Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 6 – Istanbul, Turkey

After spending the majority of the day at sea cruising through the Dardanelles, we approached Istanbul from the west at about 3pm.  The approach into Istanbul was beautiful, and I enjoyed pointing our parts of Istanbul to my girlfriend, Aunt, and Uncle.  I previously spent time in Istanbul about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Because of this, I really looked forward to returning on this trip.

We ultimately didn’t dock until around 5pm due to high winds, but when we did my girlfriend and I disembarked and walked into town directly to the Galata Bridge.  We had the fortune at docking at the cruise ship birth closest to the Galata Tower and Bridge, so the location was extremely convenient.  After viewing the fishermen from the Galata Bridge, we proceeded to the Egyptian Bizzare – or Spice Bizzare to see the sights, sounds, and smells of the place.  Overrun with spice merchants, vibrant colors and smells filled the air making for a pretty intense setting.  Ater this, we walked back across the bridge, and up the hill to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.  As the timing worked out, we were up on Galata Tower right around sunset, which made for some amazing pictures.

We then continued up the hill to the Galata area.  We explored the side streets full of bars and cafes, and came upon a few of the bars that I’d been to last year on my trip to Istanbul with friends.  We started back towards the ship before stopping for a Turkish dinner of kebab and Turkish pizza.  It was tasty as always.  We returned to the ship around 9:30pm where the ship was putting on a Turkish Bazaar dinner up on board – they really did a nice job with it though we did not partake.

May 7 – Istanbul, Turkey

This was a unique port of call for a cruise since we were docked in Istanbul overnight.  The overnight call aspect of the cruise was one of the most attractive features of the trip for us.   Having been to Istanbul before, I had a pretty good idea of a proper tour itinerary for my girlfriend, aunt, and uncle that next morning.  We decided to take the tram to the Sultanahmet stop – a short, ten minute trip (for €3 per person, each way).  Here, we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but we did have to wait in line for about a half an hour before being allowed to enter and take pictures.  The view inside was amazing as usual, and  reminds me of the cover of my high school World History textbook.  Next, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, but decided not to enter due to the massive line to get in.  Entrance would have been €10 per person had we decided to brave the line.  I did go inside the Hagia Sofia on my last trip to Istanbul, and in my opinion, it would have been worth the wait.

Alas, the rest of the group didn’t want to wait, so we headed across the street to the Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Sistern was also ten euros per person.  I quite enjoyed this last time, and I did on this trip as well.  It’s a dimly lit cavern full of water and yellow and red lighting.  We then proceeded to the Grand Bazaar, which was only about a ten minute walk from the Sultanahmet area.  As usual, the Grand Bazaar was utter chaos – not quite my cup of tea, but the ladies wanted to get some shopping in.  We took a quick break for a lunch of doner kebap before taking the tram back to the ship in time for our scheduled 5pm departure.  The sail away from Istanbul was simply beautiful as we passed Istanbul landmarks like the Galata Bridge, Topapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and Blue Mosque.  That evening, we enjoyed appetizers in the room before our dinner at Tamarind — the specialty Asian Fusion restaurant onboard.

May 8 – Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece

We awoke the following morning off the shore of Lesbos – a Greek Island just off the west coast of Turkey.  The ship was anchored about a mile off shore, so we utilized the ship’s tenders to transport passengers into town.  Mitilini is a picturesque, Greek fishing village centered around a harbor.  It really reminded me of the harbor in Georgetown, Grand Cayman about twenty years ago before the high rise buildings.  The harbor is lined with cafes that turn into nightclubs at night.  Since Mitilini is apparently a college town, these seemingly sleepy cafes convert into a raging nightclub scene after dark (or so we were told).  We enjoyed several beers and shots of ouzo at a couple different cafes in Mitiline before and after a stroll down the main shopping / market area of the town.  The ouzo was a must since Lesbos is where the Greek drink originated!  We decided against an organized tour to another location or beach on the rather large island, and this port served as a leisurely break in between the two, tour-intensive Turkish ports of call.

May 9 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Kusadasi is one of two port cities used by cruise lines to access the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is the much closer of the two ports (Ismir), and it is only about a twenty minute cab ride from the pier in Kusadasi to Ephesus.  We arranged a cab at the pier as transportation to Ephesus for a total of €60, round-trip.  The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus is very scenic, as you hug the rugged coastline for most of the 15km trip.  Upon arriving in Ephesus, we paid an entrance fee to the ruins.  The ruins themselves were spectacular.  The pictures below speak for themselves.  Highlights of the ruins included the Terrace Houses (extra entrance fee), and the Great Arena, which held up to 25,000 spectators.

After spending about an hour and a half at the ruins, our cab driver drove us back to Kusadasi, where we briefly walked through the town bizarre before having a Turkish lunch at Toros, right on the harbor.  The kebab lunch was fresh and delicious.

Kusadasi itself functions as a major beach resort town on the Turkish coast.  The coastline, the beaches, and water are beautiful in Kusadasi.  The Turkish coast as a whole is renowned for some of the finest beachest anywhere on the Mediterranean, and this is certainly a region to which I’d love to return.

Next stop:  Santorini, Greece…

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Review: United BusinessFirst: Tokyo – Denver

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo
United BusinessFirst Tokyo – Denver


Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

Boarding the Dreamliner for a long flight over the Pacific

It took almost an hour and 45 minutes to get from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku to Narita Airport.  This airport is really nowhere close to Tokyo, as we ventured far from the city center, all the way out to Narita.  Narita is Tokyo’s primary international gateway, but Haneda is definitely the closer of the two airports.  In the future, if I’m staying in Tokyo, I will try to get on a flight into Haneda if at all possible.  The drive out of Tokyo was nice since I got to see some areas of Tokyo that I had not seen before.

Eventually, we pulled first into the city of Narita, and then into the departures area of the airport.  I grabbed my bag and headed to check-in, where there was no line at all.  I quickly went through security and immigration and headed to the United Club since it was only about 90 minutes prior to departure at that point.  The United Club was absolutely slam packed, so I did not take any pictures.  I did; however, have a few beers from the automatic beer machine — I definitely need one of those in my kitchen!  After about 45 minutes in the lounge, boarding for the Denver flight was announced, and I headed down to the gate to embark on a sparkling new United 787 Dreamliner (ship# 3901).

United Airlines (UA) 138
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Denver (DEN)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 1E (BusinessFirst)
Thursday, June 27
5:00 PM – 12:50 PM
Duration: 10:50

Seat 1E

Seat 1E

It’s a pretty awesome thing whenever one is seated in row 1 on an international flight, as this almost certainly means that your flight will probably not suck.  We boarded the aircraft through door 1L and the flight attendant showed me to my seat — seat 1E in the front BusinessFirst cabin.

On this flight, the BusinessFirst cabin was completely full, but I still had plenty of room in my seat.  Since I was traveling by myself, I prefer the middle pair of seats so I wouldn’t have to climb over anybody to get to by belongings during the flight, and so I wouldn’t have anyone climbing over me when I was asleep.  This turned out to be a good idea, because my seat-mate was pretty intoxicated — I mean, flat-out drunk.  Luckily, he passed before we even took off, but he did receive a warning from the flight attendant when he woke up a few hours out of Denver.  We departed Tokyo on time, and rolled out past what seemed like dozens of JAL 787 Dreamliners before we rolled down the runway en route for Denver.

After about an hour in flight, the dinner service started.  It was very similar to the menu on the flight over with one Japanese entrée and three Western entrees to choose from.  Since I’d eaten the beef tenderloin on the flights over, I chose the Hawaiian Sea Bass for my main on this flight.  It was excellent, though the sushi, ironically was not quite as good as it was on the flights over (go figure!).  Overall, dinner was very, very good.  Though it was not quite as good as the dinners on the outbound flights, it was definitely tasty and cooked correctly.

IMG_3977 IMG_3979 IMG_3981 IMG_3983 IMG_3985 IMG_3987 IMG_3989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I finished my sundae for dessert, I had a few drinks and watched several episodes of House of Cards on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.  The IFE on the new and newly renovated United (ex-Continental) planes is fantastic with a multitude of movies, tv shows, and other entertainment to choose from.  It is certainly enough to entertain someone for a ten-hour transpacific flight.

IFE and legroom in seat 1E

IFE and leg room in seat 1E

After a few episodes of House of Cards, I reclined my seat to the lie-flat position and dozed off for about 5-6 hours of shut-eye.  The bed was extremely comfortable, and I slept right up until the flight attendants started the breakfast service.  As I’ve mentioned before, the bulkhead rows on United’s BusinessFirst cabins provide much more leg-room in the foot well, providing for a much more comfortable ride.

Anyway, breakfast was served — I ordered the omelet.  It was pretty good — certainly an improvement over United’s domestic first class breakfasts.  Overall, this was a fantastic flight with a great, attentive crew, awesome IFE, good food, and a comfy seat — definitely not a bad way to cross the Pacific!

We arrived in Denver almost 90 minutes early.  Since I was seated in the first row, I was off the plane in a hurry.  After a long walk to Denver International Airport’s immigration area, I broke to the right to proceed through Global Entry.  After about 30 seconds, I was cleared and headed out into the main terminal.  Global Entry is absolutely fantastic, and in my mind is definitely worth the $100 fee for five years.

Because of my early arrival in Denver, I went ahead and changed to an earlier flight back to Washington-Dulles.  By doing this, I gave up my first class upgrade back to IAD, but I did nab and exit row.  The major win here was that it got me back home almost 3.5 hours earlier.  After a relatively short, non-eventful flight back to Dulles, I hopped the Washington Flyer bus back to West Falls Church Metro Station and took the train back home.  WIth that, my 15 day adventure all over the world was over!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Introduction

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


If you read the title and found yourself wondering, “uhhh… what?”  Don’t worry, it’s not you.

It’s me.

Over the next few weeks, I will be chronicling my adventures through three different continents, over a dozen flights, and of course all the fun I have in the different cities I’ll be visiting.  This trip has ended up being a rather complex one to plan and organize, so I will  make  separate post that details how this thing ultimately came to fruition.  Planning for this trip has ultimately been in the works for well over a year thanks to the continual delays of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

United 787-8 Dreamliner

United’s 787-8 Dreamliner

I will detail parts of my trip that I find interesting — especially the international flights in premium cabins.  I’ll also highlight some of the other flights, possibly some hotels, and definitely my activities in the various destinations on this trip.  I may however, choose not to mention in detail the shorter, domestic flights — especially the one(s) in economy class  unless something unusual happens.

The path of my journey:  DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

The path of my journey: DCA-JFK-GIG-SCL-GRU-JFK, LGA-DEN-NRT-HKG-DXB-HND, NRT-DEN-IAD

This is my first trip report that will be covered on this blog, so please bear with me.  I’ll try to make the updates as timely as possible, but I also want to enjoy my vacation.  So content will be added, but I’m not sure at what pace I’ll be able to publish it.

Enjoy!