Journey Log: Cruising the Greek Isles, September 27–October 6 2023

Cruising the Greek Isles, September 27–October 6 2023
October 2023

September 27, 2023 | Athens, Greece

Excitement was in the air as we gathered at the King George Hotel for a light snack and to check in for our upcoming journey. Many of us arrived the previous day, with time to explore Athens at leisure. Others arrived this morning.

By afternoon, we all boarded lovely ‘Le Bougainville’ and got acquainted with the ship and our Expedition Team. We then set sail for the fascinating island of Crete — the largest and most populous of the Greek islands — while enjoying our first dinner on board.

September 28, 2023 | Heraklion

Arriving in the port city of Heraklion, we set out on one of three excursions, two of which began at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. One of Greece’s most important museums, it houses the world’s best collections of Minoan art.

One group then took a scenic drive to an organic farm, where they learned to milk goats, make cheese and bake bread. We then stuffed eggplant with a mixture of rice, feta cheese, vegetables and herbs and sat down to enjoy meal we helped prepare.

Following the archaeological museum visit, the other group went on to Knossos to visit the Bronze Age Palace of Minos at Knossos, followed by a relaxing local lunch.

Our last group took a walking tour of Heraklion’s Old Town, seeing the two-story Koules Fortress and Morosini Fountain with its four gushing lions. After time to sample fare coffee and pastries at local cafes, we sat down to a sumptuous, multicourse meal featuring marinated and roasted meats.

We all regrouped for a drive through the Cretan countryside, dotted with olive groves enroute to Rethymnon, where our vessel awaited us. After time to walk through its picturesque streets, we attended our Captain’s welcome cocktail party onboard.

September 29, 2023 | Rhodes

We had a lovely morning at sea as we made our way to Rhodes. After two informative lectures — one on smartphone photography and the other on the temples and monasteries of Greece — we then set off to explore the island of Rhodes. Our earliest excursion prepared their own lunch during a cooking lesson in the walled Medieval City of Rhodes.

Others attended a ceramic-making class with local experts. Designed and painted, their pieces will then be fired and sent back home as a keepsake.

Still others took a scenic, hour-long drive to the town of Lindos, its clifftop acropolis dedicated to the goddess Athena. High above town, we took in panoramas of the sparkling Aegean Sea, followed by time to explore the narrow streets lined with shops at leisure.

Many others chose to explore the Medieval City of Rhodes. After a drive around the city’s ancient walls, we paid a visit to the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, one of few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece. Beyond learning the history of the knights, we explored the former hospital — now an archaeological museum — where they acted as medical practitioners helping the sick and wounded. Along the way, our guides shared the island’s history of occupation and reconquest by the Venetians, Ottomans and various crusaders. Our excursion concluded with visits to local cafés, where we sipped coffee and sampled Greek delicacies.

September 30, 2023 | Santorini

Upon manoeuvring into the caldera bay with its active Thera Volcano, we explored the fascinating island of Santorini, seeing its volcanic ridge while learning about the area’s geological and human history.

We then choose from three excursions, the first a volcano expedition and visit to thermal hot springs. Boarding a local boat, we jetted to uninhabited Nea Kameni Island for a hike, enjoying the views of Oia and Fira enroute. With vistas of neighbouring islands, we traversed the steep walking paths through Nea Kameni Volcanic Park, passing active, smoking craters created over the last few centuries. We then had time to swim in the salty Aegean waters.

Others opted to take a wine tour, visiting Santorini’s Koutsogiannopoulos Wine Museum to learn what life was like for local winemakers on the dry, wind-swept island. After seeing vines growing in volcanic soil, we sampled local Greek snacks alongside the winery’s vintages.

The rest of us visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri — a Cycladic Bronze Age settlement. Learning about the life and art of people on the island, we strolled through the small, fascinating town. Much like the Roman ruins of Pompeii, the Minoan town’s remains are remarkably preserved.

October 1, 2023 | Patmos

Arriving in the breathtaking town of Patmos — part of Greece’s Dodecanese islands — the bright, blue sky was offset by white houses.

First to disembark were our hikers. A short drive took us to the trailhead. From there, we passed through a forest and goat enclosures, across steep cliffs and by a pebbled beach, feeling as if the countryside was our own to explore. We ended the day over refreshments at a café, while enjoying views of a pristine beach.

Some of us instead visited the Monastery of Annunciation of St. Angel's, perched high above the village. Walking along pathways, we appreciated the beautiful gardens tended to by nuns and saw them tending to beautiful Byzantine needlework.

Given the island is a significant Christian pilgrimage site, many of us chose to explore early Christian sites, including the fortress-like Cave of the Apocalypse, where John of Patmos — Saint John the Theologian — is said to have written the Book of Revelations. Continuing to the top of the mountain, we then visited the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, founded in 1088. After a coffee break, we ended with a guided drive through the island.

Our last group toured the village of Chora, taking a guided stroll through the narrow, winding streets lined with white-washed houses. Our first stop was the Simantiri Mansion, still occupied by the family who built it 16 generations ago. Our guide — the home’s youngest resident — shared objects his family collected for generations. Next, we observed a small church where monks sang at Sunday mass and then proceeded to a nearby contemporary art museum.

Upon returning to Patmos, we had time to explore the town, enjoy lunch or relax on the pebbly beach. Those who opted to return to the ship had a chance to see the vessel’s bridge. Later, we gathered for a fascinating talk on the Greeks and Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, setting sail for Mykonos after a stunning sunset.

October 2, 2023 | Mykonos

We awoke in the port of Mykonos, where we visited the archaeological site of Delos — the mythological birthplace of Apollo — before crowds arrived.

Most of us then took a guided walking tour of lively Mykonos town, meandering through its narrow streets to sample local food and pop into small boutiques. Others chose a panoramic drive through the island of Mykonos, pausing in the quiet, inland village of Ano Mera. Here, we paid a visit to the restored, 16th-century monastery Panagia Tourliani, seeing its holy icons, paintings and striking bell tower.

We all then had time to explore the town at leisure, return to our ship or head to a sun-drenched beach, where snacks and lounge chairs awaited. Since we were docked until late in the evening, most of us also enjoyed an authentic Greek dinner with our local guides or took in a dance performance aboard ‘Le Bougainville.’

October 3, 2023 | Syros

Together, we all embarked on a walking tour of Ermoupolis on the island of Syros, where many residents are of the Roman Catholic rather than Greek Orthodox belief. After strolling through the medieval old town, we headed to a local market, where fresh produce was on display. Continuing through the large central square, we gained insight into the island’s history and architecture and visited the Byzantine Church of Agios Nikolaos with its fine frescoes, icons, gilt and chandeliers. From there, it was on to see a performance of Make Love Not War at the Apollon Theatre, followed by a visit to the hilltop Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary.

Since we will spend two days in Athens before heading home, the of the afternoon was spent relaxing and packing. Later, we regrouped for our Captain’s cocktail hour, meeting our wonderful crew, who took such good care of us throughout the journey.

October 4, 2023 | Athens

On this beautiful, sunny day, we disembarked in the port city of Piraeus and drove to the Acropolis. Separating into six groups — each led by a local guide — we were struck by the magnificence of the Parthenon. Dedicated to the goddess Athena during fifth century BC, it was a sight to behold at the top of the hill. As our guides shared details about the architecture and history of the Acropolis, we marvelled at the large, theatre-like Odeon of Herodes Atticus, completed in 161 AD, as well as the Erechtheion with its portico of six caryatids, designed by ancient Athenian architect Mnesikles.

Below us, the city of Athens sprawled in every direction, from the Aegean Sea to the mountains of the north. A sumptuous lunch with stunning seaside views was then served at a nearby restaurant. From there, it was on to the Acropolis Museum to see artifacts and friezes from the Acropolis itself. After an informative visit, we checked in to our hotel and headed to a winery in the countryside for our farewell dinner, complete with live entertainment.

October 5, 2023 | Athens

The day began with perfect weather — and one final excursion of our choosing.

Those seeking relaxation skirted the Athens Riviera toward sandy Astir Beach, spreading out on deck chairs and ordering snacks and drinks from the bell on our umbrellas.

Others explored Athens on foot, sampling a typical Athenian breakfast snack, traditional baklava and delicious chocolate along the way. Venturing farther afield, we sipped Greek coffee at a charming outdoor café at the foot of the Acropolis and tasted ouzo and mastic at the oldest distillery in Athens. A fitting end to a tasty excursion, we then sat down to a souvlaki lunch.

Some opted to see the impressive private art collection at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art, where its curator revealed works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Rodin, Picasso, Braque and Kandinsky. Continuing to a local gallery, we viewed A Walk Along the Shore, an exhibit by Athenian artist Nikos Topalidis. Then, at the Benaki Museum, we explored its extensive collection of Greek art that dates from prehistoric to modern times, followed by lunch on its terrace.

Still others left the bustle of Athens behind for a jaunt to Argolis in the eastern Peloponnese peninsula. Entering through the majestic Lion Gate at Mycenae — a Bronze Age citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site — we took in wide vistas from atop the palace. Continuing on, we explored the Treasury of Atreus (Tomb of Agamemnon), a beehive tomb constructed between 1300 and 1250 BCE. After a traditional lunch of moussaka and lamb, we proceeded to a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus, a therapeutic and religious centre dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing.

Whatever the excursion, we ended our Greek Isles journey enriched by the immersive experiences we shared, and the knowledge imparted by our intrepid guides.

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