Friday, May 26, 2017

Greek Islands Cruise

Last month, while my mom was visiting, Phil and I took a 3 day cruise. We sailed with Celestyal cruise line, booked through Mideast Travel. We left our kid at home because we didn't want to be on constant ship-railing watch. Traveling without a kid is so easy.

We left Piraeus port in Athens on Friday morning, and sailed through the day.

This is Cape Sounio, where it is always windy and beautiful.
I've never been on a cruise before. It was interesting. I'm not sure if I loved it. I liked not having to think about what to have for dinner. I hated not being able to come and go as I pleased. I loved sitting on the deck in the sunshine. I didn't like being around hordes of rude, old people.

Overall, I was really glad we had the opportunity to go. It was a quick way to see a lot of different things.

The cruise took us to Mykonos, the port of Kusadasi in Turkey, Patmos, Crete, and Santorini. Our island tour began on Friday afternoon, when we landed in Mykonos.


Mykonos has a reputation as a party island. It's the destination that the majority of celebrities choose when they come to Greece. It's also where a lot of Athenians find seasonal employment. In the winter, it's basically deserted. In the summer, it's insane. We weren't too blown away by our brief tour of the island. Admittedly, we only saw the waterfront, but it just didn't seem like there was a lot to see. 

The famous windmills.

The highlight of Mykonos for us was Gioras Medieval Bakery. The bakery has the oldest wood-burning oven on the island. It was right on a main tourist street, but below street level. The goods were pretty standard Greek bakery fare--various filo pastries, and cookies--but they were noticeably crispier. We liked it a lot.

The sea is so clear. 

Kusadasi (Turkey)

We sailed through the night, and landed in Kusadasi, Turkey on Saturday morning. We both had a pretty terrible night of sleep, and were up at 6am to be ready for our 7am excursion to Ephesus. We got these photos out of the bargain, so it wasn't a terrible deal.

Ephesus is a famous, old city, especially for Christians. Like every other city in this area, it changed hands a bunch of times, but the majority of the visible ruins are Roman. Ephesus is the setting for the Book of Ephesians in the Bible. The apostles Paul and John both visited the city, along with secular notables, such as Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

We visited the city as part of an excursion that was included in our cruise package. The site is about twenty minutes from the port, and it was crawling with co-tourists from our ship. I did not like visiting the site with a huge group of others. It was like an elementary school field trip, where you can't wander away and explore on your own.

We had to wear these ear pieces to hear what the guide was saying.

This is an old hospital sign.

This is an old pharmacy sign.

This is Nike, goddess of victory. 

These are the pillars of Hercules. People who walk between the pillars reach out and touch them as they pass. It's supposed to give you the strength of Hercules. It was obnoxious because there were photographers attached to the tour who stood in front and rushed people through. It was like a Disney ride, but not fun.

This is the old city road.

This is the old library. It was the third largest in the world, but none of the scrolls survived. 

These early Christian symbols were carved all over the city. This is the earliest form of the "Jesus fish" symbol. It's really cool. The symbol contains five Greek letters (ΙΧΘΥΣ) which stand for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour." We learned this from our tour guide. That's one reason it's nice to be on an organized tour. We might not have known this otherwise. 

This is another cool symbol with an interesting story attached. Per our guide, this symbol was meant to dissuade the city boys from peeing on public buildings. I can't remember the name of the figure depicted, but you can see that she has more heads, arms, and legs than figures normally do. This was so she could see everywhere at once, outrun wayward, urinating youths, and beat them once she caught them. Cool. 

This is the road Paul and John took to get out of the city.

This is the giant, 25,000 person capacity theater. 

On our way out of Ephesus, our tour conveniently stopped by a Turkish rug workshop. They nailed the tourist sell. It was unsettling, but interesting. I've never wanted a Turkish rug before, but I've seen the light. Though, if I could ever actually afford one, I'd probably have to hang it on the wall, rather than use it for its intended purpose.

Phil went to Turkey before the attempted coup, and after Erdogan cracked down on dissidents. He said the most notable difference was the surge in patriotism. The Turkish flag, and photos of Ataturk, were everywhere.

The coup, and recent terrorist attacks, have taken another toll on Turkey. Tourism is way down. It's hurting their economy. It's a difficult situation. We didn't feel unsafe in Kusadasi, but there is a travel warning for Turkey, and it's not entirely unwarranted. That being said, there's a travel warning for the entirety of Europe that is also not unwarranted.

Another factor that has specifically affected cruising tourism is that the Aegean has been a major transportation route for refugees and migrants. Maritime law requires ships to take on passengers in distress. Some cruise lines have avoided the area altogether to prevent these situations from arising.

I was afraid to go to Turkey, but now I'd love to see more of it. It seems like a beautiful place, with good food. I hope we're able to return sometime.


Speaking of the apostle John, our next stop was Patmos, the island where he wrote the Book of Revelation. John was living in a cave at the time. An Orthodox church and monastery has been built around the cave. You can go inside, for a small fee. It was pretty. My favorite part of Patmos was the scenery. Phil rented a four wheeler, and drove us around the back side of the island. It was nice to be on our own time table away from everyone else from our ship. 

This is the site of the Church of the Rock, where the Book of Revelation was written.

A view from the monastery window.

Crete (Heraklion)

Sunday morning brought us back to my favorite island, Crete. We landed in Heraklion which, to be honest, really sucks compared to Chania. Maybe we missed the best parts of the city. It was underwhelming overall. 

This was a cool, old fountain in a pretty square. While we were watching, a dog tried to drink out of the fountain, and fell in. She was fine, just surprised.
The highlight of the city for us was visiting the archaeological museum we missed on our last visit. We were able to see the Minoan artifacts recovered from Knossos. The technology and artistry were stunning, especially in light of how freaking old this stuff is.

There were a few notable sites in Heraklion, like old churches and old Venetian fortresses. I'm not sure I'd ever need to visit this particular place again, though.

Thera (Santorini)

Our last stop was Santorini, on Sunday afternoon. You can't take a bad photograph in Santorini. It's such a photogenic place. I maintain that Crete is prettier, but Santorini photographs better. It's also better in winter, when everything is closed and no one is around. Like I've said before, it's not a very authentic place. It's super, super touristy, and it's wicked crowded when a cruise ship comes in. 

There was a huge wait for the cable car from the port to the town of Thera. You can ride a donkey, but their handlers aren't necessarily treating the poor beasts with animal welfare standards in mind. At this point in the trip, I was completely fed up with waiting in line. I had a bit of a breakdown, and flatly refused to take the cable car. Phil and I walked up the stairs. It took twenty minutes, and would be completely punishing in the summer time. For us, it was not bad. The views were incredible.

I took a few more photographs around Thera, just for the sake of beauty.

We climbed those stairs!

The best porch swing in the world?

Top ten, probably.

We went back to the ship a little early. We didn't have time to explore outside of Thera, and there wasn't much to explore inside Thera. We really wanted to see the island at night, from sea. It did not disappoint.

Thera on the right, Oia on the left.

Oia at night.

We had a great cruise. Our destinations were beautiful. It was a bit too fast-paced to be relaxing, but we were thrilled to see Ephesus and Patmos.

This trip required me to adjust my favorite islands standing. In first place is Crete, of course. Patmos is second. Santorini is third, maybe, but only because my photos turn out so well.

I love Greece. It's beautiful, and there is so much to see.