VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY REVIEW . . . An art, history and cultural cruise-tour to the ancient world
Babbie De Derian, travel, food & spa editor
If you are looking for a unique, effortless and affordable way to tour ancient civilizations, I highly recommend a Voyage to Antiquity with the 350 passenger Aegean Odyssey as your seafaring chariot.
I have taken many cruises; this is the first where carefully selected tours to important and well preserved ancient civilizations (including World Heritage Sites) take precedence over shipboard activities.
Voyages to Antiquity have re-invented the cruise experience. Inspired by “The Middle Sea”, authored by Lord John Julius Norwich, the philosophy behind this modern concept is to offer sophisticated travelers unparalleled destination experiences in a smaller more personal environment. The Aegean Odyssey is comfortable and intimate with a swimming pool, hot tub and spa... My cabin with balcony was quite spacious with well -separated beds, a sitting area and plenty of closet space for two.
The extremely well-priced cruise packages include: airfare from 60 gateway cities, two nights hotel stay pre-embarkation, all shore excursions, gratuities, wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner . . . plus three night’s hotel stay and tours in the port of disembarkation. Single friendly, with 16 designated single cabins and a minimal 10-15% supplement; it’s a great incentive to travel solo.
My recent 7 night odyssey from Athens to Istanbul was a university level crash course in the history, mythology, art and culture of the Greek, Roman and Ottoman Empires. I received a recommended reading list weeks before my departure; Oxford Professor Dr.Thomas Mannack’s evening lectures prepared us for tour highlights; the ship’s library had an impressive collection of books on ancient civilizations … and a historian met us in every port. The only ship with quiet boxes, worn around our necks, made listening easy. Most passengers take all the tours, but there are daily onboard activities if you decide to pass on a few. Personally, I enjoyed wandering-around town, and in every port I discovered a family owned restaurant that elevated my appreciation of Greek and Turkish food.
The overnight in Kusadasi, and the late sailing from Mykonos, allowed time to shop, swim and enjoy the nightlife. And, the clear Aegean Sea welcomed the ship with gentle waves as we cruised from port to port.
Swiss Air to Athens via Geneva in Business class delivered attentive service, a delicious meal and a good night’s sleep on a new flat bed.
I taxi to the beautiful seafront Westin Hotel Resort & Spa, go for a refreshing swim, have a deep tissue massage, and then dine on fresh fish grilled to perfection.
First night on board, it’s meet- and- greet in the Marco Polo Restaurant; their four course menu changes daily.
This picturesque port; steeped in history and long connected to the sea, is named after the Argonaut son of Poseidon. Buses transport us to two World Heritage sites: Epidaurus, a city sacred to the god of medicine, Asclepius in the 6th century BC and Agamemnon’s Mycenae, one of the most highly developed Mycenaean civilizations.
The Garden Restaurant cooled by mist spraying fans, it is a delightful retreat after our morning tours. We devour platters of delicately seasoned lamb, lemon and olive oil roasted potatoes and fresh from the garden salads. A bottle of Greek wine compliments our feast. Fotis, the owner surprises us with fresh fruits and homemade deserts
The sun rises over mountainous Crete, the largest Greek island. Its 6,000 caves and 3,000 villages connect mythology and history. We dock in Chania; NATO’s naval base is in the harbor. During WWII, the 10 day Battle of Crete against German troops was fought in May 1941; 300 young soldiers are buried in the World Cemetery of Allied forces.
We visit the archeological Museum of Crete to learn about the Minoan Civilization (2,000 -1600 B.C.) Clay tablets, discovered by Sr. Anthony Allen are being deciphered in an attempt to read Minoan script. Ancient gold coins shine in glass cases. This is an island of many cities and in early times, each minted their own gold coin.
Sacred Delos, windswept and isolated, was a sanctuary for priests until the 5th century, and an important center of Eastern civilization. Many myths were born on Delos; I walk the magnificent Avenue of Stone Lions, guardians of the “sacred lake” where Leto, Zeus’s second wife reputedly gave birth to the twin gods, Apollo and Artemis According to mythology, the Sun God had to fight continuously to assure the dawn of a new day. The hot wind whips the air into eerie musical sounds.
It is a short cruise from Delos to the white washed and blue shuttered island of Mykonos. We spend hours checking out trendy shops, swim at a crowded beach, and then regroup for a family style dinner at a seafront restaurant. Passing platters of Greek appetizers, chicken, fish and lamb, we toast our good fortune with many bottles of white and red wine.
The Archaeological Museum houses artifacts from the excavation of Heralon, the sanctuary to Hera. Samos, an important naval base in the fifth century is now famous for its production of Muscat wines.
In the afternoon, we sail to Kusadasi on the Turkish Mainland. We dock for the night to visit the ruins of Aphrodsias (named after Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love). Many say it rivals Ephesus as the most well- preserved ancient site in the world. At night we spend hours in The Grand Bazaar, making friends with jewelry, rug and clothing shop owners, enjoy fresh fish grilled in lemon and olive oil at Ali Baba, and then check out the Irish Pubs.
Ephesus, in it’s hey day, was on par with Athens and Rome; only 20% of the city has been excavated; it will take 300 more years to complete the project. We walk along original marble roads, traversed by horse drawn chariots and carriages, and watch archeologists clean and fit excavated pieces together like jigsaw puzzles. This was a highly educated civilization with Philosophy, Psychology and Literature Colleges and a magnificent library. We follow “doctors walk”, lined with statues … Adrian was the first to have an Evgyptian wife , other followed as they brought rich dowries with them In the 2nd Century the rukle in Parliam pass through Hercules Gate of Separation, where the 15% upper class lived … and rest in the 14,000 seat Greek tragedy theatre, now used for rock concerts.
Sultan’s of Restaurant owners Nazih Koroco and Arzu Kolender run to the market to buy the fish they will cook for our pleasure, set a lovely table in the garden facing the sea, and then overwhelm us with platters of delicious meats, fish and salads, arranged like colorful works of art.
Troy or Gallipoli, the site of many military operations throughout history; are on today’s schedule. Archaeological excavations verify the epic poetry of Homer who tells of a ten year war at Troy dating back to the 13th Century. Allied powers chose the Gallipoli peninsula to launch an invasion of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Losses were high on both sides, and the area is now a National Park with 31 cemeteries and six memorials. I discover B.H. Anderson’s tombstone, the only American who fought, and died at age 21.
Evenings back on board are casual and relaxing. Dinners on the Terrace Restaurant deck, watching a crimson sunset, are memorable; the buffet and serving stations bountiful, and the made to order pizza and pastas, delicious. A great way to end a fascinating day is in the Ambassador Lounge, sipping the “cocktail of the day” … my favorite: The Aegean is a blend of amaretto, rum, apricot brandy, vodka and fruit punch.
Professor Thomas Mannack tells me: “If I had to pick a route, this is the one I would choose. It is always good to see in person, what I have been lecturing about. You always see and learn much more. This is my 2nd cruise; both are perfect … the right kind of people on the trip … interested, intelligent, and willing to wander through the sites for three hours”.
Monday morning, July 11th
Captain Panaglotis Giakoumatos‘s voice comes over the loud speaker thanking passengers for sharing the seas”. I leave my packed bags inside my cabin and disembark without the confusion of identifying my bags in a sea of luggage. Buses and guides are waiting for the city tour. When I check into The Ritz Carlton, my bags are awaiting my arrival.
For me, Voyages to Antiquity “delivered more than promised”, from the Golden Age of Athens to Minoan Crete and the flourishing of Greek culture in Delos, Mycenae and Ephesus to the Byzantine and Islamic treasures of Istanbul; this remarkable journey enhanced my life.
Voyages to Antiquity’s November 15th - 25th, 2011 Red Sea Itinerary is intriguing. Ports of call include: Jordan, Egypt, the Suez Canal, Lebanon and Cyprus, with overnights in Amman, Petra & Luxor.
Their 2012 Brochure features a unique array of 21 voyages and six new itineraries to France and Spain. For information about the itineraries and to make reservations, call (877) 398-1460 or visit www.voyagestoantiquity.com.