We docked at the port of Piraeus at 7am on a bright sunny morning to a view of one of the really ancient cities of the world. We are told that to experience Athens is to discover the pages of history coming to life and they are not wrong. We boarded our coach and had our firsts view of our tour guide for the day. Standing around 6 feet 2 olive skin, black hair with a touch, Nay, a hint of grey,with a sculptured body was our suave Alpha Greek male aptly named ‘Adonis’ (that’s right, bloody Adonis was the moniker this blokes Mum gave him at birth). He crooned into the coach microphone teaching all the ladies on the bus their first lesson in Greek, the words “I love you”. Talk about laugh. Must admit he was a brilliant guide though, very knowledgeable and he did a really good job. It must be the breeding in this part of the world, when he did a head count at the end of the day he did the same as the guide in Cairo, lined us up like an infants class, two by two. Lol.
What a wonderful city Athens is. Well set out, organized, clean, attractive settings, a populace that is taught English as a second language in school, friendly locals, the best air conditioned coaches we have experienced so far, the simplicity of using the Euro and great shopping for the ladies. We drove down Syngrou Ave past the temple of Zeus around the Arch of Adrian and arrived at the first Olympic games site, built for the first games in the 1890s, still in great shape and surrounded by houses, hotels, shops, parks and offices with a glorious backdrop of the mountains. We spent a short time there for a photo opportunity.
We then drove along the Panatheniac Way and approached the Acropolis the way centuries of Athenians would have done and caught our first view of that wonderful ancient building the Parthenon, built by Pericles all those centuries ago. What a fantastic sight this was, easily the equal of the Pyramids in Egypt, sitting on top of it’s mountain for the world to see. I can honestly say that I never dreamt that I would ever get to see the Pyramids or The Parthenon in my lifetime and I have experienced both within a couple of days. Surreal is a word I would use. Walking up the 80 odd steps to the Parthenon is to walk in the footsteps of those who planted the seeds of western philosophy, science, culture and art and an experience you can never forget.
After negotiating those many steps, which are made mostly of marble are extremely slippy, you are greeted with the sight of the Theatre of Dionysus where Sophocles performed to the crowds then on to the entrance gates where Plato, Aristotle, Pythagarus and other Greek scholars would have ambled through.
At the top you are greeted with the Parthenon itself, a truly incredible building. Even though it is currently surrounded by cranes and building scaffolding it still has a magical presence. Again, like The Pyramids, it is not easy to give an accurate description as it is so special that it has to be experienced to fully understand the presence of the site. Truly magnificent. Once again though you have to marvel at the craftsmanship of the artisans in those days, hundreds of years before Christ was born and which have never truly been duplicated by todays modern technology.
After this we drove to the Plaka, a shopping wonderland that my four Girls and their daughters would adore. Tiny lanes of hundreds of old world and modern shops with some fantastic eateries. We spent a couple of hours here having a Greek meal (mousaka) and wandering through the shops. It was great not to be pestered by hawkers pushing their goods in your face.
We returned to the ship thoroughly satiated after a fantastic day in a fantastic city. The only downer of the day was the sight of so much Graffitti in Athens, a real blight on a wonderful picture.
Saturday, June 26th, Kusadasi, Turkey.
We arrived in Asia Minor at the Turkish beachside resort of Kusadasi on a lovely bright, sunny morning. Kusadasi was, only a few short years ago, a tiny fishing village which centuries ago was the base for Barbarossa, the Pirate. This township has blossomed into one the the most popular holiday resort for the Turkish population and boasts some of the loveliest beaches on the Aegean Sea as well as the largest bazaar outside of Istanbul. It is also renown as the sea going port for hundreds of thousands of Christians taking a pilgrimage to the nearside ancient Roman City of Ephasus and the last house of the Virgin Mary. The whole area has massive religious and historical significance as this area is not only the place where the last home of Mary is situated, but also where John The Baptist lived out his years and is buried as well as being the house where St Paul hid in the mountains outside Ephasus where he had tried preaching the gospel to the Romans. Nearby Smyrna was also the birthplace of Homer. Historically the region was important as it was in this area that the Greek-Persian wars began which also included the city of Troy.
Our tour started by driving into the mountains through lush green fields to the last house of the Virgin Mary (or The Wirgin Mary according to Denya our Turk Tour guide). This site has now become one of the important places of pilgrimage in our Christian faith. It has been accepted by the Catholic Church that St John the Baptist brought the Virgin Mary to this area after the crucifixion of Christ and she lived in this house for some 20 years before dying there. A beautifully secluded area that is now jam packed on a daily basis with thousands of pilgrims and tourists, hundreds of coaches, a large armed Police presence and a post office with an array of shopping stalls and cafés. No doubt about it, there is a lot of money to be made in religion these days.
I must admit though that when entering the two room house of Mary even I, with my finely tuned degree of cynicism, felt myself saying a little prayer for my daughter Kerry’s health before walking outside.
From there we took a short drive to the Ancient Roman City of Ephesus which in it’s heyday was the second City of the Roman Empire next to Rome with a population of over 250,000. This is the city that ruled over Asia Minor and where St Paul preached against the shrine of Artemis as well as writing his letter to the Ephesians which remains one of his finest works. St John The Baptist wrote his gospel in Ephesus which included the Book of revelations.
This city has some of the finest and stunning Roman ruins anywhere in the world. There is the Odeon, or small theatre with a capacity of 1400 which was also used for public meetings of the city council. The Magnesian Gate and Town hall are nearby. Some of the sights are quite amazing, such as the public toilets and the Government run brothel, the hospital and Apocathery.
The impressive Library of Celsus stands at the foot of the main street. It’s a stately two storied façade that had interior walls designed to display 12,000 scrolls in niches which protected them from humidity.
The Temples of Domitian and Hadrian are impressive and the Great Theatre, which holds 25,000 and is where St Paul preached to the Ephesians and is still in use today for concerts. The Arcadian Way which connected to the Port district has beautiful colonnades on either side and marble pavement which Marc Antony and Cleopatra used on their visit to the city. A short distance Way you can see the ruins of the Temple of Artemis which was several times larger than the Pantheon. At the end of the city was the Great Theatre which seated 25,000 and was where St Paul preached to the Ephesians.
Even in it’s abandoned state, Ephesus remains an awe inspiring city. The 2 kilometres of streets, with it’s marble paving stones scarred by iron shod chariot wheels, the shops, the ‘town houses’ of the rich are incredible and the whole scene was brought to life by the incredible knowledge of our Turkish Tour guide.
A fantastically interesting and enjoyable day in a lovely country.
Sunday, 27th June, 2010, Istanbul.
A lazy start to the day arriving in Istanbul at 10am. Walking out on deck we were met with one of the famous sights in world travel, The Bospherous, dividing Asia from Europe, and the many minarets of Istanbul, once known as Constantinople. Quite a sight for first time eyes I have to say.
We boarded our tour bus at 10.45am for our first stop at the famous Blue Mosque. On the way there it was nice to see that the streets were clean and extremely cosmopolitan, A lovely city that was well ordered with a smooth traffic flow although it must be noted that it is a Sunday. We arrived at the Blue Mosque which is quite an impressive building, the only Mosque in the world with 6 minaret’s. The group gathered in the park area immediately outside where we were subjected to a 20 minute lecture by the tour guide on the history of the area. This was done in the heat and full sun which was not appreciated. We then moved into the Mosque and I must admit it is very impressive, the ceiling being tiled in mainly blue tiles (hence the name). When inside we were subjected to another long lecture which by stage had caused an information overload and boredom from standing in the one spot, so I pulled the earphones from my ears and sat looking at the ceiling for the next half hour.
After leaving the Mosque we trooped down to the Istanbul Museum where once again we were given a lecture in the full sun for 20 minutes whilst she discussed the architecture of the building, which was at one time (around the 4th century AD) the largest building in the world. We then went inside and had more lectures from our vociferous guide about what I thought was the most boring building I have ever seen outside a Housing Commission town house. There was absolutely nothing inside this Museum, no exhibits, no statues, no Mummies, no dead camels, nothing but a few murals on the walls. The most exiting bit was when I bought some hot horse chestnuts from a barrow boy outside.
We were then supposed to spend about three hours in the worlds oldest and largest bazaar, the Grand bazaar. This was what I had really been looking forward to, but it was Sunday and it was closed. So we wandered around the outside shops for a couple of hours and had lunch at MCDONALDS…
I had really looked forward to this stop at Istanbul, especially the tour of the bazaar, unfortunately the day was made very ordinary by a gabby guide and being there on a Sunday. I’m afraid after the three fantastic days we had prior to getting here at Egypt, Athens and Kusadasi, this tour has suffered by comparison. Istanbul is a fantastic place and offers much more than what was delivered.
Monday, 28th June, Cruising off Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.
This was the prime reason for my taking this sea cruise, to see for myself where Australia came of age as a nation, on the bloody battlefield of Gallipoli.
Unfortunately the ship anchored 2 miles offshore and the who area was covered nin a haze which precluded an adequate view of Anzac Cove. I was sorely pissed at this. At 11am there was a service of remembrance on the main deck which was very tastefully done with masses of Aussies and Kiwis in attendance. The service was quite evocative but I didn’t come to listen to a service which I can do every year in Australia, I came to view the battlefield itself for the first time. As one who has served in the Australian Military and who has studied this famous campaign in detail I have always been one who holds this small area with an extremely high degree of reverence. This was where Australian and New Zealand Soldiers died in their thousands yet forged a name for themselves as soldiers without peer. So the fact that I was oh so close but could not actually view it was upsetting to say the least.
Fortunately after lunch the captain moved the ship closer inshore (why he didn’t do this in the first place is beyond me) and a friend loaned me his binoculars and I was able to view the whole of the battlefield and it’s monuments seeing first hand all the famous areas of battle that I had seered into my memory bank. Thanks to this the day was a success and I saw what I wanted to see. I am happy.
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