TURKEY GETTING STUFFED FOR CRUISE CALLS

In a move that will surprise few after recent events, Costa Cruises has cancelled all of it’s remaining scheduled calls to Turkey this year. And it seems only a matter of time before other cruise lines follow suit.

The cancellation will cover the major ports of Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum and Instanbul, and represents a huge loss of tourist revenue for the Turkish economy.

Many Aegean bound passengers actually book their cruises with these Turkish destinations as a must see centre point, with sites such as Ephesus, and the great mosque at Haghia Sofia as definite highlights. The knock on effect from actually taking such sites out of the equation remains to be seen, but Costa is quite rightly putting the emphasis on the safety of their booked passengers.

Turkey’s loss is a definite gain for nearby ports in the Greek Islands, which are being added as late season substitutes for the cancelled Turkish calls. The port of Heraklion alone has added at least an extra eighteen new calls from different ships since the news of the Costa cancellations became public.

Tense times continue to plague the usually popular eastern Mediterranean circuit as a whole; it can only be hoped that the political situation settles down in short order before continued uncertainty begins to bite into potential 2016 cruises in the region.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015

MINI ANTIQUES- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY OFFERS SHORTER FLY CRUISES

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

In a move that is possibly a test run for future sailings, specialist operator Voyages To Antiquity is offering a pair of shorter fly cruises this May aboard the small, beautifully styled Aegean Odyssey.

The fly cruises are of five and nine nights’ duration respectively, and come inclusive of all flights, transfers, shore excursions with knowledgeable, in depth guides, and inclusive beer, wine and soft drinks with dinner each evening. And, with no single supplements to boot, they represent quite extraordinary value.

The first, five day jaunt departs from Istanbul on May 10th, with calls at Lemnos and Izmir to see the stunning, magnificent ruins of Ephesus. Moving on, the Aegean Odyssey then offers a morning touring among the sacred grave sites at Delos, followed by a few hours’ people watching in classy, stylish Mykonos, before disembarking in Athens on May 14th. Single fares for this trip begin at £895.

The second, nine night itinerary begins in Athens on May 14th, and finishes in Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. En route, the Aegean Odyssey visits Nauplia, to see the fabulous site of Epidaurus. After a day at sea, she sails on to Taormina, with it’s fantastic Greco-Roman hilltop theatre, and then on to the historic Sicilian city of Palermo for an overnight stay.

From here, Aegean Odyssey makes her way for another overnight stay; this time in fabled, springtime Sorrento. There is ample time to see such landmark sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum and, of course, the brooding Mount Vesuivius itself, as well as leaving time to enjoy some serious people watching in Piazza Tasso, or even a drive along to fabled Amalfi, or perhaps a boat trip out to Capri.

This cruise concludes the next morning. Prices for the inclusive, nine night package start from £1,495. Again, there is no single supplement.

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

Flights are usually arranged on the scheduled services of British Airways, and include domestic flights to Heathrow where necessary.

The Aegean Odyssey is a small, destination intensive cruise ship with an ambiance more akin to that of a floating country club than a vast maritime theme park. With a capacity for less then four hundred passengers, she offers fabulous service and dining- both indoors and out- and a smart casual dress code.

This is not a ship for those wanting a lively, late night environment. Think of her as a very comfortable combination of a boutique hotel and a fantastic, fulfilling and educational travel experience, and you have the gist.

I particularly recommend the cove balcony cabins in the aft part of the ship as a great buy. Nicely sheltered, and with lovely canvas chairs, they offer you an expansive and roomy vantage point from which to savour those balmy spring time Aegean and Mediterranean sunsets.

INSPIRING SPRING BREAKS IN THE SUNNY GREEK ISLANDS

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

It’s that time of year when winter slowly begins to descend across Europe like a damp. clammy shroud, and many of us just mentally curl up and hibernate. We go out when we need to but, in general, we just stock up on the wine, batten down the hatches, and pray for an early arrival of spring.

But nothing sharpens the appetite for travel like anticipation of trips to come. And knowing some of the options ahead might just add a little warmth and brightness to those long, leaden winter nights.  So, with time and money also being key considerations in these straitened times, why not consider a short, exhilarating three or four night cruise to the Greek Islands and Turkey out of Athens on Louis Cruises in the spring?

There are quite a few advantages here. Firstly, the cost is very reasonable- around £200 per person, based on two sharing an inside cabin. Then there’s the time scale. For the three night cruise, you’ll need to fly to Athens on the Thursday night and stay overnight. You’ll be home by late Monday. For the four nighter, flying on the Sunday prior to a Monday sailing will have you back at home late Friday. So it’s not a huge drain on your time.

The ships themselves are relatively small; comfortable rather than luxurious, with a smart casual dress code. The welcome is very warm and the ships are perfectly attuned for cruising these waters- vital on such a short, high density trip as this.

So you’re probably wondering ‘how soon can I get out there?’

The first three night cruise begins on the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia on March 14th, 2014. The weather by then should be more than agreeable enough to enjoy the best hospitality that the islands have to offer. This three day cruise leaves Piraeus- the port for Athens- at 11 in the morning. Here’s the full skinny for the itinerary:

Day One: (Friday)

Depart Piraeus 11.00

Arrive Mykonos 18.00

Depart 23.00

Day Two: (Saturday)

Arrive Kusadasi, Turkey 07.00

Depart 12.00

Arrive Patmos 16.00

Depart 21.00

Day Three:  (Sunday)

Arrive Heraklion, Crete  07.00

Depart 11.30

Arrive Santorini 16.30

Depart 21.00

Day Four: (Monday)

Arrive Piraeus 06.00

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Yes, it’s a busy few days, and it will pass at one hell of a rate of knots. But in that short space of time, you’ll see and experience more than many people do in an entire lifetime. From people watching in Mykonos, to strolling the stunning ancient ruins of Ephesus (see previous blogs), a late dinner ashore in Patmos, strolling the quayside in Heraklion and, as a finale, the stunning sunset from the Olympian heights of Santorini, it’s a fabulous feast of options.

The four day cruise (Monday departures) follows a similar route, but also allows for a full day in historic Rhodes, usually on the Wednesday. Whichever option you decide to choose, it’s a wonderful, whirlwind tour through some of the most amazing waters anywhere in the world.

And, hopefully, you’ll even come back with a sun tan. See you out there in March, maybe.

EPHESUS AND POMPEII- A TALE OF TWO (DEAD) CITIES

Surreal. The stunted remains of once prosperous Pompeii

Surreal. The stunted remains of once prosperous Pompeii

A recent visit to Pompeii was a sobering experience. That’s as it should be. Twenty thousand people died in these same eerie, sun bleached streets when Vesuvius erupted back in AD79. But I couldn’t help but compare the sad ruins of this petrified Roman flesh pot turned charnel house to another ruined city I had visited at the other end of the Mediterranean. Ephesus.

For sure, Ephesus was one of the great trading ports of the ancient world; a centre of trade and commerce for everyone from the Phoenicians onwards. And it has history in spades; Saint Paul preached to the Corinthians there. Cleopatra and Mark Anthony walked it’s marbled streets. It is also claimed that the Virgin Mary lived out her last years here.

Unlike Pompeii, it did not exist principally to serve as a kind of first century Las Vegas. Ephesus was a cultured city; even now, the sun bleached facade and portico of the  Library of Celsus is surely one of the most awe inspiring sights on the mainland of Asia. The ampitheatre is vast in comparison to that of Pompeii. And it is still in use for outdoor concerts to this day.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

But it goes far deeper than simply buildings, and the purposes they might have served. Ephesus simply faded away and died quietly when the mouth of the river leading into it silted up over the centuries. Built near swamp land, it was just left to gradually wither and decay on the end of the vine that had nurtured it for centuries. There was no fiery immolation as such.

Of course, Pompeii died screaming, and then spent twenty centuries entombed under seven metres of ash and pumice stone. That ancient immolation destroyed most of the upper layers of it’s shops. brothels and dwellings. Today, it’s stunted remains reveal a tightly packed together warren of houses of all kinds; the streets are relatively narrow. Some of the principal thoroughfares still bear the ruts left by literally thousands of Roman chariots.

Ephesus, by contrast, feels much more open and spacious, and a good deal bigger and grander in scope. It is a city set among arid, gentler countryside, though rows of pine trees cover the approaches on the slowly rolling hills. And, while it has toppled, stunted columns and porticos that instantly put you in mind of those at Pompeii, the ones at Ephesus do not bear the blackened scorch marks left by a tidal wave of fiery death.

The silent streets of Pompeii

The silent streets of Pompeii

What both cities have in common is an air of silence that seems to want to scream at you. There’s a sense of stillness and decay to both. But even that needs to be quantified. The air around Ephesus is serene; tranquil and peaceful. Ephesus does not feel uncomfortable.

Not like Pompeii, with its uneasy retinue of restless ghosts still clinging in disbelief to the ruined husks of their former dwellings and businesses. The shattered remnants of doric columns point up at the cobalt Neapolitan sky like serried ranks of accusing, skeletal fingers. The very air seems to hang around you like lead weights.

Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus

Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus

Pompeii wears the scars of its tragic destruction like a funeral shroud; one that not even the presence of thousands of chattering summertime tourists can penetrate. A silent, oppressive heaviness blankets it as completely as the fallout from Vesuvius did in those black days of AD 79.

The two cities share a link in the common theme of their own deaths. But, where Ephesus accepted and acceded to her fate with calm. resigned serenity, Pompeii went down like the Titanic; assured of its own invincibility, clad in the finest of everything and awash with the best of food, wine and debauched, decadent fun, they never saw it coming at all.

Today, the remains of both of these marvellous, once magnificent cities are worth a day or two of anyone’s life. If you hit the right cruise itinerary, chances are you might end up with the chance to sample the remains of both.

Intact tiled floors in Epesus

Intact tiled floors in Ephesus

Above all, the Library of Celsus in Ephesus offers one of the best photo opportunities anywhere in Europe, one that Pompeii cannot even begin to match.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who famously said that ‘he who does not learn from the mistakes of history is doomed to repeat them’.  Bonaparte was a man who knew a bit about monstrous, swaggering architecture. And he knew a hell of a lot about destruction. But in the silence that hangs over these once magnificent cities, his words still ring true.

The ancient, sun bleached remnants of both Ephesus and Pompeii have much to tell us about life, vanity, loss, and the sheer magnificence and stupidity of the human condition.  Never was the old phrase ‘if walls could only talk’ so perfect in application to these once colossal monuments to human greed, vanity and yes, ingenuity, too.