Cruise

We spent a week on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, from Malta to Sicily to Greece.

Thus concludes our cruise of the Mediterranean from Malta to Sicily and on to Greece and Athens.    We were incredibly lucky with the weather – blue-sky sunshine every day, unusually warm for October, and perfectly calm seas. On board our ship Le Bougainville, which is only five months old, the staff was friendly, the accommodations comfortable, and the food fabulous.  (French chef; need I say more?)

The highlight of our time on-board, though, was a series of lectures and panel discussions on the topic of “World Affairs”, organized by Washington & Lee University’s office of lifelong learning.  (Although we were part of the W&L group, we comprised only half of the passengers; they were also welcome at the events.)   The speakers included Fareed Zakaria from CNN, John McLaughlin retired from CIA, Daniel Mendelsohn from Bard College, and Provost Marc Conner from Washington & Lee.  Every lecture and panel was a fascinating reflection on world affairs from the time of the ancient Greeks and Persians to the dramatic news of this week (notably, involving Washington, Ukraine, and Syria).

See the photo gallery for a few photos of the ship, the gallery of “favorite photos” for the entire cruise, and the blog posting from each stop on our cruise:

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Athens

After our cruise, we had a day to visit some of the monuments of ancient Greece – and to explore the streets of old Athens.

Our cruise ended in Athens on Friday morning, allowing us Friday afternoon and Saturday morning to explore Athens itself.  Given the limited time available, and it being my first visit to Athens, we focused our attention on the Acropolis and its accompanying museum.  Read on and check out the photo gallery.
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Hydra

A brief visit to the lovely island town of Hydra, on a beautiful day.

We pulled into the harbor of Hydra, a little town on a small island in the Aegean Sea, not far from Athens.  Once an important port for shipping and, during the war for Greek independence, for the military, Hydra is now entirely driven by tourism.  Nearly all of its 1,900 residents live in the hillside village surrounding the bay, navigating the narrow streets, stairs, and alleys on foot.  “Rubbish trucks are the only motor vehicles on the island, since by law, cars and motorcycles are not allowed. Horses, mules and donkeys, and water taxis provide public transportation” [Wikipedia].

Although our guided tour included the maritime museum and the preserved mansion of an 19th-century businessman, I found it most interesting to wander the streets and drink in the sights and smells of this quaint little town.  Below you can see about half the town, and, in the bay, our ship. Check out the photo gallery for more.

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Mycenae

A fascinating visit to the ancient Greek site of Mycenae, built over three thousand years ago.

Our final visit on the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece was to Mycenae, the site of a grand palace and fortification built over three thousand years ago.  I find it astonishing that these structures and graves were preserved, buried for millennia, until modern excavations just a couple hundred years ago.  It has impressive scale and scope, remarkably with several major structures still intact, notably the Lions’ Gate entrance and tholos/treasury.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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Epidaurus

From the port of Nafplion we visited the ancient Greek theater and healing village of Epidaurus.

The Peloponnese, a major peninsula that forms the southern portion of Greece, is the site of many prehistoric and ancient Greek archaeological sites.  Today we toured Epidaurus, the site of an incredibly large and intact Greek theater (still used for performances even today), and a small village of temples and lodgings used as a site for healing.2019-10-16-73904.jpg

The theater seats 14,000 people, and is renowned for its excellent acoustics.   Modern measurements indicate “that the astonishing acoustic properties may be the result of the advanced design: the rows of limestone seats filter out low-frequency sounds, such as the murmur of the crowd, and also amplify the high-frequency sounds of the stage.” [Wikipedia]

The rest of the complex included temples and lodgings for pilgrims who spent a night at Epidaurus; “In their dreams, the god himself would advise them what they had to do to regain their health” [Wikipedia].  There are still stone slabs on which ancient pilgrims have inscribed testimonials about the miraculous healing of their conditions.2019-10-16-73933.jpg

Overall, a fascinating site. Check out the photo gallery for more.

Corinth Canal

An hour-long transit of the narrow Corinth Canal – barely wider than our own ship.

The Peloponnese is a vast peninsula that forms the southern portion of Greece, and is attached to the mainland by the incredibly thin isthmus of Corinth (see map below).  The Romans once built a wall across the isthmus to protect the peninsula from the mainland.

This narrow strip of land separates the Ionean Sea from the Aegean Sea, and forces ships to sail around the entire peninsula to reach one from the other, a 700-kilometer (430 mile) journey. Even in antiquity, sailors dreamed of digging a canal to shorten the voyage – with the first attempt dating to the 7th century BC.  Finally, in 1893, a viable canal was completed [Wikipedia].  Our own ship, Le Bougainville, is nearly as wide as the canal – with just 2m to spare on either side – and is thus quite an exciting transit!  See the photo gallery.

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Map of the area, and (inset) of Greece, from Wikipedia.

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Delphi

We docked in Itea for a visit to ancient Delphi, the site of the major Greek oracle.

We docked early this morning in the small port town of Itea, for a morning visit to the ancient oracle of Delphi. Will the weather on our trip continue to be this amazing?  Maybe we can find the answer here!  Read on and check out the photo gallery.2019-10-15-73707.jpg

Continue reading “Delphi”