Archive for the Category Travels

 
 

ITALY: Grand Delights PART II

NAPLES–Compania

City of Naples, the Bay, Mt Vesuvius

City of Naples, the Bay, Mt Vesuvius

The panoramic tour of Naples does much to eradicate the judgement of too many visitors that the city is a “hole.” The stops for photographs help us see the beauty of the city, the Gulf of Naples, and the spectre of Mt. Vesuvius (referred to as “the friend” by many Napolese). Our magical bus driver for the grand tour, Raffaele, from Naples, gets us through the traffic as only a native to the city can. We cannot believe how cars, trucks, and buses have to wrestle with Vespas (with as many as three passengers on the back of the scooters) winding wildly through traffic and skipping red lights.

Sorrento–Campania

Sunrise at Sorrento

Sunrise at Sorrento

The twisting, mountainous roads to and from Sorrento offer spectacular landscapes and seascapes. Sorrento has its own charms that make it the important resort community it is.

ISLE OF CAPRI


The ferry ride from Sorrento to Capri was uneventful for our group, but the boat ride around the Isle of Capri offers special perspectives on this famous rock of an island. Sailing around the island offers peeks into grottos that others chose to swim through to explore interior ponds. We looked in vain to see any sandy beaches on the Isle of Capri. We finally broke down to hobble over a stony beach to the waterside to plunge into cold, salty water for a refreshing swim.

CALABRIA REGION

Leaving Campania for Calabria

Leaving Campania for Calabria

Mountains of Calabria

Mountains of Calabria

Heading south toward Sicily, the drive through the Calabrian region is a bit long by bus, but worthwhile for noting the changing geographical features of Southern Italy from familiar landscapes associated with northern and central Italy. Mountains on both sides going south have unusually fertile, lush orange and olive groves despite the lack of rivers and streams. The water sources to nourish the orchards and crops must come from artesian wells, cisterns, and subterranean waterways and caves systems. We understand the numerous caves among these mountains have been traditional hiding places for criminals and kidnap victims. Desert conditions intensify as we cross the countryside and even more so in Sicily. Elaborate irrigation systems allow for every conceivable crop to flourish.

ISLAND OF SICILY

TAORMINA, Sicily

TAORMINA, Sicily

The island of Sicily is beautiful from start to finish. Seaside communities such as Messina, Taormina, Agrigento, Syracuse and Palermo please the eye as mountains are juxtaposed to the seasides of sandy beaches. Interior places such as Mt. Etna (the highest volcano in Europe) or the rolling hills surrounding Piazza Amerino are welcoming and rich with vegetation.

MT. ETNA, Sicily

Initial view of Mt. Etna volcano

Initial view of Mt. Etna volcano

After recent lava flow

After recent lava flow

Mt. Etna offers spectacular views from the top of the long and winding road up the mountain, of the surrounding towns that skirt the bottom of this great, active volcano, and of the seashores beyond. The climb is significant: our tour bus can get us half way up the mountain; a gondola takes up another quarter of the way up; a all-terrain jeep-bus takes us to the highest point on ash (not paved) roads; a guide takes us walking just below the summit (well into the clouds and cold with winds blowing the clouds so that we have a clear view). The ascent is so slow and revealing of lava rivers from previous eruptions, that we realize eruptions are unpredictable with every step we take over warm ash and around smoking fissures. Witness the building buried in lava from an eruption in the last five years.

By the time we are in the middle of our journey through Sicily, travel fatigue and information overload create doubts about what more we can handle in the final days of the second week. Thankfully we push on for there is much to see and remember. An impressive superhighway speeds our bus through the Sicilian countryside. The only thing is: every so often the highway seems to end. The bus moves onto a paved shoulder lane for a minute or so and then continues along a finished expressway. Politics apparently is the culprit. Depending on the party in power (socialist, conservative, or the mafia), road construction seems to stop and start and end.

SYRACUSE, Sicily

Grotto is quarry for stones for Amphitheatre

Grotto is quarry for stones for Amphitheatre

Greek ampitheatre facing stage and harbour

Greek ampitheatre facing stage and harbour

Our guide in Syracuse offers an interesting historical context to make our stroll memorable through the Greek theatre (which is circular for meetings and theatre in the round) and the amphitheatre (which once held audiences of thirty to forty thousand to watch trilogies of Greek tragedies). The amphitheatre offers glorious views of the harbour as dramatic background to the stage.

I am fascinated that people can carve a piece of wood into recognizable and beautiful art pieces. Learning how Athenian prisoners found themselves in the quarry at Syracuse chiselling stones to be used in the theatre and the amphitheatre defies comprehension. A unique grotto from antiquity, named Dionysius’ Ear by a visiting Carrivagio a few centuries ago, set up a challenge for the Canadians touring the site. The grotto is a short, but high tunnel which Carravagio noted offers extraordinary acoustics. The guide encouraged one of us to sing a song so that we could appreciate how sound carries here. One brave soul sang out in a beautifully controlled voice the national anthem of Canada. Dionysius would have been pleased.

AGRIGENTO, Sicily (The Valley of Temples)

The Valley of Temples is one of the most beautiful places anywhere. The big picture is this: a modern city called Agrigento sits on a hilltop which towers over the Valley of Temples. The valley is a plain with rich grasses and mature trees across this flat space. The valley, in turn, towers over a valley below it that stretches out to a beautiful seascape.

Greek politicians in ancient times who settled in Agrigento set out to build a series of temples here that would outclass the temples of Athens and Delphi. Unlike the Temple of Athena atop the acropolis in Athens and the Temple of Zeus below the acropolis, the setting in Sicily evokes a sacredness of place, such as we might feel in the Garden of Eden if we could be transported there in time and space. Late afternoon is kind to the ruins of sandstone. No cold marble here. Warm, vulnerable structures are spread apart on this green campus inviting all to see and reflect upon past people, events, and communities. Thoughts turn to the blinding ambitions of the political leaders who centuries before demanded the construction of these public buildings.

The restoration of the Temple of Concordia from 500 B.C. makes visible the perfection that was impossible to replicate in the restoration of the vainglorious Temple of Heracles. The plan for this last temple was more elaborate than for any structure in antiquity. The partially recovered pieces of the giant Atlas figure (one of many once used to hold up the temple’s roof) lies fallen on the dusty, brown earth (again, no marble here) creating profound pathos and contemplation of the futility of human vanity. The scene echoes the criticism in Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” In that poem, Ozymandias, a vainglorious leader in the ancient past had a monument of his likeness constructed to last forever. Years later, only “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert” along with a pedestal which boasted the following words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The paradisal setting of the Valley of Temples, by contrast, infuses the ruins and modern viewers with more sadness than criticism.

PIAZZA AMERINO, Sicily (Roman Villa from 400 A.D.)

Piazza Amerino beckons visitors to see the fascinating restoration of a supremely luxurious Roman Villa. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, the Roman Villa is well worth a study of lively marble-tiled mosaics along the animal-themed corridors of the rich, and the remarkable geometric-designed floor tiles on the corridors used by the slaves.

The 4th century A.D. villa contains within its walls large reception rooms, numerous family rooms and guest rooms, gymnasia, a basilica, entertainment rooms, hot and cold running water, and huge kitchens appropriate for a great country estate.
The floor tiles in the women’s gymnasium offer a startling image of how life has not changed—or how the past comes full circle in modern times. Six or seven different women in bikinis are shown playing a variety of sports: running, volleyball, aerobic exercises with hand weights. There is even an image of a woman being crowned with a laurel and handed a flower bouquet for her victory in a competition.

PALERMO, Sicily

Palermo, Sicily’s largest city, deserves time. It is a glorious city embraced by high mountains and the sea—as has been the case in many places we visited throughout Italy. The world-famous Byzantine mosaics of the cathedral at Monreale that we visited just outside Palermo may be outdone by the chapel at the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo itself. The Arab and Norman architectural elements in the city’s buildings are striking contrasts to the many Greek and Roman structures throughout Sicily. Our encountering of gorgeous 18th century buildings in neoclassical style drove home the point of this marvelous city. Spend time here.

Time ran out for us. As much as Sicily and all of Italy delighted us over two weeks of the Grand Tour, our farewell luncheon of Sicilian cuisine signaled the end of our wonderful trip.

Italy: Grand Delights PART I

My wife and I encountered the charms of Italy ten years ago during a tour titled “Romantic Europe: Paris to Rome”. So the surprises in Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Rome this year were few. It was the hilltop towns of Siena, Assisi, and San Marino and all of Sicily that delighted us in unexpected ways. Books and films set in Italy do raise expectations sometimes that are likely to disappoint. Eat, Pray, Love, for example, regardless of the obvious differences between story and reality, nonetheless, raises an expectation for travellers of experiencing first-rate food every day, a rekindling of faith, and fresh intimations of romantic love. Romantics beware: delicacies, spirituality, and passion are not guaranteed in Grand Tours of Italy. Every stop on our current Grand Tour of Italy from the top of the boot to the toe enriched our souls through the beauty of the landscapes and seascapes, the architecture, the sculptures and paintings, the food and wine, and the insights into the ancient and modern history of the country. The sketchy notes that follow trace the itinerary of our recent two-week journey.

ROME

Trevi Fountain

Rome springs to life in the September sun. Our hotel is in walking distance of Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navoni. Strolling past high-end shops and people-watching along the way make every step worthwhile. Even getting lost, heading back to our hotel at night because we stopped at the gelateria after dinner, has its rewards. Under the stars, Trevi Fountain takes on new life. The lighting on the sculptures of water gods and horses and rockery at night highlight so much detail lost in the daytime sun. During the day, Trevi Fountain feels crowded; at night the blazing splendor helps you forget the crowds are there.

SIENA—Tuscany

Piazza del Campo

The drive north into Tuscany becomes fascinating with the tour guide’s succinct, helpful mini-history of the hilltop towns. Siena does not disappoint. The surprise is the town square is a circle, a “campo.” Stopping at a café on a hot afternoon is great entertainment: first, we watch young people stretching out on the sloping campo as if suntanning at a beach; second, we engage an employee of the café on her break in conversation about the cost of living in Siena, why shopping in Florence is so good, and recent legal cases headlining local newspapers. As we chat, we look onto the campo at the centre of Siena. The campo has a ring of cement columns, four or five feet tall, around the perimeter. The marble walking path on the outside of the columns just in front of the cafés becomes the sand-covered track for bareback horse racing twice in the summer. Citizens and tourists pay a lot of money to watch the race, standing room only, from the centre of the campo (on the inside of the columns). The two races are taken very seriously by the various parishes in Siena and much civic planning goes into arranging the races and the accommodation for so many visitors. Pope Benedict requested a ticket for one of the races but had to be refused because of the burden of security on Siena’s busiest days of the year. I love it: you’re the Pope and you can’t get a ticket to the races!

FLORENCE—Tuscany

Michelangelo's DAVID

Admittedly Michelangelo’s “David” is the “whole package” in Florence. Impressive as the replica is on top of the hills overlooking the city or the copy in Piazza Della Signorio near the Uffizi Museum, the original at the Accademia is the world’s most famous sculpture because it is a feast for every eye from every angle. Dazzled by the brilliant accomplishment of Michelangelo, we move forward on the streets of Florence only to encounter a new phenomenon as we turn a corner. On posts probably set up for chaining bicycles, we see lovers’ locks (padlocks) attached any whichway by couples who wish to offer a sign of total commitment to one another. Police try to remove the locks overnight.

CHIANTI WINERY—Tuscany

Hostess talks Vino

Visiting a Chianti winery, Fattorio il Poggio, just south of Florence became an unforgettable evening. The charms of our hostess prevail through the informative walk into the vineyard, the stop in the processing room for olive pressing, the casual insights shared on pine nuts and bay leaves and pistachio trees on our way to the tables set up for wine tasting and dinner. Oh, what a party: superb wines, fine olives and olive oil dips, lively discussions on the merits of each wine, music that whips everyone from the tables, winery staff joining the festivities and starting “bunny hops” out of the dining room into the evening darkness under umbrella pine trees and into starlight winding our way back to our tables.

VENICE—Cannaregio district

Bridge over Cannaregio Canal

Bridge over Cannaregio Canal

In Venice, our most northern stop, we are disappointed that our hotel at the centre of the city is overbooked, but delighted with the first-class dining at that hotel after our sail around the city and our ride in the gondola. Hotel Bonvecchiati hosts what turns out to be the major highlight in Italian cuisine on our tour. As if the dinner experience is not enough, we stay in a renovated convent in the Cannaregio neighbourhood that is most pleasant and modern and convenient. The next morning our guide meets us at our hotel, leads us on a walking tour few people take, and offers many insights into the charms and challenges of living in this historic city. We meet locals going to and from work, labourers plying their trades along the canals, locals dropping into small cafês and shops. We seem to be the only tourists in Cannaregio. We enjoy a pleasant rest in the Jewish Ghetto, where we see one of the first banks in Venice and learn how Napoleon enabled the Jewish community to become a vibrant section of the Cannaregio district. The guide comments on and answers questions about all we see along the way of our forty-minute stroll to the Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Square, and the Grand Canal.

SAN MARINO–Republic near the Adriatic Sea

As we start our southern journey through Italy, who would believe the oldest and the third smallest republic in the world after the Vatican and Monte Carlo, is San Marino, seated at the top of one of the mountains along the Appenine range, the “spine” of Italy. This gem, south of Venice and east of Florence near Rimini on the Adriatic Sea, offers easily the most beautiful landscapes—morning, noon, and night.

ASSISI–Umbria

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

On our way back to Rome for the start of the second week of the tour, we stop at Assisi, the home of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy. The initial view of Assisi, nestled in the middle of a lush, green hillside, is unforgettable. In the rain, a pink texture comes through the stonework of the town; in brilliant sunshine, the consistency of the sand-coloured stone of the houses and public buildings integrates elements of medieval and renaissance and Romanesque architecture seldom seen anywhere. As we leave a place of sacredness to the Italian people of faith, the organic unity of the whole town makes it stand out as a jewel in the Umbrian countryside.

POMPEI–Campania

The surprise of Pompei, lost to the world in the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, is the effect of the restoration on visitors. As interesting as the tour guide is on the past and present history and restoration of this extraordinary place, I am stunned by the reality that ordinary people once lived in ordinary houses we see, worked at the various business places, and walked the stone streets we are walking on. I still feel the stones of the roadways, I recall impressions of two-story villas, bakeries, gymnasia, colossal temples, and the brothel frescoes. During the visit itself, the real horror of what happened to the parents and children and the animals as a result of the catastrophe shut me down emotionally, suffocating the words of the guide, blocking the warmth and brilliance of the sun. I should have bought the brochure on Pompei: today I just might be able to absorb the details

Blog #9 WHY LESS IS MORE

W

We planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

 

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

 

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

 

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands.   A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

 

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

 

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

 

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

 

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

 

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level.   Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

 

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

 

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.

e planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands. A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level. Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.

Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon Tour

Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Grand Canyon Plus

mountains-canyons