Timeless voyage to the inner sea

An eclectic itinerary takes BELLE TAYLOR to the cradle, and grave, of Western culture

It’s only 3pm, but 85-year-old Maria has climbed on to a table to dance. Her friends and family are clapping and whooping her on, throwing back glasses of raki and wine.

The band quickens the pace of the music and those on the dance floor struggle to keep up. Paper napkins are being thrown in the air.

Exotic Turkey and the massively popular Greek Islands need little introduction to their charms, but this new-ish itinerary from Celestyal attempts to go beyond the sandy beaches and cocktail bars and delve a little deeper into the rich history and culture of this ancient part of the world.

It’s the last run of this itinerary for 2019 — late November — so we are officially out of tourist season. Most days, the temperature is in the early 20s, and a theme of the trip becomes “aren’t we lucky with the weather?” as we smugly pat ourselves on the back for being clever enough to travel when the crowds are gone and the temperature mild enough to walk around without melting.

The party in Crete comes towards the end. It is one of the many times throughout the seven-night trip when I reflect Celestyal Cruises got it right when they dubbed this itinerary “eclectic”.

Five days earlier, we boarded the ship in Athens and settled into our generously sized cabins.

With our destinations a short distance from each other, we spend minimal time on the ship, but when we are travelling, there is a full roster of activities — from vegetable carving to dance lessons to academic lectures on the culture and history of the places we are visiting in the well-appointed theatre.

Our first stop is Istanbul. The city of 17 million people is a spectacular place to approach by sea. The minarets of the city’s mosques pierce the skyline, jostling for space alongside modern office towers. Grand mansions line the waterfront, and blankets of apartment buildings stretch into the distance.

The next day, we tick off a few of the must-sees of the city that famously straddles east and west — the Blue Mosque and the magnificent Hagia Sofia Church among them. We also wonder around the Sultan’s Palaces. An awe-inspiring complex of buildings that housed the rulers of this nation — and their harems and staff — for hundreds of years...

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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