Towering Cliffs, White Washed Buildings and Turquoise Blue Waters
My wife and I embarked on our fifth cruise recently. We chose a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship, the Norwegian Star for the seven-night cruise to the exotic Greek Islands.
How many of us know that Greece has actually 1200 to 6000 islands depending on the minimum size one takes into account? Of this huge number, only about 160 plus islands are inhabited.
We also went on a shore excursion in Kotor, Montenegro at the start of the cruise and another shore excursion in Dubrovnik, Croatia on the last leg of the cruise. ‘Kotor’ in Bahasa Malaysia means dirty. I was, as such, intrigued by the name.
Montenegro is one of the six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia under one of the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) strongman named Tito.
Montenegro Was a Disappointment
Kotor was not dirty but it was drab looking. It was a real waste of time because it took about an hour’s drive to get to our first destination through a bleak and dreary countryside with no redeeming or outstanding features. The ancient city of Budva was a little better and it is kissed by the open Adriatic Sea. It had some interesting buildings.
However, the people of Montenegro did not seem friendly to the throngs of people visiting the area. In addition and this is a big point, whilst they desperately want the tourists, they have yet to provide proper and easily accessible clean toilets. This is a major drawback. Many in our group found this absence of proper and accessible toilets a real turn off.
Dubrovnik Is a Beautiful City
A day before we returned to Venice, Italy we made a stopover in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We had heard rave reviews about Dubrovnik and many commented that it is a beautiful city. In fact, we know of a couple, friends of ours from Canberra, Australia, who spent four weeks on vacation in Dubrovnik two years ago. They liked the city a lot. And so it was a great relief that all these reviews and commentaries were actually spot on.
Dubrovnik is certainly a beautiful and well laid out city with a charm of its own. We chose to go on the Croatian Riviera and Dubrovnik tour. It turned out to be a great choice. The drive through the picturesque villages was most enjoyable and we got to see cattle and goats grazing in the fields against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains.
Cascading Waters of Ljuta River
The highlight of the tour through the fertile Konavle Valley for us was the stop for a light snack at a restaurant located in an old mill next to the cascading waters of the Ljuta River. The setting was simply ideal and one could see and hear the rush of crystal clean water from the nearby mountain as one contemplated the unbelievably scenic and peaceful surroundings.
The delightful light snack consisted of local specialities such as Croatian smoked ham, cheese, homemade bread and a glass of local wine. The charming waitresses dressed in their colourful national costumes offered us a choice of red or white wine.
Corfu Captivates the Visitor
During our cruise, we had a chance to make three other shore excursions to the following Greek islands: Mykonos, Corfu and Santorini. Of these, Santorini really impressed me a lot.
In Corfu, we chose to go on the Achilleion Palace and Corfu Town tour. We drove through the lovely countryside dotted with lemon and olive trees to reach the charming village of Gastouri where the majestic Achilleion Palace stands. While driving throughout Greece we noticed that the roads are in good condition and well maintained. The palace has beautiful gardens full of exotic flowers surrounding the building.
We also enjoyed our walk from the tree-lined main square to the Old Town. Here we saw historical sites such as the Venetian quarters, the Town Hall and the Church of St. Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu. The shops and sights of the Old Town were quite interesting and my wife did some shopping here. We also had time for a light snack in one of the many breezy cafes.
Santorini: Breathtaking in its Beauty
As we got into the tender from our cruise ship which had anchored some distance from the port and headed out to the island of Santorini, I was struck by its imposing sight. The island has an incredible majesty about it as one approaches.
The island formed as a result of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago is a sight to behold with its rugged and craggy face. According to experts that volcanic eruption was ten times more powerful than the one from Krakatova, Indonesia in 1883!
The city of 15,000 inhabitants is situated on an island in the Southern Aegean Sea. It certainly has highly acclaimed and dramatic views and stunning sunsets. And to make matters really dramatic, Santorini is perched on the rim of a massive active volcano.
White Washed Buildings & Towering Cliffs
White washed buildings are a regular and most pleasant feature in Greece. If your building/house faces the sea, then you are only allowed to paint your wooden window frames in the colour blue. If your house faces the hillside, then you can paint the window frames in brown. All houses must be white-washed. This decree by a dictator many years ago still remains in force.
Dancing to Zorba the Greek
We had our lunch in a modern, well-built Greek restaurant named Pyrgos Tavern situated in one of the oldest settlements and the highest village on the island. We enjoyed traditional Greek food, music, wine and dances. The food was very good but I thought they should have included lamb, octopus and squid in the buffet menu.
The fun part was the Greek style celebration – OPA! A couple of dances were performed by four Greek lasses in traditional costumes and this was followed by a livelier version of dancing much like in the movie, Zorba the Greek starring Anthony Quinn. This time, a male dancer joined in and he was equal to the task and gave a spirited display of his prowess in this field. Then the lasses and the male dancer approached the diners and invited them on to the dance floor. Soon the place was throbbing to the sounds of good music and lively dancing.
Finally, all present had a smashing time breaking plates with much joy and gusto. I must mention here that throughout our trip to the Greek islands, there was easy availability of clean and well-maintained toilets. For some of them, one has to pay a small fee to use.
Some Interesting Facts about Santorini
Here are some interesting facts about Santorini.
- The seas around Santorini are a shimmering turquoise blue. Really beautiful to behold. The only other place where I have seen the seas so beautiful is in the Caribbean island of Barbados.
- There are more churches on the island than homes. These small churches were built by grateful sailors in honour of the saints who saved them from a watery grave while at sea.
- The export of pumice stones is a big business on the island.
- There are more than 100 varieties of grapes on Santorini. The island produces good quality wine and more than 89% is white wine.
- There are more donkeys than men on the islands. Donkeys are used to carry goods and the luggage of tourists up the steep, winding slopes and steps all around the islands.
How Did We Get to the Top of the Island?
We travelled up to the mountain top in a comfortable bus driven by a very experienced and capable driver. He needed to be experienced to be able to drive with some degree of sure-footedness up the very narrow winding road. At some points, it was quite scary to look out at the scenes below us but it was not a white-knuckle drive all the way. We enjoyed the breathtaking scenery as the bus slowly snaked its way up the narrow mountain roads.
We had three options for descending from the mountain. One was by slowly trekking down the 500 plus steps to the bottom. The other was to hitch a bumpy and smelly donkey ride down. We all opted for the third option and that was to take the cable car down in just a few minutes. Incidentally, the cable car system was built and donated by a rich and well-established family on the island as its community service contribution.
One Final Thought
If I have the opportunity and the time, I would certainly like to re-visit both Santorini and Dubrovnik. There is so much more to know, experience and enjoy about these two amazing places. One needs to spend at least a week in each place to soak in the atmosphere and explore the hidden nooks and corners of these exotic places. And this time around, I will certainly be a traveller and not a tourist.
#travel #Dubrovnik #Santorini #Corfu #Montenegro