When I left you last, we had arrived at the port of Piraeus where we would board the Aquamarine — the cruise ship that would become our home for the next four nights. For those of you who have never been on a cruise, the boarding experience, called embarkation, is exactly what you would imagine. Wait in a line, drop off your bags, and climb the gangway into the belly of the boat.
But there’s one thing about it you might not expect — you have to hand over your passport for the duration of the trip. Considering that international travelers are told over and over again that their passport is the single most important item they own, and that they must risk life and limb to protect it, putting that precious book in the hands of a very friendly, but completely unfamiliar port agent can be panic inducing.
But rest assured, this is how it’s always done. They will not take off with a few thousand passports for a good laugh. And it will be safely returned before you leave the cruise ship at the end of your stay.
|Participating in our life boat drill|
In return for your passport, you’re given a plastic ID card. This is your replacement passport. If you are ever asked to produce one while on a shore excursion, you can show them your cruise ID card and they’ll know exactly what it is. The card is also linked to a personal credit or debit card so you don’t have to carry around cash or other cards while you’re on the ship.
Upon boarding the ship, the five of us were greeted by the staff of the Aquamarine and led to our cabins. Quick note about cabins on a cruise ship: They are not designed for the over packer. Do everything in your power to keep pieces of luggage to a minimum if you want to be able to walk to and from the door.
After a lengthy (and hilarious) life boat drill, where many jokes about the Titanic were made, we spent the afternoon acclimating ourselves to the layout of the ship, lounging by the pool, and reading up on Mykonos, the first stop on our trip.
Once a quiet fishing village, this tiny island currently boasts a population of about 11,000 and has become one of the most popular summer tourist destinations in Europe. During the summer season, the population shoots to 55,000, and the beautiful beaches, narrow streets, and about 100 bars and clubs are packed with vacationers.
|The winding streets of Mykonos|
Before disembarking at Mykonos, our tour guide, Heather gathered us together to tell us a bit more about Mykonos. Her biggest piece of advice? Try not to get lost, it’s very, very easy.
Known as the windiest island in the Aegean, the town of Mykonos was built to break the gusts coming in from the sea. Wind enters the city through a break in the buildings, only to be stopped by a wall of houses where the road splits off in two, or three, or more different directions.
If you click on the image to the right, which I found on The Mykonos Island Reservation and Travel Agency website, you can see how the streets look like a tangled web. According to Heather, the confusing layout had a secondary purpose. It was a way to slow down the pirates who attacked the port from time to time.
While intruders would quickly get lost in the confusing streets, locals would shut themselves into their houses, climb to the top floor, and drop boards connecting balcony to balcony over the narrow pathways. They would run from house to house and hide, unbeknownst to the pirates wandering the maze below.
|My first Greek sunset|
Before disembarking at Mykonos, I had a minute to catch my first Greek sunset on film, looking over the deck of the ship. Then we were off, down the gangway on onto buses that drove us the mile from where the ship docked into the town.
Heather was right. From pretty much the moment we took our first turn, we were completely disoriented. Had we been there in season, when the streets are jammed with people, I don’t know how we ever would have been able to find our way out. But because it was late March, and the night air was still chilly, Mykonos was ours to explore.
Once we were thoroughly lost in the streets, we explored our way right into a local restaurant for dinner. We sampled delicious moussaka, pita, tzatziki, and chicken gyros.
Our waiter even offered us a round of complementary dessert liquor! We thought we were special, until the table of American guys next to us said they’d been given an entire bottle to share the night before. I guess it was just that famous Greek hospitality, not how cute we looked.
|A narrow street in Mykonos|
The experience in Mykonos might have been a bit different had we arrived two weeks later. It’s truly the heart of the European party scene, once the weather turns warm. But no matter what time of year you’re there, the architecture is beautiful, and you really feel like you’ve been transported to another time.
After finishing our dinner and more free drinks from our waiter, it was time to find our way out of the town (easier than we thought it would be) and back to the bus.
One island down, four to go! Check back for my next post and an explanation of how you end up in Turkey when you’re on a trip to Greece.