Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise Report -- Day 6

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!

When I awoke shortly after daybreak the next morning, it came as a mild shock when I stepped onto our balcony and found that we were already docked at Mykonos. Shock, I say, because not only were we not supposed to arrive quite this early yet, but we were told we would have to take tender boats to reach the shore when we did. I didn't even know Mykonos had a dock capable of tethering such a huge cruiser as the Equinox. But, who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? This meant we would save precious time foregoing the ferry and simply walk straight down the gangway onto dry land. Marvelous!

It took quite some time to convince Lisa to hurry up and awake so that we could depart, however. But when we finally did, the docks were just starting to get busy with activity. Unlike the majority of the ship, we had planned *not* to travel deeper into Mykonos where all the malls and beaches were, but, rather, to hop on a ferry traveling a short distance to a nearby island of great historical and religious significance--Delos! And yes, the irony of me hopping on a ferry after just expressing my delight in not having to do so earlier is not lost on me. It took us 30 minutes to get from Mykonos town to Delos by large passenger ferry -- the water was very calm and the sea breeze pleasant, as the video below can attest to (a view of the port side of our cruise ship, the Equinox, can be seen near the tail end of the clip):

In ancient times, Delos was believed to be the very spot where the goddess Leto gave birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis, perhaps the two most important deities to the ancient Greeks besides Zeus. Apollo was the god of light, law, and the arts; while Artemis was the goddess of moonlight, the hunt, and of fertility. Together they served the basic tenets by which all of humanity depended. Important, too, was Delos for being situated at the very crossroads of the ancient maritime world, which insured a steady stream of devoted pilgrims and merchants passing through its vicinity on a fairly regular basis. Before long, a full-out city sprung up around the sacred inland lake; in part to build the temples and altars to properly worship the gods, but also to house the labyrinthine network of shops, homes, theaters, and justice halls to support a large population of devotees. Over the centuries, control of Delos passed through many hands, with the Greeks followed by the Romans being the most prominent. This is, of course, before the island was pretty much abandoned  by the fall of the latter Empire, and by the discovery of newer, more lucrative, shipping routes.

Today, all that is left of Delos is a stripped-down ruined skeleton of a once busy port town. Archaeologists live and work on the island, but everyone else must pass through security and exit the premises by the end of the day. Once past the front gates, however, you're pretty much given free reign to go wherever you want. As we neared a network of small islands and turned around a narrow bend in the straits between them, suddenly Delos appeared. I could not believe my eyes at just the sheer amount of ruins you could see even at this distance out. Check out yet another video I took, this time of our arrival at Delos:

Once we purchased our tickets and ventured past the gate, I didn't know where to begin first. But I had an idea: we saw where the majority of the crowds were headed, and then simply went in the opposite direction! And it worked, too. Although we still had the annoying hive of Japanese tourists trying to knock us aside in their forever quest to take THE BEST pictures, for the most part our paths through the ruins were relatively devoid of people. Relatively.

As we walked down a long avenue of destroyed and toppled marble columns, I could see the tip of a lone palm tree in the distance. I discovered that this palm tree sits at the very center of what used to be the inland lake. The very spot where the twin gods were supposed to have been born! Drained during the beginning of the last century by archaeologists to cut down on the mosquito population, the area is now a dry bed. But it's easy to see that it was once a lake. And at the shore of the "lake" stood a row of lion statues, supposed guardians of the temple of Apollo and the sacred birthplace. Neat-o!

I broke away from the group we were with at this point and wandered to a deserted part of the island where the ruins of some rather big aristocratic-looking houses stood. Spending a half hour by myself nosing through what was once rich folks' living rooms was an oddly humbling moment for me. Just standing there and listening to the wind blowing through the weathered stones and marble columns of what was once the upper-class district was eerie and wonderful all at the same time. I could feel myself actually connecting to the history in a way that is hard to do when crowds and crowds of bumbling tourists are pushing all around you and snapping pics.

Eventually I caught up with Lisa and the others near the restrooms, and from there we pushed on to the other half of the town -- the part we had avoided earlier because of the crowds. Those groups were now heading on over to our side of the island, so it was apropos timing.

The other half of Delos was where the shops were located, and where the merchants and workers lived. Although the structures are completely stripped bare, enough is left standing to get a sense of how densely populated this part of town must have been. We wandered down quite a few streets and alleys, peeking into what remained of a few store fronts and decoratively tiled porticoes. The further up the hill we went, the more expansive and richly appointed the houses became. Eventually we found our way to the Greek-style theater which, despite the pirates and looters who stripped the whole island for valuable materials, still had some marble benches in working order.

The theater turned out to be our last stop. We had two hours left before we had to return to the Equinox, but we figured we'd head back to allow some time for sightseeing and shopping back on Mykonos. Unfortunately, the tempestuous nature of the seas around Delos chose this moment to show us the true power of mighty Poseidon. See, besides having the most days of sunlight out of the year than practically any other location on Earth, Delos is known for one other peculiarity -- it gets windy. A LOT! I'd mentioned earlier how the water as we came in to the island was calm and perfect. Not so by late afternoon. The winds had been kicking up appreciably as we did our little tour throughout the ruins of the island, but as we boarded the ferry to head back the waves were quite frothy. I didn't think this would have too much of an effect on our return, but I was wrong.

What was a 30 minute ride coming in turned into a nearly 90 minute one going back! Now I mentioned before how I don't get airsick, but I *do* get seasick. Pretty badly, in fact, if the boat is very small. But luckily the ferry we were on was one of those huge industrial-sized ordeals usually reserved for heavy commutes. I think this is the only reason I didn't puke my guts out, although it was a close call. Luckily I found a seat and was able to close my eyes and will myself to sleep for most of the ride. But others were not so lucky. It was no joke when one of the ferry staff came around handing out barf bags to everyone. Even they were complaining about how rough the seas were. At one point the boat went very, very high up in the sky . . .  and then came crashing down with such force that water sprayed over the rails and sprayed even those of us safely inside the main cabin. It was unreal how high those waves got!

Halfway back to land we ran into our fast-made friends from the cruise ship, who had originally planned to stay away from Delos and so had not joined our group that morning. Turns out they changed their minds sometime after mid-morning and came on one of the ferry jaunts after ours. A decision I'd imagined they now regretted. Together we all made it through the grueling rough seas we could see churning over outside the main cabin. It was weird: there were no clouds in the sky, it wasn't raining. It was just extremely gusty. And apparently that was enough to kick up 8 - 10 foot swells. Yikes!

Eventually, however, Poseidon got tired of toying with us and we made it safely to dock. Everyone stepping off the ferry had rubber legs, it was not pretty. We stumbled our way through town, not paying attention to the stores at all as we concentrated on getting back to the ship on time. We only had 30 minutes left!

In the end we didn't have to worry about making it back, though. Due to the suddenly violent ocean, our ship stayed in port an extra 45 mins to allow stragglers stuck on Delos to make it back. When the Equinox finally did ship out to sea, though, it was with some swaying and buckling that I was not a big fan of. The waves didn't calm down until the middle of the night, when we were well on our way out of the Cyclades island chain and heading towards Turkey.

I went to bed with a head that felt like it would never stop spinning, but I consoled myself to sleep knowing that the very next day we would be at the destination I'd been dreaming of this whole time. The sole reason for booking our trip:

Tomorrow we would arrive at the fabulous, timeless city of Istanbul!

Up next: Day 7.

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