Imaginings of timeworn cities that preserve some of the world’s most revered antiquities lured us to Europe. Each country, with its own unique cultural flair and historical relevance, drew us in. One thing was for sure, no matter where we went or what we did, we were sure to have an extraordinary experience.
After some careful thought and consideration, we decided to capture the essence of the Mediterranean. And what better way to do that than on a cruise. Our seven-day itinerary took us through the beautiful Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean seas to some of the region’s most compelling destinations in Italy, Croatia, Turkey and Greece.
Our point of embarkment was Venice, a city that captures hearts with its old-world charm. Each one of the city’s 118 islands (comparable to the size of a city block) is separated by tight canals and linked by foot bridges. We spent two days walking through the maze-like city to see its iconic sights and experience its dreamlike vibe.
We walked through Piazza San Marco and saw St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the Clock Tower. Shopped in souvenir stores and boutiques. Rode in a gondola. And, imagined ourselves standing next to Marco Polo as he visualized his voyage to China from the Grand Canal.
When we arrived in Italy, we took the water shuttle from the mainland airport into Venice.
Our hotel was a short three minute walk up the canal from the shuttle’s drop-off station, which worked out very well because the only two means of transportation in Venice are by foot or by boat. Even Venice’s police, fire, and garbage departments are serviced by boats.
Classic Venice along the Grand Canal.
Two gondoliers waiting to take someone for a ride.
We took a gondola ride through Venice’s quiet canals. Contrary to popular belief, the gondoliers don’t sing. Instead, they have passing conversations with other gondoliers. We could only imagine what they were talking about. Maybe they were catching up on the news, discussing the latest soccer match, or telling off-colored jokes. We had no idea, but just listening to them begin new conversations, and carry on old conversations, was entertaining enough.
Piazza San Marco is the largest public square in Venice. Home to St Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile, Doge’s Palace, and the Bell Tower, it is the city’s social, political and religious center.
The girls escaping the crowds for a quick picture in the middle of the piazza.
Kylee and me standing on one of Venice’s 177 foot bridges.
Pizza for two!
On our last day in Venice, this water taxi picked us up right in front of our hotel and took us to the cruise ship terminal.
It was a really cold day the day we left, but Chris and Ally couldn’t resist standing on the deck of the taxi to see the views and take more pictures.
A picture of St Mark’s Basilica (the building with the domed roofs), St.Mark’s Campanile (the waterfront building on the left), the Bell Tower (the tall green-roofed building in the back), and Doge’s Palace (the waterfront building on the right) was taken from the top deck of the cruise ship.
Dubrovnik, known as “The Pearl of the Adriatic Sea”, took us by surprise! It’s an enthralling city that has been shaped by war. For centuries, the seafaring port (first inhabited in the 7th century) ruled itself as the strong, progressive, and prosperous Republic of Ragusa. A massive city wall was built around the entire perimeter of the old city to protect its vulnerability from empires. The walls were fortified even more with a tower or fort at each corner. The Republic fell to Napoleon’s troops in the early 1800’s, ultimately forcing it to join Croatia. Bullets continued to riddle the city during the 1800’s, 1900’s, and, most recently, 1991 when it came under siege by the Yugoslav People’s Army.
Old Town Dubrovnik’s charm is timeless. It’s a life-sized tapestry of red roofs and cobblestone streets, strikingly studded with forts, castles, and cathedrals. Every step and every glance offers a new opportunity to step back in time.
We took the cable car to the top of Mt. Srd to capture the spectacular views of the Old Town and the Adriatic Sea below.
Instead of returning to the city on the cable car, we chose to take the hiking path down, which offered more spectacular views of the Old Town and led us through a thick forest of fragrant oaks and pines.
Ally and Kylee sitting in front of Minceta Tower. It is the highest tower belonging to Dubrovnik’s ancient defense system. It stands commandingly above the Old Town, and, to many, it represents the town’s strength and unconquerability.
Dubrovnik’s distinguishing red roofs. Many of the roofs had to be replaced after it was attacked and shelled in 1991. Minceta Tower can be seen on the top right, and parts of the wall can be seen running down the left and right sides of the tower.
Old Town Dubrovnik has become the official location for Kings Landing, a setting from HBO’s Game of Thrones series. This picture was taken while we were walking along the city wall.
Fort Lovijenac (the building on the right), often referred to as Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar, is another part of Dubrovnik’s ancient defense system. The Venetians tried to build a fort on the same spot, but they were delayed by having to ship building materials in. If the Venetians had succeeded, they would have most likely kept control of Dubrovnik.
The city of Kusadasi protects and embraces the historical remains of Ephesus, an ancient city that was built by the Ionians in 11th century B.C., ruled by the Romans in 129B.C., and later conquered by Alexander the Great. The magnificent ruins of the Library of Celsus dominates today’s earthquake-stricken city. Standing in its shadows are the ruins of the Temple of Hadrian, the Fountain of Trajan, the Temple of Artimis, and the House of Virgin Mary. Ephesus is one of Turkey’s most prized possessions.
Sirince, a small village perched above Ephesus, allows visitors to see and explore rural Turkish life.
Chris bought a cup of Turkish coffee from a local cafe. The coffee (served cowboy style) was brewed in a small vessel that was partially submerged in fine, hot sand. The sand was heated in a large copper bowl with a wood fire that burned below it.
A local artisan weaving an intricate silk rug.
The city’s marble-paved road, lined by hallowed out shops and shattered baths, leads tourists down the hill to the Celsus Library, which can be seen in the background.
The remains of a city that once bustled with commerce, religion, education, and art.
A street scene taken from Ephesus’s main street.
The Temple of Hadiran is regarded as one of the most famous monuments of Ephesus. The curved arch bears a relief of Tyche, the goddess of victory.
The Library of Celsus, Ephesus’s most famous monument, was built to store 12,000 scrolls and serve as a mausoleum for Celsus. The library was three-stories high, but a series of devastating earthquakes destroyed it. The two-story facade was rebuilt by archiologists between the years of 1970 and 1978.
The Great Theater, used by St Paul to teach Christianity, had enough seating for 25,000 worshippers.
The girls taking a much needed break after a long day of walking through ancient ruins.
An artist’s rendition of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This picture was copied from Wikimedia Commons. User:Faigl.Iadislav
Marked by a single column, this is all that remains of the Temple of Artemis. Chris was standing by himself in this picture because the girls were off looking at something MUCH MORE important…
Turtles! That’s right, instead of looking at the Temple of Artemis, they were looking at turtles! This stagnant, sludge-filled pond was filled with hundreds of turtles sunning themselves on hot rocks and bobbing up for air!
Santorini, the jewel of the Aegean Sea, is a vestige of one of history’s biggest volcanic eruptions. Jutting up from the azure-colored ocean, the caldera’s white-washed houses and blue-domed churches sit prominently along its dramatic sheer cliffs. In a rare moment of peace and quiet, the raw beauty of Santorini is unconditionally breathtaking.
Oia (pronounced EE-ah), is Santorini’s most recognized village. The “picture perfect town” is often overcrowded with tourists, especially when a handful of cruise ships arrive.
The houses are painted white for aesthetic reasons, but they were also painted white during the Ottoman period, when homeowners acted in defiance for not being allowed to fly their white flags.
Santorini’s most photographed church.
Another one of the village’s white-washed, blue-domed churches.
Staying two steps ahead of the cruise ship mobs, we quickly snapped the pictures above and then ducked into an empty coffee shop for cappuccinos, hot chocolate, and baklava. The coffee shop offers one of the most stunning views of the Mediterranean.
Olympia is the birthplace of the ancient Olympic games. The Sanctuary of Olympia was created during the Archaic period to establish a site to worship the supreme god, Zeus, and to give athletes a place to participate in competitive events. The first Olympiad was held in 776BC. The site continued to expand and develop during the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, but, by the 7th century, it was completely abandoned due to devastating earthquakes and torrential floods. Today, these remains are one of Greece’s greatest treasures.
The ruins of The Philippeion of Olympia.
The ruins of the Temple of Zeus.
Foundations and pieces of fallen columns are scattered throughout the site.
It’s hard to capture the true beauty of Olympia in photographs.
Chris and the girls standing in the middle of the Stadium. It was considered the holy place for the ancient Greeks, and it was the location where many of the sporting events took place.
The girls crouching down and preparing for a race at the Stadium’s starting block.
One of the best parts of our vacation was a completely unplanned and unexpected excursion to the southern Alps. Chris made a comment to our taxi driver about being able to see the mountains from the ship while it was returning to Venice, and within minutes, the taxi driver had a day-trip planned for us. It included a tour of Cortina d’Ampezzo (a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites), lunch at a local farm house, and a drive through the region’s villages and vineyards. It was a perfect end to a perfect vacation.
The Alps is the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe. It stretches across seven alpine countries, including Italy. Italy’s Dolomiti, more commonly knowns as the Dolomites, are famous for winter skiing and summer hiking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, and base jumping.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a quaint village in the heart of the southern Alps. The spectacular Dolomites magestically frames the town with stunning views from every angle.
Cortina was scheduled to host the 1944 Winter Olympics, but it had to be cancelled because of World War II. The town ended up hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics. Even though the ski jump is no longer used, it remains standing as a historical reminder of the Olympics.
The center of Cortina d’Ampezzo. We arrived just in time to enjoy the fall colors!
Chris was in heaven when our tour guide drove through Europe’s biggest larch forest, which happens to be in Cortina. European larches (his absolute favorite tree) are decidious coniferous trees that turn yellow every fall.
We ate lunch at a working farm, El Brite de Larieto, where a local family breeds cows, pigs, and goats to make homemade cheeses, cured meats, fresh meats, and fresh ice cream for their restaurant. The restaurant looks closed, but every table was completely filled during the day’s limited serving time.
The girls took a peek inside the stables to see the cows and goats that helped make the cheese and ice cream that they just ate.
After lunch, we drove to Lake Misurina to see its beauty and experience its crisp air. Many Italians believe that the lake’s unusual climate and fresh air helps treat asthma.
It was freezing cold, as you can see by Kylee’s posture, but the girls loved it! This is the first time that they have felt this cold and touched snow in more than five years.