As I mentioned in my last post, this past September I returned from a week-long cruise that included stops in Athens, Greek islands Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, and Istanbul and Kusadasi in Turkey. I booked the trip on go-today.com, because it seemed to maximize the time at each destination. Sailing on the Aegean Sea was a delight most of the time. There were only a few very rocky days when it was too windy to tan on the deck and I thought I might be flung from my bed. Otherwise it was sunny, warm, and the surrounding landscapes were beautiful to take it. Here are some highlights from Athens and the islands:
The itinerary offered on go-today didn’t allow us much time to explore Athens, so we had the agent arrange the flight so that we arrived a day earlier at no extra charge. She booked us at the Jason Inn (cheap and shabby) but right in the heart of Athens and within walking distance of everything. There, we strolled the Pláka, the old town, ate at many decent restaurants including Cafe Kapaki, and Kalokerinos, which offered performances of traditional dance. Early the next morning we walked to the Acropolis, an ancient site located high above the city. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. From there we walked into the city, and made stops at Brettos Bar and a fish spa–where tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your feet (it was almost unbearable). During our trip we didn’t see any obvious signs of the financial crisis, but we were lucky to get in and get out before riots broke out a few weeks later!
In my opinion the cruise ship could have skipped Patmos. Those visiting the region to pilgrimage to religious sites may enjoy Patmos–as the place is mentioned in the bible as the location where John received a vision from Jesus. However, we were there for only a few hours, making it impossible to really do anything except go on the cruise’s excursion to the cave where John is said to have received his Revelation. The chora is a sleepy little place with only a handful of worthwhile shops. The guy working at one of these shops fell in love with my sister and gave her a bracelet for free. He left his store unattended to go buy us sodas and then begged for her contact info. It was cute.
Everything I read beforehand said that Mykonos is the place to party! So I was VERY disappointed when those operating our cruise ship changed the schedule–which resulted in us leaving at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. (#FAIL) Nevertheless, we strolled the coastline until we arrived at several huge beautiful windmills, and settled on a tiny patch of beach at the bottom of the hill below them. This patch was protected from the wind by the short mountains around it and the water was shallow and warm, but the sea floor was rocky. After taking in adequate vitamin D, we strolled through Little Venice, an area at the sea’s edge with buildings that have balconies overhanging the water. A little deeper into Chora, the main village, there’s a labyrinth of streets filled with restaurants, jewelry stores, trendy art shops, places selling chachkies, and more. We ate a seafood salad and some pizza at Mourayio, a restaurant facing the water, watched the sunset, and then strolled the streets until it was time to return to the boat. How I wish there was time to enjoy the night life, take in a party, and dance! Maybe next time.
The main attraction here is Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman city, that is still being excavated. The large site features an impressive structure that once was the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, a huge theater, and the tomb of John is believed to here too. Before stopping here, however, we made a quick stop to the House of the Virgin, believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. It was tranquil with a place to write prayers down on paper and attach them to the wall–the hope is that Mary will answer your wish. After these historical sites, our tour guide took us to a store featuring leather goods, from coats to bags. My guess is that the tour guide gets a cut for dropping us there. My mom bought a beautiful leather jacket for $600.
Rhodes was by far my favorite destination on this trip! The Old Town is beautiful–with areas so well preserved you can imagine an ancient time in present day. In fact, many of the people live such quaint lives that it doesn’t seem like that much has changed over hundreds of years (except, surprisingly, there’s free wi-fi within Old Town). With that said, outside of Old Town, the city is modern, sprawling, and bustling! Our first stop was the Clock Tower, a byzantine structure built in the 7th century. It offers great panoramic views of the entire city from the top, and a $5 admission tickets also covers an alcoholic drink from the bar there! Next we strolled around the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, formerly a Byzantine fortress. Then we headed to Elli beach to dine on the water and catch some rays. Within swimming distance there is a high diving board for daredevils, women boldly lose their bikini tops, and euro-pop music wafts from nearby bars.
Crete and Santorini
Another cruise ship fail, the schedule only put us in Crete for a few hours. After learning that the port was a 20-minute drive from anything interesting, we opted to not disembark. Then we were off to Santorini–which was not at all what I expected. The island is stunning, and the town can only be reach by scaling the side of a plateau. There’s a few ways to do this, but we opted for a bus. The view as we climbed to the top was amazing–although the ride included hairpin turns on tiny roads that barely accommodate two-way traffic. The destination was Oia, which I had seen thousands of pictures of beforehand. Those pictures brought to mind a quaint Greek town with locals living in white-washed, dome-shaped houses. Boy was I wrong. This place is a tourist trap! The only locals in Oia work there, and everyone else is a tourist. The places I thought were homes, are hotels! Nevertheless, the place is worth a visit. The scene looking over the hotels and out to the water is amazing, and there’s a load of boutiques with unique wares. It doesn’t appear that the hotels there have any direct access to beaches though–something to think about if you’re planning a trip there.