Idyllic Aegean With LOUIS CRISTAL, Part Three

Peter Knego wraps up a busy week aboard Louis Cruises LOUIS CRISTAL visiting less traveled Greek Islands on one of the ship’s new “Idyllic” itineraries. Part three features charming Kos, mystical Ios and spectacular Santorini.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Georgia on my mind…

By the time I awoke, LOUIS CRISTAL had been long secured at the small terminal in Kos Town. After breakfast, GRM (guest relations manager) Georgia led us out to the quay where we boarded a coach for the “A Taste of Tradition With Zia” afternoon tour. I have sailed with this fellow Croat, who hails from Zagreb but now lives in the UK, on several occasions.  I am always astonished with how she handles the logistics of guests embarking and disembarking in each port, assembling multilingual tour groups and just managing all the behind-the-scenes madness of a busy cruise ship.

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Vineyard in Kos.
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Kos winery.

Friendly Kos is the largest of the Dodecanese Islands in the eastern Aegean. At its closest point, it is a mere two miles from Asia Minor while Kos Town is directly across from Bodrum, where the LOUIS CRISTAL had departed at dawn. Our first stop was a family-run winery where I unexpectedly succumbed to the syrah. Normally, I never buy wine overseas but this one was worth the risk of a suitcase mishap.

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Kos honey stop.

Our next stop was a family run honey (for lack of a better word) “farm”. We were shown how the golden nectar is produced, using bees who consume either pine or thyme pollen. Bottles of each type of honey and a salve made from bees wax (great for the cuticles) would join the wine on the plane ride home.

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Zia dia.

Another sweltering day grew only a tinge cooler as our bus made the climb up to picturesque Zia, a village on the lower slopes of rugged, 2,700-foot Mt. Dikelos, the highest point on Kos.

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Chapel at Zia with Mt. Dikelos in the backdrop.

We had time to explore and shop in Zia before heading back to the coach for the ride back to Kos Town, where we wandered the ruins of a Roman gymnasium.

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Our last stop was in the Medieval walled town for a short walk past the plane tree that, according to legend, Hippocrates taught under some 2,400 years ago. Well, a little bit of research revealed that this particular tree is “only” 500 years old but is thought to be a descendant of that original hallowed tree.

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Shortly after our return to the ship, the LOUIS CRISTAL was thrusting her way into the channel for Ios, yet another “first” on my Greek Island travels.

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Yiannakis Ioannou.

Before the captain’s farewell reception, I had a chance to catch up with hotel manager Yiannakis Ioannou, who has been with Louis and its pantheon of ships for the past two decades. Ironically, he began his career on cruise ships in my home waters of California aboard Carnival’s CELEBRATION. I shared some sad images of the recently beached CORA (ex Louis CORAL, which was originally the CUNARD ADVENTURER) with him and we lamented many of the classic beauties that one formed the Louis fleet.

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International Show in the Muses Lounge.

That evening, our group would enjoy another wonderful dinner and have some much-needed free time to rest and, dare I mention it, start packing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

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The beauty of this Idyllic itinerary is that it not only provides some in-depth history and scenery but ample time for a swim in the the gorgeous Aegean. But we had to earn it first.

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Archaeology of Ios.

Moments after the LOUIS CRISTAL dropped anchor, we tendered ashore for our morning excursion, beginning with a visit to Skarkos, an ancient Cycladic settlement on a hill overlooking the harbor.

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Eye-ing Ios.

In the Chora, or Ios Town, which is renowned for its nightlife, we visited a windmill and took in more views of the harbor.

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Ios beach.

From there, it was off to the other side of the island on a precipitous, serpentine coach ride to the beach of Manganari, where we swam and then enjoyed some Greek specialties at a local cafe. More glorious Greek cuisine awaited back on board the LOUIS CRISTAL, where we had just enough time for lunch before sailing into the caldera of Santorini.

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Although it can be a bit hectic and toasty during peak tourist season, it would be impossible to tire of Santorini’s rugged, volcanic beauty. Since I was a child, its affiliation with Plato’s Atlantis has captivated me but even without that caveat, its violent geologic history is enough to inspire reverence and wonder.  After tendering to Akrotiri and zig-zagging via coach up its switchbacks, we were  delivered to the Akrotiri archaeological site on the eastern flanks of the island. Akrotiri has come a long way since my first visit on the MARCO POLO in 1998 and is now sheltered in a vast building. Like Pompeii to Vesuvius, it is the remains of a very sophisticated city that was obliterated by the (even more) violent volcanic eruption that turned Thira into the mere outer shell of a once mighty island in 1600 BC.

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Santo Winery.

From Akrotiri, it was a short drive to the Santo Winery on the eastern rim of the caldera. Another tasting loosened some more Euros from the tight budget, enough to fill a small shopping bag with capers, caper leaves (who knew?) and some of those delicious locally made pistachios in caramelized sesame seeds.

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Caldera view from the east…

There was also time to ogle the “less seen” view from the winery’s eastern position in the caldera.  LOUIS OLYMPIA and WIND STAR were our Santorini cruise ship consorts.

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Thira Town, Santorini.

At our last stop, Thira Town, there was a very limited opportunity to shop and then take in the more famous, never mundane view of the caldera from its nearly 1,000 foot elevation.

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Classic Caldera overview.
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CRISTAL awaits.

And then payback — that exasperating queue for the cable car — a small penance for being able to enjoy this mystic, mythic setting.

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CRISTAL sternset.

Another summer.  Another Louis cruise.  Another magical sunset. It was all coming to an end but there will hopefully be many more to look forward to.  In the morning, after we docked in Piraeus, I would bid farewell to new friends and start preparing for the next adventure.

LOUIS CRISTAL will be returning to her Idyllic Aegean (along with a new Adriatic itinerary) next year for Louis Cruises newly formed Celestyal Cruises division. Her name will revert to CRISTAL and her fleetmate LOUIS OLYMPIA (ex SONG OF AMERICA) will become the OLYMPIA. A new era in Greek cruising is about to begin…

End of Idyllic Aegean With The LOUIS CRISTAL

Special thanks: Nicholas Filippides, Marlene Oliver

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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