Saturday, July 31, 2021

July 31st - Enjoying the Quieter Patmos-phere

If Paros yesterday felt like it was getting packed with tourists, then quiet Patmos was the perfect antidote to that. The “Island of the Apocalypse” isn’t on the main ferry routes and doesn’t have an airport, and while its narrow beaches are pleasant enough it’s not really a beach destination. In my book, none of that is a negative – this is a place for discerning travellers who love Greek island life, without the tourist frenzy.

On a boiling hot day, we were glad that we had made the arduous trek up to St John’s Monastery last time we were here, because this was a day for gentle strolling and quiet relaxation. Even that was a struggle in this heat – sunglasses that were on the table in the shade, felt like they’d been left in the oven; while cold water bottles turned warm within an hour.

On an island of tranquil monasteries and a low-key restaurants, Patmos is a place to just slow down and relax. In this heat it was difficult to do anything else.


July 30th – Paros is Marble-lous

Back in ancient times the island of Paros was the chief source of marble for the best of ancient Greek sculpture – the Venus de Milo and the Winged Nike of Samothrace were both created from Parian marble. And even if there’s nothing ancient left standing on the island today, you don’t have to look hard to find traces of Paros’s marble-lous past. Facing Parikia’s waterfront, the walls of the old Venetian castle are made up a jumble of old marble columns, blocks and pediments – so many that you think that the temple they were taken from must have been pretty impressive.

And, walking around town, you notice that so many of the houses have blocks of ancient carved marble or columns set into their walls or used as window frames. Those picturesque narrow streets were lined with shop after shop selling floaty dresses and sandals – it was a commercialised atmosphere, but more low-key and less high-end than Mykonos.

Actually, they always used to say that Paros is like Mykonos used to be 30 years ago. But, Paros is definitely on the same path as Mykonos – you just had to look at the hordes of young people piling off the ferries that were arriving fairly constantly, to know that word has got out about this lovely island. I was surprised at just how busy those packed ferries were – not much room for social distancing in the queues to get on and off. 

In fact, seeing those crowds of carefree (and probably unvaccinated) youngsters made us cancel our plans to catch the bus to Naoussa, so we limited our exploring to Parikia instead. Surprisingly, the town wasn’t massively busy (the hordes just dissipated to their beach resorts around the island), so it was fun just to wander the maze of picturesque streets and see what we came across next.

We called in at the Archaeological Museum to see its collection of marble sculptures. Of course, the best sculptures from Parian marble were sent off all around the Ancient Greek world (Paros wasn’t really a centre for sculpture at all), but there were a few interesting pieces to look at -  my favourite being a fearsome looking Gorgon from the 6th century BC.

We also called in at the Church of Our Lady of 100 Doors – an intriguing complex of interlocked religious buildings that dates back to the 6th century AD, making it one of the oldest functioning churches in the world.  

By now, it was getting super-hot, so we retreated back to the ship until things cooled down a little. We waited until the sun was going down before heading to the town’s small beach for a swim. Paros is famous for its fabulous sandy beaches, and while the town beach isn’t a patch on the island’s more famous ones (it’s a little rocky underfoot as you walk in), it still felt pretty idyllic as the light turned golden and you could lie in the warm sun without being roasted alive.

The perfect way to finish another wonderful day in the Greek Islands.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

July 29th – Syros – Is Cruising Back to Being the New Normal?

When we first arrived in Syros just 20 days ago, we were literally giddy with excitement – after the year we’ve just had, everything was new, exciting and wonderful. 20 days later, everything is still wonderful, but thankfully the experience of blue skies, warm breezes, gorgeous waters and beautiful towns is feeling a bit more “normal” by now. Long may it continue.

Syros is rapidly turning into one of our favourite Greek Islands. It has an everyday buzz that other islands of its size tend not to have. As a working island, it doesn’t have its focus on international tourism – every waiter initially spoke to us in Greek rather than assuming we were tourists (although they very happily switched to English on seeing our blank faces).

But, just because it’s not focused on tourism doesn’t mean that it doesn’t offer what tourists want. If you like beaches, great food and a relaxed atmosphere, then Syros fits the bill. In fact, we didn’t even have to go to a beach to have a lovely swim. Just 5 minutes from the port is a concrete “beach”/platform where you can swim in the incredibly clear azure waters. We stationed ourselves in a trendy bar overlooking the sea and jumped in whenever it got too hot. After a couple of days on the super-hot Greek mainland where it was bordering on 100 degrees F (38 C), here it was “just” early 90s F (32 C) and the water felt fresh.

One of the joys of cruising the Greek Islands is that the distances between ports tends to be smaller, so that means plenty of late departures – tonight we left Syros at 11pm. It might seem crazy to eat off the ship when the food onboard is so incredibly good, but every now and again it’s great to have a totally different dining experience in a local atmosphere. So, we went for sundowners on the waterfront in a bar facing the ship, and then we went to the busy backstreets to find a local taverna. There’s lots of choices, but we were glad that we were eating a little earlier than most of the locals, because within half an hour of sitting down, it seemed like every restaurant was full.

We gorged ourselves on the simple but tasty food – with crowds promenading past, men on accordions busking away, and cats scavenging for scraps at our feet, this is an atmosphere you don’t quite get onboard a ship like the Silver Moon! This is what cruising is about – 6 star luxury one minute, mixing (socially distanced of course) with the locals the next.

I’m so happy to say that cruising has become our New Normal once again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

July 28th – A Poseidon Adventure From Athens

No, not that Poseidon Adventure (not a good idea to re-create any of that on a cruise ship)! This adventure was to see the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, about an hour and a half along the coast from Athens.

We first went to central Athens to visit the Ancient Agora, the cultural and commercial heart of Athens in the city’s glory years 2,500 years ago. The site’s a bit of a jumble of columns and marble blocks, but the re-built Stoa (largely paid for by John D Rockefeller) and the almost-intact Hephaiston Temple provided reminders of how magnificent what was then the centre of western civilisation would have looked.

From there, we drove along the coast out to Sounion, home to the Temple of Poseidon (supposedly designed by the same ancient architect as the Hephaiston). Along the way, we passed alongside numerous attractive beach resorts that were a reminder that the Athens urban scene isn’t just about concrete sprawl (although there is plenty of that). 

Finally we reached Cape Sounion at the top of a spectacular 60-metre high cliffs overlooking the Aegean, which on a windswept day had a bit of an end of the world feel. This was the point where legend has it that Theseus returned from slaying the Minotaur and forgot to change his sails from black to white, so mistakenly signalling to his Father (Aegeus) that he was dead. A heartbroken Aegeus threw himself off the cliff and got the consolation prize of having the sea named after him.

This is a supremely picturesque place – the 15 remaining white marble Doric columns of the temple contrasting with the light blue of the sky and the deep blue of the Aegean. Plenty of visitors like Lord Byron had carved their names into those columns, so those 19th century vandals meant that we couldn’t get too close to the temple; however, this is a sight to be taken in from a distance, to appreciate the simplicity of the classical architecture, and the magnificence of its setting.

If you’ve seen all of Athens’s main sites, or you’re not a fan of congested cities, it might be worth having a Poseidon Adventure down to Cape Sounion.

PS. Today saw the Silver Moon christened - I must say that this is a totally beautiful ship. We’ve added a photo of the fireworks that celebrated the addition of Silversea’s latest ship.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

July 27th – Santorini - An Island for the Instagram Age?

There’s no denying that sailing into Santorini is one of the most spectacular experiences in cruising. Sailing into that awesome caldera, enclosed by sheer cliffs of striped volcanic rock and approaching its whitewashed towns clinging to the clifftops, has got to be the definition of scenic.

And, what made our visit even better today was that we were one of only 2 cruise ships in town – as opposed to the 7 monster ships that can sometimes be anchored in the caldera, disgorging up to 18,000 people into Fira’s tiny alleyways (a time when social distancing was impossible). Today, there couldn’t have been more than 500 cruise passengers, yet the narrow streets were still pretty busy, as crowds of people browsed the shops that were almost exclusively jewellery stores, fashion boutiques, or souvenir shops. When an island’s economy is as focused on tourism as this, the pandemic must have hit it hard.

However, as we huffed and puffed our way up and down the 600 steps to Fira and back, we noticed that the donkeys seemed to be looking much more healthy than they used to. Their one-year sabbatical from carrying cruise passengers around seems to have done them some good, even if it was bad news for their owners.

Actually, rather than cruisers, the majority of the tourists up in Fira appeared to be “beautiful young things” (the cruise community tends to consist of “beautiful mature things”), whose chief activity seemed to be taking selfies – making themselves the star attraction rather than the scenery that they’ve paid so much to see. In fact, Santorini seems to be made for the Instagram Age – to me, its restaurant, bar and retail scene seems to be all about style; being seen rather than seeing; consuming as conspicuously as possible. Maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy old man, but I find that the other islands offer a more genuine atmosphere that’s more to my taste.

But, in spite of all this, Santorini is hard not to like – nowhere can offer a more photogenic background to tourist mayhem, donkey droppings and endless selfies. I must stop being grumpy and just enjoy the ravishing views.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

July 26th – Handling the Heat in Nafplion

When it’s 36 degrees (97F) outside, it can narrow your sightseeing ambitions a little. Fortunately, we’ve been to the impressive ancient ruins at Mycenae and Epidavros plenty of times, so we were happy to stick to some low-key exploring of the beautiful town of Nafplion instead. 

For me, Nafplion is the most attractive town on mainland Greece, so it was nice to walk around its shady pedestrianised streets covered in bougainvillea and enjoy its peaceful atmosphere. Actually, the town was pretty quiet considering that it’s now the height of holiday season, but maybe everyone was just sheltering from the heat.

When it’s this hot, the only thing to do is head to the beach, and as we walked around the picturesque path that encircles the rocky headland that shelters the town, it became apparent that this is where all the people were. But it wasn’t difficult to see why they had come here – the waters were all kinds of shades of alluring blues and turquoises, and the sea breezes were taking the edge off the heat.

We stationed ourselves in a shady spot in the beach bar while most people fried themselves on the pebbly beach below. It was heavenly taking in the views, feeling the warm air on your face, and popping into the sea every time you felt like a cool down. The water was beautiful – clear and cooling.

Every time we come to Nafplion we vow to come back here for longer – in fact, we had planned a month-long stay here last year but the pandemic put a stop to that. This piece of paradise deserves a longer visit.