Monday, 29 August 2016

Albania and the Greek Islands

We sailed late afternoon on Thursday from Venice, and with a first full day at sea, we had time to explore the ship and find our way around then on Saturday we arrived in Albanian waters, and this stop was the substitute for Ephesus in Turkey which had been cancelled due to political unrest. It was a mystery to most of us – only being open to the world in the 1990s after the fall of Communism. We were taken by coach across country to an old fort – built 1804. (There seems to be a complete disregard for road rules here especially when parking!) It was quite interesting and picturesque however the country has a long way to go before it makes even two star tourism status.

Sunday the 7th – Corfu. Only a couple of hours sailing and we were docking in Corfu. This sightseeing tour took us diagonally across this beautiful island to a Monastery situated high on the clifftops by the sea. Only problem we had with this trip was the very serious guide. She had a very strong accent and a sing-song voice with ”a” added to every word. Very difficult to listen to for long stretches, and sadly, she tried to fill every second of the three hour trip! Ah well.

Monday, 8 August – Olympia (Katakolon) – Great excursion today, with an excellent good humoured guide.
We had about a half hour coach trip to the ancient Olympic site with its excavated ruins. Despite the heat, our guide directed us to the best shady trees – those with some excavated remains just right for sitting on. He pointed out the uses of the various buildings and stadiums and told some extraordinary stories from ancient writings about the actual games in those far off times. So different from the modern games. 
We were taken next to a restaurant and as well as traditional Greek lunch we were treated to four traditional Greek dancers showing us the old folk dances of their land. Of course, there was the ‘Zorba the Greek’ music and dance although we were told this is not a traditional Greek song/dance. One of the dancers even enticed Peter to join in, sadly the ancient Greek gods were on his side as my camera chose that particular time to run out of battery ‘juice’. His lucky day.

Tuesday, 9 August – Nafplion – We began with a walk around the old town, then went by coach about an hour’s drive away to the Corinth Canal. The tour included a boat ride through the very deep and narrow canal built back in the 1890s.
It must have been a wonder of its time, and cut about 100 miles sailing around the bottom of this big peninsula. Today’s ships, though, are too big to make use of the narrow canal and so it seems it is only used for tourism.

Wednesday – Athens. This was to be a 7 hour excursion and with the temperature predicted to reach the high 30s we were not especially looking forward to the climb up the Parthenon. However all went well and we managed the climb despite the heat and the crowds of other sightseers.

 The views were superb and the Acropolis and other nearby temples were awe-inspiring. By the time we made it back down and found our coach, we were ready for lunch. Not yet though – we had an hour’s guided tour through the National Archealogical Museum and I must say it has some absolutely wonderful gold exhibits from the very earliest times of the Minoan Empire as well as stunning Greek – and a few Roman – antiquities.

One that absolutely amazed us was this jaw-dropping one of a leaping horse with a small african slave mounted on top

Lunch was provided for us at a Radisson Hotel and it was lovely to sit and eat Greek food and chat to our fellow passengers. Our excursion ended with an hour’s shopping time before being taken back to the Oosterdam and cool air-conditioned relaxing bliss.  

Mykonos – Another very hot day and not one we were looking forward to surviving. It was, though, quite a lovely relaxing morning being driven around this island and hearing its history and stories. All houses (no higher than ground floor and an upper floor) are painted white with woodwork trim in a different colour but usually blue. Very simple architecture but really lovely to see when sited on the dry, and rocky hillsides with the very blue sea below. Inviting beaches with many beach umbrellas and sunbeds – unused at the early time we were there but very popular later in the day. We visited yet another monastery but this one now only used as a museum as the last monk departed this life several years ago. In the nearby square we were invited to sit and enjoy a glass of Ouzo and a plate of Greek savouries at a shady restaurant while chatting to fellow passengers. While I liked the savouries, I must say I didn't take to Ouzo - reminded me very much of a cough syrup my mother used to give me as a child - but good to try different tastes of the country you visit.

Nearly at an end to our Greek Odyssey now - Next episode we visit Rhodes and Santorini before we venture into Italian waters.

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