Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Goldring Travel's 2008 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit: Travelogue Part I

Our trip on the Seabourn Spirit started uneventfully with an on time flight, a quick pickup by our driver and a traffic free trip from the airport.


We checked into the St. George Lycabettus Hotel, located in the Kolonaki section (Athens's "Beverly Hills area"). The staff at the hotel were friendly and very accommodating...even allowing us to rest in one room while our Deluxe Acropolis View room was still being prepared. This standard room was clean, well laid-out, but very small and with no view. After only a few moments our room was ready and what a difference! While not the most spacious room, it was clean, had a comfortable bed and nice amenities. But that is not what makes the St. George Lycabettus the best hotel in Athens for me. It is the view. We sat out on our balcony sipping our complimentary champagne with a fantastic, unobstructed, view of the Acropolis with the port of Piraeus in the distance. It is, alas, a true $1,000,000 view.

The hotel recommended a truly local restaurant for lunch just a short stroll down the hill. After a very nice lunch of a Greek salad, some hummus and fried anchovies...and a carafe of local white wine, we strolled back to the hotel for a nap. As we lay in bed there was that view...the Acropolis. Very cool. After our nap, we sat out on our balcony, listening to the local sounds of children playing on a Friday evening rather than the cars and trucks of downtown Athens...and we watched a beautiful sunset unfold. It was then off to another local restaurant with some friends, sitting outside under a canopy enjoying the evening. Then, lying in bed looking out at the Acropolis lit up and looking, frankly, spectacular, it was time for a good night's sleep.

After a wonderful breakfast buffet at the rooftop restaurant's balcony...with that view...it was time for our group to gather and our tour of Athens before heading to the ship. Paul, a driver-guide I have used for years, not only for myself but my clients, did a great job. However, the highlight was when we were returning from our walk up to the top of Mt. Lycabettus we, well, ummm, sort of...got a bit lost. In the end it was a good laugh.

We arrived at the port at 2:30 pm and were quickly on the ship. A quick muster and a wonderful champagne sail away. Then it was time to get ready for dinner. One problem, though: The bag with most of my clothes and all of my wife's dresses was missing. The short version is it was gone. Seabourn tracked back to the hotel, the guide and even every one of the 12 ships in port that day and...nothing.

As always we had a wonderful sail away with the champagne flowing, though I did notice an absence of the usually ubiquitous caviar. The staff was a good as ever making our first evening as if we had never left...and this was my first evening ever on the Seabourn Spirit (though I have sailed on the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Legend previously). After a dinner that included the best veal chop I have ever eaten, and even though it was a bit chilly (and we wound up looking like a bunch of homeless people huddled under blankets, we had a wonderful time at the Sky Bar and really enjoyed the new layout and upgrades.

The next day brought us to Mykonos (which is not one of my favorite islands) along with some intermittent rain, a cold breeze, and a need to do some serious shopping as there was no good news for our luggage. First, though, was a meeting with Oliver (the bar manager) and Jochem (the chef de cuisine) to begin arranging my group's Food and Wine tasting on the last day of the cruise. In typical Seabourn fashion, they took my relatively straight-forward event and immediately put it over-the-top adding, for example, a tasting of 20 different olive oils and insisting they do a bit of wine and food shopping for me! I immediately went from the organizer to the guest. (The same occurred when I tried to organize the Ensemble Travel complimentary cocktail party!)

Meanwhile, though Seabourn quickly provided me with a blue suit and shirt (and later in the cruise a tuxedo) my wife needed dresses...and fast. Luckily, after working through all the expensive shops with their (yeah I believe THAT one) end of seasons sales we stumbled upon a small shop with great clothes at truly reasonable prices...on Mykonos! With the mission accomplished my friend and I took up position at one of the local tavernas overlooking the water and watched the world go by. A short nap...OK not so short a nap...and it was time to eat again. Another great dinner and the waiters figured out we like a good laugh and are having great fun with our little group. Matt Brown, the cruise director, put on a truly enjoyable show in the Club...and I am usually not a big fan of such things. One of my guests, though, really stole the show for some good fun. Then a nightcap at the Sky Bar fortunately sans blankets.

In typical Seabourn fashion our arrival in Santorini - to beautiful blue skies - was delayed until 10 AM...so that we would not have to wait in long lines for the cable car or donkeys since there were a few other ships arriving earlier...and then we stayed later after the other ships had departed. This provided us with a far less rushed and crowded time; making Santorini more enjoyable. Deciding that we "needed" to take the donkeys for a good laugh, four of us headed off...only to have one donkey act up, knocking my friend over and sending his wife - like a rocket - walking up the 586 (?) stairs. Oh, we still took the donkeys and we did have a laugh. Having been to Santorini twice before we opted to hang out in Fira and just enjoy looking in the shops (picking up some interesting local wines for our tasting, of course!) and then a nice, simple, lunch in a local taverna with a bottle of local wine and that awesome view. It is one of my favorite things in the world to do. This was followed by a very enjoyable soak in the whirlpool on the bow of the ship where, as advertised, a bar waiter appeared announcing, "You look like you need a bottle of champagne and three glasses". We then realized we did.

Today was a visit to Patmos. There really is not much in Patmos other than visiting the monastery where St. John the Devine was said to have written the Book of Revelations. Our local guide for the Ensemble Experience (complimentary for all guests who utilize a member travel agency) was quite interesting and was able to blend the local history and architecture into an interesting semi-walking tour. After visiting a local house owned by an elderly woman...the 8th generation of the family owning same, we were taken to a local restaurant for some meze (small tastings) and ouzo with a small show. I did spot a local wine shop and make a couple of purchases for our tasting. It was a nice day, though I am not sure that I will return to Patmos anytime soon. Then it was another wonderful gourmet dinner followed by Dancing Under the Stars

Next: We wake up in Turkey.