17 October 2014
 Piraeus, the Port of Athens

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Even our wondrous small ship cannot sail into Syntagma Square in Athens.

We instead dock  the port of Piraeus, about 10 traffic-clogged miles from Athens.

On this cruise, we are just passing through, in the middle of our cruise. And so we docked at the outer harbor at a set of quays built for the 2004 Olympics.

Piraeus is not a place where many tourists come to linger; it’s a very busy port for ferries to the Greek Isles and elsewhere, and also much used as a cruise ship port.

Think of it as a Greek version of Civitavecchia—the port for Rome—and you’re on the right track.

Piraeus is the chief port in Greece, the largest passenger port in Europe, and by some estimates the third busiest in the world, servicing about 20 million passengers per year—most of them on ferries.

The Acropolis, the fortified citadel and the state sanctuary of the ancient city of Athens, is fully deserving of a spot on anyone’s bucket list.

Athens Parthenon

The Parthenon. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Acropolis is perched on a flat-topped rock that rises 150 m (490 ft) above sea level in what is now the heart of the city of Athens.

In the Late Bronze Age, the Acropolis was surrounded by a massive fortification wall like those at Mycenae and Tiryns in southern Greece. This wall remained in use long after the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, and functioned as the fortifications of the Acropolis for several centuries.

By the middle of the 8th century B.C., at least part of the Acropolis had been redeveloped into the sanctuary of the goddess Athena, the patroness of the city. Athena, as in Athens.

In the 6th century B.C., the first monumental stone, Doric temple of Athena is built on the Acropolis.

However, the Acropolis was captured and destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. But the Athenians were persuaded by the statesman Pericles to rebuild the temples on the Acropolis on a grand scale.

It was during the second half of the 5th century B.C. that the most famous buildings on the Acropolis — the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the temple of Athena Nike, were constructed.

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The Acropolis, seen from the new museum at its base. Photo by Corey Sandler

For more than a millennia, the structures on the hill stood there—crumbling, shaken by earthquakes, an explosion in an Ottoman arms dump, and sometimes looted for building materials or souvenirs.

The first modern archaeological studies and excavations, and the necessary conservation, study, and publication of the monuments, were begun in the 1830s soon after Greek independence. Work continues to the present day

Today the Parthenon is considered the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, the culmination of the development of the Doric order.

In 1806, in an act some Greeks consider vandalism, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin (the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799–1803), was given permission by the Ottoman Turks to remove some of the surviving sculptures and friezes.

Elgin’s agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

Elgin at first used many of the pieces to decorate his mansion in Scotland. Later, he decided to sell off his holdings to pay debts.

Following a public debate in Parliament and subsequent exoneration of Elgin’s actions, what are now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles were purchased by the British government in 1816 and placed on display in the British Museum, where they can still be seen.

The Greek government has been seeking the return of the sculptures for decades.  And even if you’ve been to Athens before, the Greeks—never mind all of their financial foibles—have done an extraordinary job with the design and construction of the New Acropolis Museum, which opened in June of 2009.

The museum is located directly opposite the Acropolis, near the Acropolis Metro station (Line 2).

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The Athens Metro at the Acropolis. The commuter train connects to Piraeus. Photo by Corey Sandler

More than four thousand items are on display, including a portion of the frieze of the Parthenon—the part that is not in the British Museum, they will remind you.

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Inside the Acropolis Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Athens at the base of the Acropolis. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


16 October 2014
 Volos, Greece: Between Earth and Sky

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Volos a place known for its Milk, a much-sought-after Fleece, and its Hard Rock cafés.

Milk, as in Milk of Magnesia.

Fleece, as in the Golden sheepskin sought after by Jason.

And many of the cafés—and half a dozen spectacular monasteries—of this region are perched on rocks, seemingly defying God and nature to return them to earth.

According to legend, it was here—from Iolkos—that Jason set sail on the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece; the Argonauts intended to bring back the booty from Colchis, which is today the Black Sea coast of Georgia.

Modern Volos has one of the largest cargo ports of Greece, a fishing fleet, plus ferry and hydrofoil to the nearby Sporades Islands, which include Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos.

We eat rather well here aboard ship. But if you somehow become peckish while ashore, the local specialty are “Tsipouradika” shops, more than 400 spread through the city.

These are basically bars that sell tsipouro. Then choose an accompaniment: a tasty tidbit of fish, meat, nuts, olives, dried fruits, halva, or paximadi (rusk or twice-baked bread.) Think of Mezes from Turkey, or Tapas from Spain.

Tsipouro is a pomace brandy, particular to this part of Greece as well as Crete.

It’s a strong distiled spirit, about 40 to 45 percent alcohol by volume, and is produced from the pomace (the residue of the wine press). The anise-flavored version is similar in taste and effect of ouzo, although the two drinks are made very differently.


Metéora is one of the largest and most important groups of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece.

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Photos by Corey Sandler

They are also some of the most spectacular places in this part of the world, on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The word Metéora is derived from old Greek meaning “middle of the sky”. From the same origin we have the words “meteor” and “meteorite”, rocky asteroids that enter into the earth’s atmosphere and burn up or explode.

These cosmic events were certainly noticed by the ancients, unexpected changes in the middle of the sky. The name for the monasteries, therefore, is self-evident.

The monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pindus Mountains, in central Greece about two-and-a-half hours away from Volos by car or coach.

The pinnacles are believed to be about 60 million years old, the remnants of an ancient sea.

In modern times, the 9th century, an ascetic group of hermit m­onks moved up to the ancient pinnacles to live in caves and cutouts in the rocks as much as 1800 feet or 550 meters above the plain. They were not much disturbed by visitors.

By the late 11th and early 12th centuries, a rudimentary monastic state had formed, centered around the still-standing church of Theotokos (mother of God).

More than 20 monasteries were built; six remain today: four were inhabited by men, and two by women, each with fewer than 10 inhabitants.

Originally, the only means of reaching the monasteries was by climbing a long ladder, which was drawn up whenever the monks felt threatened. Food and supplies and occasionally people were hauled up in large nets.

According to oral history, the ropes were replaced only “when the Lord let them break”.

It was only in the 1920s that steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible by bridge from the nearby plateau.

Two of the buildings are open to tourists. The Agios Stephanos Convent, which is relatively easy to reach, and the Varlaam Monastery which requires ascent of stairs.

And today you can drive there–most of the way–by motor coach or private car. If you’re concerned about heights, have a shot of tsipouro. Give the driver a bottle of cool water.

Photos by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution copy of an image, please contact me.


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Henry Hudson Dreams cover

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