A week cruising the Aegean
After spending a couple of days in Athens, my wife and I were invited to cruise Athens, Piraeus, Agios Nikolaos, Crete (Greece), Limassol (Cyprus), Rhodes, Mykonos, Nafplion, Piraeus, Athens (Greece), on the Seabourn’s Ovation for a personal celebration.
Thursday, July 29th we arrived in Athens, via Zurich, checked into the super classical (and perfectly located right in Syntagma Square) Hotel Grande Bretagne, and were given a tour of the hotel and invited to have a cocktail on their rooftop bar, with postcard perfect views of the Parthenon. Afterwards, we had a delicious traditional Greek dinner in Plaka, at Taberna Saita (Ταβέρνα Σαΐτα).
The next day, we had a private tour of the Acropolis. We went in as the doors opened, at 8am, to avoid both the scorching sun and the hordes of tourists. Amazing as it was, the Acropolis Museum was even more interesting, as it put all we had just seen in context. We spend the rest of the day wandering around Athens, mostly in Plaka, but we also saw the Parliament, the changing of the guard, the first Olympic stadium, etc. We ended the day inspecting the New Hotel (underwhelming art themed hotel).
Saturday we had breakfast at the amazing Chatzis Pâtisserie (Χατζή), right across from the hotel. Their sweets selection is really yummy! After breakfast, we walked to the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation (Ίδρυμα Β&Ε Γουλανδρή), with an interesting and very well displayed art collection. While most of the works were “minor” (well known artists, but unsigned works, sketches, and prints) some of the pieces were quite interesting. Feeling hungry for more art, we then walked to the Benaki Museum (Μουσείο Μπενάκη) for an extensive collection of Greek art and artifacts.
For lunch, we went to Café Avissinia (Καφέ Αβυσσινία), where we met some friends. They had just disembarked from the same cruise ship we were about to board, so they gave us some tips. Thanks, Bob and Francis!
Right after lunch we took a taxi from the hotel to the Piraeus port, to board the Seabourn’s Ovation, red carpet, champagne, and all. Time to enjoy and celebrate! Fortunately, the cruise was for vaccinated adults only. We were tested upon embarkation and disembarkation, and since nobody tested positive, we were allowed to cruise maskless. Nice!
Sunday, August 1st, we docked in Agios Nikolaos (Λιμάνι Αγίου Νικολάου), Crete. Since we will be returning to these seas in November, we decided to leave the cultural stuff for then, as the temperatures will be much more manageable, and this time concentrate on beaches and fun. I did some research on different beaches in each port of call. In Agios Nikolaos we took a short taxi ride to Almiros Beach (Παραλία Αλμυρός), a very nice beach with a tiny and super adorable cala if you walk to the North end of the beach, and a river with very cold water draining into the sea in the South end of the beach, which produces weird warm-cold microcurrents. We spent the rest of the day onboard, admiring some of the decent art the ship was exhibiting… including the “Coronavirus lamp” in the main Restaurant (see for yourself in the pictures).
Monday was a day at sea. We tried the excellent Sushi restaurant on board, and attended an underwhelming lecture by anthropologist Geoff Devito on “Island ingenuity and identity in the Greek Islands”.
Tuesday we were in Limassol (Cyprus) for a short while in the morning, so we chose the nearby Lady’s Mile Beach. Really long, quite empty and pebbly, the water was as transparent as I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s true that the temperature of the water in most beaches in Greece is nowhere near as warm as I like it, but it was warm enough to swim for an hour ;-) In the afternoon we were shown around the captain’s bridge, had tea in the observation room, and delicious lobster at the restaurant The Grill by Thomas Keller.
Wednesday we anchored near Rhodes, and tendered ashore. The medieval old town is a very pretty and picturesque area, turned into an outdoors souvenir shopping mall full of tourists. After a stroll, we decided to head to Elli (Έλλη) Beach, right in front of Rhodes casino. It’s a very long beach with tiny pebbles, and again amazingly transparent water.
Thursday was definitely our busiest day. We anchored off Mikonos, and tendered ashore, where we rented a convertible Mini, and beach hopped around the island. Kalo Livadi Beach (Καλό Λιβάδι), Super Paradise, Ornos (Ορνός) Beach where we had a good spanakopita, and my favorite Agios Ioannis Beach (Άγιος Ιωάννης). All the beaches were very glamorous and beautiful. Before returning onboard, we strolled around the very picturesque Mikonos.
Friday was the last day, the only cloudy day of the cruise. After a stroll around Νafplio (Ναύπλιο), we made use of the water sports platform. They had sailing, snorkeling, paddleboard, banana inflatable… We decided to subject ourselves to some self-punishment in the form of riding the high-speed doughnut.
All throughout the trip it was quite hot, but even worse was the Sun. Just like I remembered from my last trip to Athens in September 1999 (yes, the big earthquake, I remember very well), the Sun in Greece in Summer feels like a laser that burns instantly. So it was no surprise, but nevertheless still super sad, to see all those wildfires. We even smelled the smoke in a couple of ports.
When we got to the airport on Saturday, the air conditioning was not working because of those fires. And the place was fully and completely packed… A sign of things to come, I guess.
In any case, in late October and early November we will be back, invited to cruise on Regent’s Seven Seas Splendor from Istanbul to Athens. Can’t wait! But before that we still have to go to Paris, Copenhagen, Mälmo…