When I told friends I was cruising in Greece, everyone assumed it was on a large ship visiting the Greek Islands. They were wrong on both counts: I was sailing on the Galileo, a motor sailer, around the Peloponnese, starting and finishing in Athens.
The ship with wood finishing and smart navy blue paint was beautiful, especially when her three cream sails were hoisted. Because of her size, we moored up right in the ports which meant we could get on and off easily and explore the towns, where we often sat in sunny squares with a glass of wine or coffee taking advantage of complimentary Wi-Fi. As well as wandering along the waterfronts with their myriad of cafes and bars, we were encouraged to climb steps, whitewashed for Easter, which took us up into the towns perched high above their harbour. Seeing the houses and small, non-touristy shops, gave us a feel for how the locals lived and provided us with superb views.
On our seven-night cruise, ‘Antiquity to Byzantium’, Jenny, the guest lecturer, was a font of knowledge bringing Greek mythology and archeology to life with interesting stories. She led our optional excursions, and gave two very different evening talks. One on the Arts and Civilisations of the Aegean and the second, on the lighter subject of Greek customs where we learned the Greek equivalent to the Scottish ‘first footing’ is smashing pomegranates on doorsteps and that baptism involves smearing the poor baby from head to toe in their beloved olive oil.
The food on board was excellent and as I’d hoped for, mainly Greek with salads, dips, grilled fish and meat. The staff were as good as the food, and although we became familiar with the various Greek mythological gods, for us, the staff were the true gods. They quickly picked up on our habits, likes and dislikes, catering for them with professionalism and good humour.
Our sea-level cabin, one of 25, was compact but comfortable, with two portholes. During a brief spell of rough weather, the sea swished around them mesmerizingly: it was just like watching a front-loading washing machine.
Our fellow passengers were cosmopolitan and ranged in age from 18 to mid-80s, including families, couples and a pair of young honeymooners. Jenny tried to teach us a little Greek, greeting us each morning with a cheerful, ‘kalimera’ whilst Joseph, our excellent cruise coordinator, suggested the word for thank-you (efharisto) could be remembered as ‘f harrys toe’. My favourite word was ‘opa’, which has numerous meanings from ‘let’s party’ to ‘get lost’ depending on your intonation and intentions!
Spring was a good time to visit, with pleasant temperatures, distant views of still snow-capped mountains and wild flowers abounding. Many of the sites visited, were especially beautiful with red and yellow poppies, a purple plant which grew freely in crevices, giant fennel with pompom seed heads and bright yellow Spanish broom covering the mountainous terrain. However, the most stunning was the purple blossom of the Judas tree which provided a colourful back drop to the ruins of Olympia. However, the downside of spring is that it was too cold for sea swimming, although the turquoise clear water looked inviting.
Most of the sailing was done when we’d gone to bed, but as the engine was a little noisy, ear plugs were useful. However, during the day, having left Itea, we passed under the Rio-Antirio Bridge. As we approached, the optical illusion had us all fearing we wouldn’t scrape underneath, but we did but with only 4 meters to spare. The bridge, completed in 2004, was built to avoid the oft-cancelled ferry, had a steep €65 one-way toll charge for a bus, which was designed to offset the €770 million construction costs.
As we sailed from Delphi, we saw dolphins leaping around (one meaning of the name Delphi is dolphin). Luckily, this was our warmest weather and we enjoyed the sun deck before passing through the four- mile long, 70-foot wide Corinth Canal which separates the Peloponnese peninsula from the Greek mainland, arguably making it an island. The steep sides, up to 300 feet, were impressive and we felt very small as we passed under the rail and road bridges.
Helen travelled with Seafarer Cruises who arranged flights and transfers.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises