Its not the way we usually travel, but we decided on a combination cruise and hotel package, for simplicity, and it turned out pretty well. We flew to Athens, did a one-night stopover, then transferred to Pireus to board the MTS Olympic. The MTS Olympic is of Greek registry and operated by Epirotiki Lines. It is 27,282 tons and has 481 cabins.
We sailed for two days, stopping at Mykanos and winding up in Turkey for a visit to the ancient city of Ephesus. It was pretty incredible. Dating from about 500 BC with Roman, Greek and Turkish influence the ruins were originally a sea port. Now as a result of ecological changes and plate movements, the land has risen about 200 feet and the sea has receded about five kilometers or so.
They are in the process of excavating the remains of the city and its pretty remarkable -- not as big as Pompeii or Chichen Itza but still impressive in the design of some of the edifices that remain. In particular, a massive amphitheater is built into the hillside where once it must have offered a commanding view of the port and Aegean sea beyond. Now it opens to broad flat fields and olive groves.
From Turkey we re-boarded the ship to visit Patmos and Rhodes. We disembarked at the site of the ancient Colossus in Rodos, the primary port city. About a third of the city is a remarkably preserved Medieval walled-city where most of the architecture dates from the time of the Crusades and Rhodes was a strategic marshaling point. We spent a week on the island visiting most of the archaeological sites and catching some sun. The weather was a bit cool - 70's - but sunny and bright -- and blessedly free of the tourist throngs who make the street nearly impassable in mid-summer.
After our week in Rhodes we re-boarded the ship and sailed to Crete, which we found less impressive compared to what we had seen already. From Crete we sailed to Santorini which was truly remarkable and the island I would recommend for beauty, solitude and general hedonism.
Santorini is a volcanic island where in 500 AD half of the volcano sank beneath the sea leaving the island crescent shaped. To reach the town of Thira you sail into the now open crater of the volcano, and small tenders bring you from the ship to a small jetty. Tiny white Moorish buildings rise up the face of the remains of the crater and cluster atop the rim like a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
From the jetty there are only two ways up; either by cable car or donkey through the winding alleyways between the buildings. It reminded Carla and I of one of our favorite places - Positano on the Amalfi coast of Italy. From the town the vista over the Mediterranean is truly breathtaking so we parked ourselves in an alleyway cafe overlooking the sea and ordered up some fine Santorini wine -- and just sat. Needless to say our visit here was too short but someday we'll add to it I'm sure.
From Santorini we sailed back to the Greek mainland and returned to Athens for two more days. As we had heard, Athens was less than impressive -- heavily polluted, noisy, and everything covered with gray soot. It makes LA look pristine! The architecture is primarily composed of an endless mass of ten story, blockish, concrete buildings.
That being said, the Acropolis is truly memorable and impressive, if you can look past the crowds of tourists and gangs of school kids playing tag. We chose to wend our way to the top though a little used entrance from "The PLAKA" - the remaining section of old city that is the only place where we got that taste of beauty and history that makes a city memorable for us. Here we found a spot overlooking "Hadrian's Library" to savor a few lunchtime treats from a little local bakery, and simply marveled at the thousands of successive generations that had probably stopped right where we were seated to warm themselves in the blaze of springtime sun and admire these amazing marble columns and stone carvings.
The next day we flew home to Canada - which was still wrapped in a cold damp blanket of late winter. In fact it is only this first week of May that we have finally slushed and stumbled into spring -- thankfully.