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Greece and Turkey, By Sea

Written by  Margery Weinstein

Panoramic views of waters ranging between royal blue and turquoise amid the archeological ruins of ancient Greece and Turkey is hard to top-unless, of course, you’re experiencing all this with a cruise ship as your base. JAX FAX visited seven Greek islands, Turkish ports and Athens on Louis Cruises in July, seeing first-hand the local culture, quaint island villages, ancient ruins and swimming in the pristine Aegean Sea. The seven-day Louis Cruises’ Idyllic Aegean cruise program was experienced onboard the Louis Cristal, a 480-cabin ship with two restaurants, two bars, a cafe, casino and amenities like a pool and jacuzzi, gym, spa and massage room, duty free shop and medical center. With so many excursions at each port to experience, however, it is the destination that takes center stage.

Archeological Treasures
From the port of Kusadasi, Turkey, it is a short drive to Selcuk where the ancient city of Ephesus is found. There you will see the remains of Roman baths dating back to the second century, AD, along with fixtures of the ancient town center such as the auditorium where meetings and musical performances occurred. Also visible are the original terra cotta pipes that comprised a sewer system. As you stroll among the remains of the city’s original columns and archways, you’ll also see the building thought to have been used as a pharmacy displaying an early use of the medical caduceus symbol and pass by a temple thought to date back to the fourth century BC. The site boasts terrace houses with colorful mosaic flooring dating from the first through the third century AD. You can walk through the remains of these homes, once owned by the wealthy.
On the Greek island of Milos, where the Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820, are the Christian catacombs and the ruins of ancient Melos and its Roman amphitheatre. Possibly older than Rome’s catacombs, this is where the island’s early Jewish converts to Christianity were buried. The tombs long since raided, there are no remains or artifacts left, but visitors will gain an understanding of the underground structures that were built in ancient times to house the dead.
At Skarkos, a prehistoric settlement on the Greek island of Ios that dates back to the Cycladic period of between 3,200 BC and 2,000 BC, you can climb the site’s stone tiers seeing along the way the remains of buildings where numerous artifacts have been unearthed.
On Santorini is Akrotiri, ruins that some archeologists believe could be part of the lost city of Atlantis. It was discovered on what is known as the island’s “caldera,” the rim of land that was left behind when a volcanic eruption removed the center of the ancient island, sinking it deep into the sea. A guide will explain the advanced civilization that lived there including its surprisingly complex sewer system and evidence of the citizens’ everyday lives.
From the Athens port of Lavrio, you can easily visit the Ancient Temple of Poseidon, created to appease Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, after Athens was named in honor of one of his rivals, the Goddess Athena. Alongside the remaining white columns and base of the temple where the British poet Lord Byron engraved his name in tribute, is a nearly 360-degree view of the Saronic Gulf and Cape Sounion.
From another Athenian port, Piraeus, visit the Acropolis and New Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis is what remains of the city center of ancient Greece, where the city’s earliest residents visited to worship their gods and where the royalty of the period lived. It is an unvarnished, authentic experience as the remaining structures have not been added to or changed in the name of restoration. The New Acropolis Museum houses artifacts found on the grounds of the Acropolis including statues and other art.

Island Charm
Hills of whitewashed cube houses with blue shutters, arches or roofs greet visitors to the Greek island of Mykonos. The island’s town center, known as Mykonos Town or Chora, is filled with shops offering local foods and crafts, and stores where visitors can buy high-end clothing and accessories. The most well known of the Greek islands, along with Santorini, Mykonos also has developed a reputation for its bustling nightlife. It’s the perfect spot to relaxingly stroll and shop during the day and then kick up your heels in the evening.
The Greek island of Samos is a good respite. If Mykonos is quaint, Samos is uber-quaint, and largely undiscovered. You can amble through its streets and not worry about bumping into another visitor or feel nudged to keep pace with the crowd. Samos also has the whitewashed buildings you’ll find in Mykonos, but there is also more color. Cafes facing the water have pink- and green- or orange-cushioned chairs and there are bright pink flowers hanging over your head from trellises.
Similarly, even many seasoned travelers are unfamiliar with the Greek island of Syros. The architecture of the city of Ermoupoli is what makes it a stand out. Particularly beautiful is its Anastassi Church with domed roof. The streets in Ermoupoli offer a change from the cube-like structures of Mykonos and Samos. The historic buildings have an imposing architecture more reminiscent of the rest of the Europe.
Santorini has more than its fascinating archeology to recommend it. Though packed with tourists, this famed island offers stunning views from both the water, as well as from land. Rich blue waters framed by the island’s “caldera” give visitors a first-and unforgettable-glimpse of Santorini. You can see buildings at the top of what amounts to a cliff, giving the impression of a city built right on the land’s edge. By cable car or donkey you can ascend to the highest point of the Santorini capital city of Fira. The shopping opportunities in Fira are impressive, but more impressive are the views of the island and the water on the cable car ride down.
Another place you’ll be tempted to linger is the island of Kos, home of the famous Greek doctor and philosopher Hippocrates. The mountain village of Zia with its memorable cathedral is not
to be missed.

Surf & Sun
Perhaps more off-the-beaten-path than Samos, Syros and Kos is the Greek island of Milos. From Milos, JAX FAX took a small boat to Kleftiko beach for swimming and snorkeling. The clear, turquoise waters are nearly as calm as a swimming pool, and surrounded by caves where centuries ago pirates hid their ships and treasures.
The Turkish port of Cesme also offers a great swimming and sunning experience. The Sole Mare Beach Club on Aya Yorgi Bay has ample seating and umbrellas and docks with ladders down to the calm water.
On the Greek island of Ios is Manganari beach, where you can swim with a slight current and then sunbathe after on
smooth sand.
Swimming in spectacularly clear blue and turquoise waters aside, the best relaxation to be had was back aboard the Louis Cristal. A signature experience: Lounging in the shade on deck, a comforting breeze blowing, watching the Greek land and seascape slide by.

Getting There
JAX FAX flew Delta Air Lines, operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, from JFK to Amsterdam, Netherlands, transferring to another Delta flight to Athens, Greece. Total flying time: 10 hours, 40 minutes.  On the return flight, JAX FAX flew Alitalia Airlines from Athens, Greece, to Rome Italy, transferring to a Delta Air Lines flight, operated by Alitalia, to JFK Airport. Total flying time: 11 hours, 50 minutes.

Before and after the cruise, JAX FAX stayed at the InterContinental Athenaeum Athens. Rooms were spacious, and guests can select from a variety of entertainment (TV, movies, etc.) available in English.
Aboard the cruise, JAX FAX had a room on the seventh deck that included a window, rather than a porthole, small sitting area with sofa and small table and a private bathroom. Niceties included housekeeping service both in the morning and at night to turn down the bed (and leave chocolates on the pillow). An extensive, complimentary breakfast buffet was available every morning. JAX FAX also enjoyed gourmet, multi-course lunches and dinners in the ship’s Olympus restaurant.  All meals on board are included (there is a charge for room service). Louis Cruises also has two economical “drinks packages,” one that includes alcoholic beverages and one that does not, commissionable to travel agents when purchased before the cruise. Wi-Fi, for a fee, is available near the reception area of the fifth deck, and in the common areas of the ship’s upper decks.  

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