Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise Report -- Day 11

Welcome to my recollections of the wonderful cruise my wife and I took during the month of July, 2010 for our 5th anniversary. This will be an ongoing series replete with anecdotes, history, pics, and even videos taken as we experienced all that our various ports of call had to offer. As usual, click on the pics to view larger versions, and don't forget to also click on the "Vimeo" vids to view the brief live-action clips.

If you missed a prior trip report, or would like a refresher, please click on the appropriate link below:
Day 1 -- When in Rome.
Day 2 -- Bad Sun Rising.
Day 3 -- Let Me Take You On A Sea Cruise.
Day 4 -- Into the Wild Blue Yonder.
Day 5 -- Our (Very Brief) Adventure in the Lost City of Atlantis.
Day 6 -- Ruin'd!
Day 7 -- Turkish Delight.
Day 8 -- Into the City, Again.
Day 9 -- This Wasn't in the Da Vinci Code!

No, you didn't miss a report. Day 11 does in fact follow directly after Day 9 of our cruise. I decided to skip the day at sea we spent sailing the stretch of the Aegean between Kusadasi and Athens. Nothing of import happened that day, except that I lounged out on the deck and read. Lisa attended a few classes in the spa on holistic healing and Chinese reflexology. We also met our small group of friends for drinks at the open-air bar on the aft deck later that evening before dinner. All in all, it was quite the relaxing day, but of very little activity.

The next morning we sailed into Piraeus port, luckily a real port that we could dock at and would have no need to transfer on to shore tenders. We had an ambitious day planned ahead -- a drive with our group of friends all the way out to Corinth to see the ancient ruins there, and then back to Athens to take in even more ancient ruins. Yes . . . ruins, ruins, and even more ruins! Some of us were getting pretty sick of seeing old crumbling stones.

Some of us -- but not me! To me this was an exciting day. I always dreamed of going to Athens someday, and now I was finally here.

Unfortunately the reality didn't quite live up to the dream.

DAY 11 -- Live! at the Acropolis.

The Equinox pulled into port earlier than scheduled, sometime in the middle of the night while were still asleep. I know because at 4:30 am I was awakened by the sound of a motorcycle revving its engine just outside our balcony door. When I got up and looked out, I saw nothing but empty parking lot lit brightly by street lamps, and a lone biker speeding away. We'd gone to sleep to the sound of the sea lapping gently against the ship's hull. So to suddenly hear such familiar New York City sounds when I'd least expected it, you can imagine why I awoke with such a start. For a few seconds there, I had trouble remembering where I was. And then it all came back, and I realized we were still onboard the ship.

We had a very early breakfast and then headed down to the deck 2 gangway where we met our friends. We left together and found our tour guide waiting near the taxi cabs and shuttles heading in to Athens. Since we, instead, were heading in the opposite direction towards Corinth, we would escape most of the morning traffic.

It was a nice hour-long drive, with some of us catching an impromptu snooze as the guide droned on and on about this and that. I felt bad for zoning her out, but I couldn't help myself. When I woke up next, we were making a photo stop by the Corinth canal, which connects the gulf of Corinth to the Aegean's Saronic gulf. From this point on I was wide awake!

After the photo op and visit to the nearby souvenir stand, we all climbed back into the van and drove a little ways farther to the actual ruined site of ancient Corinth, just under 2 miles south of the modern city bearing the same name. There's really not much to see at this site anymore. After countless invasions and total destruction (including a horrific one at the hands of the Romans in 146 BC), not to mention numerous strong earthquakes, Corinth is little more than a large rubble heap now. Some structures are still partially standing, like the Temple of Apollo, the city's basilica, and an old Roman-era fountain. But everywhere else is covered with loose stones and toppled columns:

Of particular note to me, for historical purposes, is the spot where the apostle Paul stood to defend himself against detractors of the burgeoning new religion at the time, Christianity. It was here in Corinth, of course, where Paul wrote his famous Epistle to the Romans, and also the First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Despite the general degradation of the site, finding such places among the rubble where actual historical figures once lived and debated was quite the thrill for me. As I've said before, I have no particularly strong religious affiliation, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate places held significant by the various faiths.

At this point, the others went indoors at the nearby museum on site, but I chose to stay outdoors and wander some more throughout the ruins on my own. It was an eerie feeling having the entire site to myself. At such times, I allow my imagination to run freely and soak up the centuries, so to speak, as I try to put myself in the times when this was a thriving, living and breathing metropolis. It's moments like these that made this cruise so worthwhile for me.

After the museum, we all hopped back into the gloriously air-conditioned van (did I mention it was nearly 100 degrees this day?) and made the long drive back to Athens. It was nearing noon time and, as such, we had successfully managed to avoid all the protests and demonstrations that had taken place earlier that morning at the Acropolis.

Before attempting such a daunting and hot climb up to the top of that famous rock, however, we stopped at the center of the Monastiraki district for a leisurely lunch of gyros and souvlaki. It was a surprisingly good meal, at a spot off the beaten path where many locals seemed to eat. To be sure, up the same street were establishments catering to larger tourist crowds, but we smartly avoided those restaurants like the plague. Before meeting up with the van again, the whole lot of us mobbed a nearby fresh fruit vendor and burdened ourselves with lots of amazingly delicious cherries and grapes. The vendor seemed a little taken aback by the sudden siege of out-of-towners waving Euro notes around and grabbing huge bunches of his wares with our grubby hands, but he was of good humor. Lisa and I purchased around 2 pounds of green seedless grapes, which we ended up bringing back with us on the ship and storing in the little fridge back in our stateroom.

From Monastiraki Square, we traveled to nearby Syntagma Square and made a quick photo stop in front of Olympic Stadium, before eventually making our way over to the foot of the Acropolis. Because the strike had closed off the site for most of the morning, the place was absolutely mobbed with tourists trying to cram their way through the main gate and up the winding path of the mountain. Along the way we passed through groves of olive trees, signifying the legendary gift from the goddess Athena to the people of Greece, who in turn named their fabulous new city in her honor.

Halfway up the south slope, we passed by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus -- an ancient stone amphitheater built in the 2nd century AD and restored during the 1950s. It's still used for concerts to this day, including the annual Athens Festival. Eventually, however, we came to the top of the rock and beheld with our very own eyes that most incredible of all Greek monuments, the Parthenon:

As the sun was mercilessly beating down on us atop this flat, shadeless rock, the view was a mixture of joy and pain. Our guide attempted a quick history of the location, as well as the nearby Erechtheum Temple, but then allowed us free time to simply walk around for 45 minutes and enjoy the Acropolis for ourselves. Which is exactly what I did. I found a nice vantage point on the eastern side of the rock from which I could see all of Athens spread out below. Click on the vid to see a quick panoramic clip I took, and keep an eye out for the remains of the Temple of Zeus near the tail end:

From this point, I could also turn back and peer directly into the interior of the Parthenon, where you can clearly see evidence of the ongoing restoration efforts to bring this wonderful temple back to its former glory.

Around this time, the sky started to cloud over just a tad and the crowds actually lessened, if you could believe it. It was nearing 4:00 by this time, though, so many of the tourists were returning back to their hotels and ships. Which, speaking of it, sounded like a good idea to us, seeing as how we needed to be back onboard our own ship by 6:00. Heading down the Acropolis was a helluva lot faster than climbing up it had been. Not just for the obvious laws of physics, but also because we had the exiting paths almost entirely to ourselves. Lisa and I were one of the first couples back, so we purchased a few bottles of chilled fruit juice from a nearby newspaper stand and waited in the comfort of the van for the rest of our group to arrive.

On the way back to the port, I was of mixed feelings about our day. We had a fantastic guide and driver, got to see all the sights I had wanted to see, and did so in the company of our newfound friends. And yet, despite all this, I left with a feeling that Athens was a let-down. The city itself did not seem as thriving and dynamic as I had imagined it would be. The people seemed burdened by a malaise I could not place a finger on. Was it the recent economic downturn? The huge corruption at the center of Athenian politics? The riots? I couldn't tell for sure. Maybe it's just that we didn't have nearly enough time to do a proper tour of the city. Eventually I do want to go back and see much more of the actual local culture. But perhaps I'll wait until the state of Greece's standing in the EU is on a more balanced footing. For now, it seems the only reason to go to Athens is if you have family there. Other than that, I would probably wish to spend more time touring the rest of the country.

We broke port early that evening before the sun had even set. I stood on our balcony watching Piraeus fade very slowly into the distance. We had another full day at sea ahead of us, and would not reach Naples until the morning after tomorrow. It was with a heavy heart that I realized we were nearing the end of our magnificent cruise. But even still, I had reason to be very excited about our next and last port. We were scheduled to take a lovely drive along the Amalfi coast in southern Italy, stopping at such idyllic towns as Sorrento and Positano. But, for me, the crowning achievement of this day would be our visit to the ancient and well-preserved site of that terrible cataclysmic volcanic eruption, Pompeii.

I could not wait!

Up next: Day 13.

1 comment:

  1. Mediterranean cruises are one of the best way to travel in today’s age. They offer so much for the people on board the ship. It is like its on little paradise while traveling the seas. Mediterranean cruises offer the most extraordinary scenery available.


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