AN AEGEAN ODYSSEYby Caroline M. Jackson I was nervous, really nervous. Every ticket booth at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport train station had been closed. What would happen to foreigners like us who boarded an Italian train without a ticket? Like Paul of Tarsus, I imagined dispatching my next article from a Roman jail! After rattling through the dark, rain-soaked countryside, my husband Hamish and I disembarked at Rome's central train station and, much to our relief there wasn't a ticket inspector in sight.
We made our way through nose-to-tail traffic to our hotel, only to discover the proprietor had no record of our booking. After turning my money belt inside out, I produced my letter of confirmation and voilą! -a room was found!Despite this inauspicious beginning, things improved the next day when we boarded The Galaxy, a Celebrity Cruise ship in the port of Civitavecchia, for a relaxing ten-day cruise through the eastern Mediterranean. Our first morning at sea dawned fresh and bright. A cone-shaped island loomed on the horizon and minutes later we were alongside the still-active Stromboli volcano. Ominous clouds clung to the top of its cone, and a series of rainbows arched across the horizon.
Sailing south through the Strait of Messina, en route to the Aegean Sea our next memorable stop was the romantic Greek island of Mykonos-an artist's delight! The island's whitewashed cubic houses sported blue-shuttered windows, and bougainvilleas cascaded over garden walls. We strolled past waterfront tavernas offering fried anchovies, squid, grilled sardines and marinated mussels before heading up towards the row of hilltop windmills with their unique cobwebbed sails. Later, we sauntered along myriad alleyways lined with chic boutiques and art galleries, occasionally pausing to explore tiny churches, their cool, dark interiors heavy with incense. Originally designed to confuse marauding pirates, the labyrinthine street plan still puzzles visitors. Back at the waterfront, we soaked in the atmosphere while sitting against a tiny a blue-domed church, watching swarthy Greek fishermen laughing and joking as they worked on their boats. At our feet stood the town mascot, Petros the pelican, who was unabashedly preening his feathers while keeping a beady eye on passing paparazzi.The following morning we docked in historical Rhodes. The city's forbidding curtain wall lining the seafront belied the friendly Greek inhabitants. We walked into the castellated town through St. Catherine's Gate and headed for the old part of town. This section is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates back to the establishment of the Knights of St. John, or Hospitallers, in the early 1300s.
Joining up with a small British tour group, we visited a synagogue which told the tragic story of 1,673 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. As we explored the cobblestone streets, enthusiastic shopkeepers invited us to examine a selection of leather purses and intricately woven carpets.
I rose at dawn the following morning, full of anticipation because we were approaching the island of Santorini. Some thirty-six hundred years ago this circular volcanic island erupted with such force that the sea flooded its core and transformed it into a crescent. Entering the caldera in the early dawn hours was like sailing into a giant molar. As the fingers of sunlight rose from behind the encircling dark lava cliffs, the rim of the 300- metre high ridges glinted with what looked like snow. I refocused my binoculars and realized the spangled light was emanating from whitewashed villages that were strung along the rocky ridge.Once on shore, we boarded a little gondola that whisked us up to the town of Fira. Sugar cube houses, interspersed with tavernas, spilled down the cliff face, while streets with narrow steps wove between terraces, and revealed different views around each corner.
Our time on Santorini went far too quickly. As we lined up along the cliff top for the next descending gondola, I decided that on my next visit I'd bring my paint box so that I could truly capture the sapphire blue Aegean.Photos: Hamish M. Jackson 1) Cliffside boutique with Galaxy cruise ship berthed in Santorini
2) Mykonos Windmill, Greece
3) View between windmills in Mykonos, Greece
4) One of the gates leading into medieval Rhodes.
5) Strolling in scenic Santorini, Greece Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com
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