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Greek Island Tour

Day 1 Maidenhead to Athens Sunny and Warm

Our taxi collected us from Maidenhead at 6.30am on Sunday 16 August to take us (Richard, Sandy, Janet and Adrian) to the new Heathrow terminal number 5 for our flight to Athens, Greece.

We arrived in Athens at 2.00pm local time to a beautiful clear blue sky and a warm afternoon with a slight breeze.  Our Globus representative, Elpida, was waiting for us and took us to the awaiting bus – yes we had a bus just for the four of us – and the bus took us to our beautiful hotel, the Divani Caravel, where we got organised and went up to the rooftop pool for lunch – and Janet had a swim.  We then met with Elpida and the other members of our group – 8 if us in total. Elpida explained what our itinerary was for tomorrow and stepped through the procedure for embarkation to the MS Aquamarine.

We then went for a walk in the twilight and found a kerbside restaurant, where we had a lovely traditional Greek meal, before returning to our hotel for the evening.

Day 2 Athens to Mykonos Sunny and windy

By 7.15am, we were on the bus for our city tour and then down to the port of Piraeus for our first glimpse of the ship that will take us on our adventures around the Greek Islands.  We met Beverley, who will be our Globus Tour Guide, (for the 8 of us).  There are several major tour companies with passengers on this cruise and each of the groups has their own tour guide – lucky for us that ours is so small – we are getting really great individual attention!

The ship has 7 decks – our state rooms are on the 3rd deck from the top (the Promenade deck), below us is the restaurant, buffet, lounge etc and under that are the other 3 passenger decks.  Our cabins have a view out the windows on the port side of the ship.

The ship left the dock at 11.00am and headed out into the Mediterranean Sea.  Shortly after that, we had a lifeboat drill and after the Captain had inspected each of the lifeboat stations, we were able to get on with enjoying ourselves.

After checking out the ship and working out where everything is, we had lunch with 2 of the other members of our group, Debbie and her daughter, Katie, who are from Pennsylvania and seem to be really lovely.

It became very windy, with a lot of white caps, and we were restricted from some of the outer decks, so we came back to our room and had a chat about our shore excursions among other things.

We arrived at Mykonos at 6.00pm and were amongst the first passengers to be called to disembark.  Beverley had suggested that instead of us having free time on Mykonos, she would love to take us for a walk through the town, pointing out the “special” places.  Needless to say, the 8 of us quickly agreed.

We spent approximately the next 3 hours wandering through the narrow streets and along the shore line, exploring this fascinating place.  We saw many of the traditional small churches, the town square, the fish market, the multitude of diverse shops tucked away amongst the narrow windy streets – in some places the streets would barely allow 3 people to walk side by side.

Every building on Mykonos is white – window frames, doors, domes and balconies can be of any colour, but the buildings and the grouting between the stone paving is white.  This was an amazing sight as some of the houses are built into the rocky hillside.

We also saw Little Venice, which was built in an area called Alefkandra, where the early ship captains built the houses, right on the shoreline, with their back balconies facing the sea so that they could check out everything that was coming and gong in the harbour.

Overlooking Little Venice, were the symbol of Mykonos, the famous windmills, which were once used for grinding wheat and barley, using the force of the strong wind that blows into Mykonos all year round.

We enjoyed a traditional Greek snack, Gyros, which is a toasted round flat bread, filled with chicken, onion, tomato, tzatsiki and potato and folded up like a cone, which is then put in a cone shaped packet for you to eat the snack from – it was delicious!

After walking around for quite a while, we decided to get a traditional crepe before heading back to the buses to take us back to the boat after a wonderful time on Mykonos.

After a couple of pints for Richard and Adrian and a Tropical Island cocktail for Sandy and Janet, it was time for writing our blog and off to bed, while our ship sails on to Kusadasi in Turkey for our next onshore adventure.

Day 3 Kusadasi and Patmos Blue skies, no clouds, hot 35 deg

After an early morning wake-up call at 5.30am and a nice breakfast, we disembarked the ship at 7.00am.  Overnight the ship had sailed from Mykonos to Kusadasi (this is pronounced Koosh-add-iss-ee in Turkey).  A fleet of buses met us to take various groups on different tours.  We met our tour guide, Can (pronounced John in Turkish) as we were off to explore Ephesus, one of the biggest outdoor museums in the world.

Ephesus is the site of an ancient Ionian city which is still being excavated and restoration is being carried out on some of the structures as significant parts are found.  So far, 10% of the lost city has been uncovered.

We were impressed with the columns and remains of the ancient city that we were able to walk through.  Some of the things we saw were:  Marble roads, the remains of a significant library, the temple of Hadrian, the fountain of Trajan, the gate of Hercules and the incredible semi circular theatre constructed in around 150AD.

Janet was taken with the number of cats roaming the site and took lots of photos of them.

It was an incredible experience to be able to walk in the footsteps of history.

We were then taken back to Kusadasi via a scenic drive and past the farmer’s markets to the shopping area, where we got to see authentic Turkish carpets that had taken several women up to 2 years to make.  We could have purchased one and the government would have funded sending it to our home address anywhere in the world.  Unfortunately, the one that Sandy really liked cost approximately 6000 euoros…….maybe next time!  Sandy bought a new pair of ear-rings (she lost one of hers somewhere between London and Athens).

We arrived back at the ship, tired but happy with what we had seen.  Globus arranged for Beverley to shout us a free cocktail before lunch. We spent the afternoon relaxing while the ship sailed to the island of Patmos.

We disembarked at 3.30pm by tenders, as the ship could not berth because the water wasn’t deep enough.  Our bus and tour guide took us on a drive up into the hills, where we able to see the most stunning landscape and views – the port, Skala, and the ship lying at anchor, were spread out below us.  We were shown what is believed to be the place that John, the Evangelist, wrote the book of Revelations – the Holy Cave, which is also called St Johns Grotto.

After returning to the ship, we had a lovely 4 course dinner in the dining room, where we all came dressed in blue and white for the Greek Night and then were entertained by the ship’s crew, singing and dancing Greek style.

Day 4 Rhodes Blue skies very hot 39 degrees

Overnight, the ship sailed from Patmos to Rhodes Island, where we disembarked to join a land tour at 7.15am that took us to Lindos, a 45 minute drive in the bus.  By the time we got there it was already over 30 degrees and we knew it was going to be a very hot day.  The entire town of Lindos has been officially designated an archaeological site, which will ensure its preservation.  Its acropolis stands on the peak of Mt Philerimos – it has a beautiful colonnade and on a high platform, the Temple of Athena Lindia.  When we arrived at bus parking area, we first had to walk down a fairly steep hill for about half a kilometre and then through the narrow streets of the old town and then it was up, up and up even more!  We walked up about 300 steps to start with to the base of the medieval walls constructed by the knights of St John in the 13th century, where we had a brief rest (10 minutes) while our tour guide gave us historical information about the Knights of St John and Temple of Athena.

We then walked (trudged) up the narrow steep rock staircase, which eventually widened out as it entered the old Temple.  It is fantastic to see that the Greek authorities are reconstructing these sites as segments are being uncovered.  We would like to return to these sites in a few years’ time to discover how much of the old buildings/structures they have been able to reconstruct using the original building materials.  When we reached the Temple of Athena, which is considered to be the most worshipped temple of the Ancient Greek world, we were treated to some of the most spectacular views we have seen.  Words will not do it justice, nor will our photos which you will be able to see too, on our Blog Gallery.

After, many photos, and having consumed quite a large amount of water, it was time to carefully make our way down the stone/pebbled paths back to the waiting bus.

Next stop was a pottery maker, who whipped up a vase in about 2 minutes flat using traditional methods, including turning the wheel by foot.

Then we were taken back to the town of Rhodes where we walked through part of the old Medieval City of Rhodes.  We walked down through the Chevaliers Road and viewed the Palace of the Knights of St John – the Grand Masters Palace – and the Knights Hospital.  This is an unusual place because there are still more than 6000 people living and working within the walls of this old city, in the very same buildings in the Knights lived 6 centuries ago.

We returned to the ship for lunch and relaxed for a while until the hottest part of the day had gone and then the four us caught the shuttle bus back to Rhodes town, where we had a nice 20 minute walk to a lovely beach called Elli Beach.  The water was absolutely beautiful and Sandy, Janet and Adrian went for a swim while Richard sat in the shade and minded the bags.  The beach itself is quite unusual for us Aussies, as it was very pebbly and the shoreline was crowded with beach lounges and umbrellas with hundreds of people enjoying themselves in the water and lying in the sun.

Tonight, we were invited to the Captain’s Cocktail Party, where we all got “tarted” up and officially met the Captain and had a photo taken with him.  We were also introduced to his senior officers and given free drinks and hors douvres.  Beverley, our onboard Globus Tour Guide, joined us for the Captain’s Cocktail Party , which was great as she is always a lot of fun.  Then we went into the dining room for a fun filled evening with the rest of our group.  The food was good and when it came time for dessert, all the lights went out and the waiters and assistants did a parade of Baked Alaska (which was alight) and serenaded us with a selection of songs.  Everyone in the dining room clapped along loudly and joined in. Our waiter, Christoss, has been entertaining us with his own unusual sense of humour, including not allowing Sandy to miss one of the 4 courses and brought it to her and told her to eat it as it would be good for her – much to the others’ amusement!

After a stroll around the deck with Janet and Adrian, it was time to come back to our cabin and write our blog.

Day 5 Crete  and Santorini Blue skies very hot

Heraklion was our starting point for our Taste of Crete tour, which departed the wharf at 7.30am.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable morning at a much easier pace than yesterday.  We drove through the lovely countryside, looking at the Cretan’s 2nd and 3rd highest income earners – grapes for wine, and olives for oil and many other products.  The 1st highest income is tourism.  The number of tourists that visit Crete and the other Greek Islands each year far outweighs the number of permanent inhabitants.

We drove through Knossos, out through the country, which looked like a patchwork quilt of vineyards and olive groves side-by-side growing on hills and in valleys, to a little town called Peza to the Minos-Miliarakis winery.  Here we watched a video about how the Cretans used to make the wine and how they make it today and then had a little taste of a white wine, a red medium wine and finally a red sweet wine.  Apparently, the mild winters and hot, dry climate of Crete, and the sun and the northerly breezes off the Sea of Crete, ensures a great growth cycle of exceptional local grape varieties.

We continued on through the countryside to a place called Archanes, where we walked through the local little streets, stopping at the Archanes Museum where they had a great archaeological display.  Then we were taken to a café/taverna and treated to a taste of the Cretan food and music.  We were each given a little plate with a spinach pie, a cheese pie, a honey puff, with some local yoghurt and honey and some cheese and olives.  We had a herbal tea and Richard and Adrian had some Raki, which is basically Ouzo without the aniseed.  While we ate, we were entertained by a man and two young ladies, dressed in traditional Greek clothes – they performed several traditional Greek dances for us – while two men played traditional Greek instruments. Then they made us all get up and taught us how to do a very simple Greek dance, which they put more complicated steps in as we got better, dancing around the taverna holding each others’ hands up high and having a wonderful time!!!

We were adopted by one of the local dogs when we first got off the coach, and he walked along with us, seemingly protecting us from other people and vehicles as they passed our group.  Any of the locals who passed by our group got barked at the same as any vehicles – it was quite amusing.  The Greeks seem to have a far more tolerant approach to stray dogs and cats.  They allow them to roam, giving them scraps and every year they are rounded up and given a health check and immunisations and checked to make sure they are desexed.

We were then taken back to Heraklion town for a quick look and then back on the ship top head to Santorini.

As we were approaching Santorini, we stood out on deck to watch the imposing sight of the island getting closer.  Santorini still has an active volcano, which over the centuries has caused problems.  In 1650BC a huge eruption occurred that changed the island’s shape from a circle to a crescent shape, and also caused the inner part of the crescent to have sheer cliffs rising 1100 feet out of the sea.  The white washed towns are built at the very top of the mountain/cliffs, and the houses, viewed from a distance, look as though they are snow on the top of the cliffs.  Some of the houses look as though they are gripping onto the side of the colourful cliffs – you can see the many layers of different periods of volcanic activity.

The ship arrived at Santorini around 4.00pm and we were disembarked by tender boat.  Our impressive bus driver drove up the narrow, steep, hairpin bends from the port of Athinios and drove us to Oia (pronounced Eeyah) along the eastern coastline which is much flatter and has beaches dotted along it.  When we arrived at Oia, we were taken to the town square and “let loose” to explore his amazing place.  We walked down narrow little streets with houses and shops built on and into the side of the cliffs.  (Some of the little shops were spilling out onto the walkway.)  Like in all of the islands, the houses are painted white, with blue rooves to match the blue of the magnificent Aegean Sea.  We walked to the old castle ruins, took many, many photos which will never be able to do the scene justice!

The coach then took us to Thira, the capital of Santorini, which is also situated on the cliff face. We walked through the town of Thira and then we had three options for getting back down to the tenders – walking down over 600 unevenly spaced steps in a zig zag pattern or riding a donkey down those same steps or riding in a funicular that traverses the cliffs in approximately 2 minutes.  Guess which one we chose?  The funicular ride was spectacular as it was very very steep and offered us a fantastic view of the caldera and the many different boats and ships waiting just off the base of the cliffs.

We watched the sun set from the deck of the ship and as we sailed back towards Athens, we marvelled at how beautiful the sight of Santorini is at night.  It was like looking at thousands of jewels sparkling on a tiara or a little hat – as the towns lit up on the top of the cliffs.  Words can’t possibly describe this incredible sight!

Athens Sunny hot, but a light breeze.

Today, we woke up aboard the Aquamarine, in the port of Piraeus – Athens.  The idea of going to sleep in one place and waking up in a new port has been fantastic.  Being able to travel at night has meant our waking time has been able to be used for sightseeing, exploring and relaxing, not just watching the waves roll past the ship.

We had an early wake up call, had breakfast and disembarked the ship at 7.15am.  By 9.00am, we had settled our bags into our hotel rooms and were ready to explore Athens.

We went to the National Archaelogical Museum, where we enjoyed wandering through the many exhibits.  We had lunch at a lovely little outdoor café near the museum – we sat in a section that had a roof and there were little puffs of mist directed from the ceiling towards us at regular intervals to keep us cool.

Then we went to the Greek Parliament, which was built in 1834 as the palace of the first Kings.  We saw the monument of the Unknown Soldier, with two guards, called Evsones, who were dressed in traditional Greek uniforms – good photo opportunity!

Then we came back to the hotel to complete our blog, have a swim and get ready for our farewell dinner.

The Globus coach picked us up at 5.30pm and took us for a lovely tour to a point high above the harbour (not the port where where our ship was) and gave us the opportunity to take some lovely photos.  Then they took us to a lovely restaurant, Memories, with a view of the Acropolis high on the hill.  We had a lovely meal and watched the sun go down, silhouetting the Acropolis, which was then lit up with many lights.  During dinner we were serenaded by a man and then after dinner he got us all up dancing.

A lovely way to spend our last night in Greece.

Summary of our impressions:

We have absolutely loved out short time in the Greek Islands and if we had to pick our favourite, it would probably be Santorini, with Mykonos and Ephesus coming a close second.

The scenery was even more beautiful and diverse than any of the picture postcards or brochures we had seen.

The people that we came in contact with were all happy and extremely friendly.

We learnt lots about each island’s history and culture. One of the interesting things we learnt about was that on most of the islands, there is a tradition that when the children get married the parents often give them a house.  What often happens is that the parents start building these houses long before the children are even old enough to get married.  So, the houses are built, bit by bit, as the parents can afford it, so there are many houses in various stages of construction. Houses that are being lived in can still have the reinforcing rods sticking up out of the top floor, ready for another storey or a roof to be added.  Apparently, if the house does not have a roof, it is not deemed as not being finished, and therefore taxes do not have to be paid.

We were lucky that our ship was usually in port first so that we got off on our shore excursions first, because, in most of the ports we visited up to six cruise ships would be in port at the same time that we were, with most of them carrying in excess of 1000 people.

Our first cruising adventure has been wonderful!  The ship was very comfortable, the crew were fantastic – happy & helpful – and our Globus Tour guide, Beverley was absolutely amazing.  She made sure that everything went like clockwork – she has built up brilliant relationships with the ship’s crew and the island’s tour guides, which meant that we were extremely well looked after.

So, all in all, we have had an absolutely wonderful few days in the Greek Islands, with Janet and Adrian to share it with us.