It’s All Greek to Me!

With two very busy days behind us on the Israel portion of our world cruise on the Seven Seas Navigator, we anticipated a more leisurely pace on our shore excursion the next day in Limassol, the second largest city in Cyprus. It is the largest coastal resort on the island and is much older than you would think at first glance. And it has a rich history.

It has been inhabited since ancient times and has graves dating back to 2000 B.C. The history of Limassol is largely known for events surrounding the crusades, during which time Richard the Lionheart took English control of Cyprus. The castle of Limassol dates back to the 12th century and was restored in the 19th century. It looks like a medieval castle in a movie.

Only in this port for a single day we had to select which shore excursion would interest us most. With Nicosia being the capital city of Cyprus, we chose one called “Nicosia – The Last Divided Capital City.”

Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus for over 1,000 years and is the only capital city in the world divided by force (half Greek Cypriot and half Turkish Cypriot). The Green Line divides the city in two with the northern side being the capital of Northern Cyprus and the southern side being the capital of the Republic of Cyprus. This division does not seem to bother anyone.

The invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish Army and the occupation since 1974 of the northern part of Cyprus caused severe damages to the cultural property of the island, but archaeology soon recovered. Some 20 major excavations are now conducted by foreign missions every year and no less than six by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities.

The trip by coach from Limassol to Nicosia took approximately an hour with our first stop being St. John Cathedral. It was so-so. We were quite taken by the Cyprus Archaeological Museum’s wonderful exhibits. Then to an area where we could see the Green Line barrier that divides the city before going to Laiki Gitonia, a “must see and buy!” shopping area. Then it was back to the pier to board the ship for our overnight trip to Rhodes, Greece.

We woke up the next day to a clear, cool, bright day with a wonderful blue sky in Rhodes. It looked just like what Greece is supposed to look like. Our shore excursion for the day was called “Rhodes Culinary Delights,” and while we anticipated some good Greek food, we started off with a visit to the historic Grand Master’s Palace.

It was not my favorite historic site. It was old, stone, big, and had a courtyard with a well and it was situated on a hill overlooking the town. Been there, done that! Next, we visited the Old Town.

Off we went to a wonderful street of shops and cafes. Everything looked exotic and strange. There were ceramic cups for wine. You filled them to a painted line and then drank. Fine. You filled them above the line and the wine ran out the bottom! “How does it do that?” Of course we had to buy one.

The next day, we docked at Santorini, Greece. The excursion to this glorious Greek island in the Aegean Sea is really rugged, meaning there is a lot of climbing up steep, cobblestone streets in the two main towns of Oia and Fira. So I sent my favorite cub reporter to come back with the news.

Turns out it lived up to its reputation of being a beautiful island with whitewashed cubiform houses in its two towns, lots with bright blue domed roofs, doors and shutters. It is definitely a destination for hardy tourists with lots of euros for cheap and expensive souvenirs. One friend on the ship bought a $22,000 topaz and diamond bracelet! Brad bought four very nice t-shirts and a pair of gold colored earrings for a whole lot less. There are lots of little charming restaurants that cling to the side of the hills that were formed by volcanic action in the 16th century and overlook the sea.

That evening, the ship’s dinner was formal, so some of our friends decided to go in their Greek or Arabian souvenir costumes that they had recently bought! It was fun, a hoot and certainly a change of scenery.

Then, after an overnight sailing, we got to Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens. It is always a thrill to see the Parthenon at the Acropolis. It is also always a chore to climb up to the top on the stone steps, but one does what one has to. I made it as far as the entry portal at the top, found a stone bench and sat until it was time to descend. Those old Athenians were sturdy people! Going down is more scary than going up! The steps are stones and pretty slick from centuries of wear, even when they are dry.

At the bottom of the hill of the Acropolis and up the street a couple of blocks is the New Acropolis Museum, a modern building containing findings of the archaeological site and established in 2009. It receives more than 1 million visitors a year. It is very well done and we found it most interesting. Also interesting: Outside the museum was a vendor selling roasted ears of corn. At the foot of the Acropolis! Just like the Kentucky State Fair.

After a three-block walk up a steep hill, we enjoyed a traditional Greek lunch in a charming restaurant. You can never have too much Greek salad, spanakopitas, souvlaki and moussaka. Oh yummy. That said, there is no such thing as a great Greek wine.

Then three blocks back down the hill, we went to a four-block long Plaka and did a little souvenir shopping before heading home to the ship.

The next morning, we docked at Gythion, a Greek town and the seaport for Sparta 25 miles up the road to the north. Our shore excursion took us to the interesting Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. A detailed display of the cultivation of olive trees along with lots of old olive oil pressing and processing equipment was very well done.

We then drove to a grand statue of Leonidas, the king of Sparta around 490 B.C. An early winner of the Kentucky Derby was named Leonidas, owned by cousins who had been Confederate Civil War officers. They bought a horse farm with their winning “purse” and named it Leonidas. Eventually, it was sold to my grandparents in the early 1920s. I always wondered where they got that name.

Moving on, the next day was one to explore Zakynthos, an island in the Ionian sea. The name, like all similar names ending in “nthos,” is pre-Mycenaean or Pelasgian in origin. (What a mouthful!) In Greek mythology, the island was said to be named after Zakynthos, the son of the legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus. It is a tourist destination with an international airport served by charter flights from Northern Europe.

It has a pre-historic Greek cemetery or necropolis with tombs and mausoleums that have been opened. They are decorated inside with paintings of the period. Not sure what they did with the bones!

We stopped for lunch at a charming country restaurant.

Mid-afternoon, we set sail for Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. VT

Photos Courtesy of Carla Sue Broecker.