I’ve always wanted to visit Greece and take a Mediterranean cruise, so when a friend asked me to take a spring trip to Athens, Greece (with a group of avid travelers) to visit some of the most beautiful and revered islands in world, I knew I had to make it a part of my travel experiences.
At the time, my Bible class was studying the Book of Revelation. An upsurge of interest was sparked when I saw ancient Ephesus and the Isle of Patmos listed on the itinerary. I especially wanted to see Patmos where St. John the Evangelist had a vision of Christ and wrote the text to the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. I knew that actually visiting the places we were studying about would be more of a spiritual awakening for me . . . so my Greek experience began.
Our first stop was in Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Our layover was short, but what I saw of the city (the beautifully colored buildings and the many canals) was enough to make me want to return for a visit someday. A few hours later, we were off to Athens, Greece. Upon arrival in Athens, we were warmly greeted and briefed by our tour guide. After getting refreshed at our hotel, we were off to get a taste of Athens.
On day two, we boarded our cruise ship, sailing the Aegean Sea. Our first stop was on the Island of Mykonos, the most visited of the Greek Isles. We hit the ground running, taking in all the beautiful sights and sounds of the rolling sea. I immediately fell in love with the Mykonos; its sugarcube houses with blue/ green shutters, some with balconies that hang over the sea, and its giant white-washed windmills that seemed to beckon me to come closer. And I obeyed. I found myself lost in the winding streets that were designed long ago to confuse invading pirates. With the friendly atmosphere and total relaxation by the seashore, I could have stayed in Mykonos for days. But our itinerary was to see some of the Greek Islands, and my mission was to set foot on The Island of Patmos and to see ancient Ephesus.
Our next stop was at the port of Kusadasi, Turkey. Its history spans almost 10,000 years. I was ecstatic to be on another continent (Asia). We boarded our tour bus, traveling on land that was once sea during ancient biblical days. The drive along the countryside and along the coast of Asia Minor was simply breathtaking – nature at its best. Soon we were in ancient Ephesus. And if there is one excursion not to be missed, it is the one to Ephesus. It is one of the most extensive and best-preserved ancient cities of the world. Once we were off the bus, we took a scenic walk down the same road the Apostle Paul had traveled when he was in Ephesus preaching Christianity to the Ephesians. We were in awe, and all that I could hear were ancient stories being told by the guides and the sound of clicking cameras.
After feasting on ancient Ephesus, we were off to the Holy Island of Patmos, the Island I was most passionate about. We docked at Skala, the Island’s main port. Again, we boarded our tour bus and were taken up to the Monastery of the Apocalypse. Once there, the crowd hushed; it was like standing on holy ground. We entered the little cave, The Sacred Grotto, and stood in silence as we looked upon the stone pillar where St. John the Evangelist had slept and where he “heard a great voice, as of a trumpet” commanding him to write a book and “send it unto the seven Churches in Asia Minor.” I was humbled by my experience, to say the least. At that moment, I was reassured that I had gotten what I had come to Greece to get . . . spiritual enlightenment.
We got a taste of other interesting Greek Isles as well. We visitedRhodes, which is the former fortified headquarters of the crusaders. I was daring enough to take the strenuous walk to the top of the Acropolis (the fortified castle) along with a few more brave souls. The view from the top, looking out over the Aegean Sea, was well worth the strenuous climb.
But my Greek experience would not be complete without telling you about our last stop and the most extraordinary island in the Aegean Sea… Santorini. Santorini, a volcanic island, is the most spectacular site in Greece. Its main town of Thira (also called Fira) is perched 1,000 feet above sea level on the edge of the crater, and other towns look like crystals of salt or freshly fallen snow sprinkled along the spine of the island. From a distance, on our ship out on the Aegean Sea, the towns appear to be snowcapped mountains. Once at the port of call, we were given several options to reach Thira or Fira: walk, hire a donkey, take a tour bus, or go up by cable car. We chose to take the scenic ride up by tour bus. Each side of The Santorini Island has big drops, and the road to the top was along the edge of the cliff. I prayed all the way up for our safety, and I was thanking God at the same time for giving me such an awesome, once in a lifetime experience. Once at the top, we had a bird’s eye view of ships that looked like toys in a gigantic bathtub (1,000 feet below). We took the cable car back down to the dock. The view was awesome, and the ride was a thriller. Whether your view is from the top of the Island of Santorini or from the ship on the Aegean Sea, this beautiful Island touches the very core of the human soul, leaving you with a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
At the end of our cruise, we spent three more days in Athens, Greece. We visited more historic attractions: Delphi, The Parthenon, more of the old city and the new; shopped, dined at some of the fine restaurants in the Plakas and enjoyed great entertainment. Finally, it was time to return home. I returned rejuvenated, excited, spiritually awakened and looking forward to my next trip. Once back home (Atlanta), I had more Greek experiences. I went to see the stage musical “Mama Mia”, at The Fabulous Fox Theater, and most recently, I took in the movie, “Mama Mia”. It has been all Greek for me.