Cruising around the Aegean Sea – Part 1

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junior suite on Crystal Celestyal

settling into our junior suite before we sail

 On a sunny Friday in July, at 1pm, the Celestyal Crystal, one of the Celestyal Cruises’ ships, left the harbour of Lavrio.

We were on our way to Mykonos, the first stop on a week-long cruise through the Aegean Sea. A cruise is one of the best ways to discover many islands in a short period as visiting is done during daylight hours whist the travel is at night.

In summer, the sun in Greece can be hot, but on board a large ship as soon as it sails, a maritime breeze refreshes the atmosphere so although it is pleasant and some think there is no problem with the sun, wearing a cap and regular use of a sun cream is a must.

Starting our cruise couldn’t have been easier. On arrival at Lavrio (about 60kms south of Athens) we had to register which meant that a picture of each of us was taken and after a credit card request, to secure all additional expenses on board, we received a personal magnetic card which was imposed with that image. This is your key in more ways than one. It is your way for cabin entry, for ordering drinks, meals and any other purchase on board as well as your identity card to disembark and return to the boat at any port of call. Crewmembers took luggage directly to the cabins, so registration took only a few minutes.

Mykonos - Little Venice

Little Venice in Mykonos

At exactly 12.30 the siren of the Celestyal Crystal resounded throughout summoning us for a boat drill. It was time to don their life jackets before going to their own safety meeting points.  The crew reminded us that the maxim still was “Women and children first!” in the event of us having to abandon ship. Our neighbours were whispering about the Titanic!

It was only now that, for many of us, our holiday really began.  An atmosphere of  “do what you want when you want” prevailed and various activities were available all day long be it island visiting taking a swim, sunbathing, playing baccarat or another game in the casino eating and drinking, shopping or going to one of the evening shows that the entertainment team presented.

The biggest decision you have to make is which excursions to join for, with an island every day, there is a choice of at least two or three tours per island. And like most cruises, these tours are optional extras and have to be booked and paid for before arrival.

To those who choose to stay on board during a port of call, there was still a selection of activities available. We decide to disembark at every stop sometimes as part of an excursion and sometimes by ourselves.

windmills in Mykonos

a line of windmills in Mykonos

Friday – Mykonos:

Our first stop was the charming island of Mykonos, reaching there on our first evening and timed so that we could enjoy its festive atmosphere. Bars and restaurants were open and we stopped on the waterfront at Leto , a restaurant cum hotel for dinner before strolling through the maze of little meandering streets. Of course we had to visit the Mykonos windmills to admire the sun setting over the small island of Delos Island to watch the last, lingering sun rays silhouetting the facades of the “Little Venice” area.

We returned on board around 11pm, half an hour before departure, secure in the knowledge that we were leaving ourselves plenty of time. Cruise ships won’t wait for latecomers. Before bed we remembered to set the alarm clock for 6am as that would be when we started our tour of Ephesus.

Saturday – Ephesus and Samos Island:

the Roman villas of Ephesus

the Roman villas of Ephesus

Early in the morning, long before we woke,   our boat docked at the Turkish port of Kusadasi. Famous for its sandy beaches, Kusadasi is also the most convenient stop to visit the magnificent Ephesus, the first archaeological site of Turkey. Avoiding the beach tour, we took the Ephesus one including a visit to the “Roman villas” which are also known as the “Noblemen’s villas”.

Ephesus is the main and the most beautiful ancient site of the whole cruise and not-to-be-missed site. From the Agora and the Odeon, (a building for music and poetry which is where the name of the cinema chain came from,) we visited the main street – Curetes Street, with its marble pavement before going down to the unique Celsus Library. WE passed so many monuments such as the Temple of Hadrian, the Latrines (the Roman public toilets) and the incredible Noblemen’s villas that you need hardly take a single step without a reminder of another piece of history.

Ephesus - Grand Theatre

the Grand Theatre of Ephesus

The Noblemen’s villas are over 2,000 square metres and were recently opened to the public. They reveal the luxury of the houses of wealthy Romans in antiquity. Nearly all the walls are covered with delicate frescoes and the floors were decorated with mosaics. Visiting the villas requires a special ticket and, due to the great number of stairs, the villas are not accessible to all.

Back in the main street, we admired the Celsus Library and its two-level façade, before wandering through the ruins, until we arrived at the Grand Theatre which is built along a hillside. After having spent four hours in Ephesus, we had to board the bus and return to the ship before it sail on a three hour trip to the Greek Island of Samos, where, precisely at 3.00,  we set off on a guided tour of the island.

Ephesus - Curetes Street and Celsus Library

Curetes Street and the Celsus Libray at Ephesus

Samos, say its inhabitants is the greenest Greek island, and it has been famous for centuries due to its wines so the first stop had to be the Samos Wine Museum. Here, you can not only learn the history of viticulture you can also sample the local sweet wines and to buy some too. When we reached the cute village of Kokkari, we had an hour in which to discover how charming this fishering village was, and to sit at in a bar savouring another famous drink of Samos, homemade lemonade made with fresh lemons.

This long day was not yet finished, and soon after we continued our bus journey to get to Pythagorion. Guess what? Pythagorion is the village where the mathematician Pythagoras was born. It’s now a quiet port with a long line of bars and restaurants that attract the many visitors. Sailing day and diving tours  are available from the quay.

Back on board at 9pm, tired and starving but with heads filled with images and memories of the day, we enjoyed the fine cuisine of the à-la-carte restaurant, the Amalthia thus ending a perfect day.

Sunday- Milos Island:

Milos - cave in the cliffside

the giant cave in the cliffside at Milos

Our stay in Milos was to last a whole day. Unlike other passengers we were lucky to be given a special press tour in collaboration with the Milos tourism management. But like all passengers, we had to use the large lifeboats fo the boat as Adamantas, the main harbour of Milos, doesn’t have a quay where such big ships as the Celestyal Crystal could dock.

Designed like a butterfly, Milos Island is known for its long volcanic cliffs and some of the most attractive beaches of the Aegean Sea islands. Docking on Adamantas quay, we boarded a sailing boat and headed north to see us a few villages that snuggled at the base of tall cliffs and were only reachable by boats. Sailing to the west coast we visited a few coves and were able to swim and snorkel before continuing in a small dinghy into caves and passages in the cliffs. To enter some of these dark caves requires care especially when the ceiling of the cave was low and the cliffs so high.

Milos, Sarakiniko white landscape

the white landscape at Sarakiniko on Milos

By the beginning of the afternoon we had sailed around just one of the two wings of the butterfly but it was time to go ashore at Provatas sandy beach. A bus took us to the little village of Pollonia, located at the northernmost point of the second wing. The journey is quite longt long but it enables the visitor to see chunks of the island that might otherwise be missed. Here we had to stop at Gialos” claimed to serve the best food of Milos.

Reluctantly leaving Gialos, we made a detour to discover one of the strangest sites of Greece, the Sarakiniko cove where we were speechless at the sight of the soft, white cliffs which have been shaped by thousands of years of erosion and which emerge as a gigantic artistic masterpiece.

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