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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.
Nicknamed “The Isle of the Aromas”, Spetsai is a delight to all of the senses. The island’s historic old town is a yachtsman’s paradise, boasting a stunning harbor, quaint shops and some of the finest restaurants in the Saronic Gulf. The rest of the island is relatively unpopulated and is ringed by a single road, along which you can travel in a horse-drawn carriage. As you pass by quiet, rolling hills, be sure to pause at one of the many quiet coves along the way to refresh yourself with a dip into the cerulean waters.
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 “green island” of the Northern Sporades is nearly half covered in pine forest. According to mythology, it was created by Dionysus, and in ancient times was famous for its wines, a heritage of settlers from Crete. Wine production is greatly reduced now, after a disastrous phyloxera infestation in the 1940s. Much of the coast consists of steep cliffs, though the island does have a few beaches. Atop one of these cliffs stands the chapel of Agios Ioannis, which was the location for the wedding scene in the film “Mamma Mia.” The port town of Skopelos, or Chora, is famous for its protected stock of traditional Pelion-style houses. The Folklore Museum houses many artifacts from the local culture. Agios Athanasios church, from the 11th century, is just one of the islands 360 churches, although many are either privately owned or closed. There are some interesting Byzantine monasteries however. Beekeeping is popular on Skopelos, and flower or pine honey makes a nice souvenir. The Sporades are a main breeding area for the endangered Mediterranean monk seals.
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.
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