This is not a public relations pitch, but it is important for readers to know a little about AZAMARA Club Voyages. The ships for these excursions are called luxury boutique ships, which means that they hold up to 600 passengers, unlike the many cruise ships that hold 1000 and up. Yet, like the larger ships, there are multiple dining options, ranging from buffets to high-end multi-course dining, with a Champagne/Caviar Bar also. There is also a high end spa, a Casino, art auctions, and multiple other leisure activities that attract the many interests of this ocean voyage population. But that is just the on-board dimensions, all excellent, all worthy of future discussion.
But right now, my focus is the exceptional off-ship experiences, and how very much in line they are with the unique, memorable experience need that has become a powerful differentiator in the cruise and land travel world. AZAMARA has taken this differentiator a few steps further with their Destination Immersion concept, allowing the travelers to experience viscerally, the past and present cultural symmetries of the countries visited.
Our AZAMARA Turquoise Coast journey went from Piraeus to Santorini and back, with many Greek and Turkish island stops in between. With all of these, there were multiple off-ship tour offerings. I will write about these soon, but with the ones below, I felt a rare, exceptional lifting of the veil of past into present – a compelling dimension of a great travel experience.
Patmos, Greece – Exploring the 15th century Evangelismos Monastery
I had been to Patmos before, and had entered one of their most spiritual places, the Cave of St. John The Divine, where it is said he dictated the Book Of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, to his disciple Procheros. As I recall, the cave was a small place, dark, and full of mystery.
But I thought THIS time, I would be part of the journey to the Evangelismos Monastery, a Convent built in 1613, where 40 Nuns in black garb, gardened, kept bees, made fruit liqueurs, and did exceptional embroidery.
The day we went there was cool and rainy, and the scent of the Madagascar jasmine permeated the outside area. As I wore pants, and ladies were not to wear pants in church, I was offered a skirt-like wrap of sorts, that I put on before I entered the sanctuary.
The icons inside the churches were of the 16th and 17th centuries. There was not much light in the church, but the flickering candle light reflected the icons and the silver décor of the lamps, making the milieu replete with a sparkled, ever changing light. We could have been supplicants of earlier centuries, as the quiet and the evanescent beauty lifted the veil of the present to that of the past. The scents must have been the same – of jasmine and candle smoke. We were so far from everything, thankfully. The only thing that worked on our cell phones were our cameras, again thankfully.
Kas, Turkey – Swimming in the Aegean above the sunken ruins of the Lycian city of Kekova.
Though I have been swimming in the overly salty Aegean before, I had never experienced swimming above a sunken city. And though the water was completely translucent, I could see only outlines of this once lively harbor city, decimated by second century AD earthquakes. But the past into present experience again came when we stopped near an area wall that the guide told us was either a shrine or an interior of a home – in both cases, there were small squares cut in the granite, places where (it was surmised) candles had been placed to honor some household or temple deity. I jumped from the boat, swam to the wall – and touched the squares.
In the middle one, some graffiti artist had written a K. I avoided the thought that my last name was Kime and the past brought me here to ponder its meaning. All I could sense was my alien, 21st century touch on that ancient stone. And then, a few lines of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias came to me:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
And swimming in the Aegean that day, I was reminded of what lasts, and what doesn’t. I missed my husband and dogs.
The Ruins at Kamiros, Rhodes –
I had been to Rhodes before also, and had then climbed the 294 step 3rd Century BC Acropolis at Lindos. It was dazzling then, and I am sure now, but I didn’t want to do all that climbing again, so I went with a small group to the ruins at Kamiros, a 5th century BC Doric city. There, I saw some great ruins – part of a temple, ruins of an altar to the Sun God Helios, an ancient cistern, and public baths.
I also saw some stones and the head of one statue, still lying on the dust. Not exactly Ozymandias, as on the top of his head sat a lizard, sunning himself in the sun.
In and out of the stones and ruined pillars grew flowers and plants, all healthy; again a kind of past into present, but more, of natural life continuing when human life decays – actually, a hopeful thought.
These were just a few of the tours I took with the group, and these were only some of the many experiential trips that were offered. A few I didn’t do, but wanted to, was taking a real Turkish Bath in a Turkish Bath house, a trip of Cleopatra’s Beach where, it is said, Marc Antony had the sand imported from Egypt, and even now, travelers can’t take the powdery sand from the beach; an exploration of the small Turkish Village of Bayir, a walking tour of Marmaris, Turkey. (** Note: we stopped in Marmaris on an early Saturday evening. From my stateroom, overlooking the bright Marmaris lights, I heard the unusual combination of past into present again – rock music coming from the harbor, and from another source across the water, the spiritual tones of the Muslim call to prayer.)
As sensed from these descriptions, as well as talking with the ship’s travelers, they all – to a person –seemed content on this cruise. The food, the diversity of off-ship experiences, the great entertainment on board, the one exceptional AzAmazing evening, where, in the shadows of an ancient fortress, Lycian Tombs, and an almost-full moon, we heard selections from opera, from the Balik sisters, noted Turkish opera singers, who also were identical twins.
And, with the awareness that the content of contentment is due to both experiencing new places, and remembering them, many on this trip were, not surprisingly, doing back-to-back cruises. Those passengers, instead of disembarking, just stay on the ship for another journey. One passenger, with his wife was doing this, and had been gone nearly a month. We were discussing the purchase of a possession versus the purchase of an experience, when he said, “What is more worthwhile? A new car or a new cruise? These cruise memories last forever, and grow deeper with time. Cars become background, and always need fixing.”