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Stories from our Travelers

Blood Red Moon over the Adriatic


Near Kotor

Folk dancers in Dubrovnik

Paxos harbor
by Jeanne Tasker
photographs by Cynthia Pearson

The morning after our first cruising night on the Harmony G, I awoke to the setting of a blood red moon and the rising of a blood red sun. A great deal of the fun, for me, aboard a small cruise ship, is to catch the sun rise, sun set, cast off from port, and docking at port. I later learned that these spectacular sights were due to a large forest fire, seen from our ship, and blanketing with smoke some of our ports-of-call along the way.

My husband and I returned to the Greek small ship cruising scene after an enjoyable cruise on the Galileo, another small cruise ship, five years earlier, of the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea. This time, we embarked at the island of Corfu for a tour of the Adriatic Sea’s Dalmatian Coast and were joined by my sister and brother-in-law from Atlanta, Georgia.

Our first stop, only about two hours from Corfu, was the city of Sarande, Albania. After the picturesque island scenes at Corfu, the harbor was disappointing, with Soviet-style cement apartment blocks, bedclothes hanging from each balcony. We were rewarded with a guided excursion to Butrint, a World Heritage Site with extensive ruins of Byzantine, Roman, and Venetian occupation. Extensive archaeological excavation has been continuously underway but rising sea waters threaten major work – some water channels and villa floors are already under water. We worried about the future of the beautiful mosaic floors.

Our itinerary was interrupted at this point by rough weather. We were unable to make our next port, so sailed for 22 hours, bypassing one of our planned stops. Many were seasick, with the dinner service sparsely attended. Due to previous sailing experience on small sailing boats, we stayed atop with the horizon in view and only suffered mild symptoms, not enough to miss dinner!

Calmer waters let us make port at Dubrovnik, Croatia. We elected to forego the planned excursion and wander on our own. Entering through the Pile Gate, we mounted to the ancient city walls that make a continuous circuit around the old city for 1.24 miles. From the vantage points atop the wall there are beautiful views to the sea and down to the old, restored houses that were heavily damaged in the war.

Another World Heritage Site is the city of Kotor, Montenegro, built between the 12th and 14th century. Situated at a beautiful natural harbor and the end of a fjord (actually a submerged river canyon), it was an important artistic and commercial center under the rule of the Republic of Venice between 1420 and 1797. This can still be seen in the architectural influences. We were entertained by a troupe of young dancers in traditional costumes, just inside the city gate. There is a challenging climb of 1,350 steps from the town to the remains of an Illyrian fortress overlooking the city. Of course, we had to meet the challenge. The smoke from the forest fire was very evident here.

We stopped at a little island for a swim opportunity, an optional boat ride to the “Lady of the Rocks." This small island has been created by sunken fishing boats. Each year at a traditional festival, rocks are added to fortify the island. This unexpected stop, in the warm and soothing water of the Adriatic, was a highlight of our seven days.

Bar, Montenegro was notable for the partially reconstructed remains of Old Bar, walled and protected on three sides by a hill. Olives are grown in the area and an olive tree, purported to be 2,000 years old, is near Old Bar. Leafy “new” shoots surround the gnarled skeleton of the original tree.

We called in at Paxos, a Greek island about 3 miles from Corfu, awaiting dock room at Corfu. We had another swim experience, off the stern of the Harmony G, in the lovely, warm waters, so salty that one floats with ease, on the way to Paxos, which is a small, charming place that one thinks of when contemplating Greek islands. We put in to Corfu in that evening for our last dinner aboard, disembarking the next morning.

We stayed another two days in Corfu to catch sites that we had missed earlier, like the Old Fortress, built by the Venetians, and Mon Repos, the retreat of the Greek royal family where England’s Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elisabeth II, spent many happy childhood hours. His father was the brother of the King of Greece, but the royal family’s origins are in Denmark and Germany. On the grounds of Mon Repos, we saw an archaeological dig in progress on a 5th century, B.C. Doric temple to Hera.

Observations:
- The downside to this magical area is that it has been found by mass tourism and the giant cruise ships that disgorge hordes of visitors that overwhelm these small, idyllic port towns.
- It is very hot at this time of year in the Greek islands and along the Dalmatian Coast.
- The topography of the Dalmatian Coast is incredible – steep, steep mountainsides descending to the sea, with little fringes of settlement at the base.
- With the Greek economy in such dire straits, one wonders why the people (shop keepers, airline personnel, etc.) are often unfriendly, except at tourist hotels. Exceptions for us were the two Stefanos, one at the Bella Venezia on our first night in Corfu, and at the Hotel Corfu Mare on our return – both Bartenders Exemplar!
- Other exceptions were the whole crew of the Harmony G, particularly Ninna, our young, enthusiastic Croatian cruise director.

If You Go
We flew to Corfu via Athens, on both Aegean Air and Olympia Air. The Harmony G sails under the Variety Cruises brand (www.varietycruises.com). While on Corfu, we stayed at the Bella Venezia Hotel (www.belleveneziahotel.com, doubles from $130 mid-September) and the Hotel Corfu Mare (www.corfumare.gr, doubles from $145 mid-September).

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