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Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM: Part Four

Posted on Monday, December 23, 2013 by

Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM, part 4

by Kalle Id

MaritimeMatters’ Kalle Id reports from the fourth and final leg of a ten-day cruise Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline onboard Holland America Line’s 1997-built ROTTERDAM. This time we explore Alanya in Turkey and Limassol in Cyprus, before a return to Piraeus for the end of the cruise.

Holland America Line official website: www.hollandamerica.com

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are copyright © 2013 Kalle Id.

 

Sunday, 17 November 2013: Alanya

 

The eight day of our cruise found us in Alanya, Turkey. I must admit we had quite heavy preconceptions of the place, as the Finnish reality TV series Matkaoppaat (literally “The Travel Guides”) has mostly been filmed there. Intentionally or not, the series gives the impression of Alanya as typical tourist trap with little to no actual tourists attractions. Hence our primary goal was to seek out the offices of Detur, the travel company Matkaoppaat is made with. (Incidentally, the Matkaoppaat format has been invented in Finland).

The walls of Alanya's old town, as seen from the cruise quay.

The walls of Alanya’s old town, as seen from the cruise quay.

With this preconception in mind, imagine our surprise when we were greeted by a sight of an old hilltop fortress and an old town surrounded by walls clinging to the side of the hill (there was admittedly a new tourist town next to this, but even so). In fact, Alanya has a long, fascinating history, including a period during the antiquity when it was a base for pirates. And pirates, as we all know, are always cool.

Before we could set out to the delightfully warm town, there was one more thing to be done onboard: the now-traditional “our toilet is not flushing properly” -complaint to the Front Office. This accomplished, we set out of the ship to explore the older parts of Alanya.

Locals in the Alanya old town. Photo copyright © 2013 Maria Id.

Locals in the Alanya old town. Photo copyright © 2013 Maria Id. 

Instead of taking a bus or taxi, we decided to climb the hill of the old town up to the fortress on top. This proved to be rather interesting, as we lost sight of the sings pointing the right way at some point. A local child pointed us at the direction of he claimed was the castle, which never-the-less led to what was essentially a dead end. There a man, who at least appeared to be living at the house on the end of the path, agreed to guide us further to the top – literally climbing up the rock face of the hill. Some of the way up our guide decoided we could clear the rest of the way ourselves and asked for payment.

Climbing up the hill. Photo copyright © 2013 Maria Id.

Climbing up the hill. Photo copyright © 2013 Maria Id.

In hindsight, the whole thing was probably a set-up. The local children apparently had a little fun in misdirecting tourists (this was not the only time during this single day that we were sent to the wrong direction by them) and the local house-owner made some extra money by taking tourists way up the hill by a very non-conventional route. But we  just couldn’t be mad afterwards. The climb in itself was a brilliant experience, but it was nothing compared to when we stopped near the top to rest for a bit and at that same moment, call to mid-day prayer started from the town’s numerous mosques. Standing there, slightly our of breath, listening to sound of dozens of calls to prayer mixing and echoing around the town was simply sublime.

The ROTTERDAM seen from Alanya's castle hill.

The ROTTERDAM seen from Alanya’s castle hill.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were not the only people who had ended up taking the unconventional way up the hill. Near the top we saw two other people climbing up, who turned out to be Olli and Liisa, the other Finnish couple onboard the ROTTERDAM. We made our way towards the fortress on the hilltop together, exchanging experiences of cruise ships – and being Finns, naturally discussing cruise ship saunas – before going our separate ways near the top of the hill.

A view from atop Alanya's castle hill, with the lovely Mrs Id providing further beautification.

A view from atop Alanya’s castle hill, with the lovely Mrs Id providing further beautification.

After the experiences of climbing up the hill, the rest of the day was… I won’t say a disappointment, but certainly not as interesting. We walked to the fortress atop the hill, but did not go in as we were by this point suffering from a difficult museum overdose. We walked around the hilltop, finding the correct way down and made our way to the newer part of the town (this time ignoring the “advice” of the local children). We never found the local Detur office, but we we consoled by our discovery of a Finnish restaurant. Which, fortunately, was closed.

A Finnish restaurant in Alanya, selling such unmissable Finnish treats as Koskenkorva (“kossu”), industrial-grate ethanol diluted with spring water so that it's (barely) drinkable. This foul stuff is the second most popular alcoholic drink in Finland.

A Finnish restaurant in Alanya, selling such unmissable Finnish treats as Koskenkorva (“kossu”), industrial-grate ethanol diluted with spring water so that it’s (barely) drinkable. This foul stuff is the second most popular alcoholic drink in Finland.

Once back onboard, we enjoyed a little lunch at the Lido (mostly salad), followed by a dip in the pool. Later on, we also tried the ship’s self-service laundry for the the first time (this was in fact the first time we tried the laundry on any ship). We even recieved a call that our toilet ad been fixed.

Explorations Cafe on deck 5, which also doubles as a library and games room.

Explorations Cafe on deck 5, which also doubles as a library and games room.

The highlight of the evening for today was the Auction for the Philippines, arranged by the crew to raise money for the Philippines resque effort after the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). On offer were such interesting items as various behind-the-scenes tours of the ship. In the end the auction raised $1500 for the resque effort. We never actually went to see it, unfortunately, having just this evening discovered that the Explorations Café on deck 5 had a bunch of board games on offer. This evening’s programme for us included a go at the US edition of Trivial Pursuit (much easier than the UK edition we played some years ago on the THOMSON DESTINY) and several rounds of trilingual Scrabble.

Trilingual scrabble, with Finnish, English and Swedish words accepted. Finnish was particularly challenging as the English-language edition of the game is missing some key letters.

Trilingual scrabble, with Finnish, English and Swedish words accepted. Finnish was particularly challenging as the English-language edition of the game is missing some key letters.

Tonight's towel animal, which I presume is a dog.

Tonight’s towel animal, which I presume is a dog.

Monday, 18 November 2013: Limassol

The next day dawned with us moored at a port outside Turkey for the first time in a week, with Limassol outside our balcony. Unfortunately, here the harbour is somewhat removed from the city center. A shuttle bus was available for the rather steep price of $12. If one walked out of the cruise terminal, there was a bus running to the city with the much more sensible price of 2 €. As it turned out, the city was a c. 45 minute walk away, so we took up that option.

An enthustiastic routist giving you all a warm welcome to Cyprus.

An enthusiastic routist giving you all a warm welcome to Cyprus.

En-route to the city we passed a Lidl and decided to go in to buy some water and something to nibble on. Those of you who are not familiar with Lidl, it is a German supermarket chain, with shops in pretty much every country of the European Union. All Lidl stores follow the same basic concept as closely as possible, selling the same merchandise and even with the stores laid out as identically as possible. It was a more than a bit weaird experience going into a supermarket surrounded by palm tress and finding it virtually identical to our local Lidl in Helsinki.

Limassol shopping.

Limassol shopping. 

In the center of Limassol we took a look at the local shopping streets. Cyprus seems to have been badly hit by the current economic downturn, as there were a lot of empty shops. On the other hand, the local stores also sold some of the best-looking clothes I have seen in a long time… but unfortunately none of these were large enough for 190cm (~6 foot 3 inches) tall man with a bit of extra padding around the waist. What we did discover was a store selling ”genuine copies” of Orthodox christian icons, one of which made a fine gift for my mother, who is – amongst other things – an amateur icon painter.

A beach scene in Limassol, with the weather not inviting one linger.

A beach scene in Limassol, with the weather not inviting one to linger. 

Having pretty much exhausted the few interesting shopping chances there were, we decided we just had time for a visit to the Limassol Castle before we needed to head back onboard the ship. The castle was erected by Guy de Lusignan in 1193 after he had become the King of Cyprus(having lost the crown of Jerusalem that year), although other sources claim Richard the Lionheart had married Berengaria of Navarre at the same castle already in 1191. Beneath the castle are the remains of an early christian basilica. The current form of the Castle dates, unsurprisingly, from the Ottoman era.

Inside the Limassol Castle, with the gravestones of... some people not explained in any texts inside the museum lining the walls.

Inside the Limassol Castle, with the gravestones of… some people not explained in any texts inside the museum lining the walls.

Today the Limassol Castle houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum. Though interesting in itself, the museum does suffer from the common problem of archeological museums (that I have already touched upon in previous parts of this report) in that it did not give proper explanations of why the items on display are important. The worst example of this were a collection of crusader-era gravestones, which had text in them, but no explanation in any language of whose gravestone it was, let alone what the text in the slab said.

The coat of arms of the Lusignan family in Cyprus, combining the coats of arms of Jerusalem (top left and bottom right) with those of the Lusignan family (silver and blue stripes) and Cyprus (red lion rampant).

The coat of arms of the Lusignan family in Cyprus, combining the coats of arms of Jerusalem (top left and bottom right) with those of the Lusignan family (silver and blue stripes) and Cyprus (red lion rampant).

Limassol rooftops as seen from the top of the Limassol Castle.

Limassol rooftops as seen from the top of the Limassol Castle.

When we got back onboard, we were surprised to discover three crewmembers in our cabin fixing out toilet – a day after we had been told by the front office it had been fixed. (Although in hindsight we maybe shouldn’t have been surprised, considering how shoddily the whole affair had been handled so far). The plumbers left, saying they had “replaced everything” and that it was now fixed. (It wasn’t).

Formal night dining at the buffet. Very Finnish.

Formal night dining at the buffet. Very Finnish. 

Tonight was the second formal night of the cruise. We considered going to the main dining room, but the menu there was not particularly inspiring and the long wait for food we had experienced on the previous visits did not inspire for us to give it a try, so we once again headed to the Lido for self-service instead. We ended up dining there with one of our companions from our Istanbul visit to the main dining room, (one of the three people in our table back then named) Peter. Peter was on a longer circuit of the cruise, staying onboard for the second ten-day leg to the Holy Land that followed our Turkish discovery.

The corridors around Explorations Café house some of the more impressive pieces of the ROTTERDAM's art collection, various Chinese and Japanese historical artifacts, as well as replicas of the famous Terracotta soldiers from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Having recently seen some of the real ones in Finland, the replicas were not as interesting for us as they could have been.

The corridors around Explorations Café house some of the more impressive pieces of the ROTTERDAM’s art collection, various Chinese and Japanese historical artifacts, as well as replicas of the famous Terracotta soldiers from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Having recently seen some of the real ones in Finland, the replicas were not as interesting for us as they could have been.

After dinner we headed again to the Explorations Café for some board games, including a delightful (and very fitting) little game named Rotterdam – The Port of Europe. This was about transporting cargo to Rotterdam’s different harbours, rather than anything more cruise-like. After our game we headed to the Wajang Theatre to see Wolverine. Not a movie I was particularly interested in, but Maria wanted to see it and when could I say no her?

Our first game of Rotterdam – Port of Europe ended in victory for me, having transported both a shipment of plastic bottles & t-shirts, and a shipment of jam and t-shirts.

Our first game of Rotterdam – Port of Europe ended in victory for me, having transported both a shipment of plastic bottles & t-shirts, and a shipment of jam and t-shirts.

Returning from the movie to our cabin and ready to retire for the night, we discovered that, once again, our toilet was not working. Now I admit that at this point I rather lost my temper and stormed to the Front Office. Sadly, the approach of going there and yelling at the staff proved much more effective than our previous civilized approach and a plumber came to look at the toilet almost immediately, promising to come back the next morning for a better look.

Tonight's towel animal: the Gorilla.

Tonight’s towel animal: the Gorilla.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013: At Sea

On our final full day of the cruise we woke up to the onslaught of plumbers, who did something to our toilet and afterwards it worked fine again (for the moment). This was followed by breakfast and lazing around on deck, relaxing after the intense discoveries of the previous days.

Buffet breakfast. One thing that surprised me was prevalence of relatively soft, fat-heavy cheeses (what we call in Finland cream cheese) and the lack of harder Dutch-origin cheese types like Edam and Maasdam, which certainly would have fit into the historically-oriented onboard product nicely.

Buffet breakfast. One thing that surprised me was prevalence of relatively soft, fat-heavy cheeses (what we call in Finland cream cheese) and the lack of harder Dutch-origin cheese types like Edam and Maasdam, which certainly would have fit into the historically-oriented onboard product nicely.

To pass the time, we decided to attend one of the Techspert Time lectures onboard. Sponsored by Microsoft, these lectures are the only free-of-charge technology programme at sea. Admittedly, most of the lectures seemed to be of the type rather lost on tech-savvy people like us, but this afternoon’s Meet Windows RT proved interesting. I still won’t buy one, but thanks to Techspert Tony my decision is much more informed than it would have been otherwise.

The Queen's Room on the ROTTERDAM has been transformed into a Digital Workshop for purposes of the Techspert programme. Notice Tony's fantastic pose.

The Queen’s Room on the ROTTERDAM has been transformed into a Digital Workshop for purposes of the Techspert programme. Notice Tony’s fantastic pose.

A reminder that we are quite far north: the low sun as seen from the Lido Deck at half past three in the afternoon.

A reminder that we are quite far north: the low sun as seen from the Lido Deck at half past three in the afternoon.

In the afternoon had a look at the shops, buying traditional ship mugs (two mugs for every cruise we’ve been on) but deciding to skip the rest. I do slightly regret not getting an HAL Barbie doll.

Today's dessert: Big Apple cheesecake. This was so sweet we couldn't finish it even between the two of us. Clearly, the American idea of a cheesecake is quite different from the (relatively) light European cheesecake.

Today’s dessert: Big Apple cheesecake. This was so sweet we couldn’t finish it even between the two of us. Clearly, the American idea of a cheesecake is quite different from the (relatively) light European cheesecake.

The rest of the evening passed according to the established pattern. We skipped the finale of Dancing with the Stars at Sea (eww!), opting instead for more board games, followed by a dinner at the buffet and after that, the packing.

The traditional last night (non-alcoholic) drinks. I somehow managed to pick the girliest option on the list.

The traditional last night (non-alcoholic) drinks. I somehow managed to pick the girliest option on the list. 

For the grand finale of the final night onboard, we headed to The Mix, where piano entertainer Les was giving a request night. He didn’t know Sparks, the favoured band of two MaritimeMatters writers (but promised to look into them). He did, however, treat us  to an absolutely splendid piano version of David Bowie’s “Heroes”.

The Mix, with Les' head skillfully hidden behind the chair.

The Mix, with Les’ head skillfully hidden behind the chair.

Last night's towel animal, the... umm... err... hmm?

Last night’s towel animal, the… umm… err… hmm?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013: Piraeus

The final morning onboard dawned in Piraeus rather gloomy, as we were being passed by the remains of the storm that had lashed Sardinia just a few days before. Our day begun suitably to the overall theme of the cruise, with the toilet not working. At this point we decided to sod it, and leave it as the problem of the next inhabitants of the cabin (sorry, whoever was in 6179 for the next cruise).

A pleasant discovery in Piraues port was the LOUIS CRISTAL (right), the ship I took my very first non-ferry cruise on (admittedly this was back in the day when she was the SILJA OPERA for Finnish-market short cruises), that was being prepared for a transatlantic crossing and around-Cuba itineraries for Cuba Cruises.

A pleasant discovery in Piraeus port was the LOUIS CRISTAL (right), the ship I took my very first non-ferry cruise on (admittedly this was back in the day when she was the SILJA OPERA for Finnish-market short cruises), that was being prepared for a transatlantic crossing and around-Cuba itineraries for Cuba Cruises.

Disembarkation went smoothly and we were soon on our way for our six-interchange trip home (okay, most of those interchanges were in the Athens Metro but even so).

So, I guess it is time for closing remarks:

Except for one thing, this would have been the best cruise I have ever been on. For the first time on a “proper” cruise ship, I felt the onboard product consistently exceeded that of the Baltic Sea ferries I have grown up with. But then there were the problems with our toilet and the way the Front Office staff handled our complaints. As said, the toilet was never fixed. We were never offered any kind of compensation, and we were at least once downright lied to, with claims that our toilet had been fixed when in fact it had not been. I can understand that something can be difficult to fix, but then for crying out loud be honest about it and don’t lie to your passengers.

If we forget the issues with the toilet and the Front Office staff, this was a superb cruise. The destinations were interesting and educational, the entertainment was very good, the food ranged from okay to great (though food hygiene, at least in the buffet, could have been better). After all the great experiences I had on the cruise, I’d love to say it was the greatest cruise I’ve ever been on. But I can’t.

End of Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM.

Special thanks to Maria Id and Martin Cox.

For more photographs by Kalle Id, visit kships.blogspot.com.

10 Responses to Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM: Part Four

  1. Jeff Taylor

    December 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Great report, as usual. One thought, though…I do suspect that a suitably sternly worded written complaint to Holland American or Carnival would result, at the very least, in a discount on a future cruise if that would be appealing. Give it a try!

  2. Kenneth Eden

    December 24, 2013 at 3:48 am

    The Holland America ships seem to have toilet problems, as I have experienced from my cruises in their ships. Plugging up, reeking through the halls, flooding and refusal to work properly, be it stateroom, or public restrooms. Seems not to affect the sinks nor the baths or showers. Complaints from passengers are legion, repairs negligent during the cruise. This has been a factor on the various “class ships”, across the fleet.

    Ah, Maria welcome’s one and all to Cyprus! What a great picture. Sort of like “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, Cyprus style!

    You seem to have been well fed, a little heavy on the red meat for my tastes, good to avoid the sweets.

    The mugs, THE best souvenir from any cruise. I make a decision which cruise ship do I feel like having my coffee from each morning, so far, my current fav’s are Celebrity, Cunard and Princess, they offer 15.5 ounce’s, for tea, iitala mugs – we went crazy purchasing iitala in Helsinki a few years back, even talked them at he shop to ship it free!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful cruise. We’re off on EQUINOX in March, can’t wait to see if they have any new mugs!

  3. Kalle Id

    December 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Jeff: I’m very glad you enjoyed the report! Also, a very good point on the sternly worded letter. I’m currently pondering whether or not it would be of any utility to get a discount or even a free cruise. As much as I enjoyd the cruise on the ROTTERDAM, I’m not sure if I want to sail with them again in the near future. Not because I wouldn’t like their product, but simply because there are so many other interesting cruise products I haven’t tried yet & that I would like to experience before returning to HAL.

    Kenneth: If the toilet problems are that wide-spread, that just makes the whole issue more puzzling. Before this, I’ve only ever had a toilet issue once, on the VIKING XPRS, and that was fixed in about half an hour after reporting it. If I was inclined to blame the quality of shipbuilding in other countries (naturally I think that us Finns built the best ships out there), I might theorise the problem is peculiar to Italian-built ships, bearing in mind that pretty much the entire current HAL fleet has been built at Fincantieri.

    I must admit the sweets were so much avoided as simply not included in the photographs of these reports. ;) And as for red meat, it was somewhat plentiful on the cruise… but rarely eating any meat at home, we thought we were entiteled to it for once (plus beef is in general a more ethical choice than white meat, as cows tend to live happier lives than pigs, let alone poultry).

    And yes, the mugs! I have to say the ROTTERDAM mugs we got from this cruise are my new favourite ones, being large and stylish. They are even better than the Silja Line mugs I got from onboard the SILJA SERENADE last year. And Iittala are indeed fantastic! Not just the mugs, but plenty of their other products too. I’m especially partial to the HotCool glasses designed for use with both hot and cold drinks. Immensely practical.

    Maybe that was enough of getting off-subject. Carry on!

  4. Jeff Taylor

    December 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Kalle: By way of a short personal remembrance, I toured the Eastern block and Russia in the late 1960′s, and upon leaving St. Petersburg proceeded to my first bit of Western civilization in several weeks. We flew to Helsinki and I stayed at the Schlosshotel Kalastiatorpa (sorry for the spelling–it’s been over 40 years). What a delight! Clean rooms, no smells, charming people, my first co-ed sauna, and wonderful food. I loved Helsinki. Is that hotel still there?

  5. Kalle Id

    December 25, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Jeff: That sounds rather fantastic! Even the soviet parts. :) Kalastajatorppa is indeed still there, it’s become something of a Finnish institution and I think it isn’t going to disappear any time soon.

  6. Marc Cote

    December 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    My wife and I just were on the Eurodam on a short Bahamanian cruise. The toilet worked fine but the sink was extremely slow to drain and the bathroom floor had a squishy spot that actually sounded like water was trapped underneath and was squishing. The sink was fixed immediately although the plumber left a small puddle under the elbow joint where it was taken apart and cleaned. This was our fourth HAL cruise on our third HAL ship but we have nothing to compare it never having been on any other lines. In some ways I like the familiarity of the ships but would also like some variety in their amenities. I will say that I fell in love with the Pinnacle Grill on the first cruise on the Oosterdam in 2011 and I am very unhappy with menu changes just implemented on the Eurodam. No more tableside Caesar salad, no more tableside baked Alaska. Very disappointing.

  7. Clive

    December 27, 2013 at 1:53 am

    No Baked Alaska…!!!!!
    Wow, that’s reason enough to take a cruise.

  8. Kenneth Eden

    December 27, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Marc

    HAL has stopped offering many things during their cruises, especially in the main dining rooms on their ships over the past 7-9 years or so, some of which you noted.

    The motto, slogan of sorts I suppose, is Signature of Excellence, I prefer, Signature of Negligence, since the product is so far removed from its former greatness.

    Holland America Line is as about as Dutch as the Staten Island Ferry.

    The lessening of the product, HAL, started before Carnival took over, if anything, the product with Carnivals money has improved in some ways, yet, for die hard fans of the old HAL, it is sorely lacking.

  9. Kalle Id

    December 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Clive: There may have been baked alaska in the main dining room and we simply missed it. Which would be a shame, as I sctually quite like it.

  10. Clive

    December 28, 2013 at 1:50 am

    Kalle, having taken well over 60 cruises I suppose that I’m rather jaded by certain cruise ship ‘traditions’. Actually I think that by the late 1970s I had become rather bored by the inevitable parade of the Baked Alaska and even worse was when the dining room stewards would gather afterwards and sing We Are the World.
    Yes, I do actually like Baked Alaska but it has to be made properly and all too often (on main stream cruise ships) it is not.

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