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Cruising the Greek Isles: October 10-19, 2018
Wednesday, October 10: Arrive Athens, Greece
We all converged on the city of Athens from distant reaches of the planet for the same reason: to embark on an expedition to experience the culture, history and landscapes of the Greek islands. With approximately 6,000 islands in the country, Greece has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, and in fact the 11th longest coastline in the world.
We met at the beautiful Hotel Grand Bretegne, originally built in 1842, only 12 years after Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. After settling into our rooms, we wandered the bustling streets around Syntagma Square, overlooked by the Parliament building. Some of us walked into Plaka, the old town neighborhood of Athens, with its winding streets and ever-present shops and cafes.
In the evening, we all met for a welcome cocktail party, during which we mingled over champagne and canapés, and met some of the A&K expedition team members who would be with us throughout our voyage. Over dinner, we told stories of the day in anticipation of our exciting trip together.
Thursday, October 11: Athens, Greece
We awoke this morning to the impressive security presence for the President of Germany, who was staying at our hotel while in town for a visit to Greece. Yesterday’s quiet lobby transformed overnight with scanners and police officers, as well as an entourage of black cars parked in front of the hotel. It was a sight to behold as we strolled down to breakfast before our first day exploring Athens.
Due to a strike at the archaeological sites throughout Greece, Expedition Leader Suzana Machado D’Oliveira Harker and Cruise Director Paul Carter expertly rearranged our schedule for the next few days. This morning, we ventured off to explore the magnificent Acropolis Museum, located on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill. The museum is built over an extensive archaeological site, the floor, both outside and inside, is made of thick glass and thus the visitor can see the excavations below.
We wandered through the halls amidst interpretation from our excellent Greek guides, taking in the artifacts found on the Acropolis of Athens archaeological site, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece.
Following our visit to the museum, we had free time to wander the streets of Plaka, the old town of Athens. We meandered the winding streets, stopping in shops to admire leather goods, jewelry, and of course food and wine of all types. We then enjoyed a delicious lunch with views over the Acropolis. After a tour of the city, we visited the incredible Panathenaic stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
After an excellent lecture by Bishop Richard Chartres back at the hotel, introducing us to the history of the Greek Islands, we attended a street party replete with street musicians, dancers, and the most incredible spread of Greek food we had ever seen, all beneath the Acropolis of Athens, beautifully lit under the night sky.
Friday, October 12: Athens and the Peloponnese Peninsula
Breakfast was a-buzz this morning with anticipation of our outings today to explore some of Greece’s most exciting archaeological sites. Some of us set out to explore the Acropolis of Athens itself, which was particularly appropriate after our visit yesterday to the Acropolis Museum, where so many of the artifacts found there are displayed.
The word “Acropolis” means “highest point” in the “city”, and the ancient citadel towering above the city of Athens is most certainly the one that comes to mind when the term ‘acropolis’ is used nowadays. The Acropolis of Athens contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon.
Our local guides led us up the steep track to the Acropolis itself while providing fascinating information about its history and features. The Parthenon and the other buildings were seriously damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded.
Others of us headed west to the Peloponnese Peninsula for the day to visit several important sites there. The drive was stunning, with the islands of the Saronic Gulf off to our left, and rocky mountains dotted with lush green pine trees on our right. We visited the impressive 4-mile-long Corinth Canal, which was completed in 1893, before stopping at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus. Considered to be the most perfect Greek theater in terms of acoustics, this venue was built with a capacity for 14,000 people and is still in use today.
After a delicious lunch overlooking the mountains, we visited the Treasury of Atreus, a large beehive tomb in Mycenae. Also nearby was the ancient citadel of Mycenae, with its magnificent Lion Gate, the sole surviving monumental piece of Mycenaean sculpture. We roamed the ruins and visited the site’s excellent museum.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at the ship and settled into our cabins. After a lifeboat drill and a briefing about the ship and our voyage, we relaxed over dinner as the "Le Laperouse" made its way south towards tomorrow’s destination: Crete.
Saturday, October 13: Heraklion and Rethymnon, Crete
After a long steam south from Athens, we arrived at Heraklion, our port of entry into Crete. Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, and the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It was once the center of the Minoan culture (2700 BC to 1400 BC), the earliest known civilization in Europe.
After breakfast, some of us headed out to explore the city of Heraklion. The largest city in Crete as well as its administrative capital, Heraklion hosts the impressive Koules Fortress at the entrance to the old harbor. One of the most familiar and beloved monuments of the city, this stone fort was completed in 1540 by the Venetians and remains today the symbol of Heraklion.
Some of us drove inland to visit Knossos, the most important archaeological site in Crete and the most representative relict of the Minoan civilization. Knossos encompasses an area of 22,000 square meters and hosted a population of 100,000 inhabitants shortly after 1700 BC.
We wandered through the ruins, admiring the replicas of the beautiful, colorful frescos, the originals of which now hang in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Many of us had the opportunity to visit this impressive museum, where we gained an even deeper understanding of Minoan culture.
Over lunch, some of us wandered through a village in Crete, to watch a performance of a traditional Cretan wedding. We wandered into several spots in the village, observing wedding preparations, which culminated in a processional & ceremony, followed by dancing & a traditional wedding feast.
Others of us spent the afternoon out on a Cretan farm, making bread, learning about the production of olive oil and raki, and even milking a goat. We made fresh cheese, prepared zucchini and peppers to stuff with rice, and fried up cheese pastries for dessert. It was a wonderful afternoon spent out in the lush countryside of Crete.
We all then reconvened in the city of Rethymnon, where we wandered the narrow streets of the old town until the evening hours.
Sunday, October 14: Santorini
The sky brightened over Santorini as Captain David Marionneau-Châtel maneuvered 'Le Laperouse' inside the volcanic island’s central caldera. Santorini is an archipelago of a ring of islands that remain after an enormous volcanic eruption destroyed the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island and created the current geological caldera.
After sipping coffee along the ship’s railing, looking up at the white-washed buildings of the village of Fira high above us on the cliff edge, we boarded local boats for the easy trip ashore. Some of us headed out to explore some of the island’s highlights and began our day in the south of the island visiting the remarkable ruins at Akrotiri, the best-known Minoan site outside of Crete. Our local guides pointed out such interesting features as intact staircases, partially buried ceramic storage jars, and even pipes for running water and water closets, the oldest ever discovered.
Afterward, we visited the beautiful village of Oia in the north, perched on the cliff overlooking the neighboring island of Therasia. The blue domes of the churches were striking, and the plethora of shops and cafes provided many opportunities to take our eyes off the view for a few minutes.
Others of us boarded a local boat for a visit to what is most certainly two of the youngest islands in all of the Mediterranean: Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. These two islands rose out of the central caldera over the past two millennia, and are very sparsely vegetated. We hiked up a ridge to the summit for a view on the first island, before visiting the second for a swim in the warm, sulfur-rich waters.
Some of us went on an excursion to take in Santorini’s unique (and delicious) wine history. From visiting the vineyards themselves for a look at the circular arrangement of the vines on the ground, to tasting such Santorini specialties as Assyrtiko (white) and mavrotragano (red), it was a fantastic outing enjoyed by all.
After an afternoon roaming gorgeous Fira village on our own, we returned to the ship for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party out on deck during a beautiful Santorini sunset, followed by a delicious dinner.
Monday, October 15: Rhodes
This morning we watched as the Captain took 'Le Laperouse' alongside in Rhodes, just a few hundred meters from the old walls of the Medieval town, the largest active Medieval town in Europe with over 6,000 inhabitants.
The relatively early hour meant the temperature was very pleasant as we entered the Old Town through the impressive D’Amboise gate. After a walking tour of the old town which led us down the cobblestone Avenue of Knights, we visited the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, a gothic castle that was previously a citadel of the Knights Hospitaller that functioned as a palace, headquarters, and fortress. We then visited the archeological museum, housed in the monumental edifice that was once the hospital of the Knights of Saint John.
Some of us embarked on a panoramic drive along the coast finishing at a lively local taverna. There, our culinary adventure began with a shot or two of raki (the unflavored local ‘firewater’ made from made by distilling the pieces of grapes (sometimes including the stems and seeds) that were pressed during the winemaking process). The taverna’s head chef George and his staff patiently demonstrated and assisted as we prepared moussaka, Greek salad, tzatziki, and delicious cumin-spiced meatballs. Leaving the kitchen behind, we headed to the tables on the terrace to enjoy the fruit of our labors, delivered by the friendly tavern staff.
Others drove out to the pretty town of Lindos, where we walked up the steps to the dramatic Doric Temple of Athenia Lindia, which attained its final form in around 300 BC. We then continued to a ceramic workshop to learn how the method used to make and decorate various types of pottery.
Later, during the afternoon, some of us opted to explore the old town on foot and seek out some local shops, while others headed to Ronda beach for a spot of swimming and sunbathing. At sunset, we mingled over champagne at a beautiful venue overlooking the sea, with an ever-changing light show of projections illuminating the walls and rock face around us.
Tuesday, October 16: Symi, Greece; and Bodrum, Turkey
With the mainland of Turkey looming in the distance, ‘Le Laperouse’ approached the beautiful island of Symi at first light. The main town on the island, also called Symi, is incredibly picturesque, with a combination of yellow, cream, blue and orange dominating the color palette of the buildings. We set off in small groups to explore the town on foot, with some of us exploring the vicinity of the harbor, and others scaling the winding path of stairs and incline to reach a panoramic vista over the harbor.
Small fishing boats unloaded their catch along the tranquil cove, while shopkeepers swept the cobblestone outside their front doors in preparation for opening time. Some of us met a man who sold sponges, and he showed us the different types and how different they each felt to the touch. Others admired the architecture on the way up the hillside, much of it from when Italy occupied the island after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The view from the top was spectacular, and our ship dwarfed the dock to which it was tied.
Upon arriving in Bodrum, some of us headed out to the beautiful village of Etrim, where we were greeted by a lovely family who taught us all about the art of carpet weaving. We sat with local weavers who taught us about this ancient art form, handed down from generation to generation. Others visited a chef who gave us a cooking lesson on Turkish cuisine, talking about recipes and preparation, and finally serving us lots of traditional small plates (mezes) to sample, and delicious Turkish wine to wash it down with.
Those of us interested in underwater archaeology visited an institute that specializes in this unique field. We were led through the labs to see the scientists and technicians processing artifacts, and watched an illustrator drawing some of the recent discoveries. Following a presentation about the history of the institute, we had all of our questions answered the ins and outs of this fascinating field.
Wednesday, 17 October: Mykonos, Greece
With impressive winds coming out of the north, we arrived alongside the pier at the new port, just north of Mykonos town. The island of Mykonos, perhaps the most cosmopolitan of the Greek islands, is a white-washed paradise that, according to mythology, was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules.
Some of us decided to spend our morning exploring the incredible archaeological site on the island of Delos. The largest archaeological excavation in the Mediterranean, Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. We boarded a small boat for the trip across to the island, the wind and waves making it a rather sporty affair coming and going.
Under the supervision of a number of extremely friendly cats, we wandered through an old neighborhood, walked the main boulevard, and crossed the (now dry) Sacred Lake. With so many impressive features (including the Terrace of the Lions, dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BCE), Delos was a fascinating place to visit.
Others of us set off on a panoramic drive around the island of Mykonos, including the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani. Others set off on a walking tour of Chora ("the Town" in Greek, following the common practice in Greece when the name of the island itself is the same as the name of the principal town). We visited the famous Church of Our Lady, and the quaint row of windmills along the coast. We also visited “Little Venice”, an 18th century district, dominated by grand captains’ mansions with colorful balconies and stylish windows.
During the afternoon, some of us shuttled over to Elia Beach on the wind- protected south side for a swim. Others wandered the town on their own, sipping aperol spritzes on the terrace, or feasting on such Greek specialties as fava and eggplant saganaki.
Thursday, 18 October: Syros
We awoke to glorious blue skies above us and the small of island of Didymi just off from the ship. The wind and swell was a bit much for the hoped-for swim off the ship’s marina, so Captain David Marionneau took the ship on a cruise along the island's stunning shoreline. Meanwhile, we joined Lord Richard Chartres in The Theater for his presentation, "Festivals of Ancient Greece."
During lunch, we watched as the buildings of the Syros' capital grew larger and larger upon our approach to the harbor. Once fueled up from a delicious lunch, we set off on foot to explore the town of Ermoupoli. Syros is an island where Greek tradition and western influence blend perfectly. Evidence of its glorious past can be seen in its many public buildings, as well as the countless Neoclassical houses and magnificent squares.
We wandered the town along the harbor, admiring the sheer quantity of marble in the building construction and the passageways and sidewalks. Up the hill, we stopped in the gorgeous Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and then gathered in the Apollo Theater for a performance of a Greek tragedy by Topos Allou Theater Group.
Following the show, we feasted on loukoúmi (also known as Turkish delight), which is a confection based on a gel of starch and sugar and dusted with icing sugar. Some of us wandered around the town on our own, while others visited the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God to see an icon painted by El Greco near the end of his Cretan period, probably before 1567.
Back on the ship, we gathered for the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party, followed by a slideshow compiled and created by Blackjack Escanilla. It was amazing to see how much we've seen and done on our journey through the Greek islands.
Friday, 19 October: Pireus and Athens
During the early morning hours, 'Le Laperouse' came alongside the dock in the port city of Pireus. Many of us looked out on the city from the ship's railing, with coffee in hand, as the crew unloaded our luggage onto the dock. Over breakfast, we shared stories of our experiences throughout these magnificent and beautiful islands of the Aegean Sea, and said goodbye to the many new friends we made on this journey together.
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