After we left Venice, we spent some time getting used to the ship. We found previously that the food in the buffet on this cruise line is adequate: highly edible, but nothing special. That conclusion was borne out again at the beginning of this trip, so we tried to eat most of our meals in the dining room, where the dinners are cooked to order from a limited menu and are quite good.
Our first port of call is Kotor, in Montenegro. We made the mistake of attending a “What to expect in tomorrow’s port” lecture, which was more sales pitch about further things you could buy from the cruise line than actual helpful info, although there was a little bit of useful information sprinkled sparingly throughout. We did take previously gleaned advice of sitting in the top floor bar to watch as we came into port: Kotor sits at the end of a very long bay (as in, it took us half an hour to get to the port once we entered the bay) with steep sides, affording some amazing views of the countryside in an almost fjord-like atmosphere. We’d done some research too: Katie discovered that there was a cat museum in Kotor, and further reading clued us in that Kotorians were crazy about their cats. We did see a number of them about town, but nowhere near crazy cat-lady numbers, which is kinda what I was expecting. The cat museum, while mostly displaying postcards, art, postage stamps, and advertising images that featured cats, also happened to have a basket of young kittens they were fostering at the moment. It was a small place, made up of a few small rooms connected by narrow corridors, and is really no place for the claustrophobic (or, at this time, those with strong cat allergies.)
Departing Kotor, we were given a remarkable farewell: a Common Porpoise made an appearance briefly, and even breached a little as our tender boat took us back to the cruise ship.
The next port was Corfu, and T had arranged a tour for us which included a visit to the Achilleon, the vacation palace of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (AKA “Cici”). Cici’s story is a sad one (which I encourage you to look up, but don’t have the space to recount here) and gave the site a melancholy atmosphere for me. Most of the extensive gardens have not been kept up due to ongoing economic pressures in Greece, but the wide variety of flowering plants, trees, and shrubs was kind of amazing, even in its semi-wild state. Greece was controlled by Austria for a number of years, hence this palace, which was later resided in by Kaiser Wilhelm prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
The next day, we arrived in the port serving Athens, and another tour. After a long bus ride through the outskirts of Athens — with stops at the Presidential Palace/Tomb of the Unknown Soldier site and the nattily-dressed Presidential Guards, and also the stadium that housed the first modern olympic games in 1896 (refurbished in the interim), we arrived in the city center. Here we could see a number of things, including taking a long, steep hike up to the Acropolis. Numerous pre-tour discussions were held, and T and I decided that the trek to the top of the hill would do us in potentially for the rest of the trip; better to conserve our strength and visit the museum housing all the artifacts taken from the Acropolis instead. We were not wrong, as the museum proved to house a spectacular collection of artifacts, and featured glass floors in several sections so you could see the excavations they were working on to prepare ruins for visitors to actually walk through. Another delightful discovery was some of the best baklava I’ve ever tasted, courtesy of the museum’s cafe. We made the right choice!
We bought postcards and stamps at a touristy gift shop on the street outside of the museum, preparing for tomorrow. The next port of call was Mykonos, and neither T nor I were too enthused about getting off the boat there, so we didn’t. Instead we wrote postcards, lounged by the nearly empty pool, and drank smoothies. It was relaxing, which we needed at that point.
The last stop before returning to Venice was the port of Argostoli. Another long, uphill hike was involved, this time to see the ruins of an ancient fortress–the Ayios Georgois, or Saint George’s Castle–dating from the time of Venetian control of the island, roughly 500-600 years ago. T opted to sit at a cafe and drink iced coffee instead, so I dutifully hiked up the steep damned hill to see the crumbling battlements. Surprisingly, I felt a connection to history there that I hadn’t felt before on this trip. I could believe I was a Venetian guard, standing on the walls watching the coast for signs of Ottoman or Genovese raiding ships. On the site were two canon barrels, and both bore maker’s marks from foundries in Venice – the winged lion of Saint Mark was still identifiable after several centuries worth of exposure to the elements. I wish we’d had more time, I would have enjoyed losing myself wandering the rest of the site; as it was, I only saw a fraction before it was time to return to our bus. Before the trip back to the ship, we had one more stop: an organic farm. The description was a bit misleading; we thought it was a lavender plantation. They did have some lavender planted, but the diversity of crops and animals they were raising was remarkable. They even had a few baby tortoises that they’d found on the property, and tucked them into a planter that surrounded a large tree to keep them safe from the other animals on the farm.
We disembarked in Venice, and made our way to our hotel for the night, situated near the airport. In the morning, we learned that our flight home had been cancelled, so we were forced to stay another day at a quiet resort with good food and a comfortable bed. We did get home a day later – near midnight Monday, instead of on Sunday, which finally explains why there was no blog post the week we got back. We had a marvelous time on our trip, visited three countries to which neither of us had ever been, ate delicious food, and enjoyed the company of our friends as we traveled through southern Europe. Cancelled flight and all, it was still a magnificent trip.