After breakfast, we rode the rails, first experiencing the thrill of riding the lightning-fast bullet train (shinkansen) from Tokyo to Nagoya. It is one of the world's finest quick-transit trains, and still among the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 200 mph. We’ll then rounded out our travel with an hour-long ride on the local train to Ise Station.
After arriving in Ise we visited the the famous Ise Shrine, which is actually a collection of many shrines—a riverside complex with some structures dating back 2,000 years. This was our first Shinto shrine. We'll enjoyed a walking tour through the shrines and beautiful grounds, learning to cleanse ourselves before entering and how to bow and clap to alert the gods that we were present.
Our hotel for the evening is a destination in itself. The Toba Grand Hotel is a traditional, Japanese style hotel on the shore of the sea. The views are spectacular, our room floors are lined with tatami mats, and we wore yukata robes to a fabulous seafood buffet. Before dinner we enjoyed a traditional communal hot bath. Men and women bath in separate areas - sorry no photos allowed!
We've spent 6 days in Oia (at the western trip of Santorini Island) with the Beautiful People - the rich and famous. They are all young, thin and wealthy. We rode the local bus into Fira one day and as we got off we overheard one of these lovely young ladies exclaim, “I’ll never take public transportation again in my entire life!” Does the word Princess came to mind? Across the street they are paying up to $5000 a night for room with a sunset view. (Where do these 20-somethings get the money?) In contrast we have a timeshare for a week on the other side of the street where we have to walk 25 feet to the pool to see the sunset and it costs us about $125/night.
We rented a car yesterday to tour the island. First stop – Fira to drop off our laundry. We’ve done bulk laundry all over the world for a few dollars a load. Yesterday was a different story - we paid 13 euros/load, and we had more than one! Our suitcases smell better. Other stops – more ancient ruins, a monastery, lighthouse, winery and other tourist areas. We were happy to learn that regular people also vacation on Santorini - they just stay other places. Like all the Greek Islands, this is a dessert island. It cannot sustain livestock. Grape vines produce 1/10 the amount of grapes per acre as other places, but they make some excellent wines! For a few months each summer people flock here from all over the world for the spectacular sea views and sunsets.
We're heading to Uzbekistan tomorrow. There were 4 of us scheduled on this pre-trip but unfortunately one of our friends had emergency surgery in Athens last week and is still in the hospital there. Good thing it happened here rather than Uzbekistan! Now Rand and I are the only ones going. It occurs to me that we may be in over our heads this time. Fortunately we're with OAT, a reputable company. We’ll report our adventures as they unfold!
Our Dalmatian Coast and Greece trip is over - four countries, 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites, innumerable ancient walled cities, well over 100,000 steps (according to our pedometers), countless calories, and many fond memories. Wednesday we said good-bye to our traveling companions of the last 2 weeks. We disembarked from our boat, the Athena, and rented a car for a few days on our own.
After carefully noting the scratches, dents and other imperfections on the car, stowing our luggage, adjusting the mirrors, and figuring out how the AC worked we began our adventure to the Peloponnese (the peninsula south-west of Athens). We hadn’t gone 5 kilometers before taking a wrong turn. Fortunately the man at the next toll booth spoke enough English to get us back on track. We drove for nearly 4 hours – first on 4-lane toll roads, then on narrow, twisting mountain roads to ancient Olympia where we stayed in a tiny pension. FINALLY – real Greek food! And it’s delicious.
We returned to the ship for lunch followed by a swim in the warm and beautiful Adriatic. That evening we cruised through the through the legendary Corinth Canal on your way to Athens.
Athens is cleaner and much less traffic than when I was here several years ago – thanks to a new subway system and road improvements made for their recent Olympics. We enjoyed a guided city tour before heading up the hill to the Parthenon. The crowds were terrible but the morning was pleasantly cool. After a bit more time in town we returned to the ship, the Athena, to pack our bags, enjoy a final dinner and say goodbye to our new friends.
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