Mary/etc. which had been plastered over by sultans throughout the ages, are mostly uncovered and cleaned up. The dome is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
However, the Sultanahmet mosque (the one known as the Blue Mosque because of its blue tiles inside) is even more breathtakingly beautiful. To visit this mosque we had to take off our shoes since it's an active house of worship for Muslims. We walked on carpets and craned our necks to admire the "filigree relief-carved marble balustrades" and the very fine blue-green tile work.
The Topkapi Palace Museum is huge. This is where the famous Harem of the sultans was located. The Council Hall within the Palace walls is a building with a large room where court was held that we could only view from the outside. The huge kitchens are now a museum of an outstanding porcelain ware exhibit. The buildings that used to house pages and the Treasury are now museums as well. There is an outstanding cradle decorated with diamonds and rubies, a ceremonial golden throne, many daggers with jewels, etc. The views of the Bosphorus and of the Asian side of Istanbul are particularly lovely from the Topkapi. Also included in this city-tour, enough time to explore (and almost get lost in) the Covered Bazaar which has about 4,000 different shops, and visit a large rug company just outside the Bazaar. That night we went to a dinner show. The dinner was typical Turkish and the show was mainly belly-dancing.
Nessebur, in Bulgaria, is a small museum town, identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The Port is small and we had to disembark onto tenders to be taken ashore. We visited an outstanding, though small, archeological museum which confirmed the long and tumultuous history of that little place, being over-run by Thracians, ancient Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. We walked the streets where an unusual Church was pointed out by our guide. After the walking and shopping, we were taken north on buses to a place in Sunny Beach, for lunch and a folklore show. We enjoyed this show which was authentic folk dancing and music. The singing was well modulated, the instrumentals did not overpower everything, and the costuming and dancing were very pleasant.
We visited Odessa and Yalta in the Ukraine, on succeeding days. We had chosen not to take the guided tour of Odessa because we had a map copied from a book that described a walking tour and we blithely thought we could tour on our own. Well, we could do it on our own because we could walk off the ship, cross a bridge/overpass and easily get to the bottom of the Potemkin Steps, but our map had all the street names written in our alphabet, whereas the actual street signs were in Cyrillic, as was a large map in one of the downtown intersections. However, we had a neat adventure. We like to buy soap in various places because that's something to find in a regular store, not necessarily in a tourist gift store trap. We spotted a grocery-type place and behold there was soap, wrapped in paper all printed in Cyrillic! Since we could not read the printed words, we chose the soap that had pictures of apples and lemons shown on the wrapper. They could not take dollars, so we found a money changer and trotted back to buy our soap! In this type of place there isn't likely to be English spoken (or French, or Spanish...) but that's what makes it more fun.
The famous Odessa Opera House, Baroque masterpiece built by the architects who were also responsible for the Vienna Opera House, is being reconstructed and not open for regular performances. However, the Royal Olympic Lines had arranged for a performance just for their passengers. They danced (ballet of course) Chopiniana (by Russian ballet master Michael Fokin) and Carmen Suite. Absolutely entrancing!
In Yalta we did both shore excursions. In the morning we visited Alupka Palace, built by a Vorontsov Count in the early 1800's. Some 150 rooms are now museum. Its grounds and park are exquisite. The statue of a lion carved in marble was most impressive.
Later we visited Livadia Palace, where the last of the Romanovs would spend summer. This is also the site of the 1945 "Yalta Conference" when FDR, Stalin and Churchill got together to discuss the final arrangements of the surrender of Nazi Germany. The meeting room for the Yalta Conference was being refurburished and was completely empty of furniture. We saw the Italian Yard where the three leaders were photographed. Curiously, the tour included only the areas of the Palace that had to do with the Yalta Conference. They did not show us any of the upstairs rooms used by the last tsär, but we did buy a booklet that showed some pictures of Nicholas and Alexandra with their family vacationing there.
The afternoon shore excursion was another folk show. We had almost decided not to go but people were all recommending that it was worth it. And it turned out to be quite enjoyable. The costumes were striking: very Russian/Ukraine-looking. We liked most of the dancing and singing, except for the soloists that were too loud...
Our ship, the Stella Solaris docked right at the Yalta dock, so after we returned from the folk show we walked around downtown Yalta with some friends. Our friends wanted to get up close to the Lenin statue and also wanted to visit a church that we had only driven by on our tour. We wanted to get our feet wet in the Black Sea to say that we had been in the Black Sea. The pitiful little beach we went to, right there at the dock, was completely filled with bathers; of course it is a stony beach, but we had the fun of cooling our feet in the water (which we had read was quite polluted). The best beaches were out of town.
So we cruised southwest to rendezvous with the path of totality of the eclipse. Everything went smoothly and beautifully. The weather was clear, the seas calm. We had a perfect viewing spot on the top deck.
August 11th, after the eclipse, we continued sailing. Again, we cruised Bosphorus in the night, but we had stayed up to see Istanbul as we glided by. The mosques were illuminated; it was striking.
We sailed all night, and all day and arrived at Mykonos at about 630 PM. We quickly were whisked off the ship, onto buses for the short drive to Mykonos. Mykonos is tiny; we walked around, took pictures of windmills and quaint white and blue houses and narrow alley streets. Afterwards we sat down at a sea-side cafe for a drink and to see the sunset... Well, the sun disappeared into a bank of pollution and the drinks were quite expensive... (we definitely were in a tourist area, though most of them appeared to be young Europeans, rather than old Americans). Though Mykonos was cute on some level (and we at least touched the Aegean Sea...) in a way it was not the best end of our outstanding trip! Perhaps the best ending was when we went up on deck to see if we could catch a Perseid shooting star. Though we saw only one, it was huge. We all gasped as we saw it!
Getting off the ship and to the airport in Athens was handled efficiently, once again, by Royal Olympic Lines. The flight out of Athens left on time, and was smoothly uneventful. However, we were tired, and it didn't help that we had to wait in line at JFK in NY, sitting in the plane, for more than two hours for our flight to Washington! Apparently there were weather problems. Finally, we arrived home safe and sound after another wonderful trip to see a total eclipse of the sun!