Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cruising with Windstar

June 4th – 13th, 2004

When we began to plan this trip, we had wondered what would be the best way to see the Greek Isles. Since so much of Greece (and the coast of Turkey) had its history rooted in port cities and the Aegean sea, travel by ship seemed to be most appropriate. Fred’s brother Mike and his wife Pam had taken a similar cruise with Windstar, and they recommended it with high praise. So, we booked a 9 day cruise from Athens to Istanbul, Turkey with Windstar. We were not disappointed…….

Windstar’s Star Pride is considered a cruise yacht, and is motor driven, rather than a sailing vessel.


It holds about 200 passengers and the crew. Because of its small size, the Star Pride could dock in smaller ports, and we never had to fight the crowds, or to stand in line to disembark or wait in line for dinner. But, there was not the endless variety of shows or midnight buffets….but we enjoyed the quieter pace.

After we checked in and boarded the ship (a fairly quick and simple process) we went to our room to check it out……


Wow!, we were delighted! This was the most spacious room that we had ever seen on a cruise ship. A REALLY big improvement from the tiny little room that we had in January when we went to the Galapagos!        : )


The Star Pride has all suites, with a sitting area and a nice big window to look out. And the bathroom! Let’s just say “Really, really nice!”


The central staircase links the decks. There was an elevator, but we were centrally located on deck 5, and all the activities were either one or two decks, up or down, so we got very familiar with these stairs.


Hanging out on the upper deck……..


The lower deck had lounge chairs and a couple of whirlpools. Note – I did not say ‘hot tubs’……the water in the small pool was ocean water and was freezing! And the whirlpools were just a bit warmer. We did not do any swimming on this cruise.


The lower open air deck went up to a bar and grill area…..


Where you could sit and have a drink (or a burger at lunch time).


As we left each new port in the evening, the Star Pride had a traditional ‘Sail Away’ ……


With the raising of the flags and very moving music.


We found cruising with Windstar to be very relaxing, with wonderful food, and an easy going style. It turned out to be the perfect choice for a cruise. We could have, as always, used several days, rather than the one full day in each port. And in the more popular tourist ports, we had to compete with the usual crowds that come with cruising. Still, it was awesome!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Streets of Athens

June 2nd – 3rd, 2014

Fred and I love to explore a place ‘on our feet’. Our hotel in Athens, The Athens Gate, was conveniently located within easy walking distance to the major sites. We were able to explore all morning, then return to our hotel for a bit of a rest in the afternoon, before heading out again in the evening.


There were many small streets lined with restaurants and shops. Our favorite little restaurant, however, turned out to be just around the corner from our hotel. We stopped by in the afternoon on our first sightseeing day for coffee and dessert (very yummy Baklava). The next evening, we had a wonderful dinner (I tried the Moussaka, an eggplant  and potato dish), Fred tried the Souvlaki (a grilled chicken and vegetable dish) and we enjoyed the Greek Salad so much, we came back to have it again on the next day. It was a fun way to enjoy wonderful food while people watching.

As we wandered the streets of the Plaka and the Monastiraki, and up and down Ermou St., we came upon reminders of Athens history.


This little church…….


This gate……so picturesque, it just begged to have a photo taken. 


Any number of monuments. This one is dedicated to the 8 winds (I am not sure how they got 8 instead of the usual 4 winds)……


The carvings are so detailed!

The next big ruin we discovered was the Library of Hadrian, which was built in 132-134 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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I thought that it was wonderful that the ancient Greeks loved learning and books enough to build such a library. THIS is where I would have been ‘hanging out’.   : )


It was such a contradiction to see all of these ruins right next to the more modern buildings.


The people of Athens must just get used to seeing these sites every day, and living with this amazing history as ‘just a part of life’.

On our final morning of sightseeing, we happened across the Athens Flea Market…….


A lovely couple of streets, lined with little shops and booths. You could buy just about anything here!


We picked up some last minute souvenirs, then hopped a taxi to the port of Piraeus, where our cruise ship, Windstar’s ‘StarPride was docked.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beyond the Sights - The National Archeological Museum and The New Acropolis Museum

June 3rd, 2014

Our second full day of sightseeing was dedicated to museums. Our strategy for today was to take a taxi to the National Archeological Museum, arriving as it first opened to avoid the crowds. This worked out really well, as we had the place practically to ourselves.


I think that the first thing that struck us was just how long ago man had occupied this area of Greece. As far back as 2,300 BC, in the Early Cycladic Period, people were living in this area and fashioning art objects, like these figurines or vases or painted pottery pieces.


As early as 3.200 – 2,800 BC, people were using black Obsidian knives to carve beautiful marble vases.


This is a burial mask once thought to belong to King Agamemnon (c. 1200 BC), but later found to predate him by several hundred years.


In the center of this first picture is the gold burial plating for an infant. on the right, is a very detailed gold ornament.


The sheer amount of gold leaf on display at this museum and the detailed construction of the pieces left us very impressed…..

Along with gold ornamentation, there were many examples of bronze weaponry…..


As well as bronze pots and cooking utensils.


I think what we most enjoyed about our tour of the Archeological Museum was following along with Rick Steves Audio tour and learning all about the evolution of artistic expression.


There were many examples of Kore (clothed women) or Kouros (naked men) which are life sized statues in the Egyptian form, with stiff, bodies and blank, or serene, facial features. This statue is c. 650 BC.


As the art forms evolved, people were depicted as much more proportional, and life-like, and often in motion.


C 460 BC, this bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon (they are not sure which, because the staff he held is gone) is symmetrical, proportional, and shown with dynamic tension.


The facial features are serious (not serene) and expresses noble strength and heroism. Greece was entering her Golden age, having emerged victorious over Persia, and the art reflected that pride.


This is a small scale (1/12th) replica of the 40 foot statue of Athena that stood in the Parthenon (c. 438 BC) Athena was said to love snakes, which shed their skin, signifying renewal. The small statuette of Nike which is held in her hand would have originally been 6 foot tall.


There were many of these carved marble tombstones on display. They represent Greek Golden Age Art……


With a mastery of the body to convey emotion.

And finally, this bronze statue of a young boy (he is a jockey riding a horse) c 140 BC. A good example of Hellenistic art, the boy has the features of a non-Greek (perhaps Ethiopian) and shows unbridled emotion.


This evolution of artistic style, something that we had never been exposed to, was a real learning experience.

From the Archeological Museum, we took the metro back to the area of our hotel and walked over to the New Acropolis Museum. This museum was opened in 2009 and was built to show case the treasures of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Though it had far fewer exhibits than the Archeological Museum, it was impressive and well done.

Unfortunately, picture taking was prohibited, so we don’t have pics to post. However, I pulled these pictures off the Internet to give you an idea.

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The building is modern and the top floor is set at an angle to parallel the Parthenon.


As you first walk in, you are greeted by a display of statues that are either original, or replicas of those taken from the  Acropolis.


This display is of the Caryatids (the women from the porch of the Erechtheion). These are four of the original statues, the fifth and sixth figures are on display in other museums.

The crowning glory of the Acropolis Museum is the top floor dedicated to the Parthenon Marbles.


This floor is set up to duplicate the size and layout of the Parthenon. You stroll around the outer edge, with the carved marble panels of the Parthenon frieze depicting the Panathenaic Parade- horses, oxen, dancing girls, and all – encircling the perimeter.


The marble reliefs are displayed in their entirety, with signs telling you which are original, and which are replicas of those that Sir Elgin took with him to the British Museum. This is a bit of a sore subject for Athens, as they now have a place to display the missing marbles and REALLY want them back.


This display put the final touch to our experience of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

They say that you need a couple of days to see Athens….and then get out! This seemed about right. Athens is a big city, after all. We were glad to have had two full days to sightsee, but felt as though we saw what we had come to see.

The next day, we would have a bit more time to look around, then we would be boarding our cruise ship for a 9 day cruise of the Greek isles and Turkey.