Revisiting the Greek Islands of the Cyclades Aboard the Galileo

It was 21 years ago that we happened upon the opportunity to sail on the Galileo as part of our honeymoon. Our daughters arrived a few years later, and over the years they heard our tales about the voyage. A few framed pictures from the trip followed us from house to house, and the daughters’ renewed inquiries a couple years ago evolved into the idea of trying to plan a return.

The Galileo sails out of Athens and on its week-long voyage the stops include two classic destinations (Mykonos and Santorini). But more intriguingly, the ship’s ports of call include several islands rarely visited by tourists, and never by those aboard the massive cruise ships. The name of the cruise is perfect: Jewels of the Cyclades, and it is ably organized by AdventureSmith Explorations. The organization is the leader in small ship experiences.

The Galileo is a small boat, with space for about 46 passengers and half as many crew. The nimbleness of the boat is what allows it to back into docks, onto which we stroll after the plank is lowered. At the massive tourist destinations, such as Santorini, we see the huge cruise ships moored at a distance, and the passengers are lined up on deck as the crew feverishly shuttles them on small tender boats to shore. The Galileo gets us to the islands, where we can explore on our own.

The 48 meter Galileo is a classic steel hull motor sailer, the interior of which was renovated two years ago. Upon boarding recently, my wife and I were struck with the boat’s warmer and brighter cabins and dining room. The boat was launched in 1992 and rebuilt in 2007. The wood and leather appointments inside were a nice balance to the shaded outdoor deck area. All the cabins are outside, meaning everyone has portholes. Each cabin has individually controlled air conditioning, so we were always comfortable, although we were rarely in the cabins when awake. Hence, the flat screen TVs got no use from us. The en suite bathrooms are surprisingly large and modern. The gently rolling waves joined with the comfortable beds to give us fully restful sleep. Like a first class hotel, the boat’s staterooms are cleaned often and there is plenty of free bottled water.

The attention to detail was evident not only in the boat’s original design and recent renovations, but in the day to day operation. Sufficiently detailed itinerary information was printed daily, and Joseph the cruise director struck the right balance of informing us of what was in store for us over the next day.

Our first evening was at Poros, where we arrived after a fine meal onboard, just in time to climb to the village clock tower at sunset. Our daughters, who were still getting acclimated to the concept of the voyage, were understandably slack jawed at the view across the bay as the colors changed hues.

The rain has stopped, the clouds have broken; the vault of blue spreads out like a fan, the blue decomposing into that ultimate violet light which makes everything Greek seem holy, natural and familiar. In Greece one has the desire to bathe in the sky. You want to rid yourself of your clothes, take a running leap and vault into the blue. You want to float in the air like an angel or lie in the grass rigid and enjoy the cataleptic trance. Stone and sky, they marry here. It is the perpetual dawn of man’s awakening.

                                          – Henry Miller

Much of the Galileo’s itinerary includes overnight travel, affording maximum daylight to take in the ruggedly beautiful terrain within the Aegean Sea. Each island on our voyage had its own character, and we definitely preferred the smaller islands. Most islands featured the sugar cube villages seen in most photos (although the roof edges are actually gently rounded to minimize wind noise). We could see countless miles of stone walls, built from the rocks removed to improve the soil and then to demarcate property lines. The energy expended in building the walls across the rolling terrain is staggering to contemplate. So many of the resulting fields are now fallow and perhaps abandoned. I wonder if those farmers of eons ago would be happy or sad to see their fields today.

Folegandros, once notorious as an exile for political prisoners (from Roman times until 1974) has so sufficiently shed its dark past that in 2013 CNN included the island as one of Europe’s seven most beautiful villages. I like that my wife and I were leaning in that direction twenty years ago. Our more recent visit was no less delightful. With only eight sailboats tethered to shore, this is a less-travelled island.

Santorini and Mykonos only became popular after the 1950s, when archeologists were preserving the nearby deserted island of Delos. Jackie Onassis put Mykonos on the map in the late 1960s. By the 1970s most of the intellectual curiosity was replaced with something else, and now only a sliver of the hordes that overwhelm Mykonos travel the short boat ride to what was once the apex of ancient civilization in the Northern Hemisphere.

Delos is at the center of the Cyclades and indeed the surrounding world. Merchants from as far as Egypt and Syria set up shop on the island eons ago, which our guide compared to the Manhattan of its day. I commented that in America we seem to measure time in years or decades at most, but in Greece time is measured in centuries. As I climbed the stairs in Delos I tried to wrap my head around the thousands of summers the rocks have watched mankind march by. When contemplating Greek history, there are more years BC than AD.

The ruins at Delos include massive “marble selfies,” all carved from massive blocks somehow brought over the water from quarries miles and miles away. If visiting the fascinating island of Delos (a UNESCO World Heritage Centre), be sure to hire a guide; they train for 2 years, are licensed by the government and completely impress you with their depth of knowledge. At the finish of our tour the erudite guide left us with an impressive salutation: “Delos is the birthplace of Western civilization, welcome home.”

The Galileo remains the ideal way to explore the best of the Greek Isles. With breakfast onboard every day, we were fully fortified for travels. We then had either a lunch or dinner onboard, affording us plenty of opportunity to explore local taverna on shore. Our memories from our honeymoon two decades ago were fortified by seeing it again through our daughters’ eyes.

For further information:

AdventureSmith Explorations
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http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/

(all photos by Carly and Ellie Auerbach, except our honeymoon photo:)

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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