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Day Two – Monemvasia with Seabourn Odyssey:
My cunning plan to order breakfast in my suite before the stretch class backfires a tad. I wake and shower – then wrap myself in towels to hear the chime of the doorbell. Without thinking, I go to the door to find a waiter with breakfast to set up. Five minutes early is a better option than 10 minutes late, but I am just a little embarrassed. Breakfast, however, is a fine affair, with a warm toasted bagel nicely wrapped up in a white linen napkin, a choice of teas and a generous portion of smoked salmon with cream cheese. I save the yoghurt for after stretch!
And, I survive the class, with just six guests it is a really pleasant and not in the least bit strenuous experience. Back in my suite, more tea and some yoghurt before I leave to find out how to get to shore for my first organised tour. These are one of the few extra costs, though, for the most part, they are not expensive. The three-hour tour of Monemvasia is $49 – and the group is just 10 people to each guide. What is called a ‘tender’ turns out to be a small boat which pulls up alongside the Ship to carry people ashore. There are uniformed officers to help us all on board and a glorious trip to the tiny Monemvasia, an island connected to the mainland by a causeway off the east coast of the Peloponnese in Greece. There we meet the ebullient Elsa – our guide for the day. She’s a local and by training an art historian. A good guide is inspirational and Elsa is one of the best I’ve met.
Elsa tells us first that Monemvasia means ‘single entrance’ and that the fortified town survived because there was just one way to reach it. It’s not a standard cruise stop – many of the Seabourn stops are too small to be part of the general Mediterranean cruise path – so while there are other tourists, the tiny island isn’t overwhelmed. I’m rather pleased – I love Greek Islands like Mykonos and would hate to have found this one overwhelmed with cruise passengers. The town was founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the invasion of Greece – and from that time onward, it remained something of a stronghold- with the single entrance and robust walls surrounding the settlement.
It did, however, pass hands several times – including periods of Byzantine, Papal, Ottoman and Venetian rule. I spot a Venetian lion, complete with wings over the lintel of an otherwise very ordinary house. Everything here is rebuilt using the stone that has been on the island for centuries, so who knows where my lion originated…
Although we are not allowed to take photos of the 14th century Icon inside the church Elsa amuses us by lecturing us on the various qualities of the religious art on show in the 13th Century Cathedral of Christ Elkomenos, by telling us about her youth, growing up ‘many centuries ago’ in Athens and by trying her best to get us to ‘support the local economy’ by drinking in the various bars and cafes we pass.
She also manages to convince me that she will walk SLOWLY up the hill to the church at the top and that it will be worth the journey. It’s hot and I am a little overweight and more than a little unfit. She sets off at a pace
And, true to her word it’s worth the effort. To reach the top, we walk through a half-restored medieval fortress and from the top, we can see the most stunning blue seas. Inside the church of Agia Sophia, there are frescos and painted icons, which Elsa tells us are ‘Art – but, Country Art’. Some of the faces of the frescos have been blanked out – during periods when the Island was under Muslim rule.
It’s very tranquil – I’d be happy just to stay up here.
Coming back down is a little trickier – good shoes, as noted on the shore excursion schedule, would have been more sensible here and I make a mental note to wear trainers rather than sandals for future adventures. It’s not just me who is struggling, the path is slippery and anyone wearing the wrong footwear finds the going tough.
Of course, that kind of exertion warrants reward and I settle down in Elsa’s favourite local café for salad and glass of wine before heading back.
We arrive on board by tender and there’s time to take a shower and relax before making my way on deck to watch the afternoon’s entertainment, a group of Greek folk dancers. All I can say is that there is clearly something of a myth about the dominant Mediterranean man…
Then it’s time for sail away. I feel like a little me-time so go to my suite to enjoy a glass of champagne on the terrace. Each guest is offered a choice of two alcoholic drinks for their fridge – for me, champagne and Grand Marnier (a night cap). I’m planning on enjoying this cruise.
Dinner tonight is in Colonnades, mostly because it’s formal night in the main restaurant and everyone is dressing up – though there’s quite a wide variety of options (Tuxedo, suit or slacks and jacket for gentlemen and Evening gown or other formal apparel for women) and some of our group prefer not to do so. In any case, Colonnades has an outdoor terrace where we can dine al-fresco
We are all impressed by the ‘French’ evening in Colonnades though, especially as it’s warm enough to dine on deck. One thing I discover quite quickly is that the wine on offer is not the only wine available within the inclusive package.
We’re offered a robust, oaked Californian red and I ask nicely if there’s anything French available (since we are eating a French menu). As if by magic a bottle of award-winning Bordeaux appears. Pushing my luck a bit I ask for a dessert wine and am rewarded with a small glass of Sauternes.
After a meal of rather good, garlicky escargots, chateaubriand and creme brulee for dessert, I retire to the Square for a decaf coffee before bed. Tomorrow we arrive in Katakolon and I’m booked on an excursion to Olympia. So, I want to get a good night’s sleep.
Disclosure: I travelled as a guest of Seabourn Cruises
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