Saturday, June 14, 2008

SAILING ON THE SEVEN SEAS

I spent the last 7 days taking a dream excursion that literally started in the "Cradle of Western Civilization." The people at Regent Seven Seas Cruises invited me to be a part of their 2008 Circle of Interest Enrichment Program. They provided the luxury cruise while I held up my part of the bargain to wine, dine, and entertain guests on the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn't think of a better way to jump-start the summer. The Seven Seas Cruise started in Piraeus, the main port of Athens, Greece. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, Piraeus received a modern face-lift; the port is now exclusively designated for passenger boats. Many Greek composers and singers have crooned about this city. Apparently Piraeus reflects the "Nostos", a Greek word that means "return" - much like missing one's country. Nostos evokes the idea of yearning to get back to the place where one belongs. Countless numbers of Greek seamen have departed from the port of Piraeus leaving sorrowful wives, girlfriends, mothers, and children mourning for their return.

"Old Major" by Thomas Schuman
When in Athens, one must see the Acropolis. It's importance within the Western world is continually validated by the multitudes of tourists who visit it on a daily basis. If you've never seen the Acropolis, check out the Acropolis 360 Panorama Tour. North of the Acropolis is Plaka, the old town area of Athens - one of the favored neighborhood villages. My family and I had a great dinner of mezzas and several other Greek dishes at Adriannos. We were also able to tour the open air meat and fish market; it is a different food scene for Americans because you can purchase whole fish and animals. Finally, our visit was topped off with a refreshing glass of champagne on the rooftop at the Grande Bretagne hotel.


"Boy and Old Woman" by Kristen Bazell"
We set sail to the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi. It is said to host beautiful rays of sunshine 300 days out of the year. This, of course, is great for the Kusadasi people because it makes for a long tourist season. The town in fact is a tourist mecca that typically holds far more tourists than it does locals. Visitors can have fun with jeep safaris, horse safaris, Turkish Nights (belly dancers), aqua-parks, scuba diving, and Turkish baths. We also got a sobering glimpse of Turkey by taking a trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. It was here that we were able to see the Virgin Mary's last home and the Basilica of St. John (the apostle John is the writer of the Fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation). You can imagine - restoration for an ancient city like Ephesus is always ongoing. The efforts are highly appreciated. It gives you a great perspective of what an anicent port city would have looked like during its peak.

"Santorini Postcard" by Scott Photos on Flickr.com
Our stay in Kusadasi ended in no-time before we headed southwest to reach our second destination located 63 nautical miles north of Crete. The southern most island of the Cycladic group (30 islands) in the Aegean Sea is Santorini. In the words of my son Jim, the city "appears to be in Hi-Def." It is so crisp in its color contrast. It has a spectacular view. Perhaps one of the best things about Santorini is its gastronomic delights. All of the locally grown products are enhanced by the volcanic soil and the full spectrum of the Aegean sun and sea breeze. Vegetables like the small white eggplant and waterless tomatoes are unique to Santorini. Traditional dishes include tomato balls, various stews, and soups married with eggplants, tomatoes, onions and capers, apoxti (cured ham), sausages, wild rabbit with fresh cheese, brantada (cod fish fillet), and saffron bread.
"Dreaming of Santorini" by Ed Pien
Saffron also plays an interesting role in one of the more popular and potent drinks called Citron on the island of Naxos (our third stop). Citron is a unique Naxos beverage made from the fragrant Mediterranean fruit by the same namesake. Some varieties of this 36% acoholic drink are tinted with saffron. Besides the glorious citron groves, Naxos is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Greek islands. In fact, the sand is so special they actually export some of the sand so it can be manufactured for sandpaper. Besides the tourist magnet beaches, other parts of Naxos still maintain remnants of unspoiled beauty like the little village of Halki. Do a little hunting, and you can find a red tiled church called Panayia Protothronos (Our Lady Before the Throne) which is covered in 800 year old frescos.

Naxos Cafe by jpegg77 at Flickr.com


Naxos was the last stop for the Greek-
Turkish portion of the cruise. In the next blog entry, I'll take you to Italy and finally Monaco where the cruise ended.