Cruise Specialists hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenheimer are taking us along on another amazing journey. We hope this series shows you what you can expect on a Holland America Grand Voyage. First was the kick off, then Costa Rica,Panama Canal, Chile, Patagonia, Antarctica, Argentina, Brazil, The Amazon, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, Spain, the Mediterranean, Italy, Croatia and now the next stop in their Grand World Voyage (next voyage January).
The city of Zakynthos, on the island of the same name, is a bustling place. Since the important sights are pretty spread out around the island, and we had an unusually long day there, we decided to rent a car.
We made a big 100-mile circle all around the island. Among the things we saw:
- The northern tip of the island, where the famous blue caves are located.
- The village of Bohali, which sits up on the cliffs above Zakynthos and offers great views of the city below.
- The tiny towns up in the mountains that look much as they did 100 years ago, with tiny streets impossible for two way traffic.
- A hidden double decker set of caves at the end of a remote village road.
- The shipwreck – a popular tourist spot, where the remains of a smuggling vessel from the 1950’s is marooned on a gorgeous beach.
Overall, it was a pleasant place to visit in the off season. It’s likely overrun with tourists during the summer.
Pylos is a small Greek island with some stunning scenery. The ship tours were visiting places like the Messini Archeological Site and the Methoni Castle, while we opted to taxi out of town to Voidokilia Beach, an absolutely gorgeous protected space, surrounded by sheer cliffs, steep dunes, and a mountain with a famous cave and a castle on top.
We walked all the way around the beach and about half way up the dunes near the cave and then followed a level path around the lake.
Walking in town was a challenge as every direction except toward the water is uphill. But the waterfront is lined with inviting cafes and tavernas. We found one a little further away from the port without all the tourists and had a relaxing glass of wine and some tzatziki, made from yogurt, cucumber, and garlic (one of Wendy’s favorite foods).
We loved this restaurant’s motto too: “always have a seashell in your pocket and sand in your shoes!”
It’s springtime in Crete! Tiny blossoms are appearing on the olive trees and fields of daisies are in full bloom out in the countryside. But our first stop was the big city of Heraklion (or Iraklion as it is sometimes called).
This island was once the center of the Minoan civilization and is the largest of the Greek Islands. There’s a wonderful archaeological site at the Palace of Knossos, believed to be the birthplace of the Minotaur, the half man, half bull creature born to the Minoan Queen.
We also visited the Venetian fortress that dominates the harbor and has become a symbol of the city. It’s a beautiful walk out along the seawall to visit that fortress and the weather today was spectacular for any kind of outdoor activity.
If you want to know what Santorini looked like before it was overrun with tourists, visit the wonderful small island of Patmos. We had not been here before but heard it was big on scenery and historic sights and that turned out to be quite true. The white houses built into the cliffs here are characteristic of many of the Greek islands, with a picture postcard view in every direction. As we arrived in the port, which is the village of Skala, we could see high up on the hill above us a castle-like structure. It’s the Monastery of St John in the village of Chora, with 5 chapels, a museum with rare icons and jewelry, and the place everyone wanted to go on this Holy Saturday. They went by tour bus, local bus, on scooters, on ATV’s, by taxi, and a few like us, on foot.
Back in the village of Skala, we wandered through the village, which does have its share of souvenir shops, but they were pretty low key. And we stopped in a local taverna for a glass of wine and of course, some tzatziki. It was a great day on a beautiful island we would be happy to return to.
Easter Sunday found us in the port city of Piraeus, gateway to Athens. If you’ve never visited Athens, you want to see these sites:
- Temple of Athena
- Temple of Zeus
- Olympic Stadium
- New Acropolis Museum
However, since all these archaeological sites, museums, and shops are closed for the holiday, it became a good day to go into the city and just wander. Luckily, we stayed overnight giving everyone a chance to hit the highlights one day and see the less touristy side another.
We took the modified hop-on/hop-off bus, which took us near the Acropolis and would bring us back to the port in the afternoon. And it was very quiet in Athens, due to Easter – few cars and many deserted streets.
The historical and archaeological sites are excellent and you can find small digs all over the city with excavated ruins that have been preserved and protected. But you also have massive graffiti on walls, storefronts, any place you can reach with a paint brush or spray can. Just something to know so your expectations are set!
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Cruise consultant Bridgett Quinn can help answer your questions about cruising Antarctica or a Grand Voyage!