Windstar Cruise, take us away

After a great week with our, compadres in the Tuscany area we are now in Venice to take a 16 day cruise with our favorite cruise line, Windstar Cruise. They have three ships that have sails with around 300 passengers and we are now on one of their three ships without sails that hold around 200 passengers.

We have met up with my sister, Gwen and sister-in-law, Joan for the first 9 day portion of this cruise from Venice down the coast of Croatia to Athens Greece. Catherine and I continue up through Sicily to Rome along the west coast of Italy. We join them and my brother’s, Garrett, family for the wedding of his daughter Anna on Lake Como. I hope to run into George Clooney or others while there.

The food on the ship is exceptional so the plan is to run/walk at least 10 miles a day or I will be up 20 pounds prior to our half Marathon in Madagascar in a month. Calories in must equal calories out. This will be our 6 and 7th week with them and since we were on the same area, back in October of last year there are about 10 crew members that remember us.

Unlike most cruises where you get on the ship and it pulls off, this cruise starts out with an overnight in Venice, before we head for our first stop Hvar, Croatia , the H is silent by some and hard by others. That gave us to the ability to tour all the happening spots in center city Venice the first evening and a great run the next morning in and around Venice.

Off the top of my head

Never gets old

The last time we cruised with Windstar, in this area, we went from Venice down the coast of Croatia through Sicily and back to Rome. Turns out this trip only makes three of the same stops that we did back in October. We are really looking for our stop in Hvar, since celebrities from Prince Harry to Beyoncé have made Hvar their go-to place for both unspoiled escape and action,

I understand that many other yachts will be in the harbor and plan on soaking up the natural beauty of the island, covered in pine and palm trees, fragrant lavender fields, vineyards, and gorgeous beaches. I am sure we will run to and around town square where we will find the Venetian Cathedral. Hope to also run the city walls to sleeping views from the fortress on the hill.

As we sail away from Venice we will meet up with our sister ship later on our trip

We decided not to run while there but put in a lot of miles while we walked up to the fortress and around the one part of the island. They often call Hvar the Lavender Island and the beauty was plentiful. We did not see any celebrities but the large yachts in the harbour indicated that some might have been in the area.

Our home for the next 16 days

We are off to Dubrovnik this evening to arrive by morning. This will be another stop that the large cruise ships pass by while we will anchor right beyond the famous walled city so we can admire its beauty with every glance. No cars are allowed in Old Town so hoping to get in some good running miles. Looking forward to watching some bold divers leap off the cliffs into the crystalline sea.

We could not find any daring divers off the cliffs but we did find a rare gem of a place to run. We followed the water to the right and there was a split in the road, about 1 mile out and we first took the split to the right that came to a dead in after about 1/4 mile. We turned around and then took the left split and it was quick to see that this road was only wide enough for 1 lane and there was no traffic to be seen.

We continued for another mile and it also came to an end when it joined up with a major street with guard rails along side so no one could come down the road we were on from that major street. The views along the way were breathtaking and I was able to conclude why I really enjoy going one way and returning to our original starting point another way.

With my intense sense of adventure, I am always looking for those ah haw moments. It is like an addicting drug, for me, without any of the terrible side effects. I see them all the time and constantly looking for others. The one road to the destination might provide me those moments and so I think that I might find other ones if I go a different route back. Another possibility is that I am always looking for an Irish pub everywhere we go.

We just turned around and ran back down to the ship

In this case where there is only one way there and back I am able to get a different perspective on the way up the road from the one on the way back down. What goes up must come down and Catherine and I really enjoyed the run back to Old Town. Turns out there were some large cruise ships in port which is on the other side of the island and they arrived by bus in throngs.

View from the top by cable car

Turns out this particular fort is infamous as it is the back drop for the famous HBO show Games of Thrones. Neve seen it but we did run into something very unexpected. Graduating students we celebrating right out the gates of the fort and with heavy police presence they were lighting of flares and singing and dancing in the streets.

Of course there was a large fort right on the water but I was about forted out so we by passed it for the cable car to the top for some more breathtaking views. Off we go tonight for our next stop of Kotor, Montenegro. Turns out we stopped off here back in October but it was not until we ended our long walk that I recognized being here before.

Once again we had to tender off the ship to get to the port. From the port we made a left turn and at the first split in the road we choose to go up the road as opposed to going the water. We followed it uphill and made a further right to continue our climb for some great views of the water below.

Kotor is one of Montenegro’s most beautiful bays, and the approach offers one of the breathtaking fjord-like view after another. We slept through the arrival but will see the same sights in reverse when we depart around 4pm. We really enjoyed the bright red rooftops of the medieval town and the blues and greens of the landscape. The charming streets of the Old Town remain car free, filled with the 12th century Baroque palaces and Romanesque churches.

The road we were walking along started to head back down to the water and took another turn so we could walk back to the ship along the water. That is when I realized that I had been on this narrow road before. The last time we were here Catherine did an out and back run along this road so it was great to see it this time from a different perspective.

Once back to Old Town it was time for us to conquer the fortress on the hill for a breathtaking vista. After 1300 steps up we were able to say we made it to the Castle St. John, Illyrian fort. About 3/4 of the way up I got into a huge fight with my quads. They were no longer into doing the steps so I had to sit and hydrate to get them to once again cooperate.

Made it to the top of the Fort

The trip down was much easier and it was well worth the trip both up and down. After that I was pretty much done so it was back to the ship for the infamous sail away. On the ships with sails they play this very dramatic music as the raise the sails as we depart. Since this ship does not have sails they simply raise the Windstar flag

Switching gears here for a moment I will point out on this website there are other pages that might be of interest to some of you. From the homepage you can navigate by clicking the menu, three bars on the right, to open up the option to view these pages.

My first marathon, goes into how and why I started running marathons.

Heart surgery is the blog I used before, during and after my open surgery back in June of 2014.

Blog, are all the blog entries I have made over the last 2 1/2 years.

Please Share, tells the story of Catherine and how we approach, Early Onset Alzheimers’.

Run All Over The World On $500 A Day, is my tongue in cheek look at our budget.
Blog, are all the blog entries I have made over the last 2 1/2 years.

The next three days we made stops in Corfu, Greece, Katakolon Greece and Delphi/Itea, Greece. While in Katakolon, which is a favorite stop for tourists since it is a scenic seaside Greek town at the mouth of the Ionian Sea. Its main attraction is that it is the gateway to ancient Olympia, the original home of the Olympic Games.

Also, while there, Windstar held their signature event. This time at a farm called, Magna Grecia Farm. It was located in the heart of a traditional agricultural region close to Ancient Olympia. We visited the olive groves and learned the history of the olive tree and the tasty, peppery fruit produced there. Many flirted with the Greek culture as we watched a short demonstration of Syrtaki dance. It was nice but not as nice as the experiences we have had in the past at their private beaches.

Catherine and Joan were having a ball

One of the things that have become apparent to me is that my body still needs some time to heal from my surgery about 1 month ago. I would feel great one day, go for a run and then I would feel like crap that afternoon and the entire next day. I will keep trying to continue my training for a half marathon in a month and at the same time take the time to rest. I can either do it myself or have my body force a down day.

After Delphi we transit the Corinth Canal which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Most ships have to take the long way around but ships our size can take the short cut. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former peninsulas an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks were employed. It is 4 miles in length and 70 feet wide and was built from 1881 to 1893 after various fits and starts.

That evening Windstar held their other signature event which is their deck barbecue. It did not disappoint and concluded with line dancing lead by the crew members on board. Endless lobster tails, cracked crab claws and Shrimp of various types made me one happy man. Once again I had to take a break after the feast so that I could throughly enjoy the next stop of Nafplio, Greece.

He did not have a chance

Of course they had a fort with over 900 steps to the stop but Catherine and I choose a much longer route by road. 2.5 miles to the Palamidi Castle/Fort, mile walk around and of course I had to go back down to the ship a different way which was well worth the 4 mile walk around the base of the fort and rock face on the right with the water’s edge on the left.

Nafpilo is considered one of the most beautiful and romantic towns in Greece. Nestled by the sea with two mountains and the fortress overlooking the town. I have seen many a fortress/castle during our travels but will say this one tops them all. In the very heart of the city stars Syntagma Square, with historic buildings and monuments, and Turkish mosques.

Final stop for this 9 day cruise was Athens (Piraeus) Greece. Piraeus is the name of the Cruise Terminal and it is huge. As we arrived there were about 6 other cruise ships heading to their docks. Gwen, Joan and the rest of the guests left where as Catherine and I are doing a back to back cruise with Windstar for another 7 days.

After everyone departed we got off ourselves and got on the Big Red Bus and did a 3 hour tour of Athens. They had on bus that left right from the cruise terminal for a 45 minute tour of the sea-side area on our way to The Acropolis and Parthenon. During that portion we went by the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus, Votsalakia Beach, Mikrolimano Harbour and the Planetarium.

Some folks took advantage of the hop on hop off option whereas we only got off at the Acropolis where we changed bus for a 90 minute tour of Athens. During that portion we got some great views of the Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus, Parliament/National Gardens and the Panathenaic Stadium.

Catherine and I were here back in 2010 for the 2500th running of the Athens Marathon. If you remember back in 490 bc Palipathes ran from Marathon to Athens and died and we have been running marathons ever since, in some shape or form. It was great to once again to see the Panathenaic stadium where the race ended back in 2010.

Back then we were starting to slow down in with our marathon times and it was going to be our first 5 plus hour Marathon. Catherine did not like that idea so we pushed ourselves to the finish. The finish line picture of us we are once again holding hands but in this case it looked like I was pulling her across the finish with Catherine completely airborne. Finishing in the historic stadium was inspiring.

Other stops along the way were the National Library, National Archaeological Museum, Karaiskaki Square and a real funky area call Thession. Looked like an outdoor Antique Market on steroids. Back at the Acropolis we switched back to the bus for the trip back to Piraeus. This route took us by the Niarchos Foundation and Municipal Theatre.

The finish of the Athens Marathon back in 2010

They also have a third bus that takes you out to the Beach and Riviera. We did not have time for that trip since all aboard was at 4pm. Lunch was being served as we arrived back at 2pm, after a brief stop and the duty-free so we could get some Champagne and Prosecco for the next 7 day Adventure.

Two of favorite wait and bartend staff members also left us in Athens after their 9 month stint as they travel back home to the Philippines for 4 months off. Dian had been on two previous cruises with us, Kristi one one other cruise with us.

I am sure we will be in good hands with the crew that are left behind and their replacements. Looks like another smooth overnight sail to Monemvasia, Greece. This Gibraltar-like town is tied to the mainland by a single thread of causeways and holds treasures that are old even by Mediterranean standards.

Once there we tried something we had not done in a while and that was for us to go for a hike. Not just any hike but found one along a trail up the mountain behind the homes in the area. It was very challenging and after about a 1 hour climb up we came to the end and had to go back down the same way which in many ways was way more challenging.

What they use when the close off the trail due to heavy rain and runoff

After that we walked along the causeway to the Monemvaia Castle. Not only inside the confines of the castle walls one could find many shops, restaurant and bars but also a slew of hotels. Never seen anything like that before. I was able to get some great pictures of our vessel alongside their smaller sister ship Windstar which was docked next to us in Venice.

Our boat on the left and the Windstar ship we left in Venice on the right

On departure from Monemvaia the two captains coordinated their departures so that when we were playing the sail away song on our yacht we got to watch Windstar deploying their sails as we both sailed off. We got to have dinner with the Captain that night and it was great to hear the story of the coordination.

It never gets old

Feeling much better Catherine and I adventured out for a mid morning run around our next stop of Gythion, Greece. We were able to get in a nice, slow and picturesque 6 mile run along the coast. I have my fingers crossed that my body does not impose a down day tomorrow in protest. Tomorrow is a sea day as we head for Giardini Naxos, Italy which is Sicily’s jewel.

The water was a bit rough so Catherine took a rest day as we watched the world go by. Nothing like the Drake passage back in March to and from Antarctica but it was nice to take a complete off day.

Giardini Naxos, is a commune in the province of Messiana on the island of Sicily in southern Italy. It is situated on the coast of the Ionian Sea on a bay which lies between Cape Taormina and Cape Schiso. While there Windstar had another of their complimentary destination discovery events.

The event began with a trip to Gambino Vineyards, a family run winery that displays a passion for perfection in all they produce. After a short tour we had a scrumptious lunch at the winery which included a selection of traditional Sicilian food which, naturally, was paired with excellent wines.

They hit a home run with this event. The route by bus up to and from the winery was breathtaking and the wine pairing and live music made it a great afternoon experience. Once back to the dock Catherine and I were still able to get in our 10,000 steps along the same route we ran back in October.

Same location from our cruise back Oct of 2016

One of the things Catherine and I love about living on a Windstar Cruise ship is opening up our curtains in the morning and seeing the new sites of the next port of call. This time it was Lipari, which is the largest in a chain of islands in a volcanic archipelago that straddles the gap between Vesuvius and Etna.

When we got ashore it became clear with the narrow streets and uneven pavements that this was going to be a long walk day. It was not easy to find roads that were either closed to traffic or with sidewalks. We managed it get in about 7 miles and once again found some great view of the harbour along the way.

Tonight is once again the infamous deck barbecue and I have been in training all week. Rested up enough to witness, not participate in, the line dancing into the night. Turns out we picked up some Windstar big wigs in Athens. Everyone on board have been working overtime to make sure everything is in tip-top shape.

During the Champagne welcome of returning quest Captain Richard gave a brief overview of the history of the Windstar Cruise Line. The original company had gone through bankruptcy twice and was bought by the present company, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Inc., one of the world’s most environmentally responsible travel and hospitality companies.

They have great ideas for the company. They are moving away from going back and forth on a certain route for each ship to a more varied route where some ships keep moving from one port to another.  As an example this ship after dropping us all off in Rome they will make its way to Lisbon, Island and on to Asia.

They are also looking at expanding its fleet with 6 more new ships and lengthening the size of the 3 motor ships by 100 passengers. Also thoughts of retiring the older ships with sails in the next 5 or so years.  I was wondering, at this point, what they do with their name since those ships are called, Windstar, Windspirit and Windstar. Maybe a new branding will take place at that time since the motor ships are Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend.

This is a first, I don’t want to leave. Usually after about 4,7 or however long we are in one place, when the time is up, we are ready to go. I guess it is because we kept moving from port to port. All I know is that we are not ready to leave the ship. I am looking at a couple more trips next year and already have one week booked out of San Juan this year and two weeks out of St. Maarteen next year.

While on board I got an email saying that I would get 200 bucks off per person if I book another week this year so probably will add a week in San Juan so I can get the 5% off for back to back cruises. I will also get 5% off for a returning guest and 5% off if booked within 60 days after taking a cruise with them.

We threw open the curtains this morning and were met with the cliffs of Sorrento, Italy. Not sure what they were thinking when they built this city but the Greek legends, the Sirens, mythical provocateurs of pure voice, lurked in this water off Sorrento. They would lure sailors of antiquity to their doom by singing beautiful songs and driving them mad, causing them to crash their vessels on the rocks.. Homer’s Ulysses (Odysseus) overcame the sirens’ call by strapping himself to the mast and having his oarsmen pour wax into their ears to drown out the sweet songs.

It was a run day for us so no matter the fact that most sidewalks were only an inch wide we were able to get in 4 very slow, careful miles. After that we were able to walk the narrow streets where everything from Limonchello to any and everything you might want or need was for sale. Since we do not every buy anything it was just getting more steps in for us.

Long and winding road from the port to the city

Stairway up to the city

View from our ship

We are now off to our last stop of Rome where we must get off this ship. To send us off in style the President of Windstar put on an incredible wine tasting for us returning quests. They brought on the ship the owner of a rather new winery of the area and we worked our way through 8 different wines.

I did get the opportunity to shake the hand of the President, John Delaney, and express our appreciation for his outstanding company. I emphasized the fact that his crew members makes the great company, what it is today and he mentioned that he is rolling out a crew member appreciation program where they would be getting years of service pins. Turns out that Gino, one of the bar staff has been with the company 28 years.

We had the pleasure to have Gino suggest our wine for our final dinner on board that evening. He certainly has his own sense of humor and we enjoyed listening to his stories of his life both on and off the ship. Turns out we will meet up again during our cruise out of St. Maarten next year. There were several other crew members on board that we figured out that we will meet again.

We are presently on the bus from the cruise port of Rome which is actually located in the city of Civitavecchia a 90 minute ride from Rome, center city. It was a somewhat tearful goodbye, sense there was the feeling of family amongst everyone on board. Turns out there was group of Dentists’ from the Atlanta Ga area and a few of them knew, rather well, the Dentist we use in Atlanta.

Today is a travel day for us. After the bus ride then a taxi to the train station and then a train to Milan and another train on to Varenna Esino which is the train stop for Lake Como. Another taxi to Hotel Royal Victoria where the wedding is being held.

After the wedding Catherine and I are off to Milan for 3 days then Amsterdam for 5 nights. From there a 10 hour flight to Madagascar where we meet up with Karen, one of our favorite tour coordinators with Marathon Tours and Travel. We will be there for 12 days where we will run a half marathon there. I think I will be ready and if not I am sure I will figure out a way to make it to the finish hand in hand with Catherine by my side.

I am going to end this blog entry here with a small plug for the Windstar Cruise line. This is not a paid advertisement but our personal experience over the last 2 1/2 has only been positive. You clearly get what you pay for and I am sure there are both cruise lines that are cheaper and also more expensive but doubt you would get the same value for your money.

It has been an extraordinary 16 days and looking forward to some more 2 week plus trips with them over the next several years. They truly fit our lifestyle of wanting to run all over the world. It does not have to be a race but the mere fact that we can toss the curtains back someplace new and exciting and lace up our shoes and some times run off to the left from the port and other times run off to the right and know that there will always be smiling faces and great food and drinks waiting for us back on board the ship.

It never gets old


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