My fifth trip to Europe was to Greece and Turkey, with a cruise around the Aegean Sea.  We arrived in Athens on June 16 and did little besides go to our hotel.  Although the rooms there weren't that great, it had a large patio on the roof with a view of the Acropolis.  The next day we went on a tour of Athens.  Our first stop was the Acropolis, where the Parthenon was undergoing some restoration work; another temple had been completely dismantled for restoration elsewhere.  Then we went to the Kallimarmaro Stadium, which is over 2000 years old and was restored for the first modern Olympics in 1896.  After watching the changing of the guard outside the presidential mansion, we went over to the Plaka, or shopping district, for lunch.  In the afternoon we went to the Archaeological Museum, which has ancient artifacts from across Greece, including the gold burial masks from Mycenae.

June 18th we went to Delphi, site of the most famous oracle in the ancient world.  The complex was built on the side of a mountain, so a lot of climbing is required to see everything that's been uncovered there.  The buildings closets to the bottom were "treasuries" which housed larger gifts from the various Greek city-states.  About 2/5 of the way up is the temple of Apollo, where the oracle was located.  Near it is a small theater.  A path heads up the mountain from there, at the top of which is a small stadium. 

The next day we left Athens and went down to the Peloponnese Peninsula, stopping along the way near Corinth to see the Corinth Canal, which is quite narrow.  Continuing on our way, we went first to Epidauros, with a brief delay at one point due to a herd of goats blocking the road.  Epidauros was a healing center dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of medicine.  The major thing there today is the theater, the auditorium of which is in very good condition.  The theater is still used today.  Then we went to Mycenae, home of the legendary House of Atreus and where the Trojan War was launched from.  There we saw the ruins of the acropolis, the grave circle, and palace, before heading down the hill a short ways to see one of the beehive tombs, namely the one that Atreus was supposedly buried in.  From there we went to our hotel in Tolo, a small town on the Peloponnese's east coast.  There's an absolutely beautiful beach there, with clear, warm water.

On the 20th we went across the Peloponnese to Olympia, a four-hour drive that consumed the entire morning.  After lunch we walked through the ruins there, where the ancient Olympics had taken place.  The stone blocks from many of the temples were laid out on the ground in neat rows in preparation for rebuilding prior to the 2004 Olympics.  The most impressive "structure" there turned out to be the stadium, where the Olmpic torch is lit every two years.  Unlike other stadia, the one at Olympia has only grassy hills surrounding the playing field for spectators to sit on.  The only stone structures are the box where the judges sat and the main entrance to the stadium.  After wandering through Olympia for a while, we got back on the bus for a two hour ride to our hotel in Patras, on the Gulf of Corinth. 

We did very little on the 21st and 22nd.  On the 21st we drove up to Halkida to board our cruise ship, the MTS Odysseus (an appropriate name, since we were going on an odyssey of our own).  We had originally planned to board the ship at Athens' port of Pireas, but there were some strikes there at the time of our visit.  We were also supposed to have a completely different ship.  As it soon came out, that ship had been out of service for months by the time we went to Greece (as I recall, it wasn't expected to ever sail again) and the tour company that everything had been arranged through had flat out lied to us about it being available; after we got back home we pressured them into giving us a refund for the change in ship.  All that night and most of the next day were spent sailing across the Aegean, through the Dardanelles, and across the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul, which we got to in the evening.

We went on a tour of the European side of Istanbul on the 23rd.  The first place of significance we visited was the Blue Mosque, which was undergoing restoration at the time (the turn of the century was a popular time for restoring things all over Europe).  It is forbidden to wear shoes inside the mosque.  The entire floor is covered with hundreds, perhaps thousands of prayer rugs.  Then we went to the Hagia Sophia, which started as a Byzantine cathedral, then became a mosque, and is now a museum.  For many centuries it had the widest, and flattest dome in the world.  We then went to a rug store near the bazaar that, of course, sold Turkish rugs.  This leads to an amusing anecdote about currency in Turkey.  At the time, the Turkish lira had been depreciating for decades, resulting in the ridiculous exchange rate of 1.65 million lira to the US dollar.  So, the US$3500 rug my parents bought there for the living room cost 5.6 billion lira.  Turkey has since revalued its currency by a factor of a million, resulting in a much more reasonable-sounding exchange rate.  Another amusing note, sellers in Istanbul are happy to accept lira, euros, or dollars; whether their prices are better than paying a fee to have money exchanged at the bank, I couldn't say.  After the rug store, we went to Topkapi Palace for a tour and lunch.

That night and the morning of the 24th we sailed down the coast to Kusadasi, arriving in the early afternoon.  After disembarking from the ship, we took a bus to the nearby ruins of Ephesus.  A port in ancient times, centuries of siltation have resulted in it being several miles inland.  Most of the ruins there are from Roman times, when the city had a population of around a quarter-million.  This was where the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was located, though the ruins of that are now in the British Museum.  The city was rediscovered in the 1860s by a British engineer building a railroad through the area.  Since then about 30% of the city has been excavated.

On June 25th we visited the Greek islands of Patmos and Mykonos.  Both are pleasant little islands.  On Patmos we had a bus tour from one end of the island to the other.  On Mykonos we were simply given free time to wander around the main town as we pleased.  While there, we saw the old windmills that are a highlight of the island, as well as a semi-tame pelican that is the island's mascot.

The next day we visited the island of Rhodes, and started with a walking tour of the medieval old town of the island's namesake capital.  From there, we drove down the coast to Lindos, stopping along the way at a pottery studio where we saw a demonstration of the potters' wheel.  Lindos is a nice little town, above which towers an acropolis that was used into medieval times.  It's quite a climb to get up there, but the view is worth it.  We then headed back towards Rhodes, stopping at the Blue Sea Hotel for lunch and a swim.  Many people also went watertubing there in some large sno-tube-like floats pulled by a speedboat.  It was amusing watching them wipe out.  When we got back to Rhodes we drove by the ancient acropolis, most of which has yet to be excavated, and then headed back to the ship.

On June 27th our ship arrived at the port of Heraklion on the island of Crete, and we took a bus from there to Knossos to see the 4000-years-old Minoan palace.  The palace's hundreds of rooms and the twisting corridors connecting them gave rise to the legend of the Minotaur and the labyrinth.  Parts of the palace have been restored to what archaeologists think they looked like before the palace was destroyed.  We also visited a nearby museum which holds artifacts found at the palace.

From Crete we sailed to Santorini.  This island (actually, a circular chain of islands surrounding a volcanic caldera) was devastated by a massive volcanic eruption some 3600 years ago, which may have also caused the collapse of Minoan civilization and been the source of the legend of Atlantis.  Today, ships dock inside the caldera, with larger ones like ours anchoring some distance from the actual piers, necessitating the use of tenders to ferry people to and from the shore.  The coast on the caldera side of the island consists of cliffs almost 1000 feet tall, while on the other side the ground gradually slopes down to the sea.  The island itself is quite scenic, with impressive views from the top of the caldera.

Our last full day in Greece was the 28th.  Our ship arrived in Pireas early in the morning, and we had to get off by 7:45 AM.  We dropped off our bags at the hotel in Athens, and then had the rest of the day free to do whatever we wanted.  The next day we got up very early to drive to the airport before dawn for our flight back home.