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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.
Gythion, the small port town for Sparta, edges its way up the hillside, which surrounds the harbor. According to Homer, Paris and Helen spent their first night together here, on a tiny islet in the bay. To commemorate the occasion, Paris erected a shrine to Aphrodite, goddess of love, only to have it torn down by the vengeful Menelaus after he recaptured Helen. In its place Menelaus erected statues honoring Praxidica (Punishment) and Themis (Justice). Not far away, at the tip of the Peloponnese, lies the Mani, a distinctive area unlike anything else in Greece. This desolate region of underground lakes and rivers and windswept landscapes is strangely beautiful. To the north of Gythion lie Sparta and Mystra, well worth a visit.
Lying along the north coast of Crete is Chania, the second largest city of the island. Chania is bordered by endless stretches of seashore, with inlets and islands of exotic beauty and sandy beaches tucked away at the foot of the island’s forbidding mountains. This is a self-sufficient region that is blessed with rich flora and fauna, as well as impressive gorges, holy caves, rivers and lush, green plains blanketed with citrus groves. The city of Chania is comprised of two sections, the old town and the larger modern city. Situated next to the old harbor, the old town is the focal point from which the urban area has developed. Some of the eastern and western parts of the original old Venetian fortifications from the 1500s that surrounded the town have survived and can still be seen.
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.
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.
A popular holiday and resort destination, Cesme is located on a promontory on the tip of a peninsula that carries the same name. The town itself is dominated by the medieval Cesme Castle, while the back streets invite a casual stroll with their old Ottoman and Greek houses that charm passers-by. South of the castle there is an Ottoman caravanserai built in 1528 that has since been transformed into a lovely boutique hotel, and check the Greek Orthodox church of Ayios Haralambos to see the current art exhibition. Along with the historical attractions, visitors will enjoy local pleasures, such as a dip in the thermal baths followed by the culinary delights of native fruits, artisan cheeses and local wines.
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.
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