corfu, greece on seabourn spirit

Back in 2009, my fiance Johnny Jet and I sailed on Seabourn Odyssey through Turkey and Greece. This week, on Seabourn Spirit, we traveled to Greece for the second time, this time to Corfu.


Corfu is one of the most popular of the Greek islands (and the first Ionian island at the mouth of the Adriatic), and we were among the throngs of tourists that flock to Greece during the summer months. But as Seabourn Spirit pulled into port, it was easy to see the draw. The vibrant blue waters of the Adriatic Sea and the rugged coastline are a perfect pair.


John and I climbed the rugged and sometimes slippery steps up to the top of the Fortress of San Marco, which was built by the Venetians between 1576 and 1645. (Corfu was under Venetian rule for about four centuries, beginning in the 15th century.) Even in the sweltering heat, the views from the top were worth the climb.


It was hot in Corfu – about 38 degrees Celsius hot. Cooling off in the Adriatic was not just nice. It was necessary! We found a small pebble beach (sand beaches seem to be rare in these parts) and spent the afternoon swimming. This particular beach was popular with locals too. Many of the kids spent hours diving off a wooden platform over and over again.


After strolling around the Old Town of Corfu (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we asked a few locals for restaurant recommendations for lunch. The reponse was unanimous: Restaurant Rex. We dined al fresco and I had saganaki. Delicious and authentic. Opa!


Back on the ship, there was a performance of traditional Greek folk dancing for all passengers to enjoy. Afterwards, the dancers taught willing participants how to master their moves.


To eat at the outdoor restaurant The Veranda on Seabourn Spirit, you have to make advance reservations. Luckily John and I had. They were serving Indian food that evening and as usual, the food was first rate. My hat off to the chef, who consistently serves up delicious and varied meals for us each night.


After dinner, we were treated to a spectacular sunset, the perfect note on which to bid the day adieu.

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athenaeum hotel, london

athenaeum-londonFrom the Athenaeum in Athens to the Athenaeum in London – what are the chances? But it just so happened that the next hotel we checked in to was called the Athenaeum as well, but this one was, well, in London and not an InterContinental property.

We flew British Airways from Athens to London in Club Europe (domestic business class) and the flight was just over three hours, a breeze! Club Europe is nothing like British Airways’ Club World (for international flights, which I had the pleasure of flying from Toronto to Istanbul). But Club Europe offers passengers extra legroom and attentive service, though no private pods; man, I love those! (See here for a picture and review of British Airways’ Club World.)

Leaving Athens was tough. Our stay was too short and I had a pretty good feeling we were leaving the glorious weather behind us as we made our way to London. I was right. I adore London and could see myself living there. But that darned weather is off-putting (says the girl who lives in Toronto!) As expected, the clouds hung thick and ominously in the sky as we made our descent into the city. But even still, nothing could really dampen my spirits. I was in London and I couldn’t have been more excited to be there!

Getting from Heathrow to Central London was so much easier than I’d expected. Instead of paying outrageous cab fares, we took the Heathrow Express.  Instead of battling London’s notoriously disastrous traffic, we relaxed on the quick 20-minute train ride to the city and were conveniently dropped off at Paddington Station. The trains depart every fifteen minutes and the spacious first-class seats are clean and comfortable. There’s lots of room to stow your luggage, so you needn’t worry about that either.

From Paddington station, we hopped on the tube and made our way to Piccadilly, where our hotel was located. We had a bit of a walk (if we’d known exactly where we were headed, we would have taken the tube to the Green Park station) but having successfully maneuvered ourselves and our luggage through the busy, pedestrian-filled streets, we finally arrived at our hotel.

The Athenaeum is a small but absolutely delightful hotel. Situated directly across the street from Green Park, it provides easy access to tube stations and buses, making getting around super-easy. Our room was small (though the hotel does offer more spacious suites) but beautiful and full of creature comforts. The bed was one of the most inviting I’d ever seen, all decked out in robin’s egg blue, the view overlooking the park was lovely and I am a big fan of the heated towel racks in the bathroom.

The small, intimate restaurant is a real treat. Not only is the food delish, but the decorative details are mesmerizing. There’s an entire shimmery wall covered in buttons (beautiful!) and the tables have dried leaves forming a collage beneath the glass surface. The result is a truly extraordinary space that feels welcoming and whimsical. The Athenaeum, 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ, Tel: 44 (0) 207 499 3464.

two days in athens

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, the view from my room at the Athenaeum was of the Parthenon. Yes, the Parthenon. I can’t quite describe the feeling. The Parthenon is a fixture from textbooks, not something I’d ever really expect to see while lying in bed. But there you have it. If you want one of the world’s most glorious nighttime views, spend the night in one of the Athenaeum’s Parthenon-facing rooms. It is lit up at night, making it even more spectacular than it already is during the daytime.

I only spent two days in Athens and while my BF and I hustled to see the Parthenon on our first day, we simply couldn’t resist and paid another visit the following day. It was just that incredible. It was sweltering both days and it’s a bit of a climb to get to the top, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat and bring water. (I feel like I’ve provided this advice for almost every destination on this trip but it’s just imperative, especially when walking great distances in the scorching summer heat in Europe.)

There’s plenty to do in Athens but when your time is limited like ours was, you must pick and choose, especially if you want to see the Parthenon twice! When Seabourn Odyssey deposited us in the port of Piraeus, we jumped in a cab (the port is crawling with them!) and struck a deal with our cab-driver. For a pre-determined amount, he would tour us around Athens in his car for one hour. This was a great way to get a sense of the city before we set out on our own on foot.

We visited the old Olympic stadium and Hadrian’s Gate. The history here is palpable, the air is thick with it. And just like my trip to Israel, you can’t help but be humbled by it, by the knowledge that these ancient lands were the birthplace of civilizations, that our world today stems from those worlds.

Old-world history aside, I loved The Plaka, the oldest neighbourhood in Athens. Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap but the old streets are lined with restaurants for al fresco dining and all manner of shops, from big clothing stores to the boutiques of veritable artists. There’s a buzz in the early evening as tourists and locals alike descend upon the area for dinner but it’s pleasant, especially on warm evenings, to embrace (metaphorically, of course) the crowds and stroll leisurely through the streets.

welcome to the athenaeum intercontinental, athens

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Our Seabourn Odyssey cruise deposited us in Athens. While the ship was continuing on through the Mediterranean, Athens was our last stop. And although I was sad to disembark the luxury vessel, I was very, very excited to explore the ancient city of Athens. More on that later. First, the hotel.

We checked into the Athenaeum Intercontinental. The lobby is vast and situated front and centre is an interesting piece of art (pictured above, top). During my short stay, I wasn’t able to learn more about the piece but it’s certainly eye-catching and memorable. But the real highlight at this hotel was our room, which had a view of the Acropolis. I’ve had some pretty incredible views during my travels (the Opera House from Sydney’s Four Seasons, the Bosphorus from Istanbul’s Ciragan Palace Kempinski, the Bund from Shanghai’s Park Hyatt) and the view from the Athenaeum Intercontinental is another to add to the list. It was nothing short of surreal to look out the window and see the Parthenon.

The nine-story hotel was renovated in 2008 and has 543 guest rooms and 60 suites. There’s a spa with an extensive menu (though they don’t offer manicures and pedicures, which I was disappointed to learn since my nails needed refreshing!) and a business centre with all the services you’re likely to need, including small meeting rooms that are available for rent. The rooms feature all the standard hotel features you’d expect (cable / satellite TV, CD player, flatscreen television), a working desk and ours had a full-length mirror – a nice touch that not all hotels have. The bathroom wasn’t too exciting – it was rather basic with a tub that was very narrow. But the robes were plush and I loved the Korres amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion). Korres is a Greek manufacturer of hair, body and face products with highly concentrated natural active ingredients. They smelled good enough to eat. Check out their products online at korres.com; you can also order online. Hotel contact information: Athenaeum Athens, 89-93 Syngrou Avenue, Athens, 11745, Greece, Tel: +30-210-920-6000

seabourn odyssey takes us to kusadasi

OK, before I bring my reporting on the Seabourn Odyssey cruise I just did to an end, I want to share some pictures from one more incredible place I visited. Ephesus (or Efes, as it’s known in Turkish) is a huge historical attraction and is easily accessed from Kusadasi, which was one of our ports of call.

Because we had had such an exemplary experience with our New Faces tour guide in Istanbul, we were eager to have New Faces tour us around Ephesus as well. As we disembarked the ship for the day, we found our tour guide Eylem ready and waiting for us. He escorted us to our air-conditioned van and we were off, on the 25-minute drive from the port to Ephesus. Eylem proved to be the best tour guide we could have asked for. His easy-going nature and endless knowledge made the experience easy and educational. For more information on New Faces Travel, call +90-212-227-4660 or visit newfacestravel.com.

Ephesus is like a sprawling outdoor museum. This ancient Roman town is incredible to witness in person, almost impossible to believe that this very place was inhabited by ancient peoples so many centuries ago, that they too walked these very streets. The day we visited, it was incredibly hot. Bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat. And wear comfortable walking shoes that have non-slip soles. The roads have patches of smooth marble, making them quite slippery at times.

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The marble street connects the Great Theatre with the Library of Celsus, pictured above. The Library of Celsus was completed in the year 135 and is a towering example of ancient Roman architecture. Much of the facade has been restored but the original building materials were brick, concrete and mortared rubble.

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This stone carving of Nike, the goddess of victory, shows the inspiration for the corporate Nike logo.

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Stray cats roam through the ancient marble streets of Ephesus, seeking out patches of shade on hot days. They’re rather emaciated but beautiful, too.

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Not far from Ephesus is the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. There’s not much left; today the temple’s remnants include a lone column over which many storks fly. It’s a Greek temple, though it’s situated in present day Turkey, and was completed in about 550 BC.

seabourn odyssey takes us to navplion

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Sometimes the places you have the lowest expectations of turn out to be the most wonderful. When Seabourn Odyssey deposited us off in Navplion, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Surprisingly, Navplion, the port I knew nothing about and, quite frankly, had never heard of, was perhaps the highlight of the entire cruise. From the moment I arrived, I was seduced by its European charm. It oozed romance. Now this was a place I knew I’d like. Clean and pretty, Navplion is not actually one of the Greek islands; it’s on Greece’s mainland. Buildings with old facades and Juliet balconies line the streets and it’s easy to forget just where you are. Someone said it looked like the French quarter in New Orleans while others compared it to Paris. It’s old. It’s historic. It’s beautiful. And it’s romantic. Like Santorini, there are lots of shops and tavernas to while away an afternoon in but the real treat is exploring the town on foot. You’ll come across the small but beautiful homes of the locals and lots of churches.

If you’re up for it, set out on foot to climb the 852 steps that lead up to the Palamidi Castle, which towers high above the town. Be sure to take water and sunscreen with you and wear a wide-brim hat. The views from the top are worth the huffing and puffing it’ll take you to get there and it’s because of this walk that we discovered a beautiful beach on the other side of the island. We took a taxi down. While the walk up was quite a workout, taking the stone and marble steps down seemed infinitely more dangerous – they’re slippery and there’s no guardrail. Cab, please! A five-euro ride brought us right back to the center of town where we began our trek to find the pretty pebble beach on the other side of the island.

Despite the heat, the walk could not have been more picturesque. We walked a path alongside the water until we found ourselves at the beach. The water was so warm and inviting, I never wanted to leave. I’m a very weak swimmer, paralyzed more by my fear of water than an innate inability to swim. But I have never felt calmer and more at ease than in Navplion’s clear and tranquil waters. I would visit this tiny town again in a heartbeat, just for this beautiful beach.

seabourn odyssey takes us to santorini

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As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled on Seabourn Odyssey through the Turkish and Greek islands. We went from Dikili, Kusadasi and Bodrum in Turkey to Santorini, Mylos, Navplion and Athens in Greece. While each port was beautiful in its own way, some, for me, were more special than others. My two favourites were Santorini and Navplion. Today, I’ll tell you about Santorini.

Perched almost precariously atop rugged cliffs (volcanic rock, actually), Santorini is picture perfect in every way. If you’ve never been, chances are you’ve seen photographs of this quaint island. The photos don’t do it justice. Photos simply can’t convey the magic of the island.

We arrived under the blazing sun, jostled by the populations of four cruise ships, all of which had reached port at about the same time. That’s a lot of tourists. Get out of the pulsing crowds as soon as possible. There are a variety of ways to get to the top of the island, where Santorini really begins. You can take a steep cable car ride; it’s quick but if you suffer from a fear of heights, may not be for you. You can walk or you can jump on one of the hundreds of donkeys waiting to trot you to the top. We paid five euros per person for the donkey ride, though I suspect the price varies depending on the day or the little Greek man you’re dealing with. There’s nothing organized about the trek to the top. It’s a free for all and if you take the donkey, be prepared to jump on and just go! The ride is a bit bumpy, the donkeys look hot, tired and thirsty and as they edge towards the wall and you look down, you may feel nauseous. Don’t look down.

Once at the summit, we found ourselves swimming in a pool of tourists. There are an endless number of cafes, restaurants and shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to expensive clothing and jewelry. It would have been delightful up at the top but for the tourists. So, my BF and I made our escape. He guided, I followed and before we knew it, we were far from the madding crowd.

In the end, we walked clear across the island (or so it seemed; we walked for ages) and saw sweeping views of Santorini from various angles. We saw the island through the eyes of locals, far from the port where all the cruise ship passengers arrive and a safe distance from the tourist-trap souvenir shops. We lunched at a little restaurant that had only satisfactory food but spectacular views. We walked through streets where there wasn’t a soul in sight and the few people we did pass were locals going about their daily tasks. We passed so many churches, houses painted in a rainbow of pretty pastels and flowers, flowers everywhere.

Visiting in July, the islands are hot, hot, hot, with temperatures flirting with, and often surpassing, 40 degrees Celsius. Water, sunscreen and a wide-brim hat are essentials. If you visit Santorini, stray from the beaten path and explore on your own. You’re bound to find lesser-known treasures as you stroll the local streets and the opportunities for stunning photos are everywhere.

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The donkey ride up to the top of Santorini is bumpy but can be preferable to walking under the scorching summer sun or taking the cable car ride, especially if you’re afraid of heights.

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A weather-worn, sea-ravaged canoe or a piece of artwork sitting atop a rooftop in Santorini? I have no idea but it’s beautiful.

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Painted in shades of blue, green, pink and yellow, the homes on Santorini are clean and cheerful. The overall effect of the whitewashed walls and coloured doors and window frames is that visitors are welcome. Surrounded by a bright blue sky and deep blue sea, the setting is idyllic.

saying goodbye to seabourn odyssey

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I just disembarked Seabourn Odyssey and as my little suitcase and I trundled down the gangway, I felt a palpable sense of sadness. Not only was I going to miss the luxurious life I was living on board this incredible cruise ship, but I was going to miss the friends I’d made in a mere seven days. I knew I’d miss the friendly crew members, each one always ready with a smile, most of them addressing me by name, though I’d never spoken to them before. And I’d miss my afternoon call to order room service – tea, cherries, crackers and cheese – whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. Yes, Seabourn spoils its guests and it’s easy to get accustomed to the life they roll out from the moment you board the ship.

And of course, I’d miss waking up each morning in a new port of call. This cruise I just completed stopped every day at ports in Turkey and Greece. From Istanbul, we visited the ports of Dikili, Bodrum, Santorini, Mylos, Navplion and finally Athens. Each was special in its own way and I’ll tell you about them soon. But for now, I’m back on terra firme and missing the Seabourn experience. I wonder if I’ll be back on board one day. I hope so – this ship sails the world and I definitely hope to join them on another voyage, wherever that may be.

sailing on seabourn odyssey

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Checking out of the spectacular Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul was tough! It’s such a beautiful hotel and every time I saw the Bosphorus flowing gently outside my window, I had to rub my eyes and make sure I wasn’t dreaming. But our time there had come to a close and it was time to jump in a taksi and head to the port. Next up: Board the Seabourn Odyssey for a cruise that would take us from Istanbul to various ports throughout Turkey and Greece. Let’s go!

Cruise ships never cease to blow my mind. This was my second time aboard a cruise ship but this would be my first real cruise. The sheer size of these vessels is mind-boggling. Like not-so-small cities that float, cruise ships are fascinating and oh-so-much fun to be aboard. Especially one like the luxurious Seabourn Odyssey.

First, let me start with my stateroom. It’s huge. Seriously. It has so many creature comforts in here, I could spend a month. The marble bathroom features his and hers sinks and mirrors and has both a stand-up shower and separate tub. There’s a sizeable walk-in closet with more than enough room for two people to hang up their clothes and there’s ample additional storage … drawers and cupboards, ahoy! Suitcases fit neatly under the bed, so they take up no space once you’ve unpacked. There’s a stylish striped sofa in the room, a desk with custard-coloured leather club chairs (perfect for working, checking emailing or Skype-ing family back home!) and the generous wooden balcony is the ideal place to eat breakfast or dinner if you’re in the mood for something quiet and intimate. There’s a small but modern flat-screen TV, a free mini-bar and Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom. I love the crisp white cotton duvet cover and sheets, the fresh white towels and the fluffy white bathrobes. The bed is superbly comfortable and features a bone-coloured, stitched leather headboard. A stewardess is assigned to each room and ours, Marlena, is delightful. She’s ready to help or answer questions at any time.

There are 11 decks on the Seabourn Odyssey.  There are plenty of restaurants, including The Colonnade, The Restaurant, Restaurant 2, The Patio Grill, The Observation Bar, The Sky Bar, The Patio Bar, Seabourn Square, The Grand Salon and The Club. Point is, there are tons of options – whether you’re looking for a New York striploin, a snack of crackers and olives or an ice cream sundae. But remember: reservations are necessary at most of the restaurants for dinner. Plan accordingly.

There are four washers and dryers on board the ship. Amazing. So you don’t have to pay outrageous prices to have your clothes laundered if you’re willing to do it yourself. There’s a casino if you’re feeling lucky, two pools and four whirlpools. There are meeting rooms (if you must), a card room and shops. Seabourn Square features a library and computer centre if you’re traveling sans laptop.

The Spa at Seabourn is a two-deck health spa and salon and features seven treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms and fully-equipped gym. The spa menu is extensive though the prices are a bit steep. But after a day in the hot sun, after a shore excursion, sometimes the spa is just the perfect thing.

This ship, which took its maiden voyage in June, is brand-spankin’ new and has had cruise enthusiasts waiting in great anticipation to board. And all those I’ve spoken to are thrilled. Seabourn Odyssey, it seems, was worth the wait.