Wednesday, June 29, 2011


            We stayed in the Majestic Hotel  in Satorini, on the outskirts of Fira, from May 26th to May 29th.  It was a beautiful hotel- 

simple, tasteful rooms, separate patios (ours looking out on the Santorini volcano that some think caused Atlantis to sink), three swimming pools, a breakfast room, a great dining room, and more.  It was a great place to relax.  The first night we arrived, we ate in its Crocus restaurant where I had a wonderful vegetable lasagna as an appetizer and a very good pasta with mushrooms as the second course. 
The next morning we had a late breakfast at the Capparis restaurant- a buffet with lots of pastries, fruit, eggs, quiche, etc.  Then we headed to the pool to spend our Friday relaxing, swimming, and reading. 

The water in the pool was cold and there was a real breeze but it was still sunny so I ended up with a burn on my face and arms.  Friday evening we had room service bring in dinner.
  Saturday after breakfast we walked into Fira to see what the town was like.   We strolled up to the top of the town. 

(Fira is perched on the top of a cliff and has small, stepped streets so that you climb up little by little to its height by the cable cars.)   Along the way we stopped in the Ypapanti Church to get out of the sun for a few minutes.  When we got to the cable car station,

 Kathy decided to ride down to the old port and back while I waited and watched those who chose to take the donkey ride route instead. (Kathy is in the blue shirt toward the left in the left cable car.)  There were some great views of the water and the town from that location.

After that we had lunch in one of the restaurants on Ypapantis Street and then headed back toward the hotel.  We stopped at the supermarket and picked up some food so that we could have a picnic dinner.  Because we had to be ready to be picked up at 5 am for the ride to the Santorini airport, where we’d get a flight to the Athens airport to head home, we headed to bed very early.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cruising Days 3 and 4

            On Wednesday May 25th we got a late start because we’d stayed up the evening before to see what entertainment on the ship was like.  There was supposed to be a traditional Greek dancing show, which followed a Ms. Aphrodite contest.  Both were awful.  The “traditional dancing” was done by the ship’s crew, most of whom had very little skill in dancing, much less traditional dancing.  Disappointed, we left part-way through the show.

            We disbarked the ship in the late morning and spent most of the day in Rhodes.

 Rhodes bills itself as the largest medieval town in Europe and, aside from Obidos Portugal, it was the first walled in city that I’d visited.  After walking along the outer walls a bit, we entered through one of the gates and headed toward Ippoton Street (the Street of the Knights).  Before that, though, we stopped at the Hospital of the Knights, built in 1440 and now housing the archaeological museum, though there wasn’t a huge amount of interesting things to see in the main courtyard and my leg was too sore (and we were both too tired) to climb up the stairs to the second floor with its various rooms.  

Then we started up Ippoton Street toward the Palace of the Grand Master.  

The street itself is in marvelous shape and seems (at least to someone like me who doesn’t know much of the history) to have kept much of the 14th and 15th century style that it had when the Knights Templar came to Rhodes from Italy to escape persecution. 

            After walking past the Palace, we decided to stop at one of the many restaurants on Polidorou Street to eat and people watch a bit. 

We passed the Mosque of Suleiman (named after the Sultan who led a siege of Rhodes in 1522). Then we headed down Sokratous Street with its tons of merchants and shops, bought a bracelet for Becca and a handmade bowl for Dan, and then headed back to the ship.  We ate dinner up by the swimming pool and watched the sun set as the ship pulled out and headed toward Crete.

            On Thursday when we woke up we were docked in Heraklion, Crete. We headed out very early for a 7 am trip to Knossos.  We boarded a bus and headed through the town of Heraklion itself, 

passing a statue of three of the most famous artists connected with Crete—the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, the painter El Greco (who I’d always thought of as Spanish with an Italian influence but of course his being Greek makes sense given his name.  Apparently during his time in Crete it was under Venetian control—thus the Italian influence), and the poet Vincenzo Kornaros (who I’d never heard of until the tour guide mentioned him).  Most of the city wasn’t very attractive but then the part of Crete that is supposed to be green and beautiful is on the other side of the island.

            We arrived in Knossos, some of the earliest Minoan ruins.  I’d first learned about Knossos in a book called The Chalice and the Blade. In it the author had posited that Knossos reflected a civilization that had complete gender equality.  While I knew that much of her research was considered speculative at best, it still intrigued me.  I was also interested in seeing Knossos because many think of it as the origin of the story of the Minotaur in the labyrinth, since Knossos palace was said to have had more than 1000 interlocking rooms, forming a labyrinthine structure.  It was also thought to be the basis for the word itself since  the labyris (the double sided axe) was scratched into many of the stones in the palace.  

When we got to the site of the palace, there were so many tour groups waiting that we were in a very long line.  The guide told us about Arthur Evans and showed us lots of pictures in the book she carried with her, but she also tried to rush our group from area to area to ‘beat out’ other tour groups getting in line.  That meant that each time we got to an interesting location, we weren’t given much time to see it but instead spent a lot of our time waiting in lines that had nothing interesting to look at.   The queen’s chamber, with its dolphins on the wall and its toilet system was the most interesting part of the tour.  There was no sense, at least with the way we went through the place, of how labyrinthine it was and there was barely time to look at the frescoes that had been left on the walls (all of which were given Arthur Evans’ interpretation of them). 

            After Crete we headed back to our cabin to pack our bags so that, when we arrive at Santorini around 3 pm we could leave the Louis Majesty and spend a few days relaxing on the island.  At 3:30 –after all the people staying on the boat had disembarked—we were called to line up on Deck 2.  When we got there, they hadn’t even loaded our luggage (which they’d picked up several hours earlier) on the ferry.  They had people and luggage trying to come onto the ship but there was almost no way they could do so in the chaos of  the luggage of those of us leaving.  We waited and waited – while they tried to make a line of people to lift luggage, while they tried to figure out how to stack it on the ferry, while the ferry took off with the luggage but without us—and finally another hour or so later, we were allowed to get on the ferry.  When we arrived at the Santorini dock, they had dumped all the luggage in a chaotic pile right next to the water.  It took a while to locate our luggage and then find the shuttle bus that was driving us to our hotel, the Majestic.  By the time we arrived that evening we were very happy to be staying in one location for several days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cruising Day One and Two


  On Monday morning we headed to the port of Athens to board the Louis Majesty cruiseship along with about 1800 other passengers.  Our room was on deck eight and consisted of two small single beds, a dresser, a half closet, a desk, and a shower/toilet—all small but comfortable—and it had a great window looking out on the water. 

It took several hours for everyone to get on board and to take off.  Once we did we explored the ship a little, learning that there was a room with internet (pay per minute), a library/quiet room, several dining rooms (one where waiters served you, one up on the pool level (though I’d hardly call the small body of water on that level a pool), and a large main dining room.  We went to eat in the last.  There were tons of different kinds of meat, cheeses, pasta, and a few fruits and veggies—not many choices for a vegetarian.  There was also an elaborate assortment of desserts.. The sauce for the pasta had no taste. And we quickly learned after trying a few that most of the desserts—whether cake, pastry, or pudding-- tasted the same, like what used to be called whip and chill.  I had a hard time in the dining room.  People swarmed rudely over the food, piling their plates high, eating little bits of it, then dumping it and going back for more.  It reminded me of the ugly American image, though many of the people on board were from Greece, France, Spain, Japan, etc.  The combination of the food, the quality of the entertainment, and the continuous noise almost everywhere on the ship made it quickly clear to me that, while I thought it was a very efficient way to get from island to island, large cruises just aren’t for me.

             In the late afternoon we docked at Mykonos, having about three hours to explore the island that is known for its beautiful white buildings.

  Mythologically it was said to be the site of the battle between the Titans and Zeus. We walked along the dock and into the section of Chora (also called Mykonos, since Chora means ‘town’ and it’s the one real town on the island) nicknamed Little Venice. 

Little Venice is right on the water’s edge (thus the name) and is a mixture of small alleys filled with shops, bars ,and cafes.  Little by little we made our way up the hill toward the white windmills that dominate the view of the island.  

Built by Venetians in the 16th century, they were used for at least four centuries to mill wheat (one of the main sources of income for those living on the island until tourism took over.) 

            The next morning we headed off the boat early (7 am) for the place I was most interested in seeing—Ephesus.  We were met by a tour guide, George, and put on a bus to drive through parts of the port of Kusadasi Turkey  out into the countryside.

  The fields full of poppies and other wild flowers were beautiful.  When we arrived at Ephesus, there were tons of tourists there. Our tour group was 11, so we were each given a sticker to wear with that number on it.  George clearly had the tour down, telling us lots of interesting stories connected with the various locations we were seeing. (He’d been a middle school teacher for years and knew how to keep people’s attention.) Because there were so many groups, though, we had to go through each section very quickly with George talking as we walked.  I would have loved the chance to slow down and spend some time at each location the way we did when Kathy and I visited Ostia Antica several years ago. 

We started past the Odeian, the smaller of the two theaters we’d see that morning and walked down the main street of the agora, 

pausing by the Gate of Heracles.  

We then continued along Curetes Street to the Library of Celsus. 

That amazing building has statues in niches, Corinthian columns on the two-storeyed building and marble covered with carved figures of Nike, Eros, and garlands.  Some of the statues have words carved below them – e.g. sophia, episteme—showing what the statues symbolized.  

We turned right at the Library and headed toward the main Ephesus theater, the one connected with St. Paul in Acts 19.  The theater was from the 3rd century BCE but was enlarged by Romans to seat more than 25,000 people.  After leaving Ephesus, we headed back to Kusadasi to a Turkish rug store where they served us apple tea and had a woman demonstrate how rugs are handmade.  They then threw down one rug after another.  As they did so, I watched Kathy’s eyes get bigger and bigger. Clearly we were going to be the proud owners of a rug of some kind when we left the store.  After the sales talk was over, Kathy purchased a new rug for the dining room which will be delivered in about eight weeks.

        We did a little shopping at vendors near the ship and then reboarded and headed off for a late afternoon on the island of Patmos.  We’d been told that the tour offered wasn’t worthwhile –to just rent a taxi to take us to the Monastery of St. John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse—and I knew that after Ephesus I wouldn’t be able to walk up the many stairs to the monastery so we planned to just drive by and see them.  We went to the taxi station and were told to come back in about an hour If that’s what we wanted a taxi to do.  We headed into the Chora, the town on the island, and got some dinner and then an ice cream.  We returned to the taxi station where we were told that a taxi driver would take us to the Cave of the Apocalypse, wait for us to get out and look around, take us as close to the Monastery of St. John as possible, stop while we took a picture or two, and then bring us back to the taxi station for 60 euros.  The taxi driver pulled up and the dispatcher explained that to him.  He agreed.  We headed up the windy narrow road of the mountain to the Cave of the Apocalypse.  As the cabbie drove he talked on his phone, driving about 60 mph and paying little attention to the road or its turns. It made me nervous. When we got to the Cave he told us to get out, that he’d be back for us in a half an hour or so.  We explained that he was supposed to say but he said that he wasn’t doing that. Several people standing around tried to get in the taxi saying he’d promised them that he’d be back for them and he hadn’t returned but he drove off without any of us/them.  We made our way over to the steps going down to the cave.  There were too many for me but Kathy went down to the tiny grotto where John was supposed to have gotten the visions that he put in Revelation. 

When she came out we looked around a bit and checked out the building the cave was in with its mosaic showing John and Prochoros, his disciple who tradition says wrote his visions down.  Finally the driver came back.  He told us he’d take us to the monastery and drop us off, picking us up again in about an hour.  We didn’t have that kind of time and I didn’t feel up to standing so we said to just take us back to the txi station.  He refused saying he was picking up other people at the monastery.  When we got to the top—he turned to the back seat and argued with us all the way up rather than watching the road—he told us to get out.  We didn’t, so he said to Kathy, “Take a picture quick” 

and put three other people in the cab with us to drive down the mountain as quickly as he could.  All of us in the taxi couldn’t believe the way in which he drove.  He was a cab driver from hell (pretty appropriate for Patmos).  We walked around town a bit more and then headed to the ferry to take us back to the ship. 

I was so glad to be leaving that island!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


            In the morning of May 20th we arrived in Athens.  Now that the Athens airport has been moved away from the city, we got a bit of a look at parts of Athens and the nearby countryside on the way to the Park Hotel on Alexandras Street.  We passed the Olympic Park, the Botanical Gardens, the Archaeological Museum and a few other sites.  For me the best site was the first view of the Piraeus, the port.  I thought of the beginning of the Republic when the young Socrates was standing at that international port looking up at the city of Athens and the way it set the stage for his whole discussion on justice.  Once we got to the hotel the room wasn’t ready so we walked down Alexandras Street to eat at a restaurant the Homeric guide had recommended.  The restaurant itself had a nice outdoor terrace with nice flowers but for a vegetarian the food was mediocre.  There was only one choice—a feta cheese pie.  We then went back to the hotel, checked into our room, took a nap for a few hours, and then had dinner in the upstairs restaurant (which serves Japanese food, primarily sushi). 

  The view from the table was amazing.  

We could see both Lycabettus Hill (the highest point in Athens) and the Acropolis lit up from two of the large windows nearby. 

            The next morning we joined Homeric tours for their ½ day tour of the city.  The tour was awful. We stopped several places to pick up people going on the tour, waiting at each hotel. Mostly we just sat in traffic. We stopped near Olympic Park, not so much to see the park—there wasn’t much to see there—but so that the tour guide could get coffee and people who wanted to could use a restroom.   We drove past Syntagma Square with  Parliament and the Evzones (the ceremonial guards)  standing at the tomb of their Unknown Soldier and Hadrian’s Arch.  Then we headed to the Acropolis.  There Kathy walked up the many many marble steps to the top to see

 the Parthenon, the Erechtheum,

 and the other buildings on the top while I waited in a park close to the bottom and watched the many dogs that live there  (dogs seem to be everywhere in Athens) and the tourists going by in waves.  When Kathy came back down to the park, we tried to find the tour guide, but all we found were a dozen other people from our group, none of whom could find her.  We slowly walked down to the New Acropolis Museum, enjoying views not only of the buildings on the acropolis but also other nearby sites. 

 The museum opened in 2008 and has many of the treasures owned by Greece that have been discovered on the acropolis.  (Part of the reason for building the new museum is, I suspect, to put pressure on other countries to return Greek artifacts to Greece.  The museum says “We’re reading to house them and in the meanwhile everyone is noticing that, for example, the Elgin marbles are not where they should be in our museum but are still in the British Museum.”)  The flooring of the museum is clear glass so that you can actually look down on the archaeological work that is happening below it.  Inside we were able to see sculptures and artifacts from the Temple of Athena, the Erechteum, and other Roman and Christian Athenian archaeological remains. 

After leaving the museum we walked down to the Plaka to find a place to have lunch, to shop for souvenirs, and to explore the area a bit.    The area is very touristy- lots of shops trying to sell things—but still retains its charm with the small windy streets closed to most traffic, old houses, and great views of lots of the ancient ruins.

 At the end of the day, after stopping in Agora square for a drink, we got on the Sunshine Express, a little train that does a tour of the Plaka area.  It takes you past Lord Byron’s monument, the Byzantine Church of St. Catherine, the Aeropagus (where the ancient supreme court supposedly met and where St. Paul preached), the ancient agora, the Monastiraki and the old mosque, the Roman market, the acropolis, and many other places. It was the kind of tour I’d expected in the morning so I was very glad to have taken it. It gave me much more of a sense of what the layout and views of buildings during the classical and New Testatment periods would have been like.

         On the third day, we got up early to go on a tour of Delphi.  The tour bus was supposed to pick us up at around 7 am but it never showed up.  At 7:45 we called Homeric tours and they said they’d forgotten.  They sent a taxi to get us. When it got us to the bus—at about 9—people were still sitting in the bus waiting for other groups to arrive.  There were only a few seats—none of them available so that Kathy and I could sit anywhere near each other—and people were clearly unhappy.  They still couldn’t find our reservation, so at that point we decided to get off.  We got a taxi back to the hotel.  We were both tired and my knee was killing me, so we decided to spend the day resting.  Kathy swam a bit in the hotel pool while I read and then we went back down to the Plaka for dinner and to see a few more of the archaeological sites we’d driven by the day before.

We headed to bed reasonably early because we were being picked up to go to the Piraeus at 7:45 the next morning.