Sea Cloud entered the peaceful, scenic harbor of Ithaka, Greece this morning at sunrise. The steep mountains surrounding the small, serene port were clothed in green hues of pine, olive, and cypress. The waters were still and mirror-like, reflecting the modest collection of whitewashed buildings collected along the waterfront. After breakfast, we used the Zodiacs for the first time as tenders for the short ride to shore. We boarded coaches for the half-hour trip up the mountain to a Greek Orthodox monastery, where we enjoyed a tour of the church with its collection of icons and frescoes. Our guides, Eleni and Smaro, gave us wonderful explanations and told us the history of the island, famous for being the home of Odysseus, the mythical hero of Homer’s Odyssey. After some free time in Ithaka town, we returned to the ship for lunch on the Lido Deck. Later, we had the opportunity to go in Zodiacs to see Sea Cloud under full sail. Before dinner, Allan gave a lecture on Olympia, tomorrow’s destination, as we continued our journey.
The sea was gentle this morning as we boarded our tender to motor into the lovely, protected harbor of Alghero. The first thing one spies from the sea is the Castello and its massive protective walls. Many of the Sardinian towns on the coast suffered from depredations from the Barbary pirates (from North Africa) and hence the construction of large, fortified walls facing the sea. Once on shore we boarded our transport ship “Neptunos” to Neptune’s Grotto four kilometers across the bay. The ride across the bay was lovely with a fresh breeze and we were making 21 knots. The grotto was deep and stunning. As we went deeper into the interior, the views became ever more beautiful – large caverns of crystalline stalagmites and stalactites formed delicate columns 100’ tall, and beneath them were limpid pools of transparent sea water. It was truly a natural cathedral and surely took millions of years for the drops of limestone to form such fantastic shapes. We then returned to Alghero and broke into two groups. We visited a stunningly beautiful house of Franciscan Friars. The cloister was particularly beautiful and the carvings on the capitals were fine. After lunch we returned to Alghero and rode through a protected ecological zone to visit the small boutique wine estate of “L’d’Ittiri Wines.” There, we sampled three very good wines, a rosé, a white, and a richly complex and strong red with an astonishing – and I should say – stupefying 15.9% alcohol! The wines were accompanied by local olives, cheeses, and bread dipped in olive oil made on the estate. I think virtually everyone purchased the wines and the olive oil, which were very reasonably priced given that they were artisanal products, made entirely by hand. We then boarded our coaches for a return to Alghero for a short walking tour of the old city. I was struck by the frequency of the street names that were in Catalan, the national language of Catalonia and Barcelona. In fact, the people of Alghero speak a dialect of Italian that is heavily influenced by Catalan. The Spanish colonized this area for some centuries, so this makes sense. Alghero is clearly a city of some wealth as we passed all the world-famous shops such as Gucci, and dozens of shops selling fine jewelry and local products. The shops that sold jewelry seemed to specialize in red Mediterranean coral. The coral market is strictly regulated, and there is a limit on how much can be taken. We returned to Sea Cloud and settled in for our conversation, cocktails and one of the inimitable dinners we have become so fond.