Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

greektopa.jpg (8404 bytes)

Santorini, Akrotiri and Thera - Iraklion, Kriti

On April 4th, breakfast arrived about 40 minutes after ordering it so most people at the tables had given up. We ate with a pleasant older couple (from Florida) – she spoke English, but we had to use our Spanish with her husband who was from Cuba. The other two people at the table were rather cool and complained about the ship and the tardiness of the food and anything else they could come up with – we were glad they left early. The coffee and fresh croissants hit the spot.

We took a tender from the ship to Athenios Harbor at the western end of Santorini where a bus was waiting to take us up to the Akrotiri excavation. The morning is cool and beginning to clear – it promises to be a beautiful day! The bus driver deftly drove along the hairpin turns to the plain of Santorini, passing a wide variety of volcanic strata along the way. Our first stop at the site were the toilets a la Turk – a reminder to all fellow travelers to always carry some tissues in your pocket.

The site is often compared to Pompeii but it is considerably older (circa 2000 BC) and the residents had adequate time to evacuate before the eruption of the enormous volcano that now forms the caldera between the islands of Santorini, Therasia and Aspronisi. The 20% portion of the site already excavated is covered with an expansive tin roof. Not only are the two and three story homes and buildings completely intact, but entire frescoes, pottery, furniture, and remnants of food. There occur small windows adjacent to the doorways on the lower floors of the houses, and large wide windows on the second floors . The whole city was preserved in pumice and gives a vivid perspective of what life was like 4000 years ago on what is a high, dry and windy plain.

On the road to Thera (Fira) on the northern end of the island, there were numerous vineyards. All of these are dry-farmed and the vines are oddly shaped into basket form to protect the fruit from blistering sun and strong winds. The pumice accumulated in the soil holds the moisture from the evening humidity and nurtures the vines. There are no successful wells on the island so irrigation is considered wasteful. Supposedly, one of the reasons so many houses have domes is to collect the precious rainwater – all other water is imported in bottles.

Thera was named after a Theban hero’s son. The island of Santorini was known earlier as Stronhyle, Calliste and Thera before it became Santa-Irini. It is rumored to be the lost Atlantis and has obvious connections with the Minoan civilization from Kriti (Crete). Thera town boasts a large basilica, is very colorful, has very narrow lanes, and explodes with tourists in July and August. It is accessed from its small port by 600+ steps, donkey rides or the relatively new cable car system. Before departing for the ship, we found time to sit on the terrace of a little Taverna, enjoy the view and sample Niktateri, the very well done dry white wine grown on the island. Interestingly, the grapes are picked and pressed during the night to preserve flavor because of the intensely hot harvest season. This is, after all, the most southern of the Cyclades.

Lunch on board was okay, but the bottle of Boutari Nemea was great! This wine is smooth with good fruit, no wood, and a subtle sweetness akin to fine Chianti. After a full bottle, the roll of the ship let us siesta until we arrived at Iraklion, the main port of Kriti.

Since we had visited here before, seen the fabulous site of Knossos and enjoyed an afternoon in the museum, we decided to take it easy and caught a cab for a ride around town. We stopped at Nikos Kazantzaki’s grave – a pretty little park with trees in bloom, chamomile under foot and a panoramic view of this port city. Aside from writing Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, he wrote his own epitaph, "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." From there, we came down along the Venetian wall, passed under Chanis Gate, all the way to the end of the wall, and back up to the Kastro Fort, enjoying the marinas filled with pleasure and fishing boats. It should be noted that there is a tremendous amount to see and do on Kriti and it would be easy to spend a few weeks here. Each of its districts has its own special charm – the museum has a fantastic collection of Minoan art including some exceptional mosaics – the countryside is varied.

Back at the ship, we rested, then joined Virginia and Harvey for dinner. I feasted on a wonderful saffron risotto, while Mike had veal Milanese as we all shared a bottle of Cava Boutari (fruity, dry) red wine. We departed as a group to the lounge in order to see the evening’s entertainment and drinks together. It was a "cute" but somewhat amateurish show – some dance routines, a good female vocalist (Adele), and a slightly geeky magician (Shannon) from Hungary.

greekbasea.jpg (5419 bytes)


Journal      Photo Galleries   

   Links Plus  

Gala & Salvador Go to Catalunatics Home Page
The Catalunatics