7-night Istanbul to Athens Voyage Aboard the m/v Tere Moana
We started out in the marvelous city of Istanbul, rich in history and architecture. We arrived at our hotel in the early evening. After a nice dinner of kofta and kabobs, we settled in for a good night’s sleep. We were awakened by the call to prayer from the mosque next to our hotel early in the morning. We were excited by the reminder that we were immersed in our new culture. After a large breakfast overlooking the Blue Mosque from the roof of our hotel, we headed out to explore the city. Istanbul was called Byzantium and then Constantinople. It was an important seaport. First ruled by the Romans, it later became the capital of the Roman Empire. The city was then captured by the Turks during the Roman Empire and renamed Istanbul. Sultan Mehmet Square is where all the top highlights of the city are.
Our first stop was the Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This stunning mosque features six minarets and eight secondary domes. It incorporates Islamic architecture along with Byzantine elements. The interior of the mosque is lined with 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles.
Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Interior Dome of the Blue Mosque
To enter the mosque, visitors are asked to cover their head and clothing with scarves and robes that are provided at the entrance.
Hagia Sophia Museum (Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul
A few feet from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, a museum rich with architectural beauty and embellished with gold detailing and marble. It stands as a monument for both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was once a church, later a mosque, and is now a museum.
Hagia Sophia Museum
This opulent palace features Turkish architecture and shaded courtyards. White marble tile adorns the palace walls. It was once the residence of the Sultans.
Spoonmaker’s Diamond – Topkapi Palace
The fourth-largest diamond in the world, at 86 carats, is found in Topkapi Place. Legend has it that a poor fisherman in Istanbul found the shiny stone among the litter, carried it in his pocket, and showed it to a jeweler. The jeweler convinced him it was a piece of glass and gave him three spoons for it. Later, its value was discovered, and it was sold to a dealer and eventually went to the Sultan.
Cistern Basilica in Yerebatan, Turkey
Beneath Istanbul lie hundreds of Byzantine cisterns. The largest is the Basilica Cistern. Also known as the sunken palace, it holds 671,000 barrels of water and has 336 marble columns, adorned with upside-down Medusa heads. The Basilica was featured in the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love,” in which Mr. Bond could be seen rowing a small boat. The main purpose of the cistern is to store water for the various palaces in Istanbul.
Hammams (Turkish Baths)
One of the highlights of Istanbul is visiting a Turkish Bath, also known as a Hammam—an experience you won’t want to miss. Wearing a bathing suit you are provided with, you are escorted into a sauna like room with a cement circle to lie on along with 10 other tourists. You lie down, relax, and wait your turn to be scrubbed and exfoliated. Looking above you, you see a dome shaped with star and moon designs. A Turkish woman approaches you and begins scrubbing you with a dry loofah, then flips you over and exfoliates you from head to toe. Then, without any advance notice, she pours a huge bubbly cloud of soap over you and scrubs your body. She then lifts you into a seated position and splashes you with force with water, before washing your hair. Finally she leads you to a Jacuzzi to relax before you head into the resting room, where you can have coffee or tea and a snack.
Not to be missed is the night bazaar, which is also in the vicinity of all the attractions. Here you can purchase anything from souvenirs of the Blue Mosque to Turkish delights.
The food was absolutely delicious. We devoured platters of kebabs and koftas with yogurt and eggplant flavored with a blend of Indian and Arabic spices.
Off to the Ship for Our 7-night Luxury Cruise
We bid farewell to Istanbul and headed out to our home for the next seven nights aboard the m/v Tere Moana—a 90-guest luxury ship with 60 crew on board.
m/v Tere Moana
We bid farewell to Istanbul with a rewarding view of the Blue Mosque at sunset as our ship sailed away.
Blue Mosque at Sunset
Our first Turkish port on Day 2 was Ҫanakkale, on the southern coast of the Dardanelles. It has territory in both Europe and Asia and is the site of ancient Troy, one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. We took a tour of Troy and climbed up to the top of the wooden horse for a picture.
Wooden Horse in Troy
Ephesus – Kusadasi, Turkey
On Day 3, we docked in Kusadasi, where we were able to access some of the most well-preserved ruins in the world at Ephesus.
The city of Ephesus was established as a port and commercial center and is now the location for several archaelogical remains. The great Temple of Artemis was built in 550 BC and destroyed in AD 262. During excavations in the late 19th century, many artifacts of the Roman and Byzantine periods were uncovered.
The Terrace Houses
The Terrace Houses are ancient apartments once inhabited by wealthy Ephesians. They are being completely reassembled. We had the opportunity to walk around inside these luxurious homes and get a feel for what life used to be during these ancient times in Ephesus.
During our tour, cats hovered and ran around the ruins. We questioned our guide (arranged by Paul Gauguin Personalized Services) about the legality of cats and tourists roaming and touching the ruins. She explained that Turkey has so many ruins, they are happy to allow tourists to touch and get close to the excavations—and to history. They could not do anything about controlling the cats.
Later, we stopped at a Turkish restaurant and had some Turkish coffee and a Turkish delight. Turkish coffee is thick and is similar to espresso.
Turkish Coffee and a Turkish Delight
Patmos was our first island stop in Greece on Day 4. Here, we visited St. John’s monastery, then headed to the beach to enjoy the lovely Aegean Sea.
The second stop in Greece, on Day 5 was Rhodes, with its beautiful fortified castle and fantastic beaches. We had an option to take a bus to Lindos but chose instead to stay by the port and visit the shops, fort, and castle. We also visited a gallery before we headed to a lovely beach.
Greek Entertainment Aboard Ship
While sailing from Patmos to Rhodes, we enjoyed Greek entertainment on board one night. The musicians serenaded us by the pool. Three musicians playing the guitar entertained us with instrumental Greek music and some Zorba-like tunes.
Santorini is a stunning volcanic island in the Aegean Sea—considered one of the most romantic places in the world. It is the site of the one of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth. We visited this breathtaking island on Day 6 of our cruise.
Red Beach in Santorini, Greece
This island is widely believed to be the lost city of the Atlantis. A series of whitewashed buildings and blue domes are built into the hillside cascading down to the Aegean. You can opt to take a donkey to the top of the hill to Oia, one of the oldest settlements, and view the stunning sunset. If you’ve ever seen the “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movie, this is where the girls meet together at the end of the movie.
During our call on Santorini on Day 6, we visited Boutari, a beautiful winery at the top of a hill, where we enjoyed lunch and a sampling of a variety of local Santorini wines, including the famous Retsina wine which is made from pine nuts. We then visited a monastery, where we purchased olive oil pressed by monks.
Several of the Islands we visited in Greece, including Santorini, featured fish spas. Here, you can opt for a pedicure assisted by fish. The spa staff assists in getting you prepped and escorted to the fish bowl. The fish are then unleashed in the pedicure bowl to remove dead skin off your feet. We opted not to try the fish spa, but one of the other guests on board tried it and truly enjoyed it.
Food On Board The Moana
On our way to Delos on Day 7, we enjoyed the amenities of our lovely Moana including the spa, pool, and Jacuzzi. We also enjoyed the delicious meals prepared by Chef Roy, with many menu items designed by Jean Pierre Vigato, Chef Propriétaire of the 2-star Michelin-rated Restaurant Apicius in Paris. We indulged in a fabulous breakfast including a breakfast Martini with tropical fruit and a healthy, organic granola bar.
Antipasto On Board The Moana
Staff Aboard The Moana
Our friendly staff aboard The Moana ensured our comfort, and tailored to our every whim. Our bartender prepared a special drink of the day and served it at the daily cocktail hour. Meanwhile, the talented pianist Alex (Alexander Goldwin Lee) entertained us until midnight.
Our final destination was Athens. We bid farewell to the other guests on the ship and thanked the staff for a lovely experience. We spent the next two days in Athens enjoying the sites.
Here we visited the famous Acropolis, an ancient citadel located on a high rocky site above the city of Athens. The word “Acropolis” means “city on high.” Built in the 5th century BC, the Acropolis was erected by Pericles as a monument to the achievements of the residents of Athens. It was dismantled by the Turks and then rebuilt in 1836.
Acropolis in Athens, Greece
We enjoyed the delectable Greek food including grape leaves, moussaka, an eggplant casserole with meat sauce and cheese, and baklava, a phyllo dessert with walnuts and honey. But our favorite was the cheese saganaki—fried cheese is doused with Ouzo (licorice liquor poured over the cheese) and flambéed. Delicious!
We later visited the changing of the guards and the Olympic site. We headed back to the US after a memorable Aegean vacation.