Ren 5 Barcelona to Istanbul, March 2001
Guide and Restaurant Evaluations
Ports where no guides or rental cars used have been deleted.
Port Summary - We planned all tours (group of 4 or 6) before leaving via FAX/e-mail and all were great, even to the extent of needing to switch dates in Athens and Kusadasi when Ren changed the port order due to a bus driver strike in Athens. We did it this way primarily because we wanted more personal service and don't like the herd tours. IMO this is the best way to go if you are so inclined. Some of our guides even gave us a gift; wine, flutes, lunch. Most (not all) of our tours were cheaper but that wasn't the primary thrust. I don't quote prices since you may have different requirements but here is an example; a full day (7+ hours) tour with an English speaking professional guide and a four-course lunch for about half the ship rate. Some guides wanted only dollars (especially Turkey) and others would accept local currency or US$. We used ATMs for money in Spain, France and Italy.
Below I rate the restaurants and the driver/guides (A,B). An interesting point is that the local guide recommended restaurants were generally better than the ones we picked that were recommended in the guide books.
Palma - Had a tour from Gwen D'Arcy, firstname.lastname@example.org. Had a great time for a half-day. Be sure to visit the 300-year-old ice cream parlor and Bellver castle for a great panoramic view of Palma. Ann and Neil booked with Gwen's friend but had a less than good time, car too small, etc. A Sunday so few places open. Guide A.
Marseille - Rented a Hertz car and visited Bandol wineries (in the business) with a local Anglo-French couple. Great wine and a great lunch at Le Carre du Port in Toulon but we were almost late getting back to ship. Restaurant A.
Livorno - First day taxi from ship to Florence and walked on our own. Recommend you get reservations for "David" ahead of time or use an AMEX walking tour. Ate lunch at Le Fontucine on Via Nationale, B+. Returned by train. Second day - Hertz car (delivered and drop off at port for additional US$7.50) to Pisa and the Pisan Hills wineries. All winery visits arranged by FAX/e-mail. Ate at La Greppia in Peccioli, B+.
Rome - Max Leotta http://www.romelimousineservice.com/homeeng.htm was our guide. We were with him from 8:30am to 7 pm. Max is very good at getting to where we wanted to go, macho, and informative. Ann and Neil joined us on this tour. Ate at Da Orazio, B+. Guide A.
Naples - Arranged a mini-bus through AutoEurope to tour Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. Company was Autoservizi de Martino, e-mail email@example.com and driver was Luigi. Almost as good as Max without the macho. Great lunch at Il Pesco d'Oro in Amalfi, A. Recommend a guide at Pompeii. We used retired professor Elio Vadacca (short guy with octagonal glasses, no e-mail) who was great at pointing out things we would have never seen. Just "picked him up" at Pompeii entrance. He looks like a professor. Driver A. Lunch A
Kusadasi - Had a tour through Ephesus, St. John, Virgin Mary, etc. plus a 4-course lunch in the garden of a rug weaving school through http://www.holiday4u.net/. Our guide, Sevin was another retired school teacher. The owners of Holiday 4U, Gezem and Begum are two young women (good looking too) who put together tours and vacations. Begum even accompanied us on a short shopping tour. Lunch A, guide A.
Athens - Used Petros Petrou and his Mercedes taxi reserved from his web site via e-mail http://www.infopelago.gr/petros-tours/. He did a good job getting through the Athens traffic and getting us to the places we wanted to see. He even got us to the top of Philopappou hill where we had a great view of the Acropolis before we toured it. He also bought us a Greek lunch where he usually eats. Lunch A-, guide A.
Istanbul - We used Istanbul Guiding Service http://www.igs-istanbul.com/welcome.html and the proprietor, Torcay (Torch) Ulucay was our guide in a 12 passenger Mercedes van. Went to all the places on the Ren tour plus the spice market where we sampled and bought. A cool and rainy day dampened this experience. Ate lunch at a local place near the Grand Bazaar. Lunch B+, guide A.
An interesting side note is that the guides in Rome, Athens and Istanbul were all 30 somethings that could have passed for New York Italians. Not bad just interesting.