Our cruise had a terrific itinerary, taking us to 7 countries, with lots of stops in very beautiful and historic places… perfect for our 50th Anniversary Extravaganza trip with Mom and Dad.

Our first stop was Vodice, Croatia where we took a day trip to Split. Split is the second-largest city of Croatia, the largest city of the region of Dalmatia and has great historical significance. Home to Diocletian’s Palace, which was built for the Roman emperor Diocletian 305 CE, the city was previously founded as the Greek colony in the 3rd or 2nd century BC. Weakened by illness, Diocletian left the imperial office on 1 May 305, and became the first Roman emperor to abdicate the position voluntarily. He lived out his retirement in his palace, tending to his vegetable gardens. His palace eventually became the core of the modern-day city of Split.

A representation of the ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison. 

A remaining wall from Diocletian’s Palace. The wall has been rebuilt numerous times over the centuries using different techniques and materials. Diocletian’s Palace was used as a location for filming the fourth season of the Game of Thrones. 

This sphinx is the oldest manmade thing we had seen to date at 3500 years old. Emperor Diocletian spirited away a set of 12 granite sphinxes from Egypt’s Valley of the Kings after he put down a rebellion in Egypt somewhere around the year 297. Only one has survived intact. Made of black granite, it dates back to the period of pharaoh Tuthmosis III who reigned 1479–26 BC. She holds a vessel for offerings in her hands. Just like a major part of the palace itself and especially its pagan symbols, the sphinxes were decapitated and destroyed with the arrival of Christianity, as revenge for Diocletian’s persecution and murder of thousands of Christians during his reign.

Up the coast about 15 miles from Split, we visited the historical city of Trogir, Croatia (a UNESCO world heritage site). This aerial picture shows Trogir’s unique situation on a small island between the Croatian mainland and the island of Čiovo. The old town has retained many intact and beautiful buildings from its age of glory between the 13th and 15th centuries.

In Trogir, the Cathedral of St. Lawrence is a Roman Catholic basilica constructed beginning in 1213.  Since its construction lasted several centuries, its Romanesque-Gothic bell tower illustrates all the styles that succeeded one another in Dalmatia.

This graffiti on one of the plaster walls is supposedly from the Renaissance Period and was drawn by sailors as a representation of their ship. Anyway, that is what our guide told us. (insert wide-eyed emoji here :).)

Our next stop was Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is an old Mediterranean port surrounded by fortifications built during the Venetian period. It is located on the Bay of Kotor, one of the most indented parts of the Adriatic Sea. Kotor exceeded our expectations in every way. What a jewel!!

Out for an early morning hike to the ancient fortifications above Kotor, and perhaps on up the mountains.

We found these about 500 feet above Kotor, but that wasn’t the top…

A view of the fortifications from above…. still not at the top…

A view of the Kotor and Kotor bay from about 1,500 feet altitude. Still not the top, but alas, time was running short and we had to turn back (much to Shauna’s dismay). Some have called the Bay of Kotor the southern-most fjord in Europe, but it is actually a ria, a submerged river canyon. Together with the nearly overhanging limestone cliffs, Kotor and its surrounding area form an impressive and picturesque Mediterranean landscape. 

Kotor and the surrounding cliffs reflecting off the water in the stillness of the morning.

We had sailed into Kotor as the sun rose and the bay crept out of darkness.

Sailing out in the afternoon, we got beautiful light on Our Lady of the Rocks and St. George, the two islets in the Bay of Kotor. Our Lady of the Rocks is an artificial island created by bulwark of rocks and by sinking old and seized ships loaded with rocks. According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by Croat local seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in 1452. Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea. The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada in the local dialect, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.

From Corfu, Greece, we made a day trip to Albania, the 3rd new country for us on this trip. We were ‘in the neighborhood’, so we thought we would see what Albania was like.

We traveled to the beachside town of Saranda, Albania.

Perhaps the most interesting thing we saw were Roman ruins from Butrint, once an ancient Roman colony with a population of about 10,000. Of course, after Rome and Pompeii…

As we were leaving Albania, we saw the Christina O – a private motor yacht that once belonged to billionaire Greek shipowner Aristotle Onassis. At 99 meters long she is number 31st among the Top 100 largest yachts in the world as of 2013. She was originally a Canadian anti-submarine River-class frigate and was launched in 1943. She served as a convoy escort during the Battle of the Atlantic and was present at the Normandy landings. Onassis transformed the ship into the most luxurious yacht of her time. She went on to host a wealth of illustrious guests, ranging from Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra to John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill. Upon Onassis’ death, the yacht became the presidential yacht, renamed Argo. Allowed to decay, the vessel was purchased in 1998 by fellow Greek shipping magnate John Paul Papanicolaou, an Onassis family friend who secured it in a government-sponsored auction. He spent $50 million to retrofit her, restoring her previous name in honor of his then departed friend, Christina. Since Papanicolaou’s death in 2010, Christina O can be rented for private charters and cruises. Anyone game?

Our next stop was Corfu, Greece. We walked around the Gouvia Marina, one of the largest we’ve seen.

We were treated to an amazing sunset in Corfu. The reflection of the sunset on the water was stunning, changing and lasting for what seemed like an hour.

Next up: Athens, Greece. The Parthenon is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments.

A representation of the ancient Acropolis in Athens. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on an extremely rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon.

Perhaps a little known fact – Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee contains a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was designed by Confederate veteran William Crawford Smith and built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.

Standing in front of the The Erechtheion or Erechtheum, which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. The citizens worshipped Athena and Poseidon in hope of a successful outcome in the long Peloponnesian War fought on land and sea against the Spartans and their allies. The “Porch of the Maidens”, with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns, is famous for among other things, the missing caryatid. In 1801 one of the caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion, and later sold to the British Musuem, where she still resides much to the anger of the Greeks. Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Elgin attempted to remove a second Caryatid; when technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed, and its fragments were left behind. Bloody British. Ha!

Standing in front of the ruins of the Temple of Zeus with the Acropolis in the background. The Temple of Zeus is a former colossal temple at the center of Athens. It was dedicated to Olympian Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun. During the Roman period the temple -that included 104 colossal columns- was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world.

A view of the Corinth Canal. It connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, arguably making the peninsula an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 4 miles in length and only 70 feet wide at its base, making it impassable for most modern ships. It now has little economic importance, but it was fun to look at.

Obviously we were fun to look at too! A close-up of a boat traveling through the canal about 300 feet below the top of the cliffs overlooking the canal.

In the background, a view of the Gulf of Corinth from near the top of Corinth’s Acropolis.

The ancient fortifications at the top of Corinth’s Acropolis.

One of our favorite little harbors is Hydra, Greece. Hydra Port is the main town on Hydra Island, which is about 50 miles south-southwest of Athens. Hydra Port consists of a crescent-shaped harbor, around which is centered a strand of restaurants, shops, markets, and galleries. Steep stone streets lead up and outward from the harbor area. Most of the local residences, as well as the hostelries on the island, are located on these streets.

Replicating our selfie from last August, we’re about to hike to Profitis Ilias, founded in the 10th century, and residing about 1,000 feet above Hydra.

A view of Hydra Port from the Profitis Ilias Monastary.

Hiking above it, we got a view of Profitis Ilias Monastery and the sea below, from the top of Mount Eros, the highest point on Hydra Island.

Before leaving Hydra, we happened to run into our friend, Vagelis Dardanos, who skippered us during our previous two Moorings sailing outings in Greece. This June we sailed with Vagelis with a Moorings 4800 catamaran just like this one he expertly maneuvered in Hydra Port. Small world.

To top of an amazing first week on the ship, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Thomas Keller Grill.