MSC Splendida Eastern Mediteranean Cruise (Part 1: Istanbul to Corfu) 1 2 3 4

Date: June 10th to 19th, 2023

Part two of my 2023 "European summer" was visiting my mom in Bulgaria after arriving from Slovakia. I flew into the Burgas airport Monday June 5th, where my mom was waiting along with one of her acquaintances, a Czech lady supplementing her retirement account by working as a taxi driver. I then spent few days relaxing at mom's apartment pool and the Lozenets beach. I have more pictures from here in Part 3 from my return with Sandra. This is a really nice place to visit for a relaxing beach vacation.

Then on Friday, June 9th, mom and I made our way back to Burgas (this time using a regular taxi), where we took a 12:05 Ardatur bus to Istanbul, where we were to embark on a 9-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise aboard MSC Splendida. The scheduled arrival time to Istanbul was only 5.5 hour later at 17:30, but this timing is completely unrealistic given the border situation. It literally took over 2 hours just to cross the border. The length of the queue was not that long but every single piece of luggage needs to be scanned. I also had to buy visa for 20 euro, since I was traveling on US passport. This is something I probably should have checked ahead of time, but it just did not occur to me that US citizens would need a Turkish visa while Europeans can travel visa free. We got into the Istanbul bus station in the evening, and from there, we took a taxi to the Karakoy district where we were staying, and which is also close to the Galataport cruise terminal. According to websites lke Rome2Rio, this roughly 10 mile drive should cost around $10. The driver, with predictably not-working taxi meter, tried to charge us around 50 euro, despite dropping us off only several blocks away (to his credit, Karakoy is very congested with tourists). I ended up paying him "only" 20 euro, but I feel even that was a ripoff. This was bit of an introduction to Istanbul. While it is a very interesting city, I felt that everyone was out there to "get you". Even the hotel. We stayed at a really nice hotel called Royal Tophane hotel. The next morning, during check out, the owner wanted me to pay him more money despite me having pre-booked on Expedia. Apparently the rate that Expedia charged me was too low and they wanted me to pay extra. Despite years of traveling, this was the first time I've had a hotel attempt such a bait and switch. Then, you have various shoe shiners who just happen to drop their brush in front of an unsuspecting tourist, hoping to transform a generosity of the person noticing it into a tip following a "free" shoe shine.

Our duplex room at the Royal Tophane Hotel. We also had very good kebabs in a nearby restaurant.

Having said that, Karakoy is very nice and I am glad we picked this location for our first ever visit to Istanbul. It's full of various restaurants (although most of them serve the identical Turkish specialties). We had really good kebabs in a restaurant located in an alley across the JW Marriott hotel. Then next morning I went for a walk / jog around Karakoy, mainly trying to figure out where to board the cruise. The cruise terminal is inside an area called Galataport. It took me a little while to realize that you first need to enter this area by passing through security where your bags (if you have any) are checked. There are several entrances, including at the Peninsula hotel and the more appropriate passage through a small shopping mall in an old post office building. Then on the other side you have a boardwalk lined with multiple restaurants and western clothing shops. The middle of the boardwalk contains a barrier that is raised whenever a cruise ship is docked. This barrier then limits access to the ships only to the ticketed passangers. When I passed in the morning, there were already 3 cruise ships docked, but neither was our MSC Splendida, as it was still on its way.

Our boarding time was not until the early afternoon, so after breakfast we spent some time walking around the neighborhood. This included climbing up the very steep street leading to the Galata tower. Here we encountered various soccer fans since, as it happened, the 2023 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester City and Inter Milan was being played here this very night. Later we grabbed our bags from the hotel and proceeded to the Galataport where we hang out, having cakes and Turkish coffee, until it was time for embarkation.

Enjoying Turkish cake and coffee before boarding our mobile home for the next 10 days.
Some small mosque located by the Galataport


The embarkation process was really smooth. I have read various complaints on public forum of long embarkation times, but this was not the case with From the public area of Galataport, you enter a cruise boarding building which mainly serves as the upper terminal for several flights of escallators that takes you down to lower levels. There is even a road access here presumably for taxis and bus shuttles. I was expecting a long line but there was barely anybody ahead of us. After having our photos taken (despite me uploading them ahead of time to the app), we were once again heading back up an escalator, but this time one on the other side of the raised platform. Few more minutes and we were aboard! The ship was not set to depart until 11pm, and we got to watch the soccer match on the pool deck, with fans celebrating on the dry land next to us.

Boarding photo and inside our balcony room #9076.
Watching the EUFA 2023 final from the cruise ship pool deck.

Day 2: Dardanelles and Greek Islands

And our adventure has began. This was my first ever "real" cruise (after our 2022 Ensenada 3 day test run) and I was quite excited. Partly, while I have traveled quite extensively so far, all my travel has been on land. Cruising afforded a way to see the world from a different perspective. Something I was particularly excited about, in a really nerdy way, was passing through the Dardanelles, which is a very narrow strait

Itinerary of our cruise.
CAB - Cabin Fares (per PASSENGER) 1199.00 PCH - TFP-Taxes,Fees and Port Expenses 130.46 INCL - 600-MINERAL WATER AND COFFEE IN DINING ROOM - 0.00 INCL - EXP2B-FANTASTICA: Choice of cabin & additional benefits - 0.00 Total Booking amount due in : USD* 2658.92 Stateroom : 9076 − Booked Your experience : FANTASTICA Category : BL1 - Balcony Stateroom
Passing through the narrow Dardanelles strait.
First day was spent at seas. I won a bottle a champagne.
Our initial main dining room dinner group. A South African couple joined us the following day.
The food at the MDR was actually quite tasty.
Buffet offerings.

Day 3, Corfu

Lunch at Corfu Gatto Nero restaurant prior to the biblical flooding.
Back alley with sewer volcano near an outdoor table where unsuspecting tourists will surely sit in not too distant future.
This cute little car decided to just stop here instead of risking getting swallowed by the newly formed lake.
The streets dried up just as quickly as they flooded.
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