Cruising the Greek Isles, October 16-25, 2019

Cruising the Greek Isles, October 16-25, 2019
October 2019

Wednesday, 16 October 2019: Athens, Greece

Today we converged in the city of Athens, to mark the beginning of a much-anticipated expedition to the Greek Isles. With over 6,000 islands scattered throughout the Aegean & Ionian seas, 227 of which are inhabited, it would take a lifetime to fully appreciate the depth & diversity of this enchanting area of the world. We couldn’t wait to get started!

Arriving from all corners of the world, we began our stay at the beautiful Grand Bretagne Hotel. Originally constructed in 1842, this glamorous institution retains the opulent style of its time - with stained glass ceilings, potted palms & antique etchings lining the corridors. Located in the heart of Athens, overlooking the Parliament & the National Gardens, this neoclassical gem was the ideal location to explore this remarkable city.

We spent the afternoon settling into our rooms, resting & enjoying leisure time. Some of us had lunch at the lovely rooftop cafe, with the extraordinary view of the Acropolis, a swim in the pool, or a wander through the narrow streets of the nearby historic Plaka neighbourhood. This evening we gathered for a welcome cocktail party in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel, getting to know each other while getting a brief introduction to the next day’s program & the expedition team members who would accompany us on our voyage.

Thursday, 17 October 2019: Athens, Greece

We awoke to our first full day in Athens - one of the oldest cities in the world, with a rich cultural history spanning 3,400 years & home to a third of Greece’s population. In this vibrant & bustling city, ancient iconic monuments blend harmoniously with modern cafes & lively restaurants, making it a fascinating combination of old & new.

The morning was filled with excitement, as we set off in different directions to explore some of Greece’s most monumental archaeological sites. Some of us chose to explore the city’s highlights, beginning at the Acropolis, an ancient citadel located high upon a flat-top rock above the city of Athens, containing the remnants of several historically significant buildings, the most famous being the Parthenon. Perhaps the finest achievement of Classical Greek architecture & built as a sanctuary for Athena, the Parthenon was the first and greatest project of Pericles’ Athenian Golden Age and is the highlight of the Acropolis. As we made our way down the steep slope & back into the city streets, we enjoyed a stroll through the market area & historic Plaka neighbourhood, with stops at a local coffee shop, meat & cheese tasting, and a lesson in traditional Greek dance.

Some of us opted to head outside the city, starting with a spectacular scenic drive to the Peloponnese peninsula, with views of the Argo Saronic islands & lush green pine trees, followed by visits to several important archaeological sites in the lovely region of Argolis. We stopped at the 19th-century Corinth Canal, an engineering marvel connecting the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separating the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, it is 6.4 km long & only 21.4m wide, making it impossible for most modern ships. We arrived at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered to be the most perfect Greek theatre in terms of acoustics & still in use today. We took the time to climb the many steps for a staggering view from the top, imagining a time when 14,000 spectators sat transfixed by the performances below. Our last stop was the archaeological site of Mycenae, once a military stronghold that dominated much of southern Greece, Crete, the Cyclades & parts of southwest Anatolia. We passed through the impressive Lion’s Gate, to view the Royal Tombs, climbing a path graced with wildflowers & olive trees until we reached what remained of a palace on top.

For the art lovers, the day was spent immersed in some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, as our expert guides led us on a tour of the famous Benaki Museum, perhaps the finest museum in Greece. With 3 floors of impeccable treasures from the Bronze Age to WWII, this museum contains Byzantine icons, works by El Greco, as well as an extensive collection of Asian Art & Greek regional costumes.

The evening concluded with a private event and we were swept off to a lively street party, featuring rows of open-air cafes offering endless delectable Greek specialties, wine, and cocktails. Sitting beneath the night sky, with lights strung above & the Acropolis beautifully lit, traditional Greek dance mingled with laughter & conversation & we got our first taste of the rich traditions of this beautiful country.

Friday, 18 October 2019: Athens, Greece

After a lovely breakfast, we gathered ourselves for a private lecture, where our own Dr. Steve Kershaw introduced & examined the sophisticated Bronze Age culture of Minoan Crete, with its impressive public buildings, fabulous frescoes, desirable painted pottery, and enigmatic writing systems, and assessed some of the intriguing theories relating to its demise.

Fully enlightened following the lecture, we checked out of our rooms and set off for a visit to the magnificent Acropolis museum. Designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, in collaboration with Greek architect Michael Photiadis, this modern glass structure is filled with beautiful objects bathed in natural light, located on the south-eastern slope of Acropolis hill. An archaeological museum built to house every artefact found on the rock and surrounding slopes, it lies over the ruins of parts of ancient Athens, now protected under glass floors & can be viewed from above, at the entrance & into the museum itself. Statues dominate the first floor, with some of the earliest examples of Greek art in marble. The progression in style can be seen in the clothing, from the simply contoured Doric to the more elegant & elaborate Ionic designs, corresponding to advances in history. Making our way to the top floor, we viewed the Metopes of the Parthenon - marble plaques originally placed above the columns of the Parthenon, a collection of both originals & reproductions, arranged as they would have been on the Parthenon itself.

After a lovely lunch at Dionysos restaurant, we met our buses for a panoramic city tour, bidding farewell to the mainland as we made our way to Pireus port, to board the ship, 'Le Bougainville'. After a short drill & briefing, we settled into our cabins, enjoying champagne on the beautiful deck overlooking the azure sea, easing into the luxurious comforts of this beautiful vessel.

We settled into our cabins, enjoying champagne on the beautiful deck overlooking the sea, easing into the luxurious comforts of this beautiful vessel. After a short drill, our cruise director Paul Carter introduced us to our new home & our expedition director, Suzana Machado D’Oliveira gave a briefing on the next day’s plans.

Eager to enjoy our first night on board, we set off to explore the ship as she set sail towards our first destination, a distance of 176 nautical miles, the island of Crete.

Saturday, 19 October 2019: Crete, Greece

Today we arrived on the island of Crete, the largest & most populous of the Greek islands. Characterized by mountains crossing from west to east, fertile plateaus, valleys & gorges, this beautiful island with its unique history rests in the Mediterranean, in the southernmost part of the Aegean Sea. Set in a strategic position between east & west, this island is most distinguished as being once the centre of the Minoan culture (2700 BC to 1400 BC), a remarkably advanced society & the earliest known civilization in Europe.

We disembarked in Heraklion, a modern, bustling city & the fourth largest in Greece. As we pulled into the harbor, we were struck by the massive surrounding Venetian walls that once fortified the city, offering insight to its turbulent history. Embarking on our various tours, some of us chose to visit the renowned Archaeological museum, holding the finest collection of Minoan artefacts in the world. Our expert guides led us through a staggering quantity of objects, from entire walls of arrowheads to pottery, to an extraordinary collection of gold jewellery (including the famous bee pendant from the Palace of Malia). From there we took a short drive to Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site, for a guided tour of the largest & most important of the ancient Minoan palaces. Dating from the second millennium, this labyrinth of interconnected rooms & corridors is the mythological home of the legendary King Minos and the Minotaur. After wandering through the countless rooms and passageways, we enjoyed a scenic drive through the countryside to Arolithos - a modern rendition of a typical Cretan village, where we were treated to a lunch of local specialties, along with visits to various artisan workshops & traditional entertainment.

For those who chose to stay in Heraklion, we were guided through some of the city’s most fascinating sites, starting with the Koules fortress, or “Castello a Mar” as the Venetians called it. Located at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion, it was built by the Republic of Venice in the early 16th century and has 3 entrances, 2 stories, 26 rooms, including a prison, storage rooms, a water reservoir, a chapel, a mill, and a bakery. Its massive limestone walls, almost 9m thick at some places, were able to withstand a 22-year siege, before eventually falling to the Ottomans when the entire city had at last been surrendered by the Venetians. Afterward, we toured the Historical Museum, a private museum offering a comprehensive overview of Cretan history, with sculptures & architectural pieces from the Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish periods & various other important historic memorabilia. We left the museum for a short walk through the town centre, just as the rain started to fall! Making our way to Platia Venizelou, or Lion Square, we viewed the Morosini Fountain, dating back to Venetian rule & once the city’s main source of fresh water, before retreating to various coffee shops for shelter from the weather & a warm beverage. We met up with the other groups at the traditional village, for a lovely lunch.

Some of us choose a completely different experience, venturing to the countryside, for a visit to the beautiful Agreco Farm. Along the way, we caught glimpses of 'Le Bougainville' steaming steadily over the glassy waters to rendezvous with us later in the day. Agreco Farm is an organic enterprise perched in the hills above Rethymnon and overlooking the tranquil Mediterranean. A brief shower upon arrival did not dampen our spirits and our first task was to prepare the traditional ovens for bread baking. The resultant loaves were served warm with the farm's organic extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. We then prepared the stuffed vegetables for lunch, filled with a delicious mixture of rice, tomatoes & fresh herbs from the farm. While these were baking, we continued our tour amongst the herb lined paths of the farm paths, with much sampling along the way; huge tasty freshly sliced beef tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, baked potatoes dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, wines & cheeses. A few guests tried their hand at milking one of the farm’s goats, the milk was then turned into a deliciously simple cheese for us to try. Just in case we were still hungry, we were then served an enormous lunch on the farm’s shaded terrace and were presented with an array of the local Cretan specialties, all created from the farm’s stunning organic produce. For our final course, guests joined in with the rolling and filling of small cheese pies, which were fried in olive oil and drizzled with Cretan thyme honey. A shot of Raki and a traditional Greek coffee completed the feast and many guests enjoyed a well-earned nap on the bus ride back to the ship.

Our buses made our way to the old preserved Renaissance city of Rethymnon, and we spent some time wandering the narrow alleyways on our own, before returning to the ship for our first enrichment lecture with photo coach Richard Harker, giving an introduction to iPhone photography.

Sunday, 20 October 2019: Santorini, Greece

This morning we awoke to the breathtaking views of the island of Santorini, as Captain Thomas McCadless deftly manoeuvred the 'Le Bougainville' inside this volcanic island’s enormous central caldera. The southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands, named for the circle they form around the sacred island of Delos, Santorini is the largest of a small archipelago, marked by a dramatic past. Our first sights were of the brilliant white-washed cuboid buildings, traditional of the “Cycladic” architecture, built on steep cliffs that seem to tumble into the sea.

Once a sophisticated outpost of Minoan civilization, the volcanic island was the site of a major catastrophic eruption that destroyed much of the island 3,600 years ago. Considered to be one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, it produced an eruption column 19-22 miles high and tsunamis 35 to 150 m (115 to 492 ft) high that devastated the northern coastline of Crete. It is estimated to have been four times as great as the well-recorded eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

Others chose to visit the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri, where evidence of this once thriving Minoan society still exists. Paved streets, an extensive drainage system, the production of high-quality pottery and craft all point to the level of sophistication & prosperity achieved by the settlement. Buried under volcanic ash for thousands of years, the site is remarkably well preserved, revealing frescoes, furniture & numerous pieces of pottery - large storage jars, along with smaller vessels & pieces designed for the transport of goods. The remarkable frescoes, painted using mineral-based pigments in earth-toned colours, depicted life in this once beautiful city.

Almost as ancient as the ruins themselves, another industry sits firmly in the history of this beautiful island & the oenophiles among us set off to discover some of the oldest vineyards in the world, and the oldest Greece. A Mediterranean climate combined with nutrient-poor soil, composed largely of volcanic ash & rock, give the wines of this region a unique character & we spent the morning learning about the painstaking manual effort that goes into the production of this beloved cultural pastime. Starting with a guided tour of the Argyros Mansion, a beautifully preserved private home once owned by a family playing an important role in winemaking and wine exportation, we then trekked into the fields where the grapes are actively grown & harvested - witnessing the harsh conditions these beautiful vines must endure. We learned of a unique vine-training system, known as koulara, where vines are woven into baskets with the grapes facing inside - protecting them from sun & strong winds, a technique particular to the region. Our final stop was to the Hatzidakis winery, for a first-hand look at the fermentation & production process, followed by a tasting of some of the island’s indigenous grape varieties of Assyrtiko, Athiri & Aidani, guided by renowned wine expert Nico Manessis.

The evening was a night to remember, starting with a sunset Captain’s cocktail party on the back deck of 'Le Bougainville', where we were introduced to our fantastic crew, followed by a multi-course elaborate dinner in the Nautilus Restaurant, just as the ship pulled away from stunning Santorini & onward towards our next destination.

Monday, 21 October 2019: Rhodes, Greece

We arose this morning to a breathtaking sunrise, a radiant orange sun just over the water on the starboard side. 'Le Bougainville' was alongside the beautiful island of Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands of Greece and also the island group's historical capital. Rhodes is known throughout Greece as the “Island of Roses”, with brilliant red and purple hibiscus, great boughs of pink bougainvillea and countless other flowers colouring the island.

The first group to depart set out on a scenic drive through the island, towards the city of Lindos, with views of citrus fruit groves, olive trees, and vineyards. Beneath this modern village lies one of the most important ancient cities of Rhodes & the eastern Aegean, and the mighty Acropolis rises dominantly on a steep cliff at a 116 m height overlooking the sea, framed by mighty fortress walls, a landmark of Lindos’ landscape. The island of Rhodes was thought to be a significant place for the cult of Athena in ancient times, and we viewed the Temple of Athena Lindia, once was a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess. Though the original statue was burned in 342 BC, it was replaced by a new temple in the late 4th century BC, built in the Doric style, and was an incredible monument to see. From here we drove to the Savvas pottery studio and were given an explanation and demonstration of the typical ceramic style of the region, followed by an opportunity to paint our pottery piece.

For those who chose to visit the historic Medieval Old Town area, it was as if we had stepped back centuries in time. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the magnificent Old Town is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of Gothic period architecture and one of the few examples anywhere in Greece. Located within a 4 km-long wall, it is divided with the high town to the north and the lower town south-southwest. From 1309 to 1523 Rhodes was occupied by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who had lost their last stronghold in Palestine in 1291. The Knights transformed the island capital into a fortified city, able to withstand terrible sieges, and our expert guides led us through this turbulent history, as we moved through the various historic areas. We entered through the D’Amboise Gate, made our way down the cobblestone streets with thick limestone walls and into the 14th Century Palace of the Grand Masters. The palace was filled with fanciful interiors, graced with numerous intricate mosaic floors, in themes ranging from the head of the Medusa to fish & dolphins, reminiscent of Byzantine times. After leaving the Palace, we strolled the famous Street of the Knights, ending at the archaeological museum. With a fascinating collection of relics, including the Statue of the Crouching Aphrodite (1st century BC), this museum is housed in the monumental edifice that was originally the hospital of the Knights of Saint John.

Another group opted for an adventurous “hands-on” cooking demonstration & after our visit to the Grand Masters Palace, we returned to the bus to begin the drive to a local restaurant. Upon arrival, we donned aprons & hats, claimed our cooking stations, which had been laid out for us with an appetizing array of fresh vegetables, meat & seasonings and began our preparations for lunch. After a shot of the local firewater ‘Raki’ to get us in the spirit of things, we began our convivial cooking class. Our first task was to assemble our version of the traditional Greek dish ‘moussaka’ – a layered dish of potato, baked aubergine, minced lamb in a herbed tomato sauce, all topped with rich béchamel and grated cheese. These were whisked away to be baked, while our expert chefs guided us in the creation of further popular local dishes; the ever-popular Greek salad, and Tzatziki along with a tasty smoked aubergine salad. Our final dish was meatballs, which smelled delicious as they began to simmer in the cinnamon-scented tomato sauce. All the finished dishes were delivered to our tables and each of us enjoyed the fruits of our labour.

The afternoon was at leisure, and some of us spent it strolling on our own, taking photographs & popping into local shops & restaurants. Many of us took to the beach to relax at our own designated area of Rhodes Beach, a lovely pebbly stretch of coast - for sunbathing on lounge chairs, reading, enjoying refreshments & swimming in the Mediterranean. Some of the more intrepid even swam out to a tall diving platform & jumped into the sea!

We wrapped up the evening with an alfresco Gala Dinner, just a short bus ride away at the scenic coastal site of Kallithea. Here we enjoyed cocktails & appetizers, overlooking the sea, followed by a wonderful traditional Greek dinner.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019: Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos has become one of the most popular, high-profile of all the Cycladic Islands, as well as one of the most photographed. Boasting 25 beaches, tiny coves, whitewashed houses, narrow streets lined with bougainvillea, picture-perfect tiny churches, restaurants & boutiques, this quintessential image of the Cyclades is not to be missed. Nicknamed “The Island of the Winds,” impending weather had our Captain, Expedition Director Suzanna & local Greek guides working around the clock, rearranging our plans to ensure we didn’t miss a visit to this spectacular place. As we pulled into the new port a day earlier than originally planned, we stepped off into strong gusts of wind of up to 28 mph or 24 knots. High seas meant white-caps in the bay & more rocking than we were used to, but we were excited to take off on our various excursions!

One group of intrepid sailors chose a boat trip to the island of Delos. Though the swells were roughly 1.7m high, we boarded a medium-sized vessel & set off for a 20-minute bumpy ride to one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece. These excavations are some of the most extensive in the Mediterranean and as we approached the island we could see the massive marble columns scattered throughout, remnants of this once prosperous ancient city, astonishingly preserved. The Cyclades’ sole UNESCO heritage site, its carefully excavated remains manage to convey the past opulence of this small sacred isle. Walking through what once were thriving city streets, we stepped into the footprints of small shops & working areas, grand residential living quarters decorated with intricate mosaic-tiled floors (including one depicting Dionysos seated on a panther), inner courtyards edged with great marble columns, large statues of lions that once roamed the area & marble slabs showcasing prominent artworks. Once a major commercial and trading centre, we were told about the many people, from various areas of the world, who arrived by ship to swap their goods with others & the lively festival atmosphere these major events would create. We took a few minutes to enjoy the Archaeological museum on the site, with important artefacts that have been unearthed. Considered by ancient Greeks to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, this sacred island and its once cosmopolitan city was an astonishing sight for all of us.

A second group chose to take a panoramic drive, for sweeping views of this incredible island, enjoying stops along the way. We visited the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani, southeast of town in the village of Ano Mera, renowned for its spectacular whitewashed architecture. Founded in 1542 by two monks, it fell into disrepair & was rebuilt in the 18th century & dedicated to the protectress of Mykonos. In front stands an ornate bell tower with triple bells & inside is even more impressive, with carved marble & wood, Byzantine frescoes & crystal chandeliers. Its massive baroque altar screen, made by Florentine artists, has beautifully intricate carved icons depicting New Testament scenes. After visiting the Monastery, we crossed the street to a small Taverna for a drink of traditional ouzo & some light appetizers. Our next stop was in the settlement of Agios Ioannis, to visit the church of St. John. Built on a hill overlooking a beach, it has some of the most stunning vistas anywhere on the island, with views of the sacred islands of Delos & Rhenia.

For those who chose to take a guided walking tour of the tiny capital of Mykonos, we met our wonderful Greek guides for a stroll through the narrow, winding, picturesque streets - a labyrinth design meant to confuse the pirates who plagued the town in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Walking by the numerous jewellery shops on the main walking street, we made our way to the street of Matogliani, lined with shops featuring fashionable Greek designers. We stepped into a privately owned chapel, one of roughly 600 existing on the island, historically built around the island facing the sea, to aid in the safe voyage and return of sailors. We stopped in a local Medieval bakery, for samples of an early local specialty - a twisted bread coated with sesame seeds. Following this short refreshment break, we meandered our way to the iconic windmills, many of which were built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Primarily used to mill wheat, they were an important source of income for the inhabitants & are found throughout the Cycladic islands. We ended with a walk through Little Venice, one of the most romantic neighbourhoods of Mykonos, with elegant old houses situated precariously on the edge of the sea. Many travellers have fallen in love with this charming quarter, with magnificent sunset views backed by the Aegean sea. The muse of many an artist rendering, this once quiet neighbourhood is now one of the photographed neighbourhoods in all of Europe.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019: Patmos, Greece

This morning we arrived at the small, tranquil island of Patmos, with lush green pine & Cyprus trees covering the hillsides & small fishing boats floating quietly in the port, water lapping gently against the shoreline. Arguably one of the most beautiful of the Dodecanese Islands, it was quite a contrast, with very few tourists & casual Tavernas lining the beach, their white cloth-covered wooden tables nestled in the sand. We looked out onto small tranquil coves & a peaceful boulevard, with palms, tucked along the streets & felt instantly more relaxed.

Patmos is a small seahorse-shaped island, one of the northernmost of the Dodecanese, not far from the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, with a population of roughly 3,000 inhabitants. Its highest point is 269m above sea level, with an area of only 13 square miles. Known worldwide as a sacred island as the place where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation as well as the Apocolypse, Patmos is an ideal natural destination, with a lace-like coastline, sheer cliffs, and volcanic soil.

Designated as “Holy Island” by the Greek Parliament in 1981 as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, Patmos has a culturally rich history and a stunning landscape. We felt privileged for the weather that allowed us to detour to this incredible island.

Our morning started with a tour of The Monastery of Saint John the Divine, a Greek Orthodox monastery founded in 1088 by Ossios Christodoulos, in the main city of Chora. Dedicated to the beloved disciple, it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site & has been a place of Greek learning and pilgrimage since its founding. Arriving at the site, we climbed a steep, narrow cobblestone path, lined with shops & small cafes, photographing pastel-coloured doors & sleeping cats on picturesque steps, until we reached the top. Built like a fortress, the imposing Byzantine structure is a unique creation, integrating monastic values within this fortified enclosure, & is home to a remarkable collection of manuscripts & artwork.

We took time to enjoy a walk back down the hill, exploring some of the local shops, before boarding our buses to visit our next site, The Cave of the Apocalypse. This surprisingly tranquil place located on the hillside, halfway between the port town of Skala and the hilltop village of Chora, is supposedly the cave where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. We sat tightly together underneath the low hanging rock, as our local guides introduced us to the history of this incredible place. We took time to reflect on this sacred location, surrounded by lit candles & incredibly detailed paintings of saints & religious icons.

From here we took a scenic drive to the other side of the island, stopping to photograph the old historic windmills on the hilltops & the panoramic view of the island from its highest point. The afternoon was at leisure, and we had options of spending time meandering through the quaint town of Chora, spending some time at a peaceful beach, or relaxing on the ship. The weather was breathtaking, with clear blue skies, bright sun mixed with mild temperatures. We swam in the absolute crystal clear water, read books by the sea, found local shops to choose souvenirs & enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. For those of us interested in enriching our cultural experience, we joined our Greek guide, Felicia Bouzioti, for a talk entitled, “The Female Figure in the Art of Ancient Greece”.

Dinner was also a choice between local specialties, just a short walk from the ship to town or onboard & afterward we joined lecturer Gary Griggs in the Theatre for a talk entitled, “Crisis on the Coast: Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise”.

Our very full day was capped off with a cocktail outside on the back deck, live music in the main lounge, a nightcap in the Blue Eye, or a simple retreat to our cabins to recharge for another abundant day.

Thursday, 24 October 2019: Syros

This morning we arrived in Syros, an island awash in pastel-coloured villas cascading down Ermoupoli hill, their warm hues coming to light as the sun rose over the horizon. As the ship pulled into port, we watched the lines being thrown, expertly securing our vessel against the pier, our first glimpse of this authentically Greek working town. Syros is an island in the Cyclades, with 21,507 inhabitants, its capital is Ermoupoli, which is also the administrative capital of the Cycladic islands.

As we started our walking tours of Ermoupolis, we learned that it was founded in the 1820s by refugees during the Greek Revolution, who rapidly transformed the city into a leading commercial and industrial centre of Greece, as well as its main port. The Greek Steamship Company was established here in 1856 & thousands of ships were built over the next few decades, during which time the island experienced a golden era of wealth & prosperity. This cultural boom led to a rise of the bourgeoisie, flourishing arts, and the building of schools, mansions, neo-classical buildings and museums.

As we strolled past the waterfront, we marvelled at the marble streets & sidewalks, making our way into the market area near the shore, with numerous stalls filled with everything from freshly caught seafood beautifully displayed, fresh produce, and locally grown medical herbs. We tasted the famous traditional Turkish sweet of Loukoumi, made of sugar, water, starch, aromas, and nuts, cut into small cubes and covered in powdered sugar. Our next stop was the monumental Town Hall on cafe-filled Plateia Miaouli, considered one of the most beautiful in Greece. Its striking architecture combines classical ancient Greece and Neoclassical style, with both German and Italian influences.

Continuing, our next stop was the magnificent Byzantine Cathedral of St. Nicholas, completed in 1870 with lavish interiors of striking crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, and a silver-plated icon of St. Nicholas. Outside it was framed with marble columns, a two-storied temple with marble bell tower and an impressive marble staircase.

We took a short moment to look out over the water, before carrying on to our next stop, the iconic Apollo Theatre. Also known as the Municipal Theatre "Apollo", it was built in 1862, a period during which there was a great theatrical movement in Ermoupoli. Once inside, we were treated to our private performance of a Greek Comedy, complete with audience participation for a few of our brave women.

Our final stop was to the Church of the Assumption, where we climbed a rather steep marble street to see the charming rococo and baroque architectural details of this beautiful Orthodox temple. The main attraction is a Byzantine icon, depicting the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, painted by the famous artist, El Greco. This incredible piece is estimated to be one of his earliest works, dating back to 1562, back when he was studying the art of hagiography in his home island of Crete.

We ended our afternoon with some free time to explore this working city, before all aboard at 1300. Our last full day on board, we had our final disembarkation briefing followed by a fascinating talk on “The Elgin Marbles”, by our historian Dr. Steve Kershaw. We had our last recap, giving thanks to all of our team, as well as the amazing guests who contributed so much to making this such a remarkable trip. This concluded with a slideshow film composed of photos taken by various members of the “Blue Shirt” team, a compilation of images of the trip, as seen through our eyes. This beautiful film was put created by our own “Blackjack” and his “Piracy Productions”, giving us an unforgettable look back at our journey together.

Our final evening was marked by an exquisite event beginning with cocktails on the back deck at sunset, while our wonderful Captain Thomas McCandless introduced his incredible team. As we mingled with the new friends we had made & took our final photos, the distant ruins of the Temple of Poseidon came just into view, perched high on a hill in the distance of mainland Greece. The Captain manoeuvred the ship to bring the Temple into view just off the stern, the moment the sky was turning orange. We enjoyed this spectacular setting one last time, before joining each other in the Nautilus Restaurant for a very specially prepared farewell dinner.

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