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This story was written by Rick Archer

Starting in 2004, SSQQ has taken two cruises a year.  One cruise each year is our popular dance cruise around the Caribbean while a second cruise is booked to a "Destination".  

In 2004 we went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  In 2005 we went to Alaska.  In 2006 we went to New England.   In 2007 we went to Hawaii.  In 2008 we try our most ambitious trip yet - the SSQQ Cruise to Greece.

As I am sure most of you remember from your Ancient History courses, as far as the Western Civilization is concerned, Greece is where it all began.  

The people of the region attempted to explain the world through the laws of nature. They made important discoveries in science. They developed democracy, where people govern themselves rather than being ruled by a king. The Greeks also valued beauty and imagination. They wrote many stories and plays that continue to be performed today. The ancient Greeks developed a great many traditions that we take for granted without even thinking about their origins (for example, the Marathon and the Olympics). 

This are the reasons why Greece is often known as the Cradle of Western Civilization.

If it were not for the Greeks, we would not have the Democracy we take for granted.  If it were not for the Greeks, we might be speaking Persian today.  If it were not for the Greeks, we would not have the Trojan War, Greek Mythology, Greek Philosophy, Greek Drama, or the Olympic Games. 

Obviously Greece has had a profound effect on the course of Western history.

The Civilization of ancient Greece flowered more than 2500 years ago.  Greece is an extremely mountainous country that makes it very difficult for agriculture.  Consequently the ancient Greeks were forced to adapt.  They became a sea-faring nation.  They also developed a passion for knowledge and culture.  As a result, Greece became the most advanced scientific country of its time.  Known for its advanced mathematics and astronomy, Greece is the country that gave us Archimedes, Ptolemy and Pythagoras.  Known for its medicine, Greece gave us Hippocrates and Galen. 

Perhaps what Greece is most famous for is its Philosophers.  The ancient Greeks seem to have been a most inquisitive group of people.  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were prodigious scholars whose ideas were deeply influential.  Socrates was a rebel who taught people to question authority and to act on their own principles even if it meant challenging the established way of doing things.  Socrates is given credit for the ideas that led to the formation of Democracy.  Unfortunately, Socrates became so unpopular with the people who were in power that he was executed mainly for teaching people to think for themselves.  No wonder we admire these people!

Before Democracy came along, the existing systems of government in the Greek city states included Monarchies, Tyrannies, and Dictators.  Athens itself used Oligarchy as their system of government.  Oligarchy means 'rule by the wealthy few'.  But the scholars of Athens could see the selfish decisions of wealthy were ruining the morale of the people and preventing progress.  The scholars spoke up and made persuasive arguments in favor of this new idea called Democracy.  First Aristotle wrote the Athenian Constitution.  Then Solon, the Father of Democracy, implemented the new system. 

Later it fell to a man named Cleisthenes to continue the development of Athenian Democracy.  Cleisthenes was the grandson and namesake of a foreign Greek tyrant, the ruler of Sicyon in the Peloponnese.  For a time he was also the brother-in-law of the Athenian tyrant, Peisistratus, who seized power three times before finally establishing a stable and apparently benevolent dictatorship. It was against the increasingly harsh rule of Peisistratus's eldest son that Cleisthenes championed a radical political reform movement which in 508 ushered in the Athenian democratic constitution.

It was under this political system that Athens successfully resisted the Persian onslaughts of 490 and 480, most conspicuously at the battles of Marathon and Salamis.  These victories in turn encouraged the poorest Athenians to demand a greater say in the running of their city.

So it was in the late 460s that Pericles presided over a radicalization of power that shifted the balance decisively to the poorest sections of society.  It was Pericles who made this new system of government truly work. 

From 460 until 429 BCE when he died of sickness, Pericles controlled Athenian affairs. During Pericles rule, Athens reached it's greatest political, social, and economical power. He established a building project, which included the Parthenon, which today is still visible on top of the Acropolis.

It was the democratic Athens of Pericles that won and lost an empire, that built the Parthenon, that gave a stage to Aeschylus, Plato, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, and laid the foundations of western rational and critical thought.

Despite these incredible contributions, unfortunately Greece later fell on difficult times.  For nearly two thousand years, Greece was subjected to constant oppression by outside empires.  After its heyday with Alexander the Great, Greece was conquered by the Romans who ruled Greece for over a thousand years.  Next came 400 years of oppression by the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.   It wasn't until 1829 that the Greek people successfully regained control of their own land.   The next hundred years weren't any easier.  Greece was constantly subjected to further meddling in its affairs by European Countries and endured more problems with its longtime enemy Turkey.  Greece again came under subjugation when the Nazis invaded during World War II  (who can forget the immortal film Guns of Navarone?)

However, after World War II, with the help of the Marshall Plan, Greece began a gradual return to strength and autonomy.  Now that Greece has had 50 years of peace and independence, this country has begun to flourish.  Today Greece enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world thanks in large part to tourism.  People are drawn from all over the world to see the spectacular beauty of this rugged mountain country as well as the fascinating islands that dot the Aegean Sea. 

As our SSQQ community begins to gray a bit, many of us are developing a desire to see the world and understand history better.  I cannot tell you how many people say this trip is something they have wanted to do their entire life.  It is no surprise that we are drawn to Greece as well as to Italy, Crete, Sicily, and Turkey.  After all, this is where it all started. 

I spoke to an SSQQ student who recently had visited Greece.  I asked her to sum up the most interesting thing about her trip.  She replied, "That's easy - I enjoyed seeing the Ruins!   As I walked around the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (Turkey), my tour guide taught me more ancient history in an afternoon than I ever absorbed in high school and college combined.  It was absolutely fascinating!"

However, you don't have to be retired or near retirement to develop a fascination for the Mediterranean.  One day my daughter Samantha asked me for money to buy some Christmas presents.  Sensing an opportunity, I ask Sam, a Junior at Duchesne Academy, to pretend she was a travel agent and identify some of the places she would like to see on our Greece-Italy-Turkey adventure.  Her eyes lit up - she had just finished studying Greece in her sophomore year.  Sam said she would be glad to help.  So she pulled out her notes from last year and started writing.

I was impressed with Sam's work.  I think we might just have a future Travel Writer in the family. 

Ten Places I Would Like to See in the Eastern Mediterranean
Samantha Archer
November 2007

10. Catacombs of Rome

While the Roman Catacombs are just on the outskirts of the heart of the city, you won’t want to miss something this rich in history (not to mention spookiness). The ancient peoples of Rome, the Etruscans, built the original catacombs. The Christians, who sought affordable ways to bury their dead with the body still intact, then adopted the practice of burying dead in the catacombs. The forty Roman catacombs, situated along via Appia, via Ostiense, via Labicana, via Tiburtina, and via Nomentana, are currently under the care of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catacombs of San Callisto house the crypt of the Popes, St. Cecilia, and the Sacraments. Maybe catacombs sound too creepy for your taste – but who knows what fascinating artwork and artifacts can be found down there.


9. Corinth

Today, Corinth is the second-largest city on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. In ancient times, it rivaled the likes of Athens and Sparta until its destruction by the Romans in 146 BC. The city was then rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Famous figures who have walked its grounds include Alexander the Great and the Apostle Paul, who wrote a famous epistle to the Corinthians. Sights to see in this ancient city include the Temple of Aphrodite, the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Octavia (sister of Roman Emperor Augustus) and the Bema, the platform St. Paul pleaded his case in front of the Roman governor Gallio. Corinth is the perfect opportunity to get away from the bustle of Athens and still explore beautiful Grecian ruins.


8. Taormina

Taormina – a small city on the outskirts of Messina – holds a great amount of cultural history because it has acted as a crossroads between the many peoples who have called its lands home. The city itself has much to offer – the fountain in the piazza duomo, the monastery of the San Domenico, the Taormina Cathedral. The Cathedral houses the Byzantine Madonna, also called the non hand-made Madonna. Legend has it that this painting was left hidden inside a wall by angels – hence the name “non hand-made,” for it was made by the angels, not humans. An absolute must-see monument is the Palazzo Duca S. Stefano – the palace of the Duke San Stefano. Its thirteenth-century Gothic architecture also has a nearby garden of equal beauty. So take a stroll through the town and enjoy its architectural achievements – you won’t be able to miss the nearby Mount Etna, which serves as a backdrop to the town.


7. National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum at Athens is considered one of the great museums of the world. It is home to some of the richest historical artifacts from one of the richest civilizations the world has ever known. The most interesting artifact by far is the mask of Agamemnon, found by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 during an excavation of the ancient city of Mycenae. “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon,” Schliemann claimed. Attacks at the mask’s authenticity have been made – but that doesn’t make this artifact any less interesting. Agamemnon, who appears in Homer’s Illiad and a story of his own name by Aeschylus, is one of the more well-known characters in the vast arena of Greek literature. Other interesting artifacts with literature ties include Nestor’s Cup and Theseus’ Ring. Sculptures of Greek heroes and Gods are also found in the Museum – Marathon Boy and Poseidon of Cape Artemision among them.  These archaeological treasures are plentiful in the museum, so use your time to observe some of the remaining artifacts of the ancient world.


6. Great Theater

The Great Theater at Ephesus is thought to be the largest outdoor theatre from the ancient world. While it was originally built for 25,000 people, expansions made by Roman emperors made it large enough to hold an estimated 44,000 people. Built into Mount Pion in Ephesus, the theatre is one hundred feet high and those who feel like making the trip to the top will behold a beautiful spectacle of all the ancient ruins Ephesus has to offer. Historically, additions were made by the Roman emperors Nero, Claudius, and Trajan, and St. Paul delivered a sermon on pagan worship in the theatre. Use your time to see the historically important Ephesian ruins, but definitely make a trip to enjoy the beauty of the area on top of the theatre’s steps. 


5. Colosseum

Think Rome for a second – what immediately pops into your head?  The Colosseum is one of the most well-known European structures, ranked with the Eiffel Tower of Paris and Big Ben of London. The Colosseum was completed in an estimated ten years, from 70 to 80 AD under the Emperor Vespasian. Spectacles of all kinds were held in the Colosseum – enacted were recreations of battles, sea battles, and dramas. The mechanization for these enactments were of mind-blowing proportions – especially those used to fill the amphitheater with water (they exist to this day). The mind-blowing size of the Colosseum, its cultural and historical importance, and its beautiful architecture make it a definite visit while in Rome.  


4. St. Peter’s Basilica

While a visit to the Vatican tops the list for most Rome-goers, many are attracted to St. Peter’s Basilica. From the striking beauty of the structure’s architecture to the artwork and sculptures housed there, the Basilica has some of the most gorgeous treats for the eye in Rome. Emperor Constantine began its construction in 342 AD, near the downfall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. Pope Nicholas V restarted construction near a thousand years later, and today it stands as an amazing spectacle to behold. Besides the tomb of St. Peter, the bodies of Catholic British royalty Edward Stuart, Charles Stuart, and Henry Stuart are also entombed in the Basilica. As a side trip, take some time to see the Sistine Chapel – a complete spectacle on its own.


3. Acropolis

The Acropolis, known as the “sacred rock” of Athens, hold the most recognizable buildings in Grecian history. In ancient times, Athens was known as a city of art and architecture – a great deal of this is exhibited in buildings such as the Parthenon and the Temple of Nike. A great deal of the buildings on the Acropolis were built during the Golden Age of Athens (fifth century BC) under Pericles. The geometrical and architectural accomplishments are exhibited throughout the area. The Parthenon itself is also a representation of Athenian democracy. Be careful while exploring this Grecian treasure – it is illegal to steal even a rock from the site’s ruins.


2. Mount Etna

Mount Etna is definitely a sight to behold – as the largest active volcano in Europe, its dangerous beauty entices all who get to experience the volcano. While in Messina it is typically easy to see (weather permitting), getting a hands-on experience is something any adventurous soul would want to do. The volcano is 10,910 feet high (Mount St. Helen’s is currently 8,365 feet). The most famous eruption of the volcano is the 1669 eruption – it was also the most destructive. While Messina itself was not as affected as nearby towns, the region suffered from the lava flow. Take this opportunity to scale a European treasure – but watch out for the red stuff.


1. Palace of Knossos

Whether or not the rest of this list sounds appealing to you, this site is the one you do not want to pass up. The history of the Palace of Knossos is interesting beyond a doubt – the historical and mythological ties transcend any Mediterranean site out there. Excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in the early twentieth century, the Palace of Knossos was thought to be a centre of Minoan civilization. The advanced technology of the Palace – including plumbing – was an interesting find for turn-of-the-century archaeologists. The discovery of the artwork, the frescoes in particular, were also engaging. The Palace is also thought to be the origin of the legend of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, the Greek half-man half-bull. Legend has it that Daedalus, father of disobedient Icarus, was captivated by King Minos and forced to design the Labyrinth. The Minotaur was not defeated until the Athenian Theseus killed it using his clever wit. However, these facts barely touch the interesting side of the Palace. Almost forty years ago, in 1970, a geologist by the name of H.G. Wunderlich happened upon the Palace – and made some particularly interesting hypotheses about the Palace. In his book, The Secret of Crete, he goes as far to suggest that the Palace itself was not a Palace of civilization – it was, in fact, a death Palace, built by the death-obsessed Minoans for their deceased. The fact that the island of Crete lies in between the European and the African sides of the Mediterranean made it a center for ancient ideas to pass through to the more modern European side. The Egyptians, famous for their treatment of the dead, plausibly transferred beliefs to the Minoans, who began to worship their dead as the Egyptians did. Evidence is found all over the Palace in support of Wunderlich’s theory – from the bull-jumping frescoes to the eerie throne room to the bones found buried near the Palace. The Palace is most certainly worth taking a look at for yourself – perhaps you might agree with his out-of-the-box suggestions.  



Rick Archer's Note:  The Information below is Marla Archer's original promotional page.  It contains a great deal of valuable information about the locations we visited in 2008


Our cruise departs on Sunday from Civitavecchia, Italy at 5:00 pm in the eveningWhy not come a day or two early to explore Rome, Italy’s most populous and famous city in even greater depth.

Civitavecchia is the gateway to all the magnificence of the ancient city of Rome.

Whether it's the Forum, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon or St. Peter's Basilica that sparks your interest and intellect, Rome is home to a lifetime's worth of historical, architectural and spiritual sites. Depending on traffic, the drive from Civitavecchia to Rome takes approximately an hour and a half.

Experience the history of Rome as you wander around the Colosseum, one of the most important monuments of ancient Rome and the Roman forum.   A masterpiece of classical architecture, the Colosseum is an enormous amphitheater where gladiators, Christians and wild beasts once battled to the death in front of 55,000 spectators.  Upon completion, spectacular 100-day celebrations were organized as part of the opening ceremony in 72 AD. Its name is believed to come from Nero's enormous statue of Colossus that stood close by. The admission charges are about EUR10.
The Forum was designed to be the centre of social, political and economic life in the city. The innumerable remains include the well-conserved triumphal arch of Emperor Septimius Severus, with reliefs depicting his victories and the base of the Temple of Saturn with its eight columns and their splendid Ionic capitals. The 'Rostrum' is the famous platform from which Mark Antony gave his oration in Shakespeare's play after Julius Caesar's assassination. The platform became the setting for many important events in Rome's history. It was named the 'rostrum' after the bows of the ships that form the decorative motif. The Temple of Vesta was the home of the Vestal Virgins, charged with keeping the sacred flame alight. The circular foundations still remain, near to a garden in which traces of the House of the Vestal Virgins can still be seen. The Basilica of Constantine and Massentius was used as the court, and the three remaining barrel-vaulted naves give an idea of its gigantic structure. The Arch of Titus celebrates victories in Judea, and in the reliefs you can see the spoils of war, including an altar and a seven-armed chandelier. Admission is free; guide tours in English cost EUR3.20

Visit the Vatican Museum, where you can walk through the many rooms that house the largest art collection in the world. 
The Vatican is among the most important historical sites in the world. The seat of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, The Vatican is also the home of the Pope. As the smallest state in the world, the Vatican has figured in key events throughout history. Occupying about one half kilometer of Rome, The Vatican is further significant because of its fabulous architecture, religious, and artistic treasures. It was Pope Julius II della Rovere in the 16th century who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the history of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Among countless other notable events in the history of this important city are the convening of the College of Cardinals, at the death of a reigning Pontiff, for the purposes of electing a new Pope. No visit to Rome is complete without an excursion to The Vatican, a place so steeped in history and tradition that you will never forget it.

Travel through the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. . Construction began in 1452 on the site where St. Peter was buried and took over 100 years to build.  It rests on 800 pillars and is littered with 44 altars.   During the next 200 years, such famous masters as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini worked on its design and created an unparalleled masterpiece.  View Michelangelo's "Pieta" and the 85-foot-high Bernini Pulpit.   Admire one of the many masterpieces created by Michelangelo, the famous statue of Moses. This majestic bearded figure is depicted holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  

If this is your first visit
to Rome time, you must take in the Sistine Chapel.  It is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art.   Dominating the chapel is Michelangelo’s ceiling paining of the “Creation of the World.”.  The Sistine Chapel receives 50 million monthly visitors.  The Chapel was built somewhere between 1477 and 1481 by Pope Sixtus IV.  From 1480 to 1483, famous artists of Renaissance, such as Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandaio, decorated the walls. After twenty years, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling in 1508. Today, after the restoration, tourists can visit the chapel and see Michelangelo's “Last Judgment.”  You will invariably find the Sistine Chapel crowded with hundreds of tourists, so be prepared. The best way to see it is to go to the Vatican Museums early, so that you're among the first in line when they open. Silence should be observed and photography is not prohibited.

The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, restored by Domitian, and subsequently rebuilt by Hadrian (who added the dome) before being turned into a church in the early 7th century by Pope Boniface IV. The building's sole source of light is the opening at the dome's apex (the oculus); according to popular legend, this formed the base for the bronze pinecone that is now in the Vatican's 'Pigna' courtyard, where it is used as a fountain. Many famous Italians are buried in the Pantheon, including Renaissance painter Raphael and King Vittorio Emanuele I.

No visit to Rome can be complete without a stop at the Fontana di Trevi.
  Tradition has it that throwing a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain guarantees a swift return to the world's most beautiful city. Anita Ekberg's dip in it was immortalized in Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita', and Italian actor Toto even sold it to an American, passing himself off as its owner. Earlier it was the setting for the award-winning "Three Coins in the Fountain" motion picture, ensuring its popularity worldwide. Designed by Nicola Salvi for Pope Clemente XII, it was completed in the second half of the 1700s. The statues in the centre represent Neptune supported by Tritons on either side while rococo-style Poli Palace provides the perfect backdrop.

If time permits, take a visit to Trastevere on Sunday morning.  T
his area of Rome was originally built to be a city port where storehouses held goods at the time of Augustus and continued to do so until the end of the 19th century. Trastevere then became a downtown market residential quarter and has now developed into a very desirable quarter. The heart of the district is Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere with its lovely church, a 17th century palazzo and a fountain in the middle which is probably Rome's oldest, having been designed by architects such as Bernini, Fontana and Della Porta. There are still some well-conserved medieval houses   On Sunday mornings, you can visit the 7th Corte dei Vigili in Via dei Salumi, and if you enter the guards' rooms, you will see grafitti on the walls written by Roman soldiers who served the emperors from Septimus Severus to Caracalla, in addition to notations of their guard duty.

If you have the extra time, explore the flavors and history of Etruscan Italy. Pre-dating the Roman Empire, the Tuscia region has been the cradle of the Etruscan civilization and is evident in hilltop Tuscania, with its roots dating from the 9th century B.C., contrasting with the Renaissance gardens, fountains, pavilions and maze of Villa Lante.

Leaving the port area and heading north from Civitavecchia, you will view the warm colors of the Etruscan countryside.  Make your way to Bagnaia. Stop by and appreciate a visit to the Renaissance gardens of Villa Lante. To create these beautiful gardens, one of the greatest architects of the time, Vignola, was called upon. Fountains, pavilions and a box-tree maze were all combined to create a peaceful yet playful atmosphere. Walk through these inspirational and often whimsical gardens, taking time to enjoy the serenity and beauty of the setting. Then proceed to the lake of Bolsena and stop for views of the lake and the islands Bisentina and Martana  Standing at the top of a rocky hill overlooking the Maremma region, Tuscania’s Etruscan and Renaissance buildings have been beautifully restored and still reflect the Etruscan history. Walk through the narrow cobblestones lanes of this charming village and take in the views of the surrounding valleys.

The Euro, the currency of the European Union is the official currency in Italy. Many stores and restaurants accept major credit cards, which usually offer a good exchange rate.  When shopping remember there is a value-added tax to most purchases.

Depending upon the size of our group, we will have our SSQQ Welcome Aboard Cocktail party this evening. Meet your fellow SSQQ Cruise passengers and enjoy unlimited cocktails and dance to your favorite tunes as we sail along Italy's coastline.



Mount Etna, Sicily

Beach in Sicily


Day Two

We arrive at the port town of Messina on the island of Sicily at 10:00 am on Monday. 

Sicily is an amazing island with a rich architectural and historical heritage, not to mention compelling natural beauty.  It can be overwhelming in many different ways, especially for a first time visitor.  The following is a list of highlights -- by no means all-encompassing -- but at least one that will serve as a guide.

Messina is just three miles off the coast of southern Italy’s mainland. This bustling town has a complex history with roots in Greek mythology but because of an earthquake in the early 1900s, it's a relatively young city architecturally. Since the majority of the city has been rebuilt or refurbished within the last 100 years, you'll find the town has an interesting blend of new architecture and old styles.

For a show unlike any you've seen before, check out the world's largest astronomical clock, Orologio Astronomico, in the Piazza del Duomo. It's set in a 197-foot bell tower and when the clock strikes noon, it comes to life. As Ave Maria begins playing from a loudspeaker, the bronze mechanical figures start to move. A lion roars, a bird flaps its wings, and two historical heroines take turns ringing the bell, all before it ends with a statue of Jesus appearing from a tomb.

Other things to do in Messina include taking a walk through the Duomo, the town’s main cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo.  Although most of it has been refurbished in recent years, it has retained some of the original Norman-style features from 1160, when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI built it.

Stop and make a wish in the Fontana di Orione in the center of the piazza.  The pre-baroque-style fountain was built to commemorate Messina’s aqueduct and symbolized the four rivers, Tiber, Nile, Ebore and Camaro.

Spend some time in the Museo Regionale.  Here you’ll find an amazing collection of art rescued from the1908 earthquake, including pieces dating back to the 13th century.

  If you are more adventurous, a trip to Mount Etna is a highlight for any visitor to this area.  Enjoy a scenic ride to Europe's largest active volcano. While en route, enjoy the delightful countryside of vineyards and orchards. The winding road up the slope passes through vast lava fields to the Silvestri Spent Craters, almost 6,000 feet above sea level. There you will be able to walk along the brim of these craters.  You can  see remnants of past eruptions.  The road cuts among streams of solidified lava -- a black, petrified river flowing from the top of the mountain. More than 130 eruptions have been recorded since the 4th century BC; the most recent one occurred in 2002. The descent offers awe-inspiring views of volcanic cones and streams of hardened lava. Although the best views of the actual peak of Mt. Etna are from the distance of many miles, a closer inspection of its powerful destruction cannot help but impress any visitor.

Take a tour to the well-known resort community of Taormina renowned for its beautiful setting.  It is perched on a mountainside on the West Coast of Sicily.

Stop below the village of Taormina before proceeding uphill to the village gates. Upon reaching Taormina, you'll walk past the ancient village's many squares and see the small boutiques located along the Corso Umberto.   Here you will find the "essence of Sicily," Taormina. Built in the 3rd century BC, the city was later almost completely renovated by the Romans. Taormina is perched on a terrace overlooking the sea.  It’s medieval character will delight you. Near the center of Taormina, you will find cobblestone streets to Palazzo CORVAIA, a 15th century building adorned with classic double windows. Proceed to the impressive Greek Theater, built in the 3rd century BC. Renowned for its width and for its unique acoustic qualities, it is still used for open-air concerts. Weather permitting; you will have an impressive view of Mt. Etna.

Enjoy the busy main street with its numerous shops and cafes and to savor the charm and atmosphere of this small medieval town with its palaces, squares, staircases and small side alleys.

A visit to the town of Palermo would be another choice.  Palermo is home to the island’s best museums.  It is one of several, well kept medieval towns that should be explored.  The streets of Palermo can seem dirty, polluted, and just plain annoying, particularly for those who enjoy exploring the city by foot; Palermo is pedestrian-unfriendly in the sense of having some extremely narrow sidewalks and walkways, and fast drivers who like to drive awfully close to pedestrians, but don’t let that deter you from exploring Palermo’s richness, including: the Palatine Chapel and the Monreale Duomo.

Palermo's history is marked by the multitude of conquerors and subsequent cultures that settled there. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Romans, French Angevins, Spanish Aragonese, and even the Mafia are among those who have contributed to Palermo's collective cultural history. The resulting cultural blend emanates from Palermo's buildings, art, and people. From the Cappella Palatina with its stunning biblical mosaics and Arab-style stalactites and alveoli ceiling to the Quattro Canti, a city square in the heart of Palermo containing four seventeenth-century palaces, Palermo has played host to those seeking adventure for centuries.

Taormina Overlook

Taormina Town Square

Sicilian countryside


Palermo Theater

Sicilian Coastline

Silvestri Crater


Acropolis at night

Red Beach

Athens, Greece

Day Four

We arrive in Athens on Wednesday at 7:00 am.  The ship doesn’t depart until 7:00 pm, so you have a full day to explore this magnificent city.

Athens is situated in the prefecture of Attica and extends to the peninsula that reaches up to Central Greece. Mountains to the north and east, and the Sardonic Gulf to the south and west surround Athens. The sun shines over Athens all year round. The climate is one of the best in Europe. It is located just a few miles from the port of Piraeus, the central commercial port of the capital, and the shores of southern Attica.  Piraeus is the main port of Athens, the biggest in Greece, and one of the most important in the Mediterranean Sea. Piraeus is walking distance from Kastella, a hill strewn with beautiful houses that offers a majestic view of the Saronic Gulf.

Athens has constantly been inhabited since Neolithic Age. The 5th century was the time of its ultimate bloom, when moral values and civilization surpassed city limits and became the motherland of western civilization. In the centuries that followed, many conquerors tried to take over Athens. In 1834 Athens was chosen to be the capital of the newly established Greek State. The city that now hosts more than 4,5 million people was constructed around the Acropolis walls. Today it is the political, social, cultural, financial and commercial center of Greece.

Athens is a city of different aspects.  Take a walk around the famous historic triangle (Plaka, Thission, Psyri).  This old neighborhood reveals the coexistence of different eras. You will find old mansions, some are well preserved and others are worn down by time. There are also luxurious department stores, small intimate shops, fancy restaurants and traditional taverns. Traditional handicrafts, though sometimes expensive, are the most authentically Greek souvenirs. In Athens, Monastiraki and Plaka are the best places to purchase handcrafted goods. Experience the traditional flea market. You'll find ceramics, brightly colored embroidery and wall hangings, flokati rugs and tapestries. 

The heart of Athens beats in Syntagma Square. This is where Parliament and most of the Ministries are.  A few miles from the historic center, you can enjoy the sea breeze. Or you can head up north and enjoy the fresh air at the more classy neighborhoods of Marousi, Melissia, Vrilissia and of course Kifisia.

Athens and Attica in general have the most important archaeological monuments (Acropolis, Odeion of Herodes Atticus, Olymbion, Roman Market, Panathinaiko Stadium and The Temple of Poseidon.) The capital has many imposing neoclassic buildings, The Greek Parliament and  Athens Academy and University. Don't miss visiting the museums hosting unique treasures of Greece’s cultural inheritance.

Take a visit to
The National Archaeological museum .  It ranks among the top ten museums in the world.  By far the most important museum in Greece, this collection contains artistic highlights from every period of ancient Greek civilization, from Neolithic to Roman times. It houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece. The exhibitions can be traced to the development of the Art of Greece from the prehistoric days to the golden age of Greek thought, and all the way to the Roman times.

Holdings are grouped in five major collections: prehistoric artifacts (7th millennium BC to 1050 BC), sculptures, bronzes, vases and minor arts, and Egyptian artifacts. The museum's most celebrated display is the Mycenaean Antiquities. Here are the stunning gold treasures from Heinrich Schliemann's 1876 excavations of Mycenae's royal tombs: the funeral mask of a bearded king, once thought to be the image of Agamemnon but now believed to be much older, from about the 15th century BC; a splendid silver bull's-head libation cup; and the 15th-century BC Vaphio Goblets, masterworks in embossed gold. Mycenaeans were famed for their carving in miniature.

Other stars of the museum include the works of Geometric and Archaic art (10th-6th centuries BC), and kouroi and funerary stelae (8th-5th centuries BC), among them the stelae of the warrior Aristion signed by Aristokles, and the unusual Running Hoplite (a hoplite was a Greek infantry soldier). The collection of Classical art (5th-3rd centuries BC) contains some of the most renowned surviving ancient statues: the bareback Jockey of Artemision, a 2nd-century BC Hellenistic bronze salvaged from the sea; from the same excavation, the bronze Artemision Poseidon (some say Zeus), poised and ready to fling a trident (or thunderbolt?); and the Varvakios Athena, a half-size marble version of the gigantic gold-and-ivory cult statue that Pheidias erected in the Parthenon.

No visit to Athens would be complete without a visit to the Acropolis. There you'll find the Parthenon, the largest building in the Acropolis and one of the world's most awe-inspiring sights. It was built as a temple to Athena and is still a remarkable structure today.

The Acropolis has been nominated to be one of the 7 wonders of modern world. In fact this trademark of Athens is one of the favorites. The Holy Rock of Acropolis dates back to the 5th BC, the famous Golden Age of Periklis.   Acropolis in Greek literally means “the highest point of the town”.

The Acropolis hill (acro - edge, polis - city), so called the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, is the most important site of the city and constitutes one of the most recognizable monuments of the world. It is the most significant reference point of ancient Greek culture, as well as the symbol of the city of Athens itself as it represents the apogee of artistic development in the 5th century BC.

The Acropolis rock is part of a Late Cretaceous limestone ridge that cuts through the Attica plateau in the northeast to the southwest axis and includes the Likavitos hill, the Philopappos (Museum) hill, the hill of the Nymphs, and the Pnyx.  The rock rises from the basin about 70 meters and levels to a flat top 300 meters long by 150 meters wide. Its flat top is due to the numerous landfills that have accommodated construction of fortifications and temples since the Mycenaean era. With its many shallow caves, the abundant percolating water springs and steep slopes, the Acropolis was a prime location for habitation and worship location for Neolithic man.  The Propylaea are the monumental entrances to the sacred area dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city. Built by the architect Mnesicles with Pentelic marble, their design was avant-garde. To the south-west of the Propylaea, on a rampart protecting the main entrance to the Acropolis, is the Ionian temple of Apteros Nike, which is now being restored.

The first habitation remains on the Acropolis date from the Neolithic period. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both. The inscriptions on the numerous and precious offerings to the sanctuary of Athena (marble korai, bronze and clay statuettes and vases) indicate that the cult of the city's patron goddess was established as early as the Archaic period (650-480 B.C.).

The Parthenon is the most famous surviving building of Ancient Greece and one of the most famous buildings in the world. The Parthenon has stood atop the Acropolis of Athens for nearly
2,500 years and was built to give thanks to Athena, the city's patron goddess, for the salvation of Athens and Greece in the Persian Wars. The building was officially called the Temple of Athena the Virgin; "Parthenon" comes from the Greek word parthenos, "virgin."

Throughout its long life, the Parthenon has functioned most importantly as a Greek temple, but has also been a treasury, a fortress, a church, and a mosque. Today, it is one of the most recognizable icons and popular tourist attractions in the world.

Athens has always attracted peoples' attention, most notably for being the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

It was the Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the 1st Olympic Games of the modern era, in 1896. However, its history goes way before the 19th century AD. The site of the Panathenaic Stadium was originally a small natural valley, between the two hills of Agra and Ardettos, over Ilissos river. It was transformed into a stadium by Lykourgos in 330-329 BC for the athletic competitions of "Panathinea", the greatest festivities in ancient Athens.

Between 140 and 144 AD, Herodes Atticus restored the Stadium, giving it the form that was found at the 1870 excavation: the horseshoe construction with a track 204.07 meters long and 33.35 meters wide. It is believed that the Stadium had a seating capacity of 50,000 people.

The modern times restoration of the Stadium was conducted at the end of the 19th century, for the first Olympic Games that were reborn in 1896. The Stadium was rebuilt with marble from Mt Penteli, the same kind that was used 2,400 years before, for the construction of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It could now hold over 60,000 spectators. The total cost was 1 million GrD, a huge amount of money in those days.

A visit to the Stadium is an absolute "must" when in Athens. It is located in the centre of the city, on Vassileos Konstantinou Avenue, on the east side of the National Gardens.

Would you like to read more about our Trip to Greece?  This article was researched by Rick Archer.  It appeared in the December 2007 SSQQ Newsletter.


Temple of Zeus

Greek fishing village

Greek coastline

Acropolis close-up


Acropolis in the daytime

Temple of Dionysus

Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first modern Olympics


Ephesus, Turkey

Kusadasi Port, gateway to Ephesus

another look at Kusadasi Port


Day Five

We arrive at Kusadasi at 7:00 AM on Thursday for a full day of exploration.

Kusadasi is the gateway to Ephesus, a city created by the Ionians in the 11th century B.C. and later expanded by the Romans. Now considered to be one of the grandest reconstructed sites in the ancient world, the region also hosted the likes of Cleopatra, Mark Antony, the Virgin Mary and John the Apostle.  Kusadasi has grown from a small sleepy fishing village into a sprawling tourist center, serving the thousands of tourists who flock to the area to visit the nearby ruins of Ephesus. These ancient ruins are considered the most important in Turkey.  The site of the ruins is large. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city's original splendour, and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former life. The theater dominates the view down Harbour Street which leads to the long silted-up harbor.

Don't miss the chance to visit the once powerful trading and religious city of Ephesus. Travel through the Magnesia Gate, the main entrance to the ancient city, and continue along marble streets grooved by chariot wheels. Gaze upon beautiful temples, porticoes, fountains and frescoes. Discover the three-story Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, the Odeum, the Fountain of Trajan and the Great Theater.

The Great Theatre was considered the most magnificent structure in the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is located on the slope of Panayir Hill, opposite the Harbor Street, and easily seen when entering from the south entrance to Ephesus. It was first constructed in the Hellenistic Period, in the third century BC during the reign of Lysimachos, but then during the Roman Period, it was enlarged and formed its current style that is seen today.  Being the largest in Anatolia, the theatre has the capacity of 25,000 seats. The cavea has sixty-six rows of seats, divided by two diazoma (walkway between seats) into three horizontal sections. There are three sections of seats. In the lower section, Marble pieces, used for restoration, and the Emperor's Box were found. The seats with backs, made of marble, were reserved for important people. The audience entered from the upper cavea.  The stage building is three-storied and 18 meters high. The facade facing the audience was ornamented with relieves, columns with niches, windows and statues. There are five doors opening to the orchestra area, the middle one of which is wider than the rest. This enhanced the appearance of the stage, giving it a bigger, monumental look.  The theatre was used not only for concerts and plays, but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions and for gladiator and animal fights.

The Library of Celsus was built in 135 AD to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus. It was unusual to be buried within a library or even within city limits, so this was a special honor for Celsus.  Though the building itself does not have much historical significance, it is important today because it is one of the few remaining examples of an ancient Roman influenced library. It also shows how public libraries were not only built in Rome itself, but also all throughout the empire. After a massive restoration project, which is considered to be very true to the historical building, the front façade of the building was rebuilt and now serves as a prime example of Roman architecture on public buildings.

The name "Temple of Hadrian" is not entirely accurate: it is more a monument than a temple, and was dedicated to Hadrian, Artemis and the people of Ephesus. An inscription tells us that it was erected around 118 AD.  The temple was partially destroyed in the 4th century, and it was during the course of restorations that the four decorative reliefs were added to the lintels of the interior of the porch.

Explore the 14th-century Turkish baths and the Isa Bey Mosque on your way to the Basilica of St. John.  The Basilica of St. John (St. Jean Aniti) was a great church in Ephesus constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It stands over the believed burial site of St. John, who is identified as the apostle, evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel) and prophet (author of Revelation). The basilica is on the slopes of Ayasoluk Hill near the center of Selçuk, just below the fortress and about 3.5 km (2 miles) from Ephesus.

Visit the Temple of Artemis - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 
A column and scanty fragments strewn on the ground are all that remains of this Seventh Wonder of the World. According to Strabo, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed at least seven times and rebuilt just as many times. Archaeological findings instead attest to at least four rebuildings of this temple, starting in the 7th century B.C.  The temple served as both a marketplace and a religious institution. For years, the sanctuary was visited by merchants, tourists, artisans, and kings who paid homage to the goddess by sharing their profits with her. Recent archeological excavations at the site revealed gifts from pilgrims including statuettes of Artemis made of gold and ivory... earrings, bracelets, and necklaces... artifacts from as far as Persia and India.

Get to know the local and rural life of the Turkish people and their way of living and head to the lovely town of Sirince.  It is a wonderful little Aegean village of 600 inhabitants that is located in the hills at about 1000 feet above sea level. Most of the houses in the village date from the 19th century or earlier and they were built at a time when Sirince was predominantly a Greek village. The village lies in a lovely bowl of hills surrounded by peach orchards, vineyards and olive groves. The higher hills are covered with pine forest. Nearly all houses command a pastoral panorama extending over many miles, undisturbed by any modern development. Farming remains the principal activity. Villagers make wine and olive oil, and grow some of the best peaches in the country. After exploring the village of Sirince, stop in one of the wine houses and tase the home-made fruit wines. Then head for Tire, another interesting town about 62 miles away from Sirince.

Tire, which is one of the big provinces of Izmir, was established on the northern feet of Aydin Mountains. It is remembered as "Green Tire" due to its geographical structure and natural vegetation. From the First Ages until the periods before Turkish Civilizations, the city was called "TEIRA." It took the name of "TIRE" in the Turkish periods. The city has a variety of cultural inheritances from the different layers of civilizations that once inhabited this area. Tire has a rich cultural accumulation of handcrafts thanks to its ancient settlement in Western Anatolia. Among the Tire hand crafts you can list rope making, pack saddling, felting, quilting, matting, horseshoe making, and embroidery, which are the main products of our genuine culture. The city has a lot to offer to foreigners, as there are more than 100 mosques in the city and many remains form different civilizations. After the visit to the city, enjoy lunch in a local restaurant and get a taste of the local flavor and sample Shish kebab (skewer-grilled lamb).  This is a Turkish invention, and you'll find kebapçis everywhere. Lamb and fish (which can be expensive) dishes are the restaurant staples. Desserts are sweet (often honey-soaked) and tend to incorporate fruit, nuts and pastry in tempting combinations.

Great Theater

Great Theater

Library of Celsus

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

Tomb of Saint John



Coast of Crete

Heraklion, Crete

Island of Crete

Day Six

We arrive in Iraklion, the capital city of Crete at 7:00 AM on Friday.

Iraklion rests on the side of a hill overlooking the Cretan Sea. The city is named after Hercules (Herakles, or in Modern Greek, Iraklís). Though a bustling metropolis, Iráklion is also the gateway to the nearby stunning ancient ruins of advanced civilizations.   History is very much alive in Iraklion just like in most Greek cities. The central square while surrounded by cafes, stores and restaurants, is dominated by the fountain of the Lions, built by Morozini the venetian governor in 1628.  The Town Hall, is today housed in the Venetian Loggia, a building from the same era.  At the end of the central market is a coffee house, housed at the "Koubes" a fountain built by the Turks when they converted the nearby church of the Saviour to the Valide mosque. All around the old part of the city ,a visitor can walk following the old Venetian walls that meet at a bastion, called "Koules", that dominates the old harbour of the city .

Throughout history, the island of Crete has been a meeting point for different civilizations. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the southernmost island of Greece. A few miles south of the city of Iraklion are the famous archaeological ruins of Knossos and the Palace Complex of King Minos.

Knossos Palace is one of the most spectacular of Crete's Minoan sites. The Minoan civilization flourished in Crete during the Bronze Age, around 3000 to 1100 BC. The palace has been linked to the mythological King Minos, the labyrinth and the Minotaur, and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. Excavations have further revealed the astounding palace, villas, roads, columns, courtyards, temples and theater.  The ruins were discovered in 1878 and Sir Arthur Evans unearthed the palace in 1900. Knossos was the capital of the Minoan Kingdom, having its religious and administrative center in the three-story frescoed palace. Built in about 1700 BC on the rubble of an older structure, it was destroyed around 1450 BC, possibly by the earthquakes and tidal waves caused by a volcanic eruption in Santorini. The buildings cover an area of 2 hectares and include the Small Palace, Royal Villa, Caravanserail and the House of Frescoes.

Try a venture to the Lassithi Plateau.  On the way, you will enjoy spectacular mountain vistas and wide-open countryside on your way. Surrounded by a natural barrier of mountains and some 850 meters above sea level, this fertile plain is where 10,000 wind pumps used to draw up the subterranean water for irrigation. Many are still in use today.   The Lassithi plateau is a large fertile plain in the NW part of Eastern Crete. People have lived here since Neolithic times (6000 B.C.)  Soil fertility of the plateau is due to alluvial run-off, from times immemorial, when melting snow comes down from the surrounding mountains in spring.   he Venetian rulers installed vast and ingenious irrigation works during the 15th century.  White-sailed windmills, some 10.000 in all, irrigated the plain.   Unfortunately (for travelers), in the last decennia of the 20th century, most if not all working windmills have been abandoned for the more efficient diesel and electrical pumps, the few remaining ones being relegated to signposting the many tavernas which line the main road that rings the plateau.

Visit the Monastery of Kera, where you will see the impressive 14th century icons, including the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. Stop at the Seli Gate - an ideal spot to admire the rough landscape of the Lassithi plateau and treat yourself to "meze" (Greek snack) at the Seli restaurant. The "meze" includes a glass of local ouzo or wine, cheese, hard bread, tomato and olives. As you descend down the mountain pass toward the north coast of Crete, you will be treated with superb views over gorges, valleys and quaint villages.

If you prefer to spend the day relaxing, why not bask on one of the glorious north coast beaches, socialize and people-watch in the cafés and restaurants of Platía Venizélou.

Heraklion, Crete

Knossos Palace

Lassithi Plateau

Monastery of Kera

Heraklion Street Scene

Samria Gorge

About the Trip Greece and Italy


A visit to the Mediterranean is on every person's must-see short list.  The Mediterranean is one of the world's favorite vacation destinations

The Greek Trip will be the 13th SSQQ Cruise Trip.  As always, you have the best of both worlds.  You can be alone with your sweetheart perched on a terrace overlooking the sea in  Sicily or you can hang with the group whenever you wish.  Wherever you go, you will always have friends.  We watch out for each other. At dinner time when you wish to share tales of your adventures, you won't be talking to strangers, you will be talking with friends from home.

We chose this time for two reasons.  We were able to get a great rate for this prime sailing time and vacationing in July will make it easier for those in the field of education to join us.

Our trip will be aboard Royal Caribbean
’s Navigator of the Seas.    This ship is part of Royal Caribbean's  Voyager Class, among the biggest vessels in the world.  It is 138,000 tons of fun.   A beautiful wooden dance floor is featured in a spacious attractive non-smoking lounge.   The ship is so plush even the Disco has a wooden floor as well.  The Navigator of the Seas sports some of the industry's most amazing features: a rock-climbing wall, ice-skating rink, an indoor, mall-like promenade, basketball court and in-line skating track.  The ship is relatively new;  it entered service during the spring of 2003.


RCCL Navigator of the Seas


The Acropolis in Athens

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