Cruising through Greece, in style and luxury
Best time to visit: Nov/Feb
You need: A week
The Acropolis at Athens. The deeper you go into the city, the more you know what it has been through
Ships are to the modern age, what caravans were to times past. And now, some ships are destinations in their own right. At least that’s what my first few days aboard the Celebrity Silhouette luxury liner — that gets to see the world on her own terms — reveals.
Every experience aboard the gargantuan Celebrity Silhouette luxury liner is heightened. Pics/Sonia Nazareth
It is a sultry afternoon in Venice harbour when I first see her. Sixteen decks layered in a 1,22,000-tonne body, with a capacity for 2,850 guests, looming like a Colossus over smaller boats. As a rule of thumb, big ships have more amenities, and the Celebrity Silhouette is clearly built for those with an appetite for life.
A whole genre of art photography and photographic art has grown and thrived around the photogenic village, Oia
A good way to get an idea of the universe on board would be to imagine the world outside distilled to its quintessential luxuries, brought together in a neater, more manageable package, and set free with a few shots of adrenaline. Here’s what you get: Fine-dining restaurants rubbing shoulders with a spa. An art studio at a stone’s throw away from the basketball court. The shops on the boulevard, a minute away from the casino. The swimming pool and the jogging track — a lift ride away from the theatre.
Montenegro has, undoubtedly, the grandest of all waterfronts
The horn blasts, signalling take-off. Passengers cluster on the decks, watching as churches and homes ornamented with fine facades, drift by. As we pull out of the harbour, a little girl yelps “Departure!” in excitement. Her grandmother admonishes her, “Only planes depart, my dear. Cruising is setting out. We’re going to have seven days to enjoy the landscape of Greece, as we sail from island to island.”
With its 1,22,000-ton body and a capacity for 2,850 guests, the Celebrity Silhouette luxury liner is built for those with a large appetite for luxury
There’s an astonishing cheerfulness on board this evening. The splendid sunset in the pink sky over the charms of Venice contributes to the upbeat mood, too. Against the dynamic background of the sea, every experience on board is heightened. A yoga session at the gym is no ordinary one, for the scenes that unfold outside the windows are of morphing scenery.
The Celebrity Silhouette displays a soothing bedside manner. The room attendant addresses me by name. The restaurant waiter knows that I enjoy the meat medium-rare. The masseuse remembers that I appreciate a massage with gentle pressure. But what leaves me free to follow my fancies on board is that, unlike other holidays where I’m relentlessly sorting out the day’s transport, meals and itinerary, here cultural experts take it on themselves to explain and conduct shore excursions. Signing up and arriving on time when the ship docks, are about the most stressful things I have had to do.
While in Montenegro
Arriving in Montenegro, en route the Greek isles, the eye sweeps appraisingly around one of the grandest of all waterfronts. What strikes me is that not everyone is waiting anxiously for the tenders to take us ashore. Not everyone is as eager to witness the ancient 9th-century walled city of Kotor. Not everyone is as impatient for a scenic ride along the Budva Riviera, or a visit to the King Nicola Museum. A couple tells me sheepishly, that on a typical holiday they would get out and explore; but in the mini-universe on board, the usual habits of life are suspended. They would rather return home relaxed and rejuvenated than rush about ticking off all the boxes. The husband’s keen to use the free time at his disposal for putting practice on board. A freshly-manicured lawn with growing grass produced innovatively, transforms the ship’s top deck into a lawn club. His wife gets an age-defying pedicure done at the spa. But for me, the siren song of the islands scattered amid azure waters is too strong, and I alight at all four places that we dock.
In Santorini, at the attention-grabbing village of Oia, with its white-and-blue dwellings etched into the volcanic rock that cradles it, everything feels familiar. Understandably, when a whole genre of art photography and photographic art has grown and thrived around this vastly-photogenic place. In one of the litany of cafés facing the water, I sample what to many is the essence of the Greek kitchen — a simple unfussy meal of Greek salad, freshly-made feta, and moussaka (layers of potato, ground meat and eggplant) so simply done that the freshness of flavour and texture comes through. In these tiny cafés pegging the cliff’s edge, people are friendly and camaraderie convened with every bite. “Go next to the capital city of Fira,” the friendly waiter tells me. “Missing her would be a great pity, much like being on a cruise ship around the Greek islands and never entering a port.”
Fira is a visual peal of bells. It is full of whimsical notes, with its cobbled streets, white dwellings hugging the cliffside, gold stores specialising in elaborate design… But when I look over the cliff or take a donkey ride down to where the tender lies, to get me back to the ship, it’s evident that the tide is the Earth’s most skillful designer.
The next day, going from the port of Piraeus into Athens, the traffic rages and snarls. But beyond the sound and the fury of a big city, the poetry-in-stone centre, with the Acropolis, lies unruffled and inviolate. The deeper into the marble heart I go, from the Roman Agora to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the more I feel I’m in a city that’s historically been through a lot. At the Parliament Building — in the men all dressed-up in pleated kilt and pom-pom adorned footwear — there’s a sense of tradition and power remembered.
On the path of remembrance, the port we dock at the following day is Katokolon. Forty kilometres away stands Olympia. Even if you’ve only been to Olympia by armchair, you’ll know it at once as being the site of the first Olympic Games. On the busride to get there, the lovers of history and sport among us bite their nails with excitement.
For this is where the original games were first held in 776 BC. The ancient structures have a time-worn realistic appeal, but that doesn’t prepare you for the evocative quality that is the arena of ancient Olympia. I can almost hear the roar of impassioned crowds, as I stand in this vast space whose history goes back hundreds of years. A guide, who’s busy crowning little boys’ heads with laurel wreaths, bequeathing to them a portal through which to peek into history, urges me towards the archaeological museum. The displays include discusses and stones used by weight-lifters of times past.
Returning to the cruise ship each night, there’s a barely-contained sense of enthusiasm. The razzle of the nights, live acts playing in the common spaces and by every bar, is inherently infectious and prompts the people on board to join the merriment.
Back to the blues
My eyes carry rings around them, probably from too much excitement, and I rest momentarily against the ice bar with eyes shut, waiting for the martinis to come. “Why don’t you go to your room and relax?” the kind bartender suggests. I think for a moment of the room’s veranda and the view of the Mediterranean and am temporarily swayed. I think of my soft bed and giant glass windows that let the scenery in, and feel the tug to relax even more. But then my thoughts turn to the Silhouette Theatre — which is designed for acrobats, with a focus on aerial artistry. And remember that tonight, post an aerial dance performance, Jacqui Scott — one of musical theatre artist Andrew Lloyd Webber’s leading ladies — will be performing. I see the bartender waiting for a response and my reverie is broken. I say, “I can’t go back to my room now, certainly not while there’s so much fun unfolding.”
Getting there: There are several one-stop flights between Mumbai and Venice
Where To stay: On board the Celebrity Silhouette. For details, log on to www.celebritycruises.com
What to buy: On board there are plenty of big brands, but watch out for the little sales that pop up along the deck corridors when you least except them — selling everything from bric-a-brac to T-shirts for under $10