DREAMSCAPES FALL 2019
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CRUISE THE AEGEAN SEA
 
(2019 - Fall Issue)

Writer: BRUCE SACH



Looking for a relaxing, efficient way to visit Greece and Turkey highlights in a short period of time?

Our cruise with Celestyal Cruises certainly fit the bill. The on-board services and meals offered by an international crew were outstanding.

DELOS

I was sitting in the theatre at the Delos island UNESCO site just a few miles from the neighbouring island of Mykonos, a centre for jetsetters from around the world. The contrast could not have been greater.

The theatre, which could sit an estimated 5,500, sat empty, and this sacred island had only snakes and rats as inhabitants. At its height, Delos had a population of 30,000 in the early centuries BC and was considered the Manhattan of Antiquity.

How so? First, as a sacred site of Greek mythology and then, as a tax-free international port, Delos attracted attention from around Asia, Europe and Africa. It was truly a multicultural and multi-denominational society where, for example, the Poseidoniastes League of Beirut and the Italian Society thrived. In short, it was the place to be!

The island became known as a holy site for Hellenic cultures as legend stated that Apollo and his sister Artemis were born and raised here. So, over the centuries, pilgrims left offerings, large and small, at the Temple of Apollo. As a major offering, Macedonian King Philip (Alexander the Great’s father) built a massive laneway to demonstrate his devotion to Apollo, thereby showing off his wealth and power to the rest of humankind.

Our guide Vasilika explained the importance of devotion to Dionysus, which led to the invention of theatre, a reminder of how glorious this decrepit theatre must have been. It was only when the Persians were finally defeated that Athens gained importance as a new political, cultural and progressive force in the Hellenic world. By fighting in that war, its ordinary citizens gained the right to full citizenship. So, democracy, another Greek invention, was born.

And then began the decline of Delos. Today, it sits in splendid isolation, as jet planes take off and land at nearby Mykonos.

SANTORINI

We spent two full days in what is easily one of the favourite islands for first-time visitors to Greece. The approach by boat to Santorini, regardless of the time of day or night, is dramatic, to say the least. That’s because bleached, whitewashed towns, like Fira and Oia, perched on top of a huge caldera, appear like fine layers of snow dumped on the dark, rocky cliffs.

Hard to say which, between Fira and Oia, is the most spectacular. Both are immaculately white, topped off with the insanely perfectly blue domes of numerous Greek Orthodox churches.

Oia was perhaps our favourite, although we did our best to avoid the pricey part of town where high-end shops like Dior, Givenchy, Versace and Comme des Garçons line pure marble streets. Instead, we chose to spend our time at a terraced restaurant, Petrosia, for shade, a great view and to avoid the crowds. Although Oia is a very heavily visited tourist town, our meal cost less than an ordinary meal at a local pub back home. In the less busy western part of town, we came upon a delightful Greek woman, Iota, and her tiny shop, where she sold quirky pottery. Another worthwhile stop was the Atlantis bookstore, one of the best you’ll likely encounter anywhere in the world.

Both Santorini towns are bursting with art galleries, more so in Oia than in Fira, it seemed. Both towns feature stunning views created by the volcanic eruption that occurred here in 1650 BC and spectacular sunsets are almost guaranteed.

Who can resist a trek along a live volcano? Although Nea Kameni hasn’t erupted since 1950, it still smokes away and scaling it makes for an interesting, albeit challenging, hike in 30 to 40 C weather. Our excursion inevitably included a dip in the ocean at a spot between the two volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. Here, hot springs in the ocean allowed us to easily swim from the cold refreshing waters to hotter thermal currents (and mud) in a jiffy. Many returned to the boat sporting faces painted with thermal mud.

For history lovers, a visit to Akrotiri is in order. More than one expert believes Santorini and Akrotiri are the site of the famed Atlantis.

TURKEY

The final excursion on our Aegean Sea cruise brought us to Turkey where people recommended a visit to the ancient ruins of Ephesus near Kusadasi. Were they right!

This area is intimately tied to Greek history and has biblical connections. To our great surprise, a modern-day event has convinced many that Mary, Jesus’s mother, lived and possibly died in Ephesus. A German nun accurately predicted the location of the Virgin Mary’s home and she was later beatified when her visions proved to be accurate. This most peaceful and wooded area of our trip has become a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims. Historical fact confirms that John the Apostle and St. Paul also lived in the Ephesus area and it was here that St. Paul enraged local silversmiths by declaring to the population it was wrong to worship idols. And why were his ideas disruptive? Ephesus was an important harbour and pilgrimage centre, especially for those who honoured the goddess Artemis.

The harbour was closed by AD 600 and the area ended up covered in mud, which kept it well-preserved. As visitors walk from the upper to the lower town, they are amazed at the still evident beauty of the Greco-Roman site. The Gate of Hercules separates the upper and lower towns and frescoes bearing the original colours can be viewed.

Statues to Nike (Victoria for the Romans) and Medusa are easily spotted near the site’s ultimate masterpiece, the Library of Celsus (AD 115), the third largest library in the ancient world. At the very bottom of the site is one of the finest theatres in the Greco-Roman world, capable of seating 25,000 spectators. Today, musicians like Sting and Elton John perform where St. Paul once preached!

Just as Delos gained and lost its moments of glory, so goes the story of Ephesus. In the second century AD, it was a busy harbour and 300,000 people lived here. Today, it is considered Europe’s most complete classical metropolis although only a portion of the city has been excavated. It is considered the best-preserved and grandest of Turkey’s classical ruins.

Travel Planner

For more information on this and other itineraries offered by Celestyal Cruises, visit celestyalcruises.com.

 
 
 
 
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