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Piraeus has been the port for Athens since 482 BC. The busy harbor is filled with ferries and cruise ships making their way to the Greek Islands and other Mediterranean cities. The busy metropolis of Athens and its treasure trove of antiquities lie just a few miles from the port. Even as the reality of the modern city took hold, with its high-rise apartments, crowded sidewalks and bustling traffic, the beauty of the Acropolis, the outstanding museums, charming cafés, sidewalk markets and startling views come together in a cultural mosaic for all to enjoy.
Deserted for centuries because of constant raids by pirates and the Turks, this tiny arid island was first settled in 1088 when the Emperor of Constantinople made it a gift to the monk Christodoulos Latrnos so that he could establish a monastery in honor of St. John the Divine on the site. Patmos has been a place of scholarship and religious enlightenment ever since. Today this modern pilgrimage site is a quiet respite from the tourist havens many other Greek isles have become.
This charming village of white houses climbing up the slopes is beautifully situated on the sparkling Gulf of Mirabello. The attractive Venetian harbor is surrounded by restaurants, outdoor cafes and clusters of shops selling everything from necessities to souvenirs. The ship docks in the center of town, and you are able to wander at will and enjoy the atmosphere of Crete’s foremost resort.
Kusadasi, which means “bird island,” is set in a superb gulf known for its sparkling water, broad sandy beaches and large marina. The city has managed to retain a certain earthiness while doing a brisk trade in Turkish carpets and leather goods to visitors. The town’s old quarter is a picturesque maze of winding streets and houses adorned with flowers and birdcages. In the center stands a 17th-century caravanserai, now converted into a hotel. The resort is also gateway to important sites of archaeological and religious interest.
The quintessential Greek island of Mykonos is marked by whitewashed houses, domed churches, imposing windmills, and a labyrinth of winding streets designed to disorient pirates. Everywhere there is a dash of bright, bold blue – doors, shutters and window frames, sea and sky. The harbor bustles with colorful fishing boats, vendors selling fish and locals gathered with visitors in the casual seaside cafes. The port even comes with two beloved mascots, the pelicans Petros and Irini.
The lively island of Skiathos, one of the Sporades, boasts no less than 60 inviting beaches around its perimeter. Many of these have been developed and are easily reached by taxi or bus, while others remain more isolated and require transport by boat. The island’s medieval Kastro, high atop a hillside, once protected 30 churches and 300 houses from various invaders. No organized excursions are available. Please check on board for suggestions.
This tiny island 12 miles off the Turkish coast embodies the ideal of the “hidden gem.” Its harbor is dominated by a sprawling crenelated fortress with Byzantine, Venetian, Genoese and Ottoman provenance. Its compact town invites visitors to explore winding cobblestone streets with no other objective than to immerse themselves in the antique atmosphere. There is no compelling attraction here other than the picturesque, but unpretentious charm of a quiet, unspoiled haven. Its small museum is the creation of a loving amateur, Hakan Guruney, who often personally leads visitors through his collection of objects and memorabilia recollecting his island’s, and in many ways his nation’s history. Much of the island’s fifteen square miles is dedicated to vineyards producing both red and white varietals. Ayazma beach offers clear water, although freshwater springs keep the water chilly even in the summer heat. At the peninsular Polente Feneri, a white lighthouse is guarded by a picket of modern, three-bladed windmills. Local flavors worth tasting are red poppy syrup and a luscious tomato jam you won’t find anywhere else.
Spanning Europe and Asia, exotic Istanbul is one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Domes and minarets enhance the skyline. In the old Stamboul area, traces remain of every city built since the community was established over 600 years before Christ. Once Rome’s eastern capital, Istanbul was also the center of the huge Ottoman Empire. Landmarks include Hagia Sophia, once Christendom’s greatest church; the Blue Mosque with its striking Iznik tiles; Topkapi Palace, containing a sultan’s ransom of treasures; Chora Church with its Byzantine mosaics; and the Grand Bazaar, the ultimate shopping experience.