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Voyage To Legendary Cities
Aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit

By Georgina Cruz

The glories of two legendary cities, Athens and Venice, were like elegant “bookends” to a luxury cruise aboard Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit. And the voyage, on the Ionian, Aegean, Adriatic, and Mediterranean Seas, those cradles of major civilizations, also opened pages to other great, iconic sites along the way.

This region of the planet, that has served as inspiration to countless artists, poets and writers, including, of course, Homer, always enchants with its history, legends, and landscapes, but particularly more so when a journey, like our nine-day voyage with one-day pre-cruise in Athens, starts in the Greek capital and ends in Venice—with two days in each city.

In Athens our pre-cruise base was the Athenaeum Intercontinental—on its rooftop Premiere Restaurant a Mediterranean-inspired dinner comes with a “side” of views of the Acropolis. And the hotel, with amenities including an outdoor pool open in the summer and a spa, is located near the Temple of Apollo and the shops and restaurants of the quaint Plaka in the heart of this city of 3.7 million inhabitants. A complimentary shuttle takes guests to the city center.

No matter how often you do it, the climb to the top of the Acropolis with its view of the Parthenon and 20 other marble structures and the city below is a “must” when in Athens, and always breathtaking. “It’s right up there with the view of the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal,” said Patrick O’Brien, a visitor from New York.

From our room and our hotel’s club lounge, we enjoyed views of the Acropolis as well –amazing, particularly at night when the Parthenon and other structures are bathed in golden lights.

Venice, the other “bookend” of our journey, is a city that playwright Truman Capote described as “like eating a whole box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” and there the Silver Spirit served as our hotel for two days. We did all the must-sees including St. Mark’s Square (Napoleon referred to it as “Europe’s drawing room”) with its cafes and zillions of pigeons; the Doge’s Palace with works by Tintoretto, Veronese and other masters; St. Mark’s Basilica with its symphony of domes; the Bridge of Sighs (where tradition holds that if lovers kiss, their love will last forever); and an evening gondola ride with our gondolier serenading us with “O sole mio” and “Santa Lucia.”

And in between those two legendary “bookend” cities, we had another legend to live to the fullest and enjoy: the luxurious Silver Spirit. This all-suite, elegantly understated vessel, is the ideal home at sea. Each suite has fine furnishings, flat-screen televisions embedded in mirrors with more than 200 complimentary on-demand movies and documentaries, mini-refrigerator stocked with guests’ preferences, and marble bath with European toiletries. It was a pleasure to watch the world go by from our terrace while enjoying breakfast, afternoon tea, or canapés served by our butler Priyesh from Mumbai, India. Priyesh also spoiled us with chilled cups of mixed berries awaiting our return from tours each afternoon.

We had multiple dining venues to choose from, including the Hot Rock Grill, with seating alfresco under canopies overlooking the ship’s swimming pool and lit by a “mini-constellation” of navigational lights. One of our favorite restaurants at sea, it serves up chips and dips, salads and entrees including salmon, prawns, steaks—center cut filet mignon, anyone?—as well as veal chops and pork chops along with baked potato and vegetables on a skewer. Guests finish grilling their entrees to their taste on a heated volcanic rock plate at their table. Desserts include apple pie with vanilla ice cream, black and white chocolate mousse (yum, yum!) and fresh fruits.

The Restaurant, the Silver Spirit’s formal dining room, serves continental cuisine and Relais & Chateaux dishes. One of our favorite dinner menus included grilled Maine lobster with saffron rice and a delicious Black Angus beef Wellington. A selection of complimentary wines is available for lunch and dinner and service is warm and impeccable here and throughout the ship, with staff remembering preferences and anticipating guests’ wishes.

La Terrazza, another choice, serves delectable a la carte Italian fare with fresh ingredients in the Slow Food tradition for dinner (menus change every three-four days). There’s indoor/outdoor seating with splendid views of the wake. And for a special occasion—and it was my birthday!—Le Champagne is an intimate venue, just beyond The Restaurant that serves 24 diners, and features a six-course menu highlighting regional specialties paired with fine wines. Fee is $30 per person with wines from the day’s complimentary selections (extra charge for wines from the ship’s Connoisseur List, if desired).

Yet other dining choices include the Asian-inspired Seishin Restaurant serving such delights as sushi, Kobe beef and lobster (food menu fee is $30 per person), and the Stars Supper Club inspired in New York’s Rainbow Room. It features a relaxed ambience, trend-setting menus, and nightclub-style entertainment.

After dinner, a stroll under the stars and a drink in one of the lounges (it is a pleasure not to have to be signing checks every time you order something as bar drinks are included in the fare), we often patronized the show lounge for musical revues and variety entertainment. Other entertainment features we enjoyed included musical afternoon tea by resident piano player and singer Eric, and pre-and post-dinner piano melodies by pianist Amedeo. Both Amedeo and Eric remembered our musical requests and played them whenever we entered the lounges—just a few examples of the personalized ambience of the Silver Spirit, where wait staff brings your preferred beverages the minute you enter the bar or lounges without being asked and greet you warmly by name. One example: each afternoon when we went to the daily trivia contest, the wait staff in the ship’s beautiful Panorama Lounge, instantly brought us glasses of sparkling mineral water with lime—without our even having to place an order!

Other stops on the voyage in between our “bookends” included picture-postcard-perfect Dubrovnik in Croatia and medieval Kotor in Montenegro. A call at Kusadasi, Turkey, enabled us to tour Ephesus, one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman cities in the Eastern Mediterranean and arguably, the most important “tome” held by our “bookends.”

Legendary gateway to the Orient, Ephesus was the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, and it is a site of Christian pilgrimages as according to tradition the Virgin Mary, accompanied by St. John, came to this area around 37 to 45 A.D. The apostle St. Paul also came to Ephesus.

Highlights include the Marble Street in front of the Great Theater and leading to the Library of Celsus dating from the Second Century A.D., and at one point a depository of some 12,000 manuscripts; and Curetes Street, a marble thoroughfare lined with restored mansions and monuments like the Temple of Hadrian with four Corinthian columns from the Second Century.

The Great Theater, constructed during the reigns of emperors Claudius and Trajan, could accommodate 24,000 people. It was the setting for the Festival of Artemis, patroness of the city (only a column remains of her temple nowadays); and it was also the site where St. Paul preached a sermon against the pagan rites taking place in the theater.

The House of the Virgin Mary, in the outskirts of Ephesus is another point of interest. Renaissance historians and oral traditions related a trip by Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Ephesus and pointed to a small house that the faithful believed had been her dwelling. In 1967, Pope Paul VI, visited the house and confirmed the authenticity of the legend. The house, that looks more like a chapel than a dwelling, has a small picture of a woman’s face that looks like depictions of Mary across the centuries. There is a spring where visitors take the water and make petitions as in Lourdes, France, and other Marian sites.

Yet another highlight is the Basilica of St. John, near Ephesus. According to tradition, the apostle St. John spent his last days in Ephesus and the basilica was erected over his grave.

We signed up for an evening classical music concert by a local sextet that took place in front of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus—another unforgettable moment in our cruise to legendary sites!

IF YOU GO – Visit

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