Apart from the mainland (here), Greece’s culture and reach extends far beyond the Aegean islands. Colonies as far as Sicily and the Bosphorus in Turkey leave traces of their Greek ancestry. Some say there were Greek colonies even in the black sea and parts of central Asia left behind by Alexander the great. Thus a story about the Greek islands cannot ignore the many mainland sites that exist on present day Turkey (here).
In addition to these places of historical significance, the Greek islands definitely boast of many beautiful island to set foot upon. You might have seen the postcards, but in today’s social media world you definitely would have seen the Instagram photos of folks lounging by the pool overlooking that wondrous view. Wish you there huh? This would be a full week of us being on the water.
We had weighed whether to go it on our own to just one or two islands. But the thought of rushing around catching ferries and generally being “stuck” on an island overcame us. A cruise meant no (un)packing every few days. So that was an easy option to take.
Ok, so where do we start but
The lost city?
Our cruise started from Athens and had stopped at Istanbul and Kusadasi before sailing into Santorini early in the morning (that is one other adventure you can read here).
Some people believe (speculate) that the civilization that was destroyed on Santorini is the lost city of Atlantis! Santorini’s present shape in the likeness of a crescent was formed by a violet volcanic eruption around 1625BC. In order to get onto the island, we had to get onto smaller boats (like tenders) to reach the small pier that can only accommodate them.
The islands in the area were formed after the caldera blasted itself out of existence from deep under the sea. Today villages and towns of the islands sit on top of cliffs that are at least 200ft above the sea. And many houses in Santorini are available for let in the tourist season all year round, most having turned into little hotels. This time however, we only had time for the village of Oia given the short berthing window our ship was granted. The white washed village gives beautiful views of the sea and we took numerous photos of the villages and churches as we marched to the blue domed homes for that iconic photo.
It has to be one of the most photographed places in Greece. Its symbolic icons are a feature on postcards, posters, movies etc. At that time, numerous Taiwanese and Korean drama serials were filmed on the island too. Why are the houses painted whitewashed? Our guess is that it helps reflect strong sunlight that the region receives between June till September and when it can get excruciatingly hot. Not that it is cloudy at other times we believe… here are yet more photos…
Today many hotels too cling onto the sides of the cliffs (remember those little houses?), each advertising that fantastic view of the Aegean. A short stay here might rejuvenate the spirit of the worn down corporate warrior eager for some solace. However, be prepared for the hordes. We had disembarked at 7:30am and just one of the many ships with passengers disembarking for just the day. To be honest it was quite stressful because it seemed as if we were in an Olympian race to get to the best photo spots!
At Akrotiri it was said that there was an archaeological find (the village was found with advanced plumbing systems). However, we did not have time to get there because we only stopped for 4 hours. Considering the time needed to get on and off the ship, that left just about 2½ hours. Or just about sufficient time to slowly appreciate the spectacle of Oia. Tip: take care when walking in the streets that you not step on the poo left behind by donkeys and dogs. From Fira town we got back down to the sea. There was a choice of using either the cable car or with the mules. Guess which one we chose?
Where the Minotaur seeks sacrifice?
Our next stop was Crete. As usual they didn’t gave us much time in Irakelio, but then we were told we did not miss much. Once again the time allotted for the ship was 4½ hours. Thus one had to focus. And we trained our sights on the palace of Knossos. Have you heard the story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur?
Well legend goes that there was this monstrosity of a beast that required sacrifice. And the Greeks (who wrote the story) had to send young maidens and men to the Cretan kingdom of Minoa to their demise. Legend has it that the Minoan King presided over a palace that was luxurious.
Well, it was not as impressive as we expected. There was a lot of restoration and arrangements, which could be disputed since not a lot was known about this civilization (and there is still so much to discover today). This was the approach of the early 1900s, when historical knowledge of civilizations in the Greek world was scant and folks simply worked on intuition. However there is a series of murals that purport to depict how life was like during the time of the Minoan civilization. And there is a replica of the ‘throne room’ of the ancient Minoan Kings in an otherwise spartan (no pun intended) room. Try sitting on it to see if it fits you.
Following the site tour, we ventured to the museum. We noted that Dolphins are very often used in the murals. We saw it in Knossos itself and also at murals preserved in the museum. And bulls. Yep they too were present in a lot of art too. Which probably explains the story of the Minotaur (half man, half bull). What do you call a small bull? A bullet of course! But did you like Mel and Suan detected something strange about the Minotaur story? Bulls aren’t carnivores, yet this one’s gotta have sacrificial humans for a meal… did that carnal requirement came from the human element of the monstrosity?
Our bad photos of the artifacts might not do them justice, but they were certainly impressive considering that this civilization (2600-1100BC) predated classical Greek times and corresponded roughly to the time of the Myceneans (remember them here?).
But with this short stop it was a time warp to the,
Bastion of the Knights
Sailing overnight, we arrived in Rhodes, where the Knights of Rhodes were based. We are now transported back into medieval times and took an excursion to the town of Lindos with the acropolis overlooking a nice bay. And where St. Paul was shipwrecked as well. You might know that he was shipwrecked quite a few times…
Now the fortress town reinforced in the 1300s was so crowded that we had to line up in single file to get out from it. Seemed like the entire cruise ship(s) was there. But the scene might not be that different 600 years back, with soldiers filing out instead of us tourists.
You see, the knights were fighting a war against the Turks, attempting to hold them back, just as other knightly orders were doing the same on Malta and indeed across the Levant. Massive sieges was not uncommon and triple walls interspaced with dry moats defended the old town of Lindos. All reminiscent of the fortification style of continental Europe, and built all across Rhodes. Did it work? Against an overwhelming force of 100,000, the knights who numbered 7,000 could not win. So they withdrew to fight another day – on Malta (read here).
Now with so many islands, it might take one forever to explore them all. And following Rhodes our ship made landing at Patmos, a tiny island. At this top we did not disembark but there is a grotto of St. John on the island, which we did not visit. It was early and we spent some time walking about in the village near the jetty instead and took advantage of the shops that were beginning to open.
They call themselves Paradise
We were actually eager for the ship to continue sailing on, as we arrived Mykonos at 11am. Once disembarked we filed through the “Venice” of Mykonos, with its row of restaurants to get to the famed windmills on a hill above town. Hey! It’s mandatory to take a photo of them you know. Plus, the views from the top were great too. Not only did they have whitewashed houses, they had colorful ones too such as the one in red. Must had been an atypical Greek who did not want to conform… perhaps it was a bohemian statement.
The “Venice” of Mykonos is really just an assortment of shops and restaurants to cater to the tourist crowd. Numerous cruise ships dock here and disgorge boatloads of tourists every day and the place seems to be perpetually writhing in some loud music. Great to explore on your own, we decided to seek out the mascots of Mykonos – pelicans. Now for some reason Petros the wounded pelican was adopted by the local folks of the island who nursed it back to health. It did not leave and eventually became a regular feature at the end of town by the beach. Actually the real Petros died in 1985 due to a car accident (really?) and today the ones at the beach are imposters replacements. Gotta cater to the tourist hype and keep the story up right?
We had heard from one of our shipmates that Mykonos is a really party island since we had not done any research. But all the partying that we did was to buy a fake replica HRC T-shirt from a dodgy looking cafeteria… In all aspects, the island is touristy shops selling all kinds of usual souvenirs (made in you know where). Lots more photos here:
Deciding to see the sunset, we stayed on to have dinner in one of the restaurants by the waterfront and skipped the ship food for once. The food was alright, not something to be excited over but the atmosphere cannot be described. It was nice and cool in the evening with the sea breeze as we ate and watched the sun go down…
Well, that’s just a couple of the islands and we have not even covered 1% of the 2,000! Greece certainly offers more than these islands and places described as you might have read in our other handprint stories. Like a string of jewels, we can spend time examining each for a very long time. Have you been to the Greek islands? Which one’s your favorite?
Our cruise to the islands took place in August of 2003