Mythical, Magical Voyage to Antiquities
History, geography, and current events have never been my strong suits. But even I, who would rather be immersed in a plate of loukamoades (Greek doughnuts) than stumbling among the rubble of an archeological ruin, found myself inspired and humbled by the mythology, economic turmoil, and natural beauty of my journey from Athens to Istanbul.
Voyages to Antiquity, a bespoke cruise line committed to exploring ancient civilizations, was my porthole to discovering the blue waters and breathtaking vistas of the Mediterranean.
A Voyage Like None Else
For the gay traveler who is more interested in the Greek gods than looking like one, cruising on Voyages to Antiquity, is like riding the ocean waves with Poseidon at your side. A single ship cruise line conceived and founded by cruise ship innovator Gerry Herrod, the MV Aegean Odyssey recently received a Mediterranean makeover with cabins resized and reconfigured to accommodate an average of 350 passengers compared to its original 570.
The ship served as home base for my 13-day adventure and provided the perfect backdrop for discovering the history, art, and cultures of the ancient world. You won’t find a 24-hour ice cream buffet or sequined-studded cabaret lounge on board the Aegean Odyssey. Instead, you can grab a book and settle into the library or catch a pre-excursion lecture from an Oxford-educated expert. That’s not to say the ship isn’t outfitted with classic cruising amenities. It is equipped with a spa, workout facility, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, numerous bar and lounge areas, and two restaurants including an outdoor terrace café.
The stewards and food service crew exude a warm, inviting energy without missing a single detail. Offshore excursions are accompanied by a bevy of young, enthusiastic Brits, whose exuberance for ancient cultures made me regret dropping out of Mythology 101 during my freshman year.
City of the Violet Crown
The pre-cruise itinerary began with several days at the Westin Astir Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa. While I was hoping to be in the city center with views of the Acropolis and Parthenon, I was happy to unwind (sans tear gas and yogurt bombs) on the Athenian Riviera, Vouliagmen-just a half an hour from Athens.
The poet Pindar wrote of Athens: "City of light, with the violet crown, beloved of the poets, thou art the bulwark of Greece." It may have been a testament to the iridescent sunsets reflecting off of the surrounding mountains or perhaps the majesty of the great temples. The Athens that I saw felt both fractured and beautiful.
With the gracious accompaniment of Greece’s International Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association (IGLTA) representative Orhideea Rosu, I got a taste of what Athens has to offer and a perspective on how the country continues to struggle with a failing economy and a financial structure without foundation.
We hit the Gazi area two nights in a row and it was everything you might imagine. Hopping from bar to bar, the men radiated sensuality, their perfect olive complexions set off by blinding white teeth and freshly pressed pastel shirts. Having dinner with Orhideea at an outdoor café told a different story though, as she shared real concerns about Greece’s economy. One would think that rising taxes, an insurmountable debt, and a multi-billion dollar bailout package would weigh heavy on the Greek people, but a spirit of survival and perpetual celebration seemed to prevail on the streets. That or we all had one too many shots of ouzo.
Visits to the stunning Acropolis Museum and National Archaeology Museum were a poignant reminder that a powerful civilization had risen - and fallen - on the very ground which I stood. My adventure of land and sea had begun.