This cruise is just about an island a day… of course some like Istanbul are not islands, but it pretty much a port a day… This cruise has what is called an “Port Intensive Itinerary”…This means little free time… at each port we feel the need to go ashore and explore… to see the things we are supposed to see in each… Of course at each our time is limited… so decisions must be made… usually in favor of the must do activities at expense of simply wandering about.
At Lesvos, alternately Mythine, (the city where we are docked) there is nothing that must be done…, but if you are going to do something, the thing to do is explore the castle…
Tina and I walked off the ship, then headed up hill towards the castle… about half way up we found the local archeology museum… It had a very good collection of mosaic floors, salvaged from digs near the ancient Greek theater.
We continued uphill… the castle looming above, but the entrance not obvious… eventually we followed a driveway, find a map, follow a hidden stairway, and find the entrance to the castle.
The Castle, said to be the largest in the Mediteratan, was originally Venetian, enlarged by the Ottomans, had once housed most of the city… now mostly the walls and the keep remain, with a few buildings inside reconstructed. We explored… then I explored while Tina relaxed on a bench in the shade.
From the castle we made our way downhill, through town, to a café along the shore where we had a snack and a beer before heading back to the ship.
Kusadasi - Back in Turkey.
Kusadasi is the port nearest Ephesus, one of the great cities of the ancient world. Here Toby had arraigned a private all day tour to Ephesus and Mary’s House. The 10 of us met on the dock at 8:00.
We met our guide Gonca (from Osman Turizm, www.osmanturizm.com) ….. Boarded the mini bus and headed off… we were racing the crowd from the ship…
We went to Mary’s house first. Mary’s house is a shrine… said to be the house of Mary, Christ’s mother in her later years. Today it is the site of a small church, on the site of her house, with a place outside for candles, sacred water, and a wall where you could leave a wish, which it was said would be granted in the coming year. We are not believers, but this was clearly a sacred place… We had arrived before the crowds… I suspect it wouldn’t seem as sacred if mobbed… Busses were arriving as we left…
From Mary’s house we dropped down the hill to Ephesus. The town, now ruin, rises from its onetime seaport at the bottom of the hill, upward through a narrow valley to the Acropolis in a saddle at the top of the hill. We started at the top, then worked our way downward through. Only 15% of the site is exposed… only half of that is open to the public. Starting at the Acropolis, home of the priests and the government, we moved downward though several markets, past the badly restored Memmius Monument… (so badly reconstructed that the official interpretive panel says “at present there is no reconstruction at the site, but instead a cubist modern architectural collage” ) to the public latrine (possibly the post photographed space) to the library (the signature building) to the port (now silted up, now far inland and useless. ) Eventually a couple of nasty earthquakes, loss of trade due to the lack of a port, a malaria, spread by mosquitoes living in the swamp which was once a port doomed the city…
Having seen the old, we went to a government sponsored rug school, where young women learned how to make Turkish carpets… 5 women were at work…
Once trained, the women make the rugs at home, while keeping house and watching children, selling them through the school. They assume the women work on the rugs 4 house a day. We bought two rugs… Toby bought one, Carolyn bought one, and Tanya bought one… 5 rugs purchased by our group of 10… We had lunch at the factory, then off to see the ruins of the Temple of Dianna, (once one of the largest in the ancient world, now only a single column stands) and St John’s Basilica. There was time for a stop at a pottery factory where we didn’t buy much… being “shopped out” at the carpet workshop… then back to the ship, or at least to the dock nearby where there were a couple of cafes and a Starbucks, all with free wifi which unlike the ship’s worked…
One of the archetype Greek Islands, little white houses with blue doors and windows (red, yellow and occasionally green doors and windows are also found, but always white houses) wapped along the edge of a small harbor, climbing the hill behind. The town Mykonos has the wind mills… a line of 7 or so round windmills with conical thatch roofs, along a ridge at the edge of town.
It is a town of small crooked narrow streets, too small for cars… so it is a town of scooters…
It is also the town nearest the island of Delos… In Greek mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artimus. As such it was one of the most sacred places in the ancient world, as well as being a trading center of some significance.
Today it is a small hot dry island with some of the most significant ruins in the Aegean. The “ships tour” description was almost funny in its description of the trip, mentioning the lack of shade and water… If your only information was the description in the brochure you would wonder why anyone would have bothered to offer the excursion… In the end three of our group got up early and made the trek to Delos. Yes, it is a small hot dry island… But the ruins are spectacular…
Much of this trip is about ruins, ruins of “Classical” ancient cultures. For us, Delos is our 3rd or 4th significant ruin. As you tour each new ruin (or move properly “ancent site”), you call on your experience from the previous ruins, and each has more meaning… Each means more.
Returning to town, Sig boarded the tender back to the ship, while Tina and I found others from our party in a cafe (with internet) including Toby, Sig’s wife… Tina pulled Sig off the tender and all were reunited. Tina and I had something to eat while checking the internet and posting to facebook. Tina returned to the ship while I went off to wander through town, spending some time at the windmills taking photos…
Crete and a story about how we cruise
The trip is getting a bit predictable… up early… go up for coffee, a roll and some juice… try to log on to the internet… fail… write a little then as the rest of the clan gathers with their coffee and juice and such… Eventually we meet for the day’s trip… Sometimes it is everyone… sometimes only a few of us gather while others stay aboard or join a ship’s excursion.
Generally we gather at 8:00 on the dock… I am an early riser, but when on vacation, early is not always good, and for some, particularly T, early is torture… but early is important on the cruise… We generally are there for a limited time… so the early risers have more time ashore… but more importantly when you are visiting ruins and other sites you get a jump on the crowds… the sites get crowded early… really crowded. We have been getting to the sites early, before the ships tour busses with the crowds with each guest wearing a colored oval sticker with the Hal logo and a number desgnatin their tour group, lead by a guide carrying a sign, a flag or an umbrella… We are occasionally part of those groups… we took the ships tour on Delos, but more commonly we make our own way ashore.
Today 8 of us gathered at 8:00 on the dock… then walked to the local bus station… it was about a half mile away. We purchased round trip tickets, then boarded bus No 2… (Municipal bus No 2, not ship's tour bus No 2... this is important)
Bus No 2 is a local city bus, that ends it run in Kornos, site of the city of Kornos and its palace… The labyrinth and the Mintar in myth. We were riding with people who were going to work. We arrived on site about 9:00… before the tourist buses, bought our tickets and went the site was excavated and restored by an Englishman Arthur Evans. Arthur Evans had a vision of what he thought the place looked like, with is not shared by today’s archeologists… The names and uses assigned to each area within the site seem romantic and less than accurate… the restoration does not reflect how the site looked in ancient times… The site is chaotic… between the work of Arthur Evans, and likely because this is an early site, organized differently than those we visited before, I don’t think I understood the flow of the ruins, or the organization of the community.
But this is THE place… a place significant in Myth, and even if presented in a romantic and somewhat fictionalized way, it THE place… Sig noted the smell of the pine trees… something he didn’t expect when reading about the place… It was worth the visit.
As we explored, the tour busses arrived… with their crowds… really over crowded… It was time for us to leave… back to the street outside to the local bus stop. The return bus along the same route was the No 12… The streets were much more crowded and the bus ride back was slower. About half way back a voice exclaimed “American English”…. She was an expat, a school teacher who moved to Crete 20 years before… We made her day and she ours… We talked about the economy (bad) about the place (wonderful at first, but she misses New York…)
We got off the bus at the edge of the downtown, as it crossed the old city wall, to visit the local Archeology Museum. Again we were ahead of the tourist buses… As we were leaving ehty mobbed the place, making it difficult to move about or see the objects. Our group broke up at the museum… some headed back to the ship, we had lunch in a local café… did a bit of shopping (Tina got a silver necklace) before making out way back.
Back in Athens
So, on this second (or third) day in Athens we had less we had to see, more freedom to explore. We got off early, having learned how quickly tourist sites fill. There were 6 of us, Sig and Toby, Karen and Tanya, T and I… the others were doing the “hop on, hop off” bus… we were not… we shared a couple of taxis from the ship to the metro… then took the Metro from the port of Piraeus to downtown Athens. The others changed lines at Monastiraki…. while we stayed on to Victoria station (it has a Greek name as well which I will not attempt to spell or otherwise abuse said name)… for we were in search of the National Archeological Museum.
I was not excited about the museum… It was the 5th or 6th archeological museum in the last week, and I was tiring of broken statues… I was wrong. First of all, it was free… It didn’t need to be free, we would have happily paid but it was free, and when you expect to pay free is good. Our guide books suggested that it would cost us 7 euros… but it was free and we were happy… (note: apparently it was free day for museums across Athens… It was Cultural Heritage day )
Beyond it being free, it was spectacular… Yes, it had broken statues and mosaic tile and worn marbles and fragments of artwork, but they had the best pieces, beautifully displayed. Another surprise was the occasional new art work intermixed into the display spaces. The new work made the old more interesting… we loved the place and would include it on a “must see in Athens” list…
We finished with the museum as the bus loads of cruise tours descended… Our early start was paying off… then went walking towards the Acropolis… we walked through the city center, the down Athens street, stopping to visit the central market. I had been there a week before, early when they were setting up… but now the market was filled with shoppers… very different. We explored for a bit then walked down to Monastiraki Square. I was in search of the Melssinos, the poet sandal maker… His shop was 2 short blocks away… John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles shopped there… so did Sophia Loren… and bunches of others… I bought a pair.
Walked through the flea market, had lunch then back on the metro, this time walking from the Metro station to the ship. Our cost for the day, 5 euros for the taxi, 3 euros each for the Metro… about $20.00 for the two of us… plus lunch and the sandals… The ship’s tours started at $74.00 each per person.
Now about 4:30… we have showered… we have attended the 2nd mandatory life boat drill… we are now sitting in the Crow’s Nest (a bar, deck 12, forward.) They are dropping the mooring lines, a tug is standing by… it is time to sail away for the second half of our adventure…
A note on my internet adventures…
The ship’s internet connection has gotten worse, not better… I had finally had enough and complained to the purser’s office last Thursday… asking for a meeting with someone in authority… Friday there was no word from the office… Saturday before leaving to explore Athens I stopped by the purser’s office again… asking when I could expect a meeting… I finally met with someone that afternoon after we had sailed… Sunday the interned didn’t work… again or still. Eventually, Sunday, the purser’s office called offering me either a refund or extra minutes… I chose the refund, extra minutes being of no value if you can’t use them (and Sunday morning the wireless was still not working at 10:00 when the purser called…). By now I have 5 days of blog posts pending. It is not clear if the last post “On Blogging” ever went through.
Generally I use the internet to keep at least marginally connected to home and the world beyond the ship… here that isn’t happening… Instead I will find internet cafes along the way for the rest of the trip. With a bit of luck and the aid of beers in shore side cafes I will blog a bit more regularly.