Mythical, Magical Voyage to Antiquities
The Lion Gate
Our first port of call was the charming village of Nauplia followed by a visit to the ancient ruins of Mycenae. Wandering the sleepy streets there was little indication of the fractured economy-until we started chatting with the locals. "We are the first nation," proclaimed our guide, "This crisis is not just Greek, it is a crisis of the European Union."
We sat down to a rustic lunch of mezze (small dishes) at Mezedopoleio O Noulis that included herb salad, fritters, octopus, and assorted spreads. For 8€ it seemed as if we had stumbled upon the deal of the century, but as we chatted with the tavern owner, we came to learn than an impending 23% food tax might put him out of business. In spite of its charming storefronts and local vendors, Nauplia was a haunting reminder of a country in economic despair.
A short drive inland brought us to the ruins of Mycenae, one of the major centers of Greek civilization from approximately 1600 BC to 1100 BC. The gateway to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is The Lion’s Gate, Europe’s oldest piece of monumental statuary.
After a few hours in the Mediterranean sun and listening to the story of Agamemnon, the mythological king of Mycenae who was murdered by his wife’s lover after returning from Troy (reminding me that infidelity is as old as time), what I really craved was a glass of water. Had I lived at Mycenae all those centuries ago, this would have been miraculously possible due to one of the most monumental achievements in ancient building art: the underground cistern at Mycenae provided fresh drinking water from a natural spring that ran among clay conduits and a quadrilateral roofed shaft. Now stagnant and mosquito-infested, I opted for the bottled water back on board the ship.
Island of the Sun God & a Night in Mykonos
Our next major destination was Delos, known in mythology as the birthplace Apollo (and his twin sister Artemis), but also as a spectacular center of commerce and religion in spite of its lack of natural resources.
The sheer magnitude of the island’s development showcased the fact that at one point there were more than 30,000 inhabitants. The Delphic oracle declared the island’s sanctity in the 5th century BC and from that point forward, no person could give birth or die on the island.
From a cosmopolitan center of centuries past to a delightful maze of shopping and nightlife, our next port of call was the epitome of gay Greece - Mykonos. The whitewashed buildings and signature windmills that date back to 16th century seemed to beckon me, or perhaps it was retail outlets like Lakis Gavalis, the collectible artwork at Scala Shop Gallery, or a seafood lunch at Niko’s Taverna with a visit from the island’s famed pelican, Petros.
Nightlife in Mykonos may need to be renamed, as the party usually doesn’t kick in until around 2am. Whether you want to enjoy the cool breezes off the waterfront at Jacki O’, sing a showtune at Montparnasse Piano Bar, or experience the legendary Pierro’s, Mykonos will keep you coming back time and again. Like Cinderella at the ball, I had to make a mad dash back to ship, but would have been happy to be stranded until sunrise on one of the island’s beautiful beaches.
A Sweet Farewell
Our last stop in Greece was the island of Samos, which embodied much of the agriculture bounty for which the country is known. From honey and olives to figs and almonds, the air smelled sweet from the surrounding fields. Samos’ most prized product, though, is its dessert wine derived from the Muscat grape. The perfect send-off to my time in Greece was a visit to the Samos Wine Museum.
Approximately 97% of the grapes grown in Samos are of the Muscat variety and are used to produce high quality dessert wines. They are fresh and floral, "the perfect expression of fruit" according to the Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos. To me, it was the perfect expression of my time in Greece - along with the doughnuts, of course.