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Part six of our inside look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

I closed my previous post in this series talking about my 8 a.m. wine tasting appointment. And I wasn’t kidding! We woke up early to disembark at Heraklion, Crete. Crete is the largest of the Greek Isles, and has a culture and dialect that has remained separate from that of mainland Greece. Heraklion is the largest city on Crete and is also the capital.

Right after stepping on land, our group boarded buses that would take us on a half-day shore excursion, appropriately named, A Taste of Crete. The drive itself was breathtaking. We followed a winding, two-lane highway through the countryside that came right up against olive groves and vineyards that seemed to go on forever.

We arrived at a modern winery about 30 minutes from Heraklion where we watched a film about how local wines, olive oil, and raki (a strong alcohol made from the pulp, skins, and seeds of grapes) are made; and how important these goods are to the culture and traditions of Crete. We had a chance to try each of the wines made there, and many people bought bottles to bring home with them.

Then we were back on the road. On route to our next destination we stopped along the side of the road at a spot where you can take beautiful pictures of the landscape and one of the oldest farmhouses in Crete, dating to the Minoan period 16th century B.C.

We arrived in Archanes a short while after. This settlement sits on the site of an ancient Minoan settlement that spread over the same area. It is a beautiful, quaint town who’s economy is based largely on grape and olive processing and marketing.

Our group entered a local tavern where we got to try a number of Cretan foods: olives, cheeses, breads, desserts, and yes, even raki. So now it was about 10 a.m. and we’d already sampled six kinds of wine and one of the strongest drinks you can get in Crete. This made the next part much easier: dancing with traditional Cretan dancers! I shot a quick video of the four dancers who showed off their moves. You won’t see this in the video, but every single person in the room was up dancing in a circle led by the pros. :)

After a morning spent eating and drinking, we headed back to Heraklion and boarded the Aquamarine once again, setting course for our last, and probably most anticipated stop: the beautiful Santorini!

Fourth edition of a first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I ended my last post in this series, recounting the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise, my friends and I had just found our way out of the Mykonos maze.

A. Mykonos. B. Kusadasi.

We spent our first night aboard the Aquamarine and woke up to views of colorful Kusadasi, Turkey. The geographically challenged (myself included) might be wondering how we ended up in Turkey on a cruise in the Greek Isles.

If you pull out a map, like I had to, you’ll see that Turkey also borders the Aegean Sea, and isn’t far from Mykonos or Patmos, another island we’d soon visit.

First order of business in Kusadasi, according to our tour guide, Izzy: Learn how to pronounce the name of this town. It’s koo-SHAH-dah-suh, not KOOS-uh-DASS-see. The incorrect pronunciation translates to Bird Island. Saying that to a local would be pretty embarrassing.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Kusadasi was the first place where I opted in for a shore excursion — a visit to Ephesus. This is the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world (after Pompeii, the city that was buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.). Ephesus is located near Selcuk, Turkey, a 30-minute drive from Kusadasi.

Ephesus was first an ancient Greek City, and then a major Roman city. In fact, in the first century B.C. it was the second largest city in the world with a population of 250,000.

Izzy, was in a BIG hurry to get us to the site of Ephesus that morning. Why? Because when you’re the first to enter the city, you have some incredible, unobstructed views (and photo opps) of the ruins and the valley. It’s pretty rare to get a shot like the one below that isn’t packed with tourists. Be jealous. :)

Tourist free Ephesus

We saw some incredible things at the archeological site. It’s actually the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Izzy’s descriptions of what the site once looked like brought the city to life.

We saw marks that carts made in the stone pathways more than a thousand years ago, beautiful Roman-style columns, intricate lettering carved in stone, and most notably, the Library of Celsus. It was once home to over 12,000 scrolls.

The library’s facade has been completely reconstructed from its original pieces, and the result is breathtaking.

Library of Celsus

We also saw the Grand Theater in Ephesus, which seats about 44,000 and is believed to have been the largest theater in the ancient world. It was used as recently as 2001, when Elton John played a concert there.

After our tour, we headed back to Kusadasi to get a taste of Turkish life. The first stop was a Turkish rug store. The owner was VERY intrigued that there was a New Yorker in our crew. He asked her about a million questions about “the best city in the world,” and had pretty much invited himself to come stay on her couch by the time we left.

We watched a woman do the back-breaking work of weaving a rug on a loom, which can take years for the most intricate designs. And we learned about the different styles of rugs while we sipped Raki (the Turkish version of Ouzo).

Hand-woven Turkish rug

After leaving the shop, we headed into the marketplace in Kusadasi. Now this was an experience I’ll never forget. Heather had warned us that the shop keepers were a little aggressive. That was the understatement of the century. These guys would probably drag you into their store if you let them.

In the Kusadasi marketplace, you’re expected to barter for the best price on handmade Turkish goods, such as beautiful (and real) pashminas, handmade jewelry, pottery, and much more. Bartering is something that most people don’t have much experience with, so here are a few tips:

  • Ask how much they want for something. Offer about 2/3 of that, or less if you really think that’s all you want to pay for it, and go from there.
  • If they won’t budge on a price, walk out. If they really want to make the sale, they’ll chase you down the street to give you the discount you asked for.
  • Be respectful of the fact that they do need to make a living, don’t offer them pennies for their goods.

I spent 30 minutes haggling with one jewelry maker over a silver bracelet. I walked out when he wouldn’t budge. He even got his dad on the phone before he’d agree to a lower price. But I did get it for about $50 less than he asked for at first. :)

If you can believe it, our tour of Ephesus, lesson in rug weaving, Raki drinking, and Turkish bartering all happened in one morning. We headed back to the Aquamarine for lunch, as the ship set a course toward Patmos. More on that in my next post.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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