Why choose the Greek islands for a spring break? Part two – World Meanderings (n°49)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
After discovering Mykonos, Ephesus and the House of Virgin Mary during the first two days aboard the Olympia, one of the human sized ships of the Celestyal Cruises Company, it’s time to continue our trip through the Mediterranean Sea. There is plenty more to see and do during the last days of our 4-day cruise. Four full days that will make these short holidays an exciting change of scenery.
Our next stop is Patmos Island, the “Aegean Jerusalem”. Patmos has beautiful beaches and coves but is mainly known for being the place where St John wrote the “Apocalypse”. In 95 AD St John was banished to Patmos by Roman emperor Domitian who persecuted the Christians throughout the empire. In those days Patmos was sparsely populated and St John sought refuge in a cave where it is said that God spoke to him. This is how he wrote the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, the most enigmatic and mysterious text of the New Testament.
Today this holy cave is a place of pilgrimage for Christians from the whole world. The walls of the small cave are covered with frescoes and we can still see the stone bed where St John slept, the rock that he used as a pillow and the three holes in one of the walls through which he heard God’s voice. In the 11th century a monastery was built on top of the island, close to St John’s cave.
The massive silhouette of this unusual fortified monastery overlooks a small village nestled at its foot. Walking up the small streets of the village we got to Hagios Ioannis Theologos Monastery that still is an active centre of spiritual life. Once inside we discovered a maze of alleys and staircases leading to the Catholicon, the main church richly decorated, the Panagia chapel, the refectory or the library where over 900 rare handwritten books and scrolls are carefully preserved. The library is not open to the public but the museum offers a remarkable collection of manuscripts, icons and liturgical objects.
We had dinner back onboard on deck 9 where an open air BBQ was cooked on huge glowing grills. A nice occasion to meet the chefs! There was live music and we had a real good time. Later we kept on enjoying a musical and festive night in the different bars and lounges of the ship. And like every evening we had to make our choice, which was no so easy… Will it be live latino and pop music at the Argo Bar until late at night, Greek evening with a live band at Muses Lounge, dance music at Selene Lounge, a White Party at the nightclub or the dance show at the theatre where every night a Canadian dancers and singers company performs a different show? Why choose? We had a little bit of everything!
We arrived in Rhodes, the ninth largest island in the Mideterranean, early morning on the following day. After our late night we decided to forget the alarm clock and take our time to enjoy the hearty breakfast buffet. But there were brave enough passengers who woke up early to go on one of the 3 excursions available in Rhodes: Rhodes medieval city, Lindos Acropolis and its amazing Athena Temple, Rhodes Acropolis and its beautiful Greek and Roman remains, Byzantine churches, medieval fortresses and monasteries. Rhodes has an incredibly rich heritage. The Olympia is in port at walking distance from the beautiful fortified city of Rhodes until late afternoon and we decided to visit it on our own.
We got a city map at the Tourism Office, ready to discover Europe’s largest inhabited medieval town. It’s an ancient and charming town and wandering through its broad avenues or narrow labyrinthine alleys is like browsing a fascinating history book. Don’t expect to see all of it in only one day there is so much to see! The antique temple of Aphrodite, the 15th century Lodge of the Knights of Aiberne, the Knights Hospital, the Street of knights, a beautifully restored pedestrian street, the Grandmaster’s Palace, the grand Lodge of the Battalion of France, Byzantine churches, ancient Turkish baths, mosques are only a few examples.
Many of these buildings now are museums and even if you’re not a museum person you should go to the Grandmaster’s Palace. This impressive fortress shelters an extensive collection of medieval artefacts from the Knights’ era and colourful ancient mosaics. Close by Orffeos and Socratous Streets are the liveliest and busiest streets in town where you will find countless shops and restaurants. Sipping a cup of traditional Greek coffee brewed in a briki pot on a café terrace in the shade of big plane trees we enjoyed Rhodes’ relaxed rhythm of life wishing we wouldn’t have to leave so soon.
Today already is the last day of the cruise and it’s going to be a day to remember. The Olympia sailed all night and we got to Crete, Greece’s largest island. There are three different organized excursions that highlight three different aspects of the island. Crete is a green island covered with olive groves, vines and vegetable farms providing the ingredients of the famous Cretan diet and the first excursion will make you discover this close to nature side. The second excursion takes the Olympia’s passengers to the ancient remains of the Minoan palace of Knossos. Knossos area was inhabited since the Neolithic period and is said to be the place where the first European civilisation, the Minoans, was born.
The remains of the palace have been carefully restored and the English-speaking guide will bring back to life its legendary story for you. The third excursion will take you to Heraklion, the capital city of the island and home-town of many famous artists such as Odysseas Elytis, a Greek poet who received the Nobel Prize in 1979, painter Domenico Theotokopoulos better known as El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis the author of “Zorba the Greek”. Heraklion has many antique and medieval buildings and your guide will also take you to the archaeological museum.
After visiting Knossos Palace we were back on board in time for lunch and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on board while sailing to our last destination, Santorini. This island is like no other. It actually is the most active volcano of the Aegean Sea and its crater collapsed and was filled with seawater during a tremendous eruption in 1600 BC. Vulcanologists call it a caldera. Entering Santorini caldera is an impressive experience. As big as it might be the Olympia is dwarfed by the high cliffs that actually are the walls of the volcano’s crater.
Going to Oia is an absolute must if it’s your first time on the island. This small village built on the cliff’s slope is the perfect place for a unique sunset that lights up the typical white and blue houses. What a great finish for this short but enriching cruise!
As said in last week article Celestyal Cruises proposes special early booking prices for its cruises for next spring. For example the 4-day cruise costs 499 € instead of 599€ or the 7-day cruise is 809€ instead of 989€. They all start and end at Piraeus, Athens’ port, and include the cabin, all meals including the delicious high tea, beverage package, all on board entertainment and a selection of excursions. A great value for money!
Discover more at : http://www.celestyalcruises.uk/en-uk
Aegean Airlines proposes daily direct flights from London or Manchester to Athens with seasonal flights from Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Dublin. During high season Aegean adds new UK routes with direct flights to many Greek destinations as Rhodes, Crete, Thessaloniki or Corfu…
They offer good money for value tickets with comfortable enough seats and a hot meal on all flights.
Aegean airlines offers early booking prices from 58£ one-way London-Athens.
More at: https://en.aegeanair.com/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes