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Barbara Barton Sloane

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Malta, Rhodes And The Placid Mediterranean

Posted: 08/23/2012 7:00 am

Ever consider that the road to happiness may not be a road at all? That point was driven home forcefully when I recently cruised four of the seven seas: Mediterranean, Aegean, Ionian and Tyrrhenian on the Silver Spirit, one of the vessels on Silversea Cruises, visiting ports from Malta to Elba and everything in between. Cruising the bottomless sea for ten blissful days, I often thought of a quote by Anais Nin: "I have no fear of depths but a great fear of a shallow life."

No chance of that! Life aboard this luxurious vessel with its myriad exotic destinations was exciting, inspiring and fun from start to finish. A nice introduction to what I might expect on my coming days at sea came in the form of a knock at my state room door shortly after arrival. A tall, dark, handsome man dressed in tuxedo and tails greeted me with the words: "I will be your personal butler on this cruise."

He went on to explain that, 24/7, I would be able to have meals delivered to my cabin, have restaurant reservations made, have clothing laundered -- in short, my every wish would be his command. Oh yes, we're off to a very good start!

I began each day with either a brisk morning walk, a stretch class or yoga exercise precisely because after that I often chose to merely laze by the pool, then glide over to the Grill for lunch, and finally return to my lounge chair until pre-dinner cocktails. If, however, all that seems just a bit too decadent, take heart. Loads of engaging activities are offered throughout the day - and nighttime brings roulette-spinning in the casino and Broadway-caliber musical performances in the Show Lounge. There are ballroom dance classes, enrichment lectures, bridge tours, and the ever-popular Silversea Quiz, a form of Trivial Pursuit where prizes are given to each day's winner. A cute, fun game? Not so much.

Each evening before dinner we trekked up to the Panorama Lounge for drinks and the music of pianist Alfredo, a most talented musician. No matter your song request, he could and did play it divinely. Soft music, dancing, and, waiting at my table, my perfect cocktail - a neat way to start the night!

One evening we decided to sample something called Hot Rock Dining -- a sizzling BBQ dinner under the stars. The Pool Grill was transformed into a unique dining experience. We sipped wine while watching moonbeams kiss the sea -- and then the real fun began. Our steaks arrived on heated volcanic stones -- seared and sizzling. We then continued to cook the meat to our individual degree of doneness. Our table of six concurred that this was way more fun than just saying, "medium rare, please."

Our Port of Call destinations read like a compendium of one's wish list - places I must visit before I...er...check out. We visited Malta and in Valetta, its capital, we rode in a typical Maltese boat, dadghajsa. A visit to St. John's Cathedral dazzled as we gazed up at Caravaggio's
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.

In Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, we made our way to the Knossos Palace. I'd heard the myth that the palace was designed by the famed architect, Dedalos with such complexity that no one in it could ever find their way out. True to form, once inside I lost my group but finally, rounding a maze-like corner, voila my friends! Embarrassed, I feigned nonchalance saying: "Guys, I had the best experience. I just saw the King's Chamber and his alabaster throne. Check it out!"

The island of Rhodes perches on a bluff overlooking white-washed homes, narrow, cobblestone streets and the majestic Avenue of the Knights where such fabled gents once lived. We were glad to find a tree-shaded bench where we escaped the mid-day sun before returning to the ship, to collapse by the pool and allow ourselves to be plied with rum punches. A Grecian blue sky above, marine blue Aegean below...quelle vie!

Bodrum, Turkey is a famed resort, a spot in the southern Aegean that holds some of the country's most fascinating and diverse treasures and is a favorite haunt of the Turkish upper class. We went sailing on a traditional pinewood boat called a gullet to admire pretty coves on the peninsula and gleaming whitewashed houses covered in bougainvillea. The captain stopped the boat so we could snorkel the icy water. Worth the chill? Absolutely!

What can one say about Santorini that hasn't already been said? It is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful islands in the whole world and a photographer's dream. Narrow, cobblestone streets, tiny shops, white and blue dwellings nestled in niches hewn into the volcanic rock, mansions painted in a spectrum of pastel colors. As I gazed down at the sea and our ship, miniscule on the horizon, it was nothing short of magic.

Taormina, Sicily, with mystical Mount Etna looming in the distance, has been a melting pot of every great civilization on the Mediterranean. The city rests on a terrace overlooking the sea and embodies the grand Corso Umberto, the Palazzo Corvaia, and the Cathedral of Taormina. We wandered down lanes bordered with bright flowers and browsed for local handicrafts in small shops featuring embroidery, intricate lace and colorful Sicilian pottery. During our visit, Europe's most active volcano was quiet, insuring a happy, uneventful end to our visit.

In Elba, we climbed aboard a local bus to travel a few miles outside of town to visit Villa San Martino, Napoleon's summer residence during his 10-month exile; then on to Monte Capanne via a twisting road that provided magnificent vistas at every turn. We sat in a little piazza in the tiny town of Porto Azzurro, replete with flowers, shade trees and the ubiquitous gelato store, its frozen treats perfectly matching the pretty hilltop homes.

Ah Napoli! A destination that no one ever forgets, Naples is at once lush, chaotic, scary, funny, confounding, intoxicating and very beautiful. We visited Castel Nuovo, the massive fortress of the 13th century with its sala dell'armeria (the armory) and glass floor revealing recent excavations of a roman bath from the Augustan age. Napolitanos have a favorite saying:
il dolce far niente which, translated, means, "The sweetness of doing nothing. "

What they said.

 

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