The Eastern Mediterranean is a long way from home for our local cruising population. So once you’ve decided to book your cruise in the Occident what ports should you look out for on ship itineraries? Words: David McGonigal.
If you ever saw Eisenstein’s classic film Battleship Potemkin, then you have seen Odessa’s beautiful 140-odd-metre-high Potemkin Stairs, extending between the waterfront near the sea terminal and the opulent Opera House (formally known as the Odessa Opera and Ballet). Odessa, with a population of more than a million, has something of a Mediterranean atmosphere and its architecture owes quite a lot to Italian and French resort cities. Major landmarks are the Philharmonic Hall and the Odessa City Hall and both the Spaso-Preobrazhensky and Svyato-Panteleymonovsky cathedrals. The Seventh-Kilometer Market is reputed to be Europe’s largest, where just about everything is sold out of old shipping containers.
Istanbul, a bustling, quirky, exciting city, straddles the narrow channel of the Bosphorus and is built around the harbour of the Golden Horn. It’s the only city in the world that spreads over two continents, with its western suburbs in Europe and its eastern ones in Asia. Istanbul is also bounded by two seas: its northern suburbs border the Black Sea and its southern ones, the Mediterranean (Sea of Marmara). Once known as Constantinople, this is one of the world’s great gateway cities and has been a capital of several empires, and now has a population of more than 12 million. The buildings that dominate the city include Topkapi Palace, the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque and the domed Hagia Sophia, famed for its amazing interior. Don’t miss the ancient Spice Bazaar, opposite the ferry docks.
Piraeus, Athens, Greece
Piraeus has been the port for Athens since classical times and it’s from here that island ferries depart. Piraeus is now effectively a suburb of Athens, only 10 kilometres away. In the capital are some of the world’s great wonders: notably, the Parthenon, part of the Acropolis complex of temples that sit above the narrow lanes and streets of the Plaka and its vine-shaded tavernas. You can stroll from one ancient marvel to the next along the grand pedestrian promenade developed for the 2004 Olympic Games. Whether music, food or culture is your passion, Athens will leave you satisfied.
Located at the same latitude as Cannes and the French Riviera, Sochi (population around 400,000) is a Russian rarity as it has a semi-tropical climate (it even has palm trees) but much colder winters than the Med. It’s Russia’s most popular summer coastal resort and is the venue for the next winter Olympics in 2014. An urban ribbon 145 kilometres long wedged between the mountains and the Black Sea, it claims to be the longest city in Europe. It was Stalin’s preferred holiday destination and has several gems of Stalinist architecture, including the railway station. Cruise visitors are greeted by the 1890 lighthouse and the tall steeple of the Maritime Passenger Terminal (1955). Excursions may include the UNESCO-World-Heritage-listed Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve, home to leopards, lynx, bears, boar, otters and deer, and the soon-to-be Olympic ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana.
If Sevastopol hasn’t been high on your travel plans for years, it may be because this great naval citadel, homeport of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, was a closed city during the Soviet era. This is where dolphins were trained as naval weapons. The now-open city of some 350,000 people hosts both Russian and Ukrainian fleets today. It’s located at the tip of the Crimean peninsula and the town of Balaclava (think Tennyson’s The Charge Of The Light Brigade) was formally incorporated into the city in 1957. Destroyed most recently in World War II, the city is mainly low-rise with a few restored classic buildings such as the Art Nouveau Post Office. The town has many parks and beaches but strolling along Marine Boulevard under the chestnut trees is a simple and popular delight.
The gleaming white cubist vision that is Mykonos is the jewel in the crown of the Greek islands. Though it is has a reputation for its outrageous nightlife, by day the main township of Mykonos is simply beautiful. Twisting narrow streets that suddenly emerge to reveal perfect waterfront vistas, quaint shops and the sun beating down on outdoor tavernas are part of the charm. Then there’s the sculptural beauty of the church of Panagia Paraportiani and Petros, the resident pink pelican. Traditional windmills overlook the village. But it’s the whitewashed perfection of the town as a single entity that makes it unforgettable