Venice, Croatia and numerous Greek Isles – from the Adriatic to the Aegean Sea on the Seabourn Odyssey
Long before Rick Stein released his TV series and cookbook ‘From Venice to Istanbul’, my husband and I have discussed a similar travel itinerary. We’ve always wanted to check out the Byzantine route from Venice either by sea or rail and along the way, explore ruins, taste local cuisine and learn about the people, art and culture of early western civilisation.
We chose to travel by sea. What really motivated us to take the plunge and book a Seabourn cruise from Venice to Istanbul was the signature event at Ephesus exclusive to Seabourn guests. The blurb read something like this: “Evening at Ephesus… you can spend an exclusive evening in this ancient city, sipping champagne and admiring the torch-lit ruins as classical musicians serenade you with a private concert”.
Wouldn’t that be an experience? I had my sights on an early autumn (northern hemisphere) departure from Venice then spend a week or so in Istanbul and venture to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Spice market and also and perhaps land tours to Cappadocia, Turkey. But not everything goes according to plan. Just when our trip was confirmed, an “emergency” situation was declared in Istanbul and all cruises and flights to Istanbul were cancelled. To make matters worse and to our dismay, Ephesus as a port of call was cancelled.
Due to the gravity of the situation in Turkey, Seabourn had no choice but to make changes and the motto ‘safety first’ was expressed in communications we received. Even our travel insurance provider warned us of non-coverage in Turkey. We had no safe option other than to wait and see what alternatives were to be provided. Seabourn bent over backwards and offered numerous replacements for the Ephesus and Istanbul ports. The ‘off the beaten track’ smaller Greek islands were the substitutes, hidden gems that only small intimate Seabourn ships can access. In defiance of the so-called “emergency”, and as we could no longer go to Turkey, we extended what was to be a 14-day cruise to another 7 days to include more ports in the Aegean Sea. Why not? And so, off we went to our port of embarkation, Venice.
Venice in October is busy. But isn’t it always? The last time we were in Venice was with our sons just a few years ago. It was in the summer and the crowd, heat and chaos took away the magic of being in Venice. So never again! This time, we opted to fly into Venice airport instead of arriving by train. My husband, a rail aficionado normally prefers trains when commuting in and around Europe. This was a good call. To get to our hotel, we took the water taxi, which in itself was a fun experience. For me there is always something seductive about the water and approaching our hotel weaving our way through the canals by water taxi set the tone of what would be one of our most relaxing holidays.
Getting around Venice lugging heavy suitcases is not easy so in anticipation of our embarkation on the Seabourn Odyssey at the port of Venice, we chose a hotel within walking distance to the People Mover(The People Mover is an elevated tramway system), the hotel Arlecchino on the Fondamenta delle Burchielle across one bridge from the Piazzale Roma. There are 2 cruise terminals in Venice, the main one for bigger ships is the Marittima and the San Basilio Pier for smaller ships. As it turned out later, due to some glitch, our ship docked in the smaller port of San Basilio, a short land taxi ride from our hotel. There is a lot of information on how to get to either cruise terminals on this site.
But first, our favourite subject.. Food! Proximity of Venice to the sea means many Venetian cuisine is seafood based. The highlight for us was dinner in Trattoria la Rosa dei Venti near the hotel. I ordered the squid ink pasta (which I just adored!) with scallops, shrimps and chilli cooked in garlic and olive oil and my husband had the grilled scampi. Delicious!
Food in Venice is an attraction in itself and other than the usual places of interests and museums to visit; when in Venice we always make time for the Rialto Food Market where Venetians have purchased their daily food supply since 1097. This bustling market has everything from seafood, meat, poultry fresh produce and gelato and sweet stores in nearby shops.
The Rialto is open daily from 7 am to 1pm except for the Pescheria (fish market) and Erberia (vegetable market), which close on Mondays, open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Be sure to be there early with the locals, preferably before lunchtime even if just to soak in the ambience and a chance to witness the locals in action.
It’s easy to find: located alongside the Grand Canal, to the north-west of the Rialto Bridge in the district of San Polo, one can get there on a Vaporetto on the Grand Canal stop at Rialto, on the left bank of the Grand Canal.
All too soon it was embarkation day and we proceeded to the San Basilio terminal and check in. The Seabourn Odyssey would be our floating hotel for 3 weeks. The Seabourn greet and meet ritual is always impressive and we were anticipating a fun ‘sail away’ party that evening. Recalling valuable advice from a gentleman we met on our first Seabourn cruise we went out to the deck. He advised that if we ever do a Seabourn cruise that sets sail from Venice, we must be sure to be up on deck, secure a good position with our cameras on the port side as this was where we would have the views of Venice. He wasn’t wrong. Saying arrivederci to Venice with Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of Puccini’s famous aria Nessun dorma providing the ambience, the Seabourn Odyssey slowly gliding through the Adriatic Sea was indeed a ‘goose bump’ moment.For me it was one of the more spectacular ‘sail away’ events on the Seabourn seeing iconic Venetian buildings from a height in the dusk.
The next adventure has began….next stop , Croatia.