Our trip to the Greek Islands had an unusual genesis. We'd imagined having a family holiday for all five of us. We researched villas in Spain or Tuscany but that had gone nowhere as the planning had proved too difficult. Suddenly, a cruise emerged as a possible solution! It would visit a variety of ports, without the inconvenience of car rentals or room changes and would be no more expensive than a rented villa.

More research and a proposed destination—the Greek Islands—was received with apparent enthusiasm. Almost there, now only to find dates that would suit everyone. We were sitting in the travel agent's office, on the phone, with options fading, when the last possibility collapsed. To heck with this, we selfishly, booked the trip for ourselves: Athens, Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, Kusadasi, ending in Istanbul. 

But our problems with this trip were not over. We had the trip and the excursions booked and flight plans finalized when terrorists attacked the airport in Istanbul. The cruise line cut Istanbul from the itinerary but the airline didn't stop flights into Istanbul. So the cruise would now return us to Athens but our return flight to Canada was still leaving from Istanbul!

A phone call to the airline Reassured that we could indeed change our flights, but we decided to wait until we reached Athens to rebook the return flights (rebooking involved cancelling the existing itinerary which might have jeopardized our arrival in Athens).


Tunbridge Wells

We flew from Vancouver to Heathrow on Monday July 4 and were royally entertained for a couple of days by friends, Tony and Margot, in Royal Tunbridge Wells.


Bid farewell to Tony and Margot early on Friday morning, to catch a 9am flight to Athens. Arrived in Athens, took the (excellent) metro train in to a stop that was supposed to be near the hotel, it was! Only a couple of minutes walk and we were in our room, probably within an hour of landing.

Sorting out our return flights was now a priority and once we were in our room, we had a long and increasingly heated exchange with the airline: we could indeed change our flights...for a cost of about $5,000! We decided to book flights from Athens to Istanbul and get the original flights back from Istanbul. But that wasn't the end of the saga.

By that time it was late, so we had dinner at a sports bar on the street next to the hotel and next morning, took the same very convenient metro to the docks, boarded the Equinox, and found our cabin.

The Cruise

The Equinox

Lyn and I had never cruised before, thinking that cruising, like golf and croquet, was for older, overweight people; and we were neither.

Our cabin was comfortable; food was always available in one of the dining rooms and there were endless activities (table tennis, swimming, sunbathing, library, and many more if you are willing to pay for them). Much of the ship and many of the activities were devoted to the interests of the idle well-to-do. There were jewelry shows, make-up seminars, art auctions, and scads of :passive health" programs (massages, waxes, and acres of deck chairs on the sun decks).

Being new at this, we had checked the option for “Celebrity” dining, that allowed us to eat in one of the speciality dining rooms in the evening. This turned out to be unappealing. It required more formal dress; and the menu-based food options limited and not significantly better. We tried the informal main dining area where there was a considerable variety of food, buffet-style, (we could help ourselves in our own time), and we could dress how we liked. We never went back to Celebrity dining; this seemed to distress the Cruise line and they began phoning us to encourage us to go back but we never did.

The convenience of stepping off the ship every morning, coming back when we liked (see later on this) to excellent paid-for meals and then relaxing for the rest of the day in any one of the many possible available ways of doing so turned out to be much to our liking. Lyn went to some iPad workshops, tried some exercise classes, lounged by the pool; I went to the library, played table tennis, went for coffee in the café, read, hung out on the veranda in our room. There are many appealing aspects of cruising that we hadn’t considered. We usually left one destination in the evening around 7 and arrived at the next at 7am next morning. The ship sailed at night and we slept with the door to our veranda door open; the sound of the sea slipping past the ship wafted in as a kind of white noise.

When we arrived in port, those interested and prepared (perhaps on arranged excursions) could leave the ship right away but we gathered that the “rush”, such as it was, happened around 10-10:30am. So we usually breakfasted (OED recognizes it as a verb, I checked) and were off the ship by 8:30am. There was seldom much of a delay in getting off the ship, either onto one of the tenders to take us to shore in Santorini, or directly onto the dock in the rest of the ports.

Our fellow passengers were a mix of nationalities; far Eastern, middle Eastern, European, Russian and a few North Americans. Funnily on this trip while we chatted with a few couples—people would share a table with us—we didn’t make any lasting contact with others.

Overview and expectations of the Greek Islands

I suppose I’d envisioned, without giving the idea much intelligent consideration, that the Greek Islands would consist of quaint fishing villages inhabited largely by goatherds living a bucolic life that hadn’t changed in millennia. That life undoubtedly existed until the first cruise ship dumped 10,000 well-heeled visitors in the port, and the owners of boutiques, art galleries, chic restaurants elsewhere spotted the opportunity to make a buck. The goatherds likely seized on the windfall of $100 for their portside shacks and retired in glee to the hinterland.

Yet what was there still had much charm. All four destinations had a different character and enough stops of interest to certainly fill a half day of languid tourism for each of us. Even those of us who could be bothered to get off the ship found the heat too oppressive and by 2pm we staggered back to the ship collapse in our air-conditioned cabins to cool off.


Santorini is a long, croissant shaped remnant of a long-ago volcanic explosion. The cruise ships stop opposite the capital city of Fira, which is perched on a 1,300 foot cliff overlooking the bay. Passengers are ferried to the small pier at the bottom of the cliff by a flotilla of small boats run by locals. From the pier, one can take the gondola to the top (all but two of us), or a donkey up a cobbled road (one couple) that zig-zags up the cliff

...or walk up—as we did. We were warned about the donkeys, and yes, there were about 100 donkeys tethered alongside the path at the bottom and we met further groups of them being herded down was we walked up. Donkey droppings formed a subtle underfoot layer for the trip. The donkey owners were not friendly. Clearly business was bad (only one couple from the ship took a donkey-ride to the top) and although we walked because we felt we needed the exercise one can could understand the perception that we rich foreigners were simply “avoiding” the 10€ charge for the ride.

The town at the top was delightful. Clean, very safe to walk in, and with spectacular views (see photos). We snaked our way through sidestreets across town to the bus terminal and found a bus to Oia (we-ah) that left every 20 minutes. On the bus, we encountered a certain Greek character that we had come across in Crete. The driver, smoking a cigarette directly under the sign that said “No Smoking”, answered our questions with minimal responses: “Going to Oia?” (waves us onto bus); "when do you leave?" (“soon”); "how Title: Oiamuch?"; (vague wave); "how to pay?" (“later”). Then we remembered that a different person came down the bus (somehow: even the aisles were jammed by the time we left) and collected the fares on the journey. Fares were 1.80€ each; the ticket collector gave us 1€ change from a 5€ note, stiffing us .40€ with the vague explanation that he had no change but on the return journey wouldn’t let us off with 3.50€, claiming that "they" would throw him in jail, giving him the chance to stiff us again!

The trip took about 20 minutes. We were let off in a square (the bus turns around here) and walked uphill through twisted, narrow streets to the top, where we could look out on the rest of the island. There is plenty to see: beautiful little galleries and upscale coffee-houses and bars.

We spent a couple of hours in Oia and then took the bus back to Fira (goes every 20 minutes). Walked up into town and found the restaurant that we’d spotted on the way that morning. Had a great lunch—including a grilled octopus that we never did find again on a menu for a comparable price. We did a little more sightseeing and then took the gondola back down to the dock and were soon back on the ship.

Corrected impressions

The cruise ship, anxious probably to sell shore excursions rather than have people find their own way, provided little in the way of information about buses on Santorini and their comment that the service was unreliable proved inaccurate. In fact the buses were easy to find, arrived apparently on time and were very cheap.

If we wanted, there would have been plenty of time for us to also make our way South, to the ruins of Akrotiri, and to look around there. But it was already 35C and we had walked a fair distance so we decided against it. We would after all be seeing our share of ruins in Ephesus and as you well know, if you’ve seen one ruin you’ve pretty well seen them all.


Rhodes was a different island altogether. It is much bigger, and politically more substantial, since both its proximity to and isolation from the mainland made it a strategic location in Roman times and, for the same reasons, later served as a centre for the Crusades and for Christian defences against Muslim advances generally.

We docked immediately opposite the town, and easily navigated the shoreline to make our way to the “Old Town”. We arrived, after some 15 minutes of meandering, at the far end of the Street of Knights. We took a few minutes to make sure that there was not much to look at further out (or if there was, it was difficult to find on foot), and walked back down the Street of Knights, checking our map for the market hotspots.

There wasn’t much to help us, and the lack of navigation aids was no doubt a conscious effort to steer tourists towards guided tours. We stumbled on a map of the Street of Knights...mounted on the walls of an alleyway off the street itself. And while it did identify a few buildings, it didn’t do much more. We found the Auberge where French knights had stayed. Apparently, knights of England, France and Spain had all assembled here to fight the Muslim invasion and this united cause encouraged a harmony for a century that has since been harder to find. However, the person who gave us this information turned out to be the artist who was displaying his wares in the upstairs rooms, so we’re not sure how accurate it is.

The Museum of Archeology (shown on the map above) was further along off the Street of Knights. We paid some 20€ to get in and were given a map of the exhibits. Standing inside the entrance, we couldn’t relate the map to what we could see, and there didn’t seem to be much in the museum. Having nothing better to do, we wandered up some steps to an upper floor and discovered a wealth of excellent exhibits. We got half way round this before realizing that we were proceeding in the wrong direction; that dates were receding in time. We hadn’t missed a sign; there wasn’t one!

The history of Rhodes is somewhat distorted in the brochures. The Christian presence in the 15th and 16th centuries dominates the material but there was arguably more substantial history before that in the form of Roman, Greek and even earlier societies. This was, after all, the site of where the great Colossus of Rhodes had straddled the harbour for some fifty years, before it was toppled by an earthquake around 200 BC. The rubble lay around for 800 years, much revered by the locals. Unfortunately a conquering Muslim sold the lot (so rumour has it) to a Jewish merchant who shipped the pieces away and it is now lost.

The port is surrounded by a substantial fortress wall; numerous shops and markets line the wall on the inner side, so we wandered past these. Can’t remember where we ate but I recall some sort of treed and sheltered spot…with yowling cats.

Found our way back to the ship by about 2pm again and spent the afternoon relaxing on board.

It was noteworthy that we didn’t see much of the native architecture of Rhodes, as we spent our time within the fortressed walls. We would later see an interesting difference between the look and feel of modern Santorini and that of Mykonos; it would have been worthwhile to see some of the outskirts of Rhodes to see if here too, there was a different modern character.


The ship docked in Mykonos port, a little way along the shoreline from the town itself. It would only have been a 15 minute walk but shuttle buses were available and they dropped us off at the edge of town. The town streets apparently were designed in such a way as to baffle the pirates who used to threaten these parts, and they do an equally good job on tourists: the purple track of our progress (map below) is approximate!

The streets of Mykonos are tiny. Small trucks, apparently designed only for Mykonos, scrape their way along these streets bringing produce and other supplies to

the stores, and as they pass, pedestrians paste themselves to the walls to allow them through. And that is just the main streets! There are others that barely accommodate bicycles.

Everything is upscale here. We were told on the ship that “Giorgio” owns the major jewelry stores along the front and clearly runs the town. True to form, we found Giorgio, a George Hamilton look-alike, outside his store, greeting the throng of tourists making their way into town; He tried to gently guide us into his store but is obviously so well off that he doesn’t have to press, and, even more likely, preferred the richer looking couple coming up behindr


We worked our way through crooked streets, up a hill, and stumbled on the Maritime Museum (marked on our map). It was closed for that time of day (ironically, when tourists typically come by) and wasn’t much bigger than a closet anyway so we reassured each other that we had not missed much. We had similar experiences at all the interest spots on Mykonos and wondered whether in fact there was anything historical to see. We eventually gave up and located

a restaurant where, serenaded by yet another howling cat, we had coffee and a snack, and moved on.

We headed now to the “bus terminal” which wasn’t as much a terminal as a turnaround, where buses occasionally showed up, allowed people on, and left again. There were no timetables that we could see so we grabbed a bus that eventually appeared. Through pure luck it was going to our destination: the monastery at Ano Mero a bit out of town.

Buses here generally head to the many beaches around Mykonos. Our bus was filled with beachgoers, and our ride only took 20 minutes. The driver seemed concommittal when asked the time that buses went in the other direction. “Every hour” and all efforts to ascertain when in the hour led to the same response.

The monastery still houses some seven or so monks, and was of some interest. But we had finished our look around in about 15 minutes and made our way up to a nearby square for a bit of lunch (more cats). Our so-so lunch was expensive.

The bus back was more of a bother. The sole timetable posted threatening us with a 4pm next departure—2 hours away—wasn't wasn’t encouraging. However, we waited only about 20 minutes when a few people began to show up. A wrinkled crone, when asked, signalled 2.5 fingers and sure enough at 2:45 the bus appeared and we hopped on. Half-an-hour later we were back on the ship.


We docked at 7am next day in the port of Kusadasi (Kooshadassy) in Turkey; minutes later, Cunard’s Queen Victoria crept in alongside. We phoned the agency that was putting on our excursion to Ephesus. We were booked to leave at 9:30 am but they were keen to leave soon (because of the heat in the middle of the day) so we compromised and agreed on 8:30am. This gave us time to have a quick breakfast; we headed off the ship at 8:15 to find our guide outside. It turned out we were the only customers for her that day, hence the anxiety to get away!

The ruins that are left of the ancient city of Ephesus are about 40 minutes drive from Kusadasi. We made our way out of town expecting (or I was expecting) sand and rocky desert but that proved completely wrong. Instead we drove through greenery: orchards of oranges, figs, olives; and in places, pine and cypress forest.

Ephesus, until nature decided some thousand or more years ago, to shift the hills and river around, was the main port of the area. The Hittites settled it first about 6,000 years ago; the Greeks over-ran them; the Romans over-ran the Greeks. Roman settlement now forms the bulk of the top layer of ruins that we saw, but there are Greek and Hittite artifacts still to be found beneath that armies of

archeologists are still struggling to get at. The whole is still an active archeological site. Here and there as we went through, groups of workers were carefully brushing off an area or restoring frescoes.

For later Christians this is of course where Saint Paul had his epiphany, and just off the coast on the island of Samos, Saint John (he of the Gospel) wrote the Book of Revelations in a cave.

In the first photo above, note the circled buildings on the left. We would (for an extra fee) walk up inside this to look at the ongoing excavation of apartments for the rich of Ephesus. The photo on the left is inside those buildings.

Details on Ephesus are beyond the scope here and the Wikipedia entry will provide more.

On the way back from Ephesus, we visited the shrine to Mary, much visited by Nigerian religious dignitaries. We dropped in on a family-run ceramic

business, to see how their various plates, bowls, decanters and other products are produced. I don’t think I’ve seen a more convincing demonstration of the difference between commercial knock-offs and their crafted work: when tapped, a cheap bowl produced what I would have expected, a dull bonk; and their product, gave off a rich bell-like ring that lasted several seconds.

We also saw a factory outlet for leather goods—another product of the region. These were very upscale jackets and coats. While Lyn was downstairs actually looking at possibilities I thought I’d check on the price of a jacket that I might have considered buying, if—as I hoped—this really was a factory outlet and prices would be reasonable. Translating the price into C$ from what I assumed were Turkish Lira I thought that the $1,000 was more than I wanted to spend but when Lyn came back she told me that the prices were in US$ and the jacket was therefore $1,200!

We got back to Kusadasi and thanked our guide. Made our way through the sequence of security checks of the terminal and then through the barrage of hawkers trying to sell us goods, and onto the ship. Lyn foolishly ventured back out later in the afternoon and regretted it. The products were crap and the hawkers oppressive.


The Equinox left the dock at Kusadasi and headed for Athens. This would be a leisurely leg to the cruise; the Queen Victoria left the dock some twenty minutes behind us and literally sped past us within the hour. We were cruising, I later found on the navigation channel on TV, at 6 knots—about 11 kph.

So it took us about 36 hours to reach Athens. The evening before we docked we received our disembarkation instructions which let us know that while we once had been valued clients, we were riff-raff they wanted off the ship to make way for the next batch of fleecees.

But no problem: we were off the ship by 8:30 am and opted to take one of the 50 or so cabs waiting for us at the dock. The cab driver wasn’t too happy to be losing his place in the queue for a mere 5€ when other cabs were getting a 50€ trip to the airport but we sweetened the pot to 10€ and he grumbled but relented. The hotel proved its worth once again and we were in our room within 30 mins. We’d heard that the Acropolis was within walking distance of the hotel and so we set off down the street we were on and within seconds, spotted what we’d not seen through the trees until now, the Acropolis on the hilltop ahead. We were there, walking, within about 20 minutes, and inside (a bit of a line) within the hour. It is more imposing than we had imagined…except for the fact that a huge crane, helping the renovations, was currently obstructing the view. We “did” the Acropolis then headed down the other side and stumbled across the museum, which was almost as impressive.

The trip back

On the last night of the cruise, we heard of the attempted coup in Turkey and were a bit nervous about the downtown hotel we'd booked in Istanbul so decided to book a hotel at the other airport (we were coming in at one and leaving from another) However, that concern was, within short order, replaced by a greater consternation when we received an email telling us that BA had cancelled the flight from Istanbul to Heathrow!

In the end, after a slew of flight and hotel cancellations and rebookings of other flights and hotels bookings, we managed to fly directly from Athens to connect with the original flight from Heathrow to Vancouver, and were even more relieved to have Dean meet us at the airport. But we’re still (at the time of writing) waiting for the refunds we are supposed to receive from BA.

Afterthoughts (and later experience) with cruises

We enjoyed this cruise but a second, later cruise would be our last.

Some people, it seems, are designed for cruises; others are not. Those who enjoy constant food, are not particularly inclined to leave their deck chairs to see the sights, and have pots of money to spend on spas, seem to love the life. We are not built that way.

But we later stumbled on some hidden hazards of cruising that were more troubling. One of them is that apparently, cruise ships are not required to report cases of virus outbreaks on board, or the consequences of those outbreaks on travellers. We found out after our cruise, when we came across a blog, that the ship we had been on had had a number of outbreaks. But it was the consequences that shocked us. Passengers who were suspected of having had contact with the virus were confined to their cabins for an extended period, and were offered no compensation for this inconvenience from the cruise line!

The last day of our trip, July 18th 2016, marked 25 years since Lynda and John met, hiking up Grouse Mountain in 1991!