I have visited Greece and a number of its islands several times across the years and it is quite nostalgic to be back again and look back…
The first two visits in 1975 were part of a sort of gap year between study and settling down to work proper. After a month of travelling on a Eurorail pass my friends and I, acting on a recommendation, decided to rest and hide from the world on the south coast of Crete in the village of Matala. This winter hibernation was accomplished generally in a haze of retsina, beer and the dreaded ouzo and having survived we were ready for more travels.
Returning that summer, I again caught the ferry from Brindisi in Italy, but this time landing me on Corfu. The grey of winter had been replaced by brilliant sunshine and clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea providing wonderful scenery and great swimming. One of my clearest memories of Corfu was my introduction to Greek salads with delicious olives, fetta and the sweetest cucumber that I had tasted.
Next was some island hopping on local ferries with dear friends Ron and Meg visiting Crete, Ios and the spectacular Thira, or Santorini. Nowadays we often fondly recall dining and drinking under sun umbrellas in tavernas on the seafront at the small town of Sitia, on Crete, watching fishermen at their boats in the bay.
Thirty years later I returned to Greece with Jenny on our Cosmos Grand European tour. All we had was a one day’s ferry excursion that took us to the close-in islands of Poros and Aegina. We were able to share some pleasant hours walking the narrow cobblestone streets and alleys and relaxing along the waterfront.
This latest time, from our cruise ship we joined shore excursions to Rhodes and Crete. At the excavations of the ruins of Knossos on Crete we completed our historic tours and education. However, we agreed that our highlight was Rhodes with its ancient archaeological site at Lindos and the medieval world heritage Rhodes Town.
A noticeable difference, across the years, has been the advent of five-star resorts as tourism has increased. Holidays are probably more comfortable these days but I certainly hope that the old traditional Greece does not disappear. Limited time on this latest trip did not allow us to sample the more relaxed simple holiday but one day we may be able to return to enjoy again one of my favourite parts of the world.
Day whatever? Cruising with no shore excursion gives a chance to rest, but more opportunity to eat and drink too much.
7:30am saw me on an exercise bike in the gym for, (the first time, and a little much needed 30-minute workout.
The weather continues to be kind to us and when pulling back the curtains this morning the sun is blinding, which means we are sailing generally southwards along the Turkish coast; destination Rhodes tomorrow morning. A check on the “location app” on our big screen confirms that we are in fact sailing southwest (203.12o) at 12 knots.
Yesterday was our Best of Istanbul 8-hour excursion around the old city. This little town, now with some 15 million inhabitants, has had a long and chequered history. It played a significant role in the history of Christianity from the Roman times of Emperor Constantine and then was the capital for the Ottoman empire when a hereditary line of 36 sultans ruled for over 400 years. Turkey today is a modern secular society in which the separation of religion (Islam) from government appears to provide a good model in a country that spans Europe and Asia, western and middle eastern, cultures.
Our city tour was another history lesson starting at the ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Hippodrome. It continued to the Blue Mosque and St Sophia museum, which started life as the biggest church in the world, before being converted into a mosque and finally to the current museum. Then on to the Topkapi Palace sitting within 70 acres majestically overlooking the Bosphorus and the city, with its Moslem and Christian relics and jewels showing another side of the history of the region. Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar where every type of clothing, jewellery and souvenirs are available and bargaining is compulsory.
Our tour guide on the bus was a quite lovely lady who said we could call her Ashley. She ensured that we were organised, well informed about all the historic points of interest along the way and where the best photos could be taken. We learned that it was a poor tourist season in Istanbul with numbers way down, for rather obvious reasons. We also learned later that, unknown to us, we had additional security personnel following our tour bus to keep an eye on our safety. A Holland America line initiative.
From my deck chair, the sun has almost completely retreated west over the ship so it must be lunchtime. The day is still wonderfully sunny. The one metre swell with its occasional white tops does nothing to disturb the calmness of the ship’s passage and the fresh salty air is both relaxing and invigorating in the soft breeze.
I think it is day 5 or our 12-day cruise – I must check, but does it really matter?
The Koningsdam is a brand new ship having been launched in February and only one its second voyage. It is proving to be most comfortable. Looking out from my balcony deck chair the water surface of the Dardanelles is glassy with no wind to even ripple that surface. In fact, we have been lucky with the weather all cruise but today is not quite as good and forecast to only get to 24oC.
We passed Anzac Cove about 5:30 this morning but being too dark there was little to see. Next stop is Istanbul this evening and we plan to see some of that great city tomorrow.
Our first port of call out of Rome was Olympia and then Athens and Cape Sounion, and Kusadasi and Ephesus yesterday. We have learnt a lot more about the ancient Greek and Roman. The design and scale of the buildings they erected, the engineering for water supply and sewerage systems, not to mentions the artistic craftsmanship is truly awe inspiring.
Turkey was also their stomping ground because the Turks only arrived from the east many hundreds of years later after these and the Byzantine empires. We expect to see example of all these eras in Istanbul.
The arrival of our small group of five in bella Roma was most welcomed by all. The twenty-two hours of flying from Sydney to Europe is always trying even for those of us who had the benefit of business class (some of us experiencing this for the first time) but there was also some pleasure and relaxation.
We had only three days here so where do we start? For the visitor, Rome is all about history either old or ancient and it is everywhere one looks. It reminds us of the length of its history and I am somewhat embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of it which probably lessened my appreciation and understanding.
We started with our quaint little hotel Antica Roma (ancient Rome) well placed in the city. The building has been a hotel for 100 years so it is not modern but still comfortable down to the fabric covered walls. The friendly concierge was helpful especially in terms of transport, eating places and a little bar across the road and down the side street that became our “local.” One evening, during happy hour we were entertained here when a young woman maneuvered her Smart car into the smallest space between other car and a scooter – amazing.
Making extensive use of the hop-on hop-off bus (and shank’s pony) we managed to see some of the many treasures that Rome has to offer. We walked the Roman Forum climbed the Palatine Hill to look down on the full extent of the ruins of that civilisation, gazed at the amazed engineering of the dome of the Pantheon, just to name a few.
We marveled at the splendor that is St Peter’s basilica and especially La Pieta, enjoyed a drink served by a cheeky Romanian waitress at Castel St Angelo, strolled the extensive park between the Villa Medici and Villa Borgese and dined al fresco in the Piazza Navona among Bernini’s sculptures. Meals of pizza and pasta were washed down with Moretti birra, chianti and pinot grigio – what else?
There is so much of Rome we did not see and if I ever have the opportunity to return to Rome I will certainly do more research beforehand to better appreciate the extensive history of this remarkable city.
Being away from home and travelling for 60 days requires quite a bit of planning. We seem to have most of it covered, but there are sure to be some surprises along the way. Isn’t that part of the charm of travelling?
The trip starts with our Mediterranean cruise; a round-trip itinerary from Rome including stops in Greece, Turkey and back to Italy. Day excursions in Turkey where the Smart Traveller status is reconsider your visit are still on the agenda at the moment.
Throughout our travels we will certainly be stepping back Across the Years both in a family history and general historic sense. Getting reacquainting with previously visited locations mixed with the idea of new experiences and discoveries is starting to get me excited.
Along the way I hope to document those experiences and discoveries as well as our reactions and what we might have learnt about the world both old and new.