Greece

In 2011 I took a luxury group tour to Greece & Turkey with Tauck. This was my fifth trip with Tauck and, as always, they did a fantastic job introducing me to two fabulous countries. I love Tauck for their attention to detail, their tour/free time balance, knowledgeable Tauck Directors and local guides, and their overall value for money being an all-inclusive company.

In 2011 Greece was going through a period of tense protests over the European economic crisis. When we booked this trip months in advance we could not have foreseen this crisis, but we arrived at the height of the protests in Athens. We were scheduled to stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens Syntagma Square, but because the protests were focused here and they had recently taken a violent turn, Tauck rebooked us at a fabulous seaside resort for the first two nights (our pre-night and the first night of our tour). This actually worked out for the best in my opinion because we were able to relax and lie on the beach after a long flight from the US; the prefect way to begin a holiday in the Aegean (this is another perk of traveling with a luxury tour operator, they take care of everything when an unforeseen event alters pre-arranged travel plans. We just got off the plane and were shuttled to the new hotel with no stress or worries about our safety).

Greece

Thankfully we were able to make it into Athens on day 2 for a tour of the city, and a visit to the Acropolis and the National Archeological Museum of Athens. The Acropolis did not disappoint…it towers over the center of Athens as it has for thousands of years. The Acropolis (literally ‘high town’) was a religious center long before Athens became a major city-state in the 6th century BC. The buildings were erected under the direction of Pericles during the city’s Golden Age in the 5th Century BC. These buildings included the Parthenon (as the loftiest point of the Acropolis this temple was dedicated to the God Athena but was really a reflection of Athens’ power at the time), the Beulé Gate (the entrance to the Acropolis complex), the Propylaea (built to instill the proper reverence in worshipers as they entered the complex), the Temple of Athena Nike (built to celebrate peace with Persia), and the Erechteion (a beautiful example of the Ionic order, this structure is much smaller in scale compared to the Parthenon, but is Athena’s most holiest shrine). We then had the rest of the day free to explore the city. While the violence had subsided in Syntagma Square, it was still full of people continuing to protest. We were able to experience this slice of Greek history by walking amongst the crowd and observing them from the safety of the hotel roof terrace that night. It certainly brought the economic crisis, and the effect it was having on the lives of the Greek people, to life for me. The protests were no longer just a news story on TV…

Acropolis

On day 3 we traveled to Epidaurus to see the well-preserved theatre of Epidaurus, built in the 4th century BC to seat 15,000 people. The acoustics in this theatre are still perfect and even in the last rows of the theatre you can hear every word from the stage. We spent the remainder of the day and overnight in Nafplion, a seaside Neo-classical town that is crowned by a hilltop fortress.

Epidauros

On day 4 we drove to Mycenae (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to see the imposing Lion Gate and tombs of this once rich and powerful ancient citadel. The most famous object found here was the golden Mask of Agamemnon. Mycenae is a rather challenging climb and on a hot, summer’s day be sure to bring plenty of water, sturdy walking shoes and a hat! From here we drove to the port to board the Wind Star, our home for the next week of our Aegean Island cruise portion of the tour. If you aren’t familiar with Windstar cruises, be sure to look them up. They specialize in beautiful four-masted schooner ships, designed to give guests (the ships only hold about 150 people) the experience of a luxury motor-sailing yacht. Staterooms were well designed, spacious, and all have ocean views. The common areas included a pool, hot tub, outdoor bar, fitness center, library and an activities deck where you could water-ski, kayak or swim when the ship was in port.

Wind Star

Our port-of-call on day 5 was Mykonos. We took a tour of the island to see its churches, squares, beaches, famous windmills, and of course the island’s mascot, Petros the Pelican; then had the rest of the day to wander the island as we wished. We chose to have a leisurely lunch in one of the town’s many outdoor taverns before walking the narrow streets of this charming island. I headed back to the ship a little early to enjoy the activities deck; I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim in the beautiful blue Aegean Sea! Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience the famed Mykonos night-life of this trip because we sailed overnight to the next destination…

Mykonos

Day 6 was our last day exploring Greece, but I think it was one of my favorites. Santorini has always been high on my list of places to visit and I woke up extra early to be sure I was on deck as we pulled into port at sunrise. We then traveled ashore by motor launch for an island tour that took us to Oia and Fira, the island’s capital. Fira is best known for its iconic blue-domed white buildings that overlook the port. With our free time we chose to visit the museum of Prehistoric Thera (the volcanic history of the island has always fascinated me, so this was the perfect place to absorb even more island history after our fabulous morning guided tour) and wander the streets shopping for local treasures. We made our way back down to the ship via cable car (not via the famed donkeys as they looked like a rather unpleasant way to travel on a very hot summer day).

Santorini

Our final Greek island was Rhodes on day 6. Here we took a guided tour of Rhodes medieval Old Town where we walked down the many cobblestone streets that led to columned ruins and temples dating back to the 2nd century. We also visited the Palace of the Grande Masters, first built by the Knights of Rhodes. We then had the rest of the day at leisure to explore the island. Back on board our ship we were treated to a performance of Greek folkloric traditions as we set sail for Turkey…

Rhodes

I’ll be writing about the Turkey portion of this trip in an upcoming post…