Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gate 1 Travel - Review

We used Gate 1 for the first time this year. We signed up for the 10 day Greece and Istanbul tour.
Everything about their service was excellent. We signed up for all their optional tours except for the dinner in Athens. We did sign up for this after we met the group and decided we would enjoy their company. As I mention below it would have been nicer to have optional dinner tours in Delphi and Kalambaka rather than Athens as Athens had plenty of nice places to eat within walking distance of our hotel in the Plaka.

All photos below are our personal property.
There are daily links below to more detailed posts on my blog.
Links to more photos from this trip.
Snapfish - http://www1.snapfish.com/snapfish/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=3687787015/a=9917559_9917559/

We decided to fly in a few days earlier to enjoy Athens on our own and are glad we did as the package tour did not really allow for any time to explore the city on your own. Details below.

Some points regarding the package.
HOTELS
We upgraded our hotels to Plan A and are very glad we did. All hotels include breakfast and in the Plan A they were excellent and always included a hot selection of eggs and other breakfast foods.
It was great arriving at the various hotels and having all your check-ins already done and just having to receive your room key.
The Plan B hotels were always much further off the beaten track. This was also disappointing as we were only a group of 18 who bonded very well and would have liked to spend more time together in the evenings. The Plan B hotel was not in a very nice area of Athens but they all said the hotel was very nice inside, but it was not very safe for walking around. When our tour returned to Athens our guide asked that the people be very careful about retrieving their luggage and being conscious of any suspicious people hanging around.
Even in Delphi and Kalambaka we were apart from each other. They also complained about their hotels there not having hot water and the beds being old.
Our hotels in Delphi and Kalambaka were fantastic. Especially in Dephi where we were the only guests along with the tour guide and the driver. A special breakfast was cooked and served to the 5 of us.
One suggestion I would make to Gate 1 is to arrange an optional dinner tour in 1 or both towns, especially in the off season as we were. There were very few restaurants open in Delphi (we lucked into a place) and it would have been a good opportunity for a "traditional" type meal and the group would have enjoyed it.
Some of the group eventually decided just to buy some stuff from the market and go back to the hotel to eat it in their room.


In Istanbul the 2 groups were about a 20 minute drive from each other.
The hotel for Plan A in Istanbul was in a very nice location in the "newer" part of the city, but the hotel staff were downright rude and unpleasant. The amenities in the room such as soap, shampoo and toilet paper were non-existent. Phoning for toilet paper was just ridiculous. The room did have wi-fi (never mentioned when you check in so you have to call for the password). The carpet in our room was shabby and needed replacement. Our window faced a white wall. We have told Gate 1 we did not think this hotel met Plan A standards. We didn't check out the restaurant, but another of our party did and she was disgusted with the deplorable service she received when just asking to see the menu.
TOUR(S) and GUIDES
Another interesting point is that even though they call it a 10 day tour day 1 and 2 are really the travel days and the orientation is done in the evening day 2 when you have just arrived from overseas. You hit the road running on the morning of Day 3 when most people are still adjusting to the time difference of a minimum of 7 hours if you are coming from Eastern US or Canada. If you were on the 7 day tour of Greece only as 8 of our group were then you also really lost the 7th day as well as it is the travel day back to the US or Canada.
If you added on Istanbul then day 7 was a travel day to Istanbul and then you had most of the day at your leisure to enjoy.
We didn't think the optional Athens by night tour with dinner was very good. See below comments.

Also the Argolis tour at 79 euros each didn't seem to be worth the money even though it included lunch. We were told the night before the tour that our group would be combined with 2 other tour groups for this trip. This meant a much larger group and it certainly wasn't as much fun as when we were a dedicated Gate 1 tour. The driver on this tour was not pleasant at all and was downright rude to one of our group when they needed to get onto the bus to get some medicine, he would not help at all.
But we were lucky to have our guide Militsa back with us, who received a great round of applause when she stepped on the bus.
We definitely had the best tour guide ever in Militza and she made the trip so much more pleasurable. Our driver Kostas while in Delphi and Kalambaka was excellent. 9.A BIG 'Thank you!' - efkharistó- eff-car-ee-STOH to Militza.


In Istanbul our guide was Arcan who was a lot of fun and spent a lot of time to meet the group's needs. We asked for a visit to a leather factory which he accommodated.

MEALS
Most meals were not included in the tours except for the Argolis tour in Greece.
In Istanbul meals were included in the 2 day tours and were excellent.
Following is our schedule.
Friday Nov 12 - flight Toronto - Heathrow - Athens


Saturday Nov 13 - Transfer airport to hotel was arranged by Gate 1 for us. The driver was waiting for us and it was about a 30 minute drive to the hotel where our rooms were ready for us. There is internet, however there is a 5 euro charge for a 2 hour consecutive period.

The hotel was the Amalia Hotel, standard Room with breakfast. The room was nice but on the side of the building. When we returned at the end of the week we were given a much nicer room on the front of the hotel with a balcony.
The hotel is located in the heart of the city facing the National Gardens and just off Constitution Square. We really enjoyed the location of our hotel as we could walk everywhere, and it is situated across from a subway stop.




It was mid afternoon so we took a nap for a couple of hours and then got up around 7pm and headed out to dinner. We literally were 5 minutes from the Plaka area which is full of shops, restaurants and dogs!
This is the first picture I took in Greece when we stepped out of the hotel.

Even though it was a little cool out every outdoor restaurant has heaters so it is still pleasant to sit out, eat and people watch. We decided on Estia for a bite. We returned several times for dinner.





 Complimentary drinks were provided after dinner.


Sunday Nov 14 - Day to explore on our own. For details of our day please go to this link



Monday Nov 15 - Day 1 of the tour but really a day to explore on our own as our fellow travellers are just departing from the US.



Tuesday Nov 16 - Day 2 - fellow travellers have just arrived today. We spent the day enjoying the sunshine and sightseeing.

Orientation meeting in evening where we met 3 of our fellow travellers staying in the same hotels as us.

Wednesday Nov 17 Day 3- 7:45 am pick up for the Amalia hotel with your luggage ready.
We board the bus and meet our guide Melitza and fellow travellers, 18 in all.


There is a quick morning tour of Athens with views of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Panathenian stadium (with stop for pictures), ruins of Zeus and a guided tour of the Acropolis. We had saved the Acropolis for this tour which is very good. Melitza is a walking history book and keeps you entertained.

There is then an optional tour of the Acropolis Museum which we did not take, opting instead to have a leisurely lunch in the Plaka.

If you had just arrived as per the Gate 1 schedule you would not really have had any sense of Athens so I am very glad we had come earlier.
Details in this post.
We depart in the afternoon for Delphi. We stop on the way in the town of Arachova for a break to shop and wander around.
Upon arrival  the remainder of the evening is at your leisure.

Amalia Hotel, Delphi, is situated on mountain slope with splendid views of Itea port and Corinthian Gulf. The hotel is within walking distance of the Archaeological Museum and Temple of Apollo with Ancient Delphi at 0.7 mile from the hotel. As I mentioned above we were the only guests along with the guide and driver. The hotel was beautiful and in a fantastic location.

Optional dinner tour would have been a good add-on here.


Thursday Nov 18 Day 4-Took the optional tour of Delphi to visit the Sanctuary of Apollo Pythias and the Museum. The Museum contains masterpieces of ancient Greek sculpture such as the bronze Charioteer and the famous athlete Aghias.
Post with details.

We had a pleasant lunch at a restaurant suggested by the guide, it was good but not the best food, most of the group felt the same.
We then drove via Karditsa and Trikala to Kalambaka, a small town situated amid smooth sandstone cliffs in the foothills of Meteora. We again made several interesting stops along the way.
Meteora's name, meaning "suspended in air" is exceptionally apt, with towering rock pillars soaring over a thousand feet above the plain.
Our hotel was the Divani Hotel in Kalambaka. This hotel is situated at the foot of the rocks of Meteora at the small village of Kalambaka. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and has stunning views of the mountains.


Again an optional dinner would have been ideal as a lot of restaurants weren't open in town. We found a little taverna and had a really nice dinner with a good bottle of wine.



Friday Nov 19 Day 5- We took the optional tour to the unique formations of Meteora. Where we visited the age-less monasteries, which appear to be suspended in mid-air perched on top of the huge rocks. Inside the monasteries we saw exquisite specimens of Byzantine Art.
This was definitely our highlight of Greece.

We then had a long drive back to Athens after a great lunch in Kalambaka.

We stayed at the same hotel - the Amalia Hotel, Athens where we had a nicer room than earlier in the week.
We only had time for a quick change and then headed out for the optional Athens by night dinner tour.
There was a quick stop to watch the changing of the guards, a photo stop under the illuminated Partheon and according to the tour outline a visit to the temple of the god Hephaistos, the Thission and the Attalus stoa.





I'm glad we took it with our group, however, the restaurant (also according to the outline is an old local tavern), located in the Monestiraki area was not that good. We were seated inside and wine was included, but it was so bad our group opted to buy some bottles of wine. There were many appetizers of the usual Greek type and then moussaka, which by then, most of the group was too full to eat. The biggest disappointment, was the desserts, seemly they had run out of baklava, which seems impossible in Athens, so we were served apple pie and brownies. The group felt this was not acceptable.
I would have expected some type of Greek entertainment as well.
The view from our balcony facing the National Palace at the Amalia.


Saturday Nov 20 Day 6- Full day Argolis tourat a cost of 79 euros each. We definitely felt this tour was not worth the price, even though it included lunch. The guide forgot to mention that since the sights we were seeing would close at 3pm due to it being the winter season we would be having a very late lunch which ended up being at 3 pm.
We drove along the coastal road to the Corinth Canal, which connects the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea, and we have a short stop. Continue to Mycenae, the ancient Homeric city of Atreides, to visit the Lion's Gate, the Cyclopean Walls, and the Royal Tombs. We had lunch in Mycenae which was included in the price.

We decided to get a group picture done here and another member took the photo for us. A random bus member decided to plop herself right into our group picture to the shock and amusement of our gang. Even funnier, was her husband happily snapping pictures of our group! I wish I'd taken a picture from where I am standing of him!


We then returned to Athens. We wandered out to the Plaka for a quick bite before our 4am wake up call
for our departure to Istanbul at 9am.
 

Sunday Nov 21 Day 7 - Flight Athens to Istanbul with wake up at 4am. Today's blog
There are 10 of our group going on to Istanbul, 8 of us are on the Olympia flight and 2 are on Turkish airlines. We meet up and are escorted to our hotels - see note above. Our hotel is located in Taksim with many shops, restaurants, and near to the historic Beyoglu district.

We then had the day to explore on our own. We were just 2 couples from our group at our hotel, so we decided to have a nap until noon and then head out together. We had a marvelous day and I will write up the details in another post.



Due to heavy fog on Monday some of the tour was rearranged so that we could see everything.
Below was the itinerary originally planned. Detailed posts will be written.


Monday Nov 22 Day 8 REVISED NOW TUESDAY-Today,, enjoy a full day classical tour into the heart of Istanbul City, including visits to St. Sophia, the great Byzantine basilica built in the 6th century, and the world-famous Blue Mosque. Continue to the Roman Hippodrome, the ancient site of chariot races and competitive athletic events. Afterwards, enjoy lunch at Konyali Restaurant, located on the Palace grounds. In the afternoon, visit Topkapi Palace, the former residence of the Ottoman Sultans. Visit the Treasury Rooms which house 700 years worth of priceless Endurun Treasure, making for the largest national trove in the world. Continue to visit the famous Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent, built in the 16th century, and regarded today as one of the greatest buildings in the world, before making a final stop to visit the renowned Grand Bazaar, the world's largest covered market, featuring over 58 streets and more than 4000 shops.





Tuesday Nov 23 Day 9 REVISED NOW MONDAY- Today's tour of Istanbul includes a cruise on the Bosphorus, with lunch. The tour begins with a visit to the famous Istanbul Spice Market before boarding a ferry, crossing the Bosphorus into Europe and Asia. While visiting both Europe and Asia, enjoy stops along the way to photograph the 15th century Rumelihisari Fortress, as well as various summer palaces and old wooden homes. The cruise terminates at the fishing village of Sariyer, close to the Black Sea. After lunch, enjoy a pleasant drive to Camlica Hill on the Asian side, via the Bosphorus Bridge, to see Istanbul in beautiful panorama. For your final stop, visit the Beylerbeyi Palace, the former summer residence of the Ottoman Sultans, to see its original furnishings and formal gardens.






Wednesday Nov 24 Day 10 - Hotel to airport. Istanbul - Heathrow - Toronto

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