Azamara Club Cruises – 10 things to expect on your luxury cruise – video

Are you someone that loves to travel, exploring new destinations, discovering the local food and culture but doing so in luxury and style? Perhaps you thought that cruising was not for you: too many people, too many restrictions, not enough time to explore what you want to see?

While I’m relatively new to cruising I’ve realised that there’s definitely not “one size fits all”. Just as you might choose to stay in a boutique hotel or a luxury resort, a homely bed and breakfast or a local’s apartment, there is a cruise ship option to suit your travel style. If you are looking for small ship luxury and more time in the destinations you visit, as well as a chance to quiz Captain Johannes about that time he stopped the ship to go fishing, then Azamara Club Cruises could be the cruise line for you. Read on and watch my video for what to expect from an Azamara Club Cruise:

Azamara Club Cruises

I hope you enjoy my video below – a ship’s tour of Azamara Journey

If you can’t see the video above about a tour of Azamara Journey see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above

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Small Ship Cruising

When Guy and I sailed with Azamara Club Cruises last summer on their 7 night Greek Isles and Turkey cruise from Athens to Istanbul, I really felt the difference between travelling on a smaller ship with less than 700 guests, compared to the larger ships that take 3000+ passengers. While Azamara Club Cruises benefits from being part of the larger Royal Caribbean Cruise group, this niche luxury cruise line has just two ships. We sailed on Azamara Journey but Azamara Quest is practically identical and both have a capacity of 686 guests.

Azamara Journey in Patmos Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Azamara Journey in Patmos

So how does being small affect for your cruise experience? It means that the atmosphere on board is friendly and intimate and it’s very easy to make new friends. While there is everything on board you’d find on any cruise ship it’s on a smaller scale; one swimming pool instead of three, for instance. More importantly it means that the ship has more flexibility to visit ports that some of the larger ships couldn’t get into or to adapt the itinerary if bad weather is forecast.

You’ll find that captain and senior crew are very visible around the ship, mingling with guests in the evening, and they have a lot more freedom to adapt the needs of the moment. If you bump into the charming Captain Johannes, be sure to ask him about the time he stopped to ship off the coast of Norway for a spot of fishing!

On Azamara Journey we were able to visit the Greek Island of Patmos which has a sleepy feel of the old Greece that Guy loved when he went island hopping as a student. Smaller ships also allow you to sail right into the heart of a city, within an easy walk of all you want to see, rather than have to be transported from the newer port where the larger ships will dock.

It’s all about the destination

Azamara Club Cruises is much more about the places you visit rather than spending your days on board, a concept they call “Destination Immersion“. Many of the excursions or “Land Discoveries” take you to places that are not normally open to the public or offer unusual, insider experiences that give you special insights to the local culture.

Day in a Turkish Country house with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Day in a Turkish Country house with Azamara Club Cruises

One of my favourites was the day we spent learning about Turkish cuisine and culture in a country house near Kusadasi. The house had been beautifully designed as a showcase for local crafts and artisans with Turkish rugs, carved marble fireplaces and Suzani cut-work throws on the bed. In the family’s kitchen, we learned how to make Turkish dishes like stuffed peppers and sat under the shady pergola rolling vine leaves to make Dolma. We were shown how a Turkish woman would tie her headscarf depending on the region of Turkey she came from and how to wash your rice many times so that every grain of your pilaf would be separate.

Stuffed peppers in Turkey with Azaamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Stuffed peppers in Turkey with Azaamara Club Cruises

The meal ended with tiny cups of strong Turkish coffee and when we’d finished the cups were upturned so that the ladies could have their fortunes told from the pattern of the coffee grounds, the art of fortune telling being passed from mother to daughter. It was a lovely and relaxing insight into Turkish culture and cuisine and of course all the ladies came away with a headscarf and recipe book to bring home. Read about our day of Turkish culture here.

Contemporary elegance

I’d describe the style of Azamara Journey, when we sailed last summer, as elegant, luxurious and classic. But if you’re planning to cruise from spring 2016 you’ll find a new contemporary look on board as both ships will go into dry dock to be refitted and come out “Re-imagined“. The natural elements of earth, air, water and fire have inspired a paler, more muted colour scheme, using creams and earthy tones throughout the ship.

Stateroom on board Azaamara Journey

Stateroom on board Azaamara Journey

Already last summer we could see some of this new contemporary look being introduced in the sun loungers and deck furniture in some parts of the ship, while in staterooms the darker wood and furnishings will be replaced this spring by light, fresh tones while retaining the luxurious feel.

Updated Stateroom on Azamara Journey Photo: Azamara Club Cruises

Updated Stateroom on Azamara Journey

Other innovations will be part of the refurbishment, with new spa suites being created that not only have a sea view from the bathroom but allow special access to the spa amenities included in the price of these staterooms. There will also be new investment in technology since most guests these days travel with tablets and smartphones, so a new wifi system on board will provide faster internet connections and there will be interactive tabletops in public areas for social media surfing.

Mosaic cafe re-imagined on Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Azamara Club Cruises

Mosaic cafe re-imagined on Azamara Club Cruises

Fabulous food

We found the food on board Azamara to be excellent and unlike many cruise lines, the wines, beers, soft drinks and speciality coffees are included in the price of your cruise holiday. The small ship experience doesn’t mean you miss out on choice and you can eat with full waiter service in the Discoveries Restaurant, or choose from the buffet selection while still receiving waiter service for drinks in the Pool Grill and Windows Café.

Starter in Aqualina restaurant Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Starter in Aqualina restaurant

On larger cruise ships the buffet restaurant can feel like a seething mass of humanity, but on board Azamara Journey we found an altogether more elegant experience. Our favourite place to dine was in the outdoor seating area of the Windows Café at the back of the ship where it felt as if we were sitting in a seaside restaurant with a view of the waves.

Dinner in Aqualina restaurant Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner in Aqualina restaurant

There are two excellent speciality restaurants on board, for an additional charge of $25 per person per meal: Aqualina which specialises in contemporary Italian cuisine and Prime C which has a country club feel, serving excellent steak and meat dishes. We dined at Aqualina one evening and had the most delicious meal featuring light, fresh dishes and plenty of seafood.

Informal lifestyle

Guests who are new to cruising are often concerned about what they need to pack for their cruise. While there are shops on board, it’s not as if you can easily pop out to find the outfit you need, nor do you want to spend your holiday worrying about whether you’ll be caught out by a black tie dress code.

You can rest easy when you sail with Azamara Club Cruises since the dress code is elegant but informal. Most guests dressed up in the evening as you would if you were going to a smart restaurant, but it was more about a pretty dress and jewellery or a crisp shirt and jacket for gentlemen than about anything more formal. You won’t need a tuxedo or a long sparkly dress on board and of course there is a free self-service laundry so you can travel light if you like, knowing that your outfits can multi-task, especially on longer voyages. The only thing you should remember to pack is something white – more of that later.

Heather on Azamara Journey Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather on Azamara Journey

Arrive early, sail late

You may not realise this but it costs a lot for a ship to be in port; like being in a very expensive car park with the clock ticking. That’s why on some cruises you’ll find that you’ll have to be back on the ship by mid-afternoon having rushed around trying to see everything. Not so when you sail with Azamara Club Cruises.

In most of the destinations you visit you’ll have time for an unhurried look around the port of call and just when all the other cruise ship guests are heading back to the ship you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon with less crowds. There’s plenty of time to see the sunset and have a leisurely dinner onshore at the places the locals like to eat once most cruise ships have sailed.

Arriving in Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arriving in Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises

Arriving early also means that if you’re an early bird you can enjoy the views from the ship and disembark to make the most of the day. Our magical moments on our Greece and Turkey cruise were seeing the sunrise from the caldera of Santorini with the mist rising off the shore, or sailing through the Golden Horn as we arrived in Istanbul past the Topkapi palace and the Blue Mosque. Read about our stop in Istanbul here.

A lot more’s included

One of the big things to consider when choosing your cruise is what’s included and what’s not included in the cost of your holiday. Many cruises have a lower entry price but you’ll also need to budget for drinks, gratuities, self service laundry and shuttle buses. All of these can add hundreds if not thousands of pounds to your bill, but they are included in the price you pay for your Azamara Club Cruise. I must say that I found it a lot more relaxing to know that I didn’t have to think about the cost of that cappuccino or debate whether it was worth paying for the shuttle bus or taking public transport.

Another thing that is included in the price is an AzAmazing Evening on every cruise; a unique evening experience that you probably couldn’t recreate yourself. While Azamara Club Cruises are priced in line with the luxurious small ship experience they offer, once you take into account everything that’s included the overall cost may compare favourably with other cruise lines that appear to be cheaper but can’t offer such a unique experience.

Enjoy your evenings onshore

A big benefit of later sailing times is that you can enjoy evenings onshore, dining in a local restaurant or having a drink as the sun goes down. Azamara make this very easy through their Cruise Global, Eat local programme where they introduce you to restaurants that are recommended for their authentic local dishes, or are included in a lunchtime stop in the land discovery that you book.

Eating out on Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Eating out on Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises

We had a delicious meze lunch on Patmos after looking around the sights of Chora, in a restaurant with a gorgeous sea view. Read about our stop in Patmos here.  On Santorini we dined on fava bean puree, Greek salad and roast lamb at Kalisti taverna in Prygos, which allowed us to see a different part of the island away from the crowds and heat of Oia.

Look out for Nights and Cool Places experiences that you can book, allowing you access to interesting places after dark, perhaps an art gallery or after hours museum visit, where you have a unique insider access.

Greek salad on Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Greek salad on Santorini with Azamara Club Cruises

A White Night party

One event that was not especially well publicised is the White Night Party that is the closest that the Azamara gets to a formal night; you just need to remember to pack some white clothes to wear. Depending on the weather, tables are set out on deck with a buffet selection and the Azamara singers and dancers perform a show to entertain you.

Azamara Journey White night party Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Azamara Journey White night party

Our White Night Party was held in Patmos and the view of the sun setting over the island was magical as we sat on deck enjoying the warm night air. Captain Johannes thoughtfully delayed the sailing time until after dinner had finished, so that we would not be disturbed by any motion of the sea, although it was a pretty calm night.

White night party on Azamara Journey Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

White night party on Azamara Journey

An AzAmazing Evening

While the White Night Party was great fun, our AzAmazing evening at Ephesus was a truly magical event. On every cruise, Azamara offers a unique evening event that would be difficult to recreate on your own, and even better it’s included in your cruise. For our AzAmazing evening, we took the short coach journey from Kusadasi to Ephesus where cocktails and wine had been set out just as the sun was setting.

Azamazing evening at Ephesus with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Azamazing evening at Ephesus with Azamara Club Cruises

While we didn’t get the opportunity to walk through the entire site, we could stroll among the ancient pillars and see the sun setting behind the sillhouette of the Library of Celcus, built in 117 AD. After a glass of wine, we took our seats on the stone seats of the Odean amphitheatre where cushions had been thoughtfully provided.

Heather and Guy at Ephesus Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Guy at Ephesus

As dusk fell, the Camera Izmir Orchestra entertained us with pieces by Bach and Mozart, a guest harpist performing Handel’s harp concerto, and a rousing Hungarian Dance with gypsy violins that got an enthusiastic round of applause. Read about our evening at Ephesus here. Other AzAmazing evenings have included opera in Venice and an orchestral concert in Liverpool cathedral, but since the ship’s itineraries change each year it will always be something unique and special.

Orchestra at Ephesus with Azamara Club Cruises Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Orchestra at Ephesus with Azamara Club Cruises

By now you probably have a feel for whether this is the kind of cruise you’d enjoy and we certainly loved every moment of our Azamara Club Cruise. If you love to travel but are not sure if cruising is for you, I’d highly recommend Azamara for a first cruise since the experience is so personal and not at all overshelming in the way some of the bigger ships can be. It’s also perfect for solo travellers and couples since it’s easy to make friends on board. If you like to travel in style and luxury but still feel a connection to the places and cultures you visit be sure to look at Azamara Club Cruises for your cruise this year.

Have you sailed with Azamara Club Cruises? If so, do let me know in the comments how you found it and what you enjoyed.

Read More about our Azamara Greece Island Cruise

Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Kusadasi and Ephesus – day 4 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Istanbul – day 6 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise

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Read what to expect on your Azamara Club Cruise

About Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.

You can also connect with Azamara Club Cruises on Social Media via:
Azamara blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest | YouTube | Flickr

Joining your Azamara Club Cruise

Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.

Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.

Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Club Cruises.

Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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A year in review – where Heather travelled in 2015

We’re in that lull between the feasting and celebration of Christmas and the fresh starts and new plans of New Year. It’s the quiet time when we can reflect and review the year that’s gone, the time to reminisce and consider what the year brought us: the adventures and challenges, the excitement of visiting new places, the holiday times we enjoyed with loved ones. Here’s a look back to the travels I enjoyed in 2015.

Where Heather travelled in 2015 Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

January – A cottage stay and fossil hunting in Devon and Dorset

The ammonite pavement at Lyme Regis Photo: Heatheronhertravels

The ammonite pavement at Lyme Regis

We started the year with a weekend at Red Doors Farm in Devon through Premier Cottages, a collection of 500 year old thatched cottages, set around a cobbled farmyard. My teenage son and friends made good use of the indoor swimming pool and proved that you’re never too old to feed the goats and chickens. We climbed up to the hill fort near the farm and enjoyed a bracing walk along the beach at Lyme Regis where we spotted fossils on the ammonite pavement that was revealed at low tide.

Read More: Fossil hunting and a weekend in the country at Red Doors Farm, Devon – video

February – A charity visit to India

Meeting sponsor children in India Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Meeting sponsor children in India

In February I flew with Jet Airways to India for a week that was off the tourist map, although I spent a little time exploring Bangalore at the beginning and end of the trip. My purpose was to visit a local charity that I support in Andhra Pradesh and see some of the projects that we had funded. Together with one of the charity trustees I was treated to Bollywood style dances in all the local schools, had endless cups of teas with the nuns who ran them, cut the ribbon on a new water purification plant and presented a womens’ tailoring class with their new sewing machines. It was a week that made me realise more than ever that when you give to those in need, you come away much richer from the experience.

Read More: 13 stories from my charity visit to India – going off the tourist trail

March – A weekend by the sea in St Mawes, Cornwall

St Mawes Harbour in Cornwall Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Mawes Harbour in Cornwall

We spent a weekend with friends at the magical Dreamcatchers house from St Mawes Retreats with a view over the Fal estuary in Cornwall. From the bedrooms we could see the tankers passing St Anthony’s lighthouse and the St Mawes ferry heading for Falmouth. We’d stayed at another St Mawes Retreats house before (read my review of Stargazers here) so we knew that we could expect gorgeous Designers Guild fabrics and luxurious furnishings, with sea views to die for. This time we wandered around the harbour and took the St Mawes ferry across the estuary for a Cornish pasty and ale pub lunch in the quaint streets of Falmouth.

Read More: Sea views and springtime in St Mawes – our weekend in Cornwall

April – Venice with the family

Gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice

I was lucky enought to win an apartment stay with Go with Oh through the Passports with Purpose fundraiser and decided to use it for a few days in Venice with my family. Although we visited a few tourist highlights like the Doge’s Palace, we found that the neighbourhoods away from St Mark’s square were much more enjoyable to wander around. We loved the modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim and saw Venice from the water on our boat tour with Walks of Italy when we climbed up the campenile of San Georgio Maggiore for views across the lagoon to San Marco. The only disappointment was the food, but hopefully you’ll do better than me with my tips on How to not eat badly in Venice.

Read More: Join me on our Venice boat tour – with Walks of Italy

April – A weekend in Wiltshire and a sunrise visit to Stonehenge

Stonehenge at Sunrise Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Stonehenge at Sunrise

I stayed at Sarum College inside the close of Salisbury Cathedral for the Social Travel Britain conference and part of the weekend included a walking tour of the cathedral, a private viewing of Magna Carta and a visit to Edward Heath’s old residence of Arundells. The highlight, though, was a sunrise visit to Stonehenge during which we were allowed to walk within the stone circle. This access is only allowed on special guided tours and most tourists can’t get up close to the stones, so it made the experience much more magical.

Read More: Sunrise at Stonehenge – inside the stone circle

May –  Lloret de Mar in Costa Brava, Spain

Seafront at Lloret de Mar Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Seafront at Lloret de Mar in Spain

Lloret de Mar is one of those coastal resorts on the Costa Brava coast of Spain that was built up in the 1960s as one of the first places to welcome mass tourism from the UK. I was there as a speaker at the TBEX conference but took some time out to explore the town and discover its history. While the Lloret de Mar of recent years has gained a reputation for 20-somethings looking for nightlife and older couples seeking a retirement in the sun, I enjoyed walking around the older squares and along the rocky coast path on the edge of town.

In the Museu del Mar, I discovered the connections to Cuba where many locals sailed to make their fortunes, returning to build the grand mansions on the seafront. I tasted the Daiquiri cocktails, another import from Cuba and now the favoured drink of Lloret de Mar, and I loved the restful Santa Clothilde gardens, planted in Italian Renaissance style, overlooking the sea.

Read More: Lloret de Mar – sun, sea and so much more…

June – A weekend in Copenhagen with my daughter

Heather and Sophie-Anne in Copenhagen Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Sophie-Anne in Copenhagen

I’ve visited Copenhagen many times and in June I returned with my daughter for the opening of  the Absalon Hotel which had been newly renovated in Designers Guild furnishings. I was able to interview Tricia Guild, Creative Director of Designers Guild who was there to open the hotel, as well as trying out new restaurants and cocktails with my daughter. We also spent a couple of nights up the coast at the gorgeous spa hotel, Kurhotel Skodsborg where we wafted around the pools and jumped off the jetty to cool off after our sauna.

Read More: Like mother, like daughter – what we loved on our trip to Copenhagen

June – Alpine Sports Week in Wilder Kaiser, Austria

Mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria

I love being in the mountains in summer so I jumped at the chance when I was invited to try out some of the outdoor activities on offer during Alpine Sports Week in the Wilder Kaiser region of Austria. During this week different mountain sports are on offer, from high rope walking to canyoning, mountain-biking to Via Ferrata and all for the knockdown price of €99 for 5 days of activities with expert guides. It was the perfect opportunity to try something different, since I’m a keen hiker but was able to test myself with the mountain-biking and high wire climbing in the Hornpark tree forest.

Read More: Heather goes e-mountain-biking in Wilder Kaiser, Austria – video

July – A week with the family in Zakynthos, Greece

Anadalis restaurant in Zakynthos, Greece

In July we made our annual visit to Zakynthos in Greece to visit my sister who runs two hotels there with her husband. We spent the week visiting different beaches, swimming, eating, sunbathing and catching up on family news. This summer my niece had returned to the island after training with a leading hotel group and had decided to get involved in the family business, opening a new Mediterranean restaurant in an idyllic setting by the sea. Anadalis, as it is called, is named after the old estate on which the hotel is built which once belonged to an aristocratic family with a house just a little way up the shore, but you’ll have to read to article to find out why the locals thought the old ruined mansion was haunted. If you visit Zakynthos I highly recommend that you book a table for dinner as the sun goes down over the bay.

Read More: Anadalis – a Mediterranean restaurant by the sea in Zakynthos, Greece

August – Our Azamara Greek Island Cruise

Azamara cruise to Mykonos in Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Azamara cruise to Mykonos in Greece

Later in August we were back to the Greek islands again for a cruise with Azamara Club Cruises which took us from Athens to Santorini, Mykonos, Patmos, Kusadasi and finally to Istanbul where we ended our cruise. We absolutely loved the luxurious small ship cruise experience with Azamara Club Cruises where the spotlight is firmly on the destinations you visit, creating unique experiences like our magical evening concert among the ancient ruins of Ephesus as the sun went down.

Read More: Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise

September – A walking holiday in Austria with Headwater Holidays

View over Seefeld in Austria with Headwater Holidays Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View over Seefeld in Austria with Headwater Holidays

September saw me back in Austria for a few days walking with Headwater Holidays who specialise in relaxing walking and cycling holidays. I was accompanied by my friend Julia for our annual walking trip which has become our tradition since we walked the Tour de Mont Blanc together. On the first day on the high slopes of the Gaistal valley I fell down a slope and hurt my ankle but using the Headwater walking guides we chose the less strenuous walks on subsequent days and enjoyed the rest of the holiday. We watched a rifleman’s parade in Seefeld and walked along a Mental Power trail, walked through the wild Leutasch Gorge and round the lakes above the picturesque town of Mittenwald with its painted houses. Each day brought different mountain scenery and things to see, confirming my love of the mountains in summer.

Read More: Hiking in Austria – the views from the cross at Seefelder Spitze

September – A gourmet visit to Luxembourg

View of the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg

View of the Petrusse Valley in Luxembourg

In September we spent a few days in Luxembourg, a city and tiny country that’s full of surprises. While Luxembourg is known as a centre for international business, we found a charming and easily walkable city with great food, museums and a fascinating history, making it an ideal weekend break location. We also spent some time touring the Moselle wine region where the Moselle river forms the border with Germany, with many wineries to taste the delicious white wines the sparkling Cremant which was my favourite.

Read More: A gourmet walking tour of Luxembourg old town

November – The Christmas Markets of Heidelberg, Germany

Student Kisses in Heidelberg

Student Kisses in Heidelberg

At the end of November we spent a few day in Heidelberg, Germany to see the Christmas Markets and generally get into the festive spirit. We’d visited Heidelberg previously on a day trip from our Rhine River Cruise and were pleased that we could have more time to explore this picturesque and romantic town at our leisure. We took the river boat down to the Neurberg Abbey Christmas Market, climbed up to the castle, learned the history of the ancient university and student fraternities and ate plenty of hearty German food, delicious cakes and chocolates as well as drinking quite a few mugs of hot Glühwein.

Read More: A Food Lover’s Guide to Heidelberg, Germany

December – A weekend in Le Havre, France

Port of Le Havre in France

Port of Le Havre in France

My final trip of this year was a hop over the channel to le Havre with Brittany Ferries to discover what this channel port would offer for a weekend break. Most Brits drive through Le Havre on their way to their holidays in France but I discovered that there are many fascinating things to see here that make it worth stopping to visit the city and surrounding area. The city was reconstructed after heavy bombing in WW2 and the architecture of the new town (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) represents the modern designs of the 1950s. We visited a 1950s show flat which would have been allocated to those who lost their own houses in the bombing, as well as a gorgeous 18th century ship owner’s mansion. Another highlight was the MUMA modern art museum, a light and airy glass building with the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside Paris, since painters such as Monet loved this part of the Normandy coast. I’ll be writing about my weekend in Le Havre very soon so stay tuned.

Reviewing the year was a fun way to remind myself of all the fun I had on my travels in 2015. There’s much more to come in 2016 and I wish you Happy Travels for the year to come.

Please note that many of the trips were hosted by the companies mentioned and you can find more details in the articles from each trip.

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Read about where Heather travelled in 2015

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Visiting Kusadasi and Ephesus – Day 4 of our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise

After our cruise through the Greek Islands, the Azamara Journey arrived in Kusadasi, a popular holiday resort for the Turks and gateway port for the archaeological site of Ephesus. While most of the guests would undoubtedly be taking a tour of Ephesus, I had visited a few years ago and feared that the heat would be blistering. For something different we opted for one of the Insider Access excursions, which promised a relaxing day learning about Turkish food and culture.

On the way our guide, Elif, reminisced about the Kusadasi that she remembered as a child when she would stay in her grandmother’s summer house by the sea. In those days it was a quiet fishing town, famous for its peach trees and olive groves which have long since disappeared to make way for holiday apartments.

In winter, she told us, the summer visitors all leave and Kusadasi becomes a quiet place, but in summer the seafront is overflowing with Turkish families and the marina boasts expensive yachts and the shops and restaurants that go with them.

Heather tries out some Turkish cooking on Azamara Cruise Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather tries out some Turkish cooking

Our land discovery (as Azamara call their cruise excursions) was A Taste of Turkish Country Life and we arrived by coach to be greeted at a family house set in gardens by Asli, our Turkish host who ran these tours with her mother who had been a tour guide. We were welcomed with a glass of hot Turkish tea in a glass, “curved like a belly dancer” which is the custom wherever you go in Turkey. “If you stay longer than 5 minutes, in a shop or a home, you will be offered a glass of tea”, Asli told us. We observed how the tea was served from a double level teapot, with strong tea in the top which was topped up with hot water from the second pot below. The Turks drink tea several times a day and it should always be served piping hot, or your guests will ask you for a fresh cup.

Turkish tea is served as our taste of Turkish Country life Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Turkish tea is served as our taste of Turkish Country life

While we sipped our hot, sweet tea, we were able to watch the cook sitting in the floor making gozleme, a popular Turkish snack, which you will often see being made in cafes and street stalls. The Gozleme is like a Turkish savoury crepe, with a ball of dough being flattened and stretched then cooked on a hot-plate. There are many different fillings, but the traditional one that we tried is with soft cheese and herbs which are wrapped into the dough as it cooks – a delicious snack.

The cook prepares Gozleme for us in Turkey Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The cook prepares Gozleme for us

We were invited into the family home which was a modern house, designed for summer living and as a showcase of the most beautiful Turkish arts and crafts. Here Asli’s mother had brought together the best of Turkish crafts, in the carved stone fireplaces, the coloured marbles used in the bathrooms, the ornate wooden ceilings and the antique furniture and embroidered Suzani rugs and throws.

Beautiful traditional Turkish furnishings Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Beautiful traditional Turkish furnishings

In the living rooms we could see the carved wooden chairs from Southern Turkey that had been used in a monastery and the stained glass windows that had been part of a mosque in Konya. Since Asil’s mother had been a tour guide, she had visited many parts of Turkey and admired these things, which had subsequently been given to her as a gift when no longer required. Even though the family had been furnishing the house for the last 12 years, it was still not finished, since the craftsmen who had the traditional skills were dying out and they had to wait their turn for things to be made for them.

The ladies try on headscarves, Turkish style Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The ladies try on headscarves, Turkish style

As we sat outside, we were given a lesson in tying and wearing headscarfs like a Turkish women, since in each region of Turkey they would be tied in a different style. Although Turkey is a secular country, headscarfs are still widely worn, especially in the country, to protect the hair when working, cooking or to shield from the heat of the sun. A bride would have numerous colourful scarfs which she embroiders with a fine crochet edging in different designs.

Asil explained, that since a young married women would live in the same house as her mother in law, and it would be considered rude to speak out if she was unhappy with anything, there would be a scarf to express every mood. If you wear the colours of spring and summer, everything is happy in the house, but if you wear an edging of little peppers the message in your scarf is “Mother-in-law, you upset me today!”

Asil demonstrates how to make Turkish dishes Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Asil demonstrates how to make Turkish dishes

We moved into the kitchen to learn how to make some typical Turkish dishes such as stuffed peppers, creamy lentil soup and a cooked carrot and yoghurt dip and even had a folder of the recipes to take home with us.

In Turkish when they saute garlic or carrots they talk about ‘killing’ the carrots and when they say ‘”is it dead?” that means it’s soft and perfectly cooked. We learned the Turkish grandmother’s secrets for making perfect Pilau rice that will keep your husband happy – cover the rice in hot water for 5 minutes to let the starch come out and then rinse it 7 times more. This is the trick for rice where every grain is perfectly separate and not sticky.

Delicious Turkish Stuffed Peppers Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Delicious Turkish Stuffed Peppers

After watching how some of the dishes were made, we moved outside and learned how to stuff the small peppers with the rice mixture and how to roll the vine leaves and filo pastry to make small dolmes, the length of a finger.  By now we were getting hungry and soon an array of dishes was laid out for us to try at lunch, all previously prepared by the cook to high Turkish standards. “I’m tired from doing all this cooking” joked one of the guests as we left off stuffing peppers and sat down to eat, ” We worked so hard!”

After lunch we moved into the shady seating area where we had started with glasses of tea, this time to try some sweet, black Turkish coffee which is supposed to help your digestion. We also had a fun ‘fortune-telling’ session from reading the coffee grounds, which is a skill passed down to women from their grandmothers. Elif, our guide turned each cup upside down and interpreted the patterns and shapes she could see in the coffee grounds, “don’t worry, we don’t tell you the bad stuff”, she joked. Of course I can’t reveal all except to say that I am a patient person and everything good will come to me if I wait and don’t lose heart!

Fortune Telling With Coffee Cups

Fortune Telling With Coffee Cups

After our enjoyable morning, learning all about Turkish food and customs, it was time to head back to the ship to relax before the next highlight of the day, our evening visit to Ephesus. Another reason I decided not to do the Ephesus tour in the heat of the day was because I knew that we were to be there for the AzAmazing evening that was included as part of the cruise. On every Azamara cruise, there is a special event like this for all the guests, designed to be a unique and memorable occasion that guests will be talking about long afterwards.

Evening at Ephesus, Turkey

Evening at Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus is one of the highlights of coming to Kusadasi, and as guests of the cruise we arrived after closing time and had the place to ourselves. Our special concert wes held in the stone amphitheatre of the Odean, sitting on the ancient stones although luckily cushions were provided.

Heather and Guy at the Concert in Ephesus, Turkey

Heather and Guy at the Concert in Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus was built in the 10th century BC and was a thriving commercial city in ancient times, where St John the Evangelist and St Paul preached and where Mary, the mother of Jesus lived at the end of her life. Although we could not walk around the whole site, we could see the two storey library down below us as the sun set behind the hill.

Concert at Ephesus, Turkey

Concert at Ephesus, Turkey

With cocktails in hand we settled down to listen to the Camera Izmir Orchestra with a guest harpist performing Handel’s harp concerto, then well known pieces by Bach and Mozart finishing with an entertaining Brahms Hungarian Dance that reminded me of those gypsy violinists I had seen in Budapest.

Sunset at Ephesus, Turkey

Sunset at Ephesus, Turkey

Listening to the music in the warm night air in such a special setting was truly magical and we felt that the promise of an AzAmazing evening had been fulfilled. As we returned to the ship, we could see families strolling along the seafront promenade and enjoying dinners in the restaurants around the marina. Soon Azamara Journey was sailing away and the coloured lights of Kusadasi were left behind as we headed for Istanbul.

Azamara Journey at Kusadasi

Azamara Journey at Kusadasi

About Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.

You can also connect with Azamara Club Cruises on Social Media via:
Azamara blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest | YouTube | Flickr

Joining your Azamara Club Cruise

Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.

Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.

Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Cruises

Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.

Read More about our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise

Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – Day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Istanbul the golden – final stop on our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise

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Read about our stop at Kusadasi and Ephesus with Azamara Club Cruises

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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