Among the cognoscenti of travel there is no consensus about cruising. But even
the naysayers admit that certain spots on the globe are easiest visited by boat.
You could drive, rather than sail, along Norway's coast, but you would miss the spectacular
views of the fjords from the sea. You could take the train from Cairo to Luxor and
Aswan and skip the Nile, but you'd lose the chance to observe the rich sights of
life on the river. You could see the Hawaiian Islands by flying from Oahu to Maui,
Kauai and to the big island of Hawaii, but you'd be doing a lot of packing and unpacking,
not to mention checking in and out of hotels and airports.
Now that I've rationalized all the reasons for signing up for a cruise, I'll admit
the truth. Those floating hotels are my version of heaven and it's the only way that
I would travel in the Aegean where I've been twice. Scale is what makes island cruising
near Greece and Turkey, not only beautiful, but beautifully convenient. Inter-island
distances are short. Every day we entered a different port of call and on one day
we visited both Delos and Mikonos.
I remember my first Aegean cruise aboard the modest M.V. Delos some years ago
as being great, but it was better, in fact, a lot better more recently to visit
the Greek and Turkish islands on the Radisson Diamond . I could, instead,
have ferried to most and flown to a few of the places as some tourists do. Perhaps
I might have overnighted in Mikonos, a hot stop on both the jet set and the
drop-out circuit, or Kusadasi, Turkey's Riviera-like resort and site of the
Ephesus ruins. But no thanks, I handed over to others the task of navigating
through a week-long odyssey starting in Athens and ending in Istanbul with seven
ports in between. There were no multiple reservations to be made, no checking
of schedules and no concerns about transfers. Because the Athenaeum Intercontinental
was designated as the pre-cruise hotel, I booked it knowing I'd be shuttled
to the ship, which docked six miles away in the harbor town of Piraeus. If the
cruise had a theme, it was ancient civilizations and the view from my hotel
window was a sneak preview. I could see the acropolis sitting still and forever
above the modern city of narrow streets and traffic-clogged avenues. Crowning
the citadel is the Parthenon, which even in its age-old, blasted-out
decaying state still has the power to literally take one's breath away.
Once aboard the ship, life on the Radisson Diamond turned out to be pretty much
whatever each passenger wanted it to be. Though I glory in being relieved of the
anxiety of deciding which port to visit on which day, I opt out of most escorted
tours. After all, the natives have to get around without using tour buses. There
were those guests who at the outset signed up for every available tour. And there
were those, like me, who made the decision whether to go it alone or by group based
on the information they were able to garner as to whether it was possible to get
around efficiently on one's own in a short period of time. While in Athens, instead
of joining an organized group, I traveled from the city to the spectacular Temple
of Poseidon at Cape Sounion by public transport, alternating inland and
Though the pull to the shores was strong, the attractions onboard held their own.
I even heard rumors that a few people never left the ship. The design of the Radisson
Diamond is unconventional twin-hulled to eliminate heaving and pitching and is outfitted
with a "hydraulically controlled marina" that allows passengers to participate
in various water sports when the ship is at anchor in some ports. A fully-equipped
gym, a jogging track and even a putting platform for golfers, as well as the usual
swimming pool, Jacuzzi and spa with sauna and steam, are located on the upper decks.
Rooms with spacious terraces are comfortably-sized and the two dining rooms serve
some of the best cruise food around.
Our first stop was Santorini where a volcanic eruption that collapsed the
island's center in 1450 B. C. wiped out Minoan civilization. The event gave rise
to the belief that this was the mysterious lost land of Atlantis. The main town,
Thera, which is crowded with tavernas and shops, perches on the rim of the crater.
The 900-feet drop, created more than 3,000 years ago, still presents a startling
When I last visited Santorini the only way up and down was by donkey. (You could
walk, I suppose.) A cable car now operates between the harbor and the town. The village
of Oia on the tip of the island was partially destroyed by a 1956 earthquake
and has been rebuilt under a government program to restore old communities. Buses
from Thira, the center, are $1.00 and the ticket to incredible seascapes.
Rhodes presented a challenge. Should I revisit the acropolis in Lindos,
which is accessible only by tour bus, and brave the 30-minute climb uphill on unlevel
terrain in 90-degree heat? I have a photo of myself triumphantly posed at the top,
but that was a long time ago. Seats on the Mt. Filermos outing were all filled.
The only choice remaining was to spend the day in Rhodes Town, the former home of
the Knights of St. John. It turned out to be a lucky option. After entering the walled
city and walking up the Street of the Knights past the restored knights' inns to
the Palace of the Grand Master, I learned that in the afternoon the ramparts
would be opened, an event that occurs only once each week. I explored the cobbled
streets and the antique shops and then returned to circle the entire medieval area
via the two and one-half miles-long footpath of history on top of the crenelated
Delos, an island where no one lives, seems haunted by ancient yesterdays.
Its signature statues, five marble lions, preside over what in the seventh century
B. C., was the Aegean's wealthiest and most sacred island where Apollo and Artemis
(Diana) were born. I was touched by the notion that real people once walked these
deserted acres. With the use of a map I found remnants of a theater, gymnasium, sanctuary
and temples, which archeologists had painstakingly laid out. This time I wished for
a knowledgeable guide like the ones who accompanied all the other groups spilling
off the ferries.
In Mikonos, as in Delos, the Radisson Diamond's passengers were on their
own. This dazzling white and famous island is said to have over 300 chapels and is
linked by a network of narrow streets. I wandered through arched alleys to discover
tiny squares shaded by fragrant fruit trees and many picturesque windmills, of which
no one seems to have an accurate count. Since we departed Mikonos at midnight, there
was ample time to sit in a waterfront cafe, sip retsina, ponder the lively scene
and see the sparkling lights reflected in the sea.
The highlight of the stop in Kusadasi was the excursion through the green
hilly countryside to the partially reconstructed 11th-century B.C. Ionian city of
Ephesus in which the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of
the ancient world, once stood. The ruins are some of the most impressive and most
beautiful on earth, attesting even today to the area's greatness. The road that took
chariots down to the sea in the third century B.C. is still smooth and straight and
is lined with broken columns and crumbling facades of temples, shops, libraries,
gymnasiums and bathhouses. A tour is the only way to see the excavation for without
an informed leader one would miss the history of the buildings and of the people
who had lived there.
The Greeks who built Ephesus did such a good job that parts of it can still be
used. In the evening we listened to a classical concert under the stars in the huge
reconstructed amphitheater scooped from the side of a hill.
Dikkili, Turkey, a port that is seldom visited on an Aegean cruise and
one that is little-known to tourists, was our next to the last stop. Because the
nearby ruins rival those of Ephesus I again opted for a half-day bus tour. Bergama
or Pergamun was the center of a highly developed ancient civilization. Built
on top of a hill, the ruins were visible from the motorcoach; even from the distance
we could see the acropolis. We also explored the remains of a library, grand house,
fountains and temples, including one that was dedicated to the god of medicine, Asklepicon.
Our guide told us that during Hellenistic times patients visited the temple and were
treated with water and mud baths, massages and medicinal herbs, diets, incubation,
a number of forms of physiotherapy and dream interpretation. Evidence of man's earliest
cultural advancement is buried in these ruins and again a knowledgable guide was
an important factor in understanding what life was like centuries ago in this part
of the world.
In the afternoon we explored the sleepy little beach town, another place where
time seems to have stood still. Dikkili is authentically Turkish and mostly locals
were sighted on the streets. The harbor is lined with open-air restaurants and the
shops do not sell touristy items. Only national foodstuffs—delicious juice, made
from local cherries and many fragrant, vibrantly colored spices— are offered in the
stores. The beach was quiet; native children were frollicking in the water and older
people sat in the park to shade themselves from the sun.
An almost perfect voyage ended up in a perfect port. I'm not quite sure what I
expected in Istanbul, but I was overcome by its handsome gardens, exotic beauty
and vistas of water. The sweep of the Bosphorus from the balcony of my room at the
Istanbul Hilton made me want to sit there interminably and sip raki. But then if
I had I would have missed an even more impressive sight, the view of the Golden
Horn from a terrace of the treasure-filled Topkapi Palace.
It was all very special, the melding of past and present in this part of the world,
the ancient ruins and the seeds of our civilization, the white villages and the romance
of the sea. It was all too short, especially my visit to Turkey. But I know I'll
come back, hopefully soon and for a long, long stay.
Radisson Diamond, Tel. 877-505-5370, www.rssc.com