Exploring the Eastern Mediterranean from Istanbul to Rome
By Kevin Walker, Cruise Consultant, The Cruise Web, Inc.
In November I took an extended cruise to the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Greece and Italy. This part of the world is rich with culture, history and lots to learn. If you’ve never been here, it’s pretty astounding to visit places like Ephesus and the ruins of Pompeii, to see first hand that there were people on this earth living more than a thousand years ago who had developed communities with libraries and even figured out a way to have plumbing.
Our cruise was a hefty 12-day itinerary with just two sea days, so my wife and I were run ragged from trying to get the most out of each port. Our balcony cabin on the Celebrity Constellation was a welcome respite from our daily adventures and the ship itself was a comforting place where the captain and entertainment staff were very entertaining. I was very impressed by the captain, he must have been one of the youngest working for Celebrity and he made it a point to be accessible. Usually, you only hear the captain from overhead announcements, or if you happen to get to the captain’s cocktail party. However, this captain was at lots of events, he even played volleyball in the pool one day.
This was my first cruise on a premium line and I did notice the distinctions. For instance, we received champagne upon boarding the ship. There were also linen towels in the ships bathroom, which is a step up from paper towels or hot air machines.
But the real gem of this cruise experience were the ports we visited. So I’d love to give you my impressions of a few of them.
This city was filled with lots of interesting things to see and do, and would be the port my wife would want to spend more time in. Our ship stayed overnight in Istanbul, so we had about a day and a half to sight-see. Our first impression was that the city was spotless and landscaped very nicely. We saw several workers cleaning and sweeping as we ventured around the city.
We were taken with the fact that the beautiful mosques were very accommodating. We were allowed to enter and were even permitted to stay during one of their daily services. Istanbul is predominately Muslim and practitioners of that faith pray five times a day.
The Grand Bazaar is an amazingly vast space that you can easily get lost in so it’s important to stay together and I swear there isn’t a place you can go in Istanbul where you can’t buy a rug.
This port was our entryway into Ephesus, an ancient city that was home to the Temple of Artemis, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We didn’t take a formal tour but wandered around the ruins. I thought they did an impressive job of restoring this city and its buildings. It’s amazing to see all the progressive things they had back thousands of years ago. For instance, they had multi-use buildings with shops on the main level and residences above.
After tendering to this island you are given the option of taking either a gondola or a donkey up to the town, which sits on a sunken volcano. We choose the gondola, for the faster, less bumpy ride (there’s no difference in price). Santorini is known for their homes with blue domes. The views are beautiful and this spot is definitely everything it’s made out to be. The streets are super steep here and I think you’d have to be part mountain goat to live here.
The hotspot here was the Acropolis, which is essentially a city on top of a mountain. From here you could see the entire city. Part of the Acropolis was undergoing restoration when we were there, but it was still interesting because there are several temples around the Parthenon. Athens also has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and here we saw the changing of the guards and learned that in Greece all males are required to serve in the military for at least 9 months.
This was the only port where we decided to take an excursion from the cruise line, because my wife wanted to see Pompeii and I wanted to see the Amalfi Coast. This day-long trip allowed us to do both. We began at Pompeii, which was very interesting. Here you got to see homes, bath houses, and even brothels from 79 A.D. I am still amazed at the fact that they had hot and cold rooms in the bath houses. The fact that thousands of years ago they were able to control the room temperature like that, back then, is amazing.
Then we drove to the Amalfi Coast, which was one of the scariest journeys ever. The streets are very windy and are built on cliffs. At one point our bus passed another and I swear to you the buses touched on the side. But the beauty of this region made the trip well worth it. Every home here seemed to have an amazing view and there were lemon groves everywhere.
Our last stop was in Rome, and we would have loved to stay and explore this grand city, but we had to fly back home where our jobs, our kids, and our responsibilities were waiting. If you have an opportunity to take two weeks off, this in-depth look at the Eastern Mediterranean is a great way to spend it, just bring good walking shoes!