Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Santorini, Spetses and return to Seattle

 Friday, September 30, 2022 – Santorini

 

We had hoped for a spectacular sunrise over the caldera at Santorini, but the weather gods had other ideas.  The top of the caldera was shrouded in clouds and fog, still impressive, but not what we had hoped for.  Seabourn Encore was joined by only one other cruise ship, the Azamara Quest.  We were transferred to local tenders for the trip to the ferry terminal where we met buses that took us to the top of the caldera on a narrow winding road for a ride to the east end of the island.  We arrived at the ruins at Akrotiri, which date back to at least 5000 BC and have layers of different cities built on top of each other, like Troy, but fewer layers.  The ruins are protected by a roof system and raised walkways around the different layers and areas, different than when we visited 14 years ago.

 


Clouds spilling over the caldera at Santorini



Some of the covered ruins at Akrotiri


After that visit, we went to the other end of the island to the town of Oia, with the famous blue roofed chapels and whitewashed building perched on the rim.  Even with only two ships is, it was crowded and by now, the clouds had burned off and it was HOT.  Miriam and I had a lite lunch while waiting for the rest of the tour group, since the steep rough streets and steps were just not doable with a walker.  We finally just abandoned the tour and took a taxi back to Fira, the central town.  The taxi driver dropped us off as close to the gondola as possible, where we found a taverna with a spectacular view across the caldera, including our cruise ship.  We enjoyed some Tzatziki and local white wine while waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive from the tour.

 


Central Church Plaza in Oia


When the others arrived, everyone agreed it was time to return to the ship so we walked across the street to the gondola which took us to the bottom of the steep volcanic cliffs where we boarded a tender for the return to the ship.

 

Saturday, October 1, 2022 – Spetses

 

The island of Spetses is south of Athens and is considered by some to be the Monaco of Greece, since many wealthy Athenians have summer places and the small town center is filled with high end shops.  The are many beaches, including one right in the main town, so Patrick tried out the water, which was cooler than in Skiathos.  The town was buzzing with mopeds and horse drawn carriages since no autos, except for delivery vehicles are allowed in the town center in the morning.  The group found an open air taverna and we sampled local Greek dishes while watching the people go by.

 


Horse drawn carriages in Spetes


Pedestrian only shopping streets in Spetses



Local fresh fish market

Sunrise approaching Spetses

Water Taxi Harbor - Spetses



Sunday, October 2, 2022 – disembark in Athens

 

Our disembarkation was delayed for a few hours since central Athens, where our hotel was located, was the start and finish for the Run/Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer, and many of the roads were closed to traffic.  We finally left the ship about 1:00 PM and checked into the Grand Bretagne Hotel across from the parliament building.  After a quick trip to the Plaka for some last minute shopping the group gathered for a farewell dinner at the Grand Bretagne rooftop restaurant with stunning views of the Acropolis as the sun set and the Acropolis lights came on.

 


Our farewell dinner in Athens with the Acropolis in the background


Monday, October 3, 2022 – Heading Home

 

Our car and driver were scheduled for 0715 in the morning, so we had just time for a quick bite to eat on the rooftop of the hotel before heading for the airport.  Traffic was heavy in the city, but smoothed out when we got to the toll motorway.  Check-in was fairly smooth, except they would not allow Miriam’s walker except as checked baggage, which turned out to be a little bit of a hassle since we had placed her cane in our checked luggage.  British Airways arranged a wheelchair transfer to the spartan business class lounge which British Airways shares with several other airlines.  Miriam and I then had a private lift bus to the plane and we both entered through the forward galley door. The flight to London Heathrow was expected to take 4 hours.  There was a meal service, but strangely enough it was breakfast even though we took off at 1100 local time.  That flight landed right on time.

 

The Heathrow connection was straightforward, but with long lines at security checkpoints and a lot of secondary screening, so it took about one hour to reach the lounge after disembarking the plane.  The Seattle flight was 1 ½ hours late and there was additional secondary screening before we boarded, searching hand luggage.  The flight was 9 + hours long, with lots of coughing passengers and few face masks, but landing only about one hour late.  Clearing back through Customs and Immigration was swift, we were the only flight at the time and no lines.

 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Cesme, Turkey

 September 27, 2022 – Cesme, Turkey

 

This morning we actually docked in the city of Cesme rather than anchoring and tendering in.  In ancient time Cesme was called Cyssus and had many springs and mud baths, surrounded by the waters of the Aegean Sea.  Today the harbor is dominated by a large upscale marina with space for vessels up to 60 meter megayachts, and a castle built in 1508.  The castle was built to defend the coast from attack by pirates and later used by the Rhodes based Knights of Jerusalem.  Today the castle is a museum and a venue for the international Cesme Music Festival in July.  The head of the marina has been developed with high end shops and waterfront restaurants.  The center of town has a bazaar with low end tourist goods.


Many of the recently embarked passengers used this stop to visit Ephesus.  Today was windy and overcast, but warm enough with a high of 75 degrees.


Gazi Hasan Pasha with pet lion guarding the castle, 
he was the naval commander at the battle of Cesme

The upscale marina dominating the waterfront
Cesme Castle
The bazaar area before it really opened up
Upscale shops at the marina
Ancient cannons at the castle entrance

Ancient moat around the castle

The castle from our ship









Monday, September 26, 2022

Limnos

 September 26, 2022 – Limnos

 

Limnos is a very arid volcanic island near the entrance to the Dardenelles.  Limnos is the mythological home of Hephaistos or Vulcan, who was cast off Olympus by his father Zeus and landed on Limnos, breaking his leg.  Lame forever, the god of fire toiled at his forge (the volcanoes of the island) and taught the people of the island metalworking.

 

Myrina is the capital city of Limnos and we anchored just off the harbor with the ruins of a spectacular fortress dating to the 1200’s standing high on the hill above the town.

 








Going ashore Patrick and Cathy went up the steep path to the fortress and met the rest of the group for lunch at a little restaurant near the harbor.  The shopping area stretched for blocks though the center of town, covered by arbors and greenery.  There were swimming beaches on both sides of town, and scores of boutique hotels.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Mykonos, Skiathos, Troy and Istanbul

 September 22, 2022 – Mykonos

 

Seabourn Encore approached the anchorage outside Mykonos Town under clear, but windy skies.  There were already two ships docked at the port about 1 KM from the old town.  By the time our anchor was well set, two more larger cruise ships had anchored behind us, for a total of 5 ships.

 

Tenders from town shuttled passengers from the anchored ships to the center of the town where we encountered substantial crowds.  We had booked a walking tour through the maze of streets in the old town.  The maze was easy to get lost in, which was by design.  The islands had a problem with Saracen pirates in the past and the narrow twisting streets and houses all the same color were to make it hard for pirates to know where to go and to keep oriented.  Without a guide getting lost would have been easy.  The town was full of shops, restaurants and tavernas and apparently is really hopping after 1900, when the cruise ships have left.

 

The tour wended though these streets, exploring museums, churches and the famous Mykonos windmills before stopping at a taverna for meze’s and ouzeau.  We then found a waterfront restaurant and enjoyed calamari, grilled octopus and spankopita while we watched the crowds walk by.

 






After a wind, choppy trip back to the ship we enjoyed a pool deck sail-away celebration with caviar and champagne as Seabourn Encore raised the anchor and headed for Skiathos.

 

September 23, 2022 – Skiathos

 

We were in Skiathos in 1999, while Patrick was on assignment in the UK.  This morning we arrived and Seabourn Encore anchored off the old town.  We had arranged a private sailing day in Skiathos and after we landed right in front of the taverna we frequented on our first trip we walked around a newer promenade to the sailboat we had booked.  We had to wait for thunderstorms and lightning to pass by for about 30 minutes before we could depart.  Just time for a quick cup of coffee.

 

Heading out of the harbor under power we stopped and anchored in a quiet cove out of the brisk wind and had snacks and a brief swim before heading back to Skiathos Island to another beach where again anchored and went swimming in 72-74 degree water while the skipper prepared a past lunch.  After lunch we powered back to Skiathos harbor, arriving in plenty of time to walk back along the promenade, investigate a few shops and return to the ship.  It was a relaxing, low-key day.

 

Our anchorage for lunch in Skiathos


New harbor promenade in Skiathos


September 24, 2022 – Tenedos Island and Troy

 

Once again Seabourn Encore approached our next destination just as the sun was rising.  The ship anchored off of the town of Bozcaada on Tenedos Island and we tendered into shore and boarded a ferry to the Turkish mainland for a 45 minute bus ride to the excavations at Troy.  



Turkish Fortress at Bozcaada Harbor



The tour at Troy showed us the various levels of the city, starting 3000 years ago and culminating in the 1500’s.  Unlike Ephesus, this was never a large city, but the different cities built on the ruins of previous cities seems to substantiate Homer’s Iliad and the conquest of Troy, including the burning of the city.  The Trojan Horse statue is, of course, just the imagination of the builder, since no one knows what it really looked like.

 


Mud Bricks from Trojan War Era, the red bricks have been hardens by a fire






We arrived back at the ferry and the weekend crowds and traffic jams forced us to get off the bus and walk to  jump the queue just to get on the ferry back to where the ship’s tenders were located.  It was close, but all the passengers got back on crowded the ferry before it left for the 30 minute trip back to Bozcaada.

 

As we headed up the Dardenelles we gathered for and Indian dinner on the aft deck.  The sun was warm and even after sunset the deck was pleasant.  Later in the evening we gathered in the Observation Bar as the ship sailed past Gallipoli and under the longest suspension bridge in the world, spanning the narrow passage.  The bridge is lit up with a light show that was spectacular.



Bridge over the Dardenelles at night

 

September 25, 2022 – Istanbul

 

Seabourn Encore docked on the corner of The Golden Horn just below Topkapi Palace.  We had arranged a private minibus and guide for the day, along with the other three couples.  We were fortunate in arriving at Topkapi Palace just as it opened and before the crowds arrived.  After 2 hours touring the various courtyards and displays, including religious artifacts such as remnants of John the Baptist and the staff of Moses and items of Mohammed, we stopped for coffee just inside the first courtyard.

 







Moving to Hagia Sophia we waited about 30 minutes in line to enter since there is a limit of about 2000 visitors at a time in the mosque.  The current building dates back to 527 AD, originally a Christian church, built on top of even earlier remains.  With the rise of the Ottoman Empire the church became a mosque and then a museum.  In 2020 it was changed back into a mosque.  Christian symbols with faces are covered, but symbols common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam are present everywhere.

 


Interior of Hagia Sophia Dome



Hagia Sophia mosque


Crowds inside Hagia Sophia


The Blue Mosque is closed for renovation, so we then went into the cisterns built by the Romans.  Much of the construction reused items from other cities, so there a real mix of column styles.  They have a light show in the cisterns and when it got dark it was hard to walk and maintain balance with the crowds.

 


550 ton Obelisk from Karnak, Egypt



Inside the cistern




Reused marble Medusa Head in Cistern


After the cistern experience we stopped for lunch at “The Pudding Palace” which consisted of traditional Turkish food, simple but good.  By the time lunch was over we were getting tired, but walked though the area where the hippodrome was and viewed the obelisks the Romans brought from Egypt 1500 years ago.  By this time traffic was heavy, so we headed back to the ship to make sure we arrived before last call.

 

 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Kusadasi and Ephesus

 Wednesday, September 21, 2022 - Kusadasi and Ephesus

 

Seabourn Encore approached the dock in pre-dawn darkness, without even a sunrise due to clouds on the horizon.  Our tours today included the Virgin Mary’s House, the ruins of Ephesus, rug weaving demonstrations and a private classical concert for Seabourn on Harbor Road in front of the Great Theater at Ephesus.

 


Approaching Kusadasi at Dawn with the Turkish Fortress lit up


Miriam and I were last here in 2008 as part of our Holland America transatlantic cruise.  Since that time the Virgin Mary’s house has been declared a Unesco “World Heritage” site and much development has taken place around the actual house.  The original ruins only went up a few feet above ground and the building that is now there is only 25% original and 75% reconstructed.  The line is clearly visible.  Like many of the sites, no photography is allowed inside the shrine.

 

Entrance to St. Mary’s House


After a short visit before most of the hoards of visitors arrived, we headed to the ruins at Ephesus.  Not much has changed except the crowds were even larger.  We walked down through the ruins to the Great Theater and Harbor Road, past the Celcus Library fa├žade.  We were able to discern carvings of the goddess’s  Nike, Medusa and Artemis.  The guide talked about how St Paul did not actually talk in the great Theater but rather in the Jewish Synagogue next to the library.  In ancient times, Ephesus was a large and important seaport with as many as 250,000 residents, but earthquakes and filling of marshlands to combat malaria which covered the city under many feet of debris means the Harbor Road is now miles from the sea.  The site is still only 10 percent excavated, but radar and lidar surveys show extensive ruins buried under the hillsides on both sides of the city.

 


Celcuk Library


Celcuk Library


Harbor Road in Daytime



Starbucks Anyone?




The goddess Nike, can you see the swoosh?


Finishing our tour, we headed for a hand knotted silk rug weaving demonstration and sales pitch to buy rugs before we returned by foot through the Grand Bazaar to the ship.

 

After an early dinner, most of the passengers, including us, boarded buses starting at 6:40 to return to Ephesus and a private classical music concert in front of the Great Theater.  Harbor Road has been walked by St. Paul, Mark Antony and Cleopatra and many other famous historical figures.  Tonight it was lit up with candles and set with tables for us listen to the chamber orchestra as we sipped wine.  To be in that setting walking that same road knowing the amount of history that preceded us was somewhat sobering and exciting at the same time.  The distance into the concert setting was too far for Miriam to walk unaided, so the ship arranged a wheelchair transfer from the gangway to the concert and return.



Harbor Road at night

Our concert setting in front of the Great Theater

The night lighting was spectacular


The concert venue on Harbor Road

 


Miriam and Patrick at the evening concert at Ephesus



The evening was stunning with the setting and the lights, something not to be missed.  Returning to the ship, the ship’s wheelchair was delivered to the wrong port entrance so Miriam walked all the way from the port entrance to the ship, where much of the crew were on hand dockside, singing and dancing to welcome the passengers back from the concert and to join the dance in progress on the pool deck.