ABOUT THIS BLOG
Voyages to Antiquity is a specialist cruise company focusing on the history and culture of the Mediterranean.
Our beautiful ship, The Aegean Odyssey, takes just 350 guests to key heritage sites across the Aegean, Adriatic & Mediterranean.
This blog is written by the staff, passengers and expert lecturers who sail aboard the ship.
We hope you enjoy your journey with us.
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James Morwood, Emeritius Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, travelled with us earlier this year on two cruises. You’ll find that he enjoyed his trip immensely and even learned a thing or two from the expert guides about modern history!
“I have so many good memories of the cruises I lectured on, ‘The Shores of the Mediterranean’ and ‘Those Who Seek Paradise on Earth…’, that it’s hard to pick out the highlights. But some of them are lodged particularly in the mind.
The first is the journey by tender from the ship to the harbour at Bonifacio in Corsica on the morning after Nicholas Barber had told us that this was the site of Odysseus’ adventure with the Laestrygonians. The city, perched on dizzying cliffs above the dazzling blue waters, gleamed in the morning sun.
Then there is the evening when we had St Mark’s in Venice all to ourselves, its stunning mosaics glowing and gleaming in the discreet but supremely eloquent illumination.
But for me Croatia, which I had never visited before, was the great revelation.
Split, with so much bustling life crammed into the wonderful remains of Diocletian’s Palace, also offered soothing balm to the spirit in the quiet gardens of the archaeological museum; and the port of Korcula stunned us all with its early-morning beauty. Perhaps even more unforgettable was our exploration of the winding bay of Kotor in Montenegro.There was a magical moment when our ship gave three hoots as we passed a church on a small island and the church’s bells pealed in answer.
The sun made its own magnificent contribution. Apart from a cloudy day in Dubrovnik, it suffused us with unoppressive radiance. As we approached Corfu it rose over the mountains in a truly Homeric rosy-fingered dawn and in the evening of that same day as we sailed to the Peloponnese, it set over the sea in such splendour that the passengers eating on the terrace deck burst into spontaneous applause.
It was, incidentally, a real pleasure to talk to my fellow voyagers, so alert and interested were they. Their only mistake was to assume that a lecturer – or this one at least – is omniscient. After our visit to Olympia, one of them asked me if what the guide had told him, that the Olympic torch first featured at Hitler’s 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, was true. I replied that certainly there was no such thing in the ancient world and that the guide was probably right. Getting back home, I discovered that this was indeed the case, but it was something I had not known before. I learnt a lot on the trip, but was still glad to be assured by John Yardley that the ancient historians weren’t necessarily very strong on fact!
The team on the ship was superb.
Alison, the cruise coordinator, was outstanding, and she gives a mean poetry recital. Zoe, in charge of expeditions and getting us all off the ship, was amazingly efficient, combining firmness with charm and never rattled, a true virtuoso. Her team of graduates were tremendous. Matthew, in charge of all the living arrangements, was so relaxed and yet on top of every detail. The food was out of this world, the laundry impeccable. And Captain Roland Andersson, with his Swedish humour and his deadpan announcements from the bridge, was a splendidly confidence-building force.
The only time things went wrong for me was when I broke out on my own from Messina in Sicily to see the Riace bronzes at Reggio on the Italian mainland. The Reggio Museum proved to be shut for restoration, and when, dripping with sweat and ready to drop, I discovered the bronzes elsewhere, they were lying on their stomachs. I much regretted my departure from the warm embrace of the Aegean Odyssey team!
It was all wonderful.”
James Morwood read Classics at Peterhouse, Cambridge’s oldest college, before a year at Merton College, Oxford. For many years he was Head of Classics at Harrow School before moving on to teach Latin and Greek at Oxford University as a Fellow of Wadham College, where he was Dean and is now an Emeritus Fellow.
He has written and co-written many books concerning the ancient world, his main interest at the moment being Greek drama. At Harrow he led many expeditions to classical climes, he has been on a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, and he retains a deep love of Greek culture. He recently presented a paper to the American Classical League Institute in Los Angeles, one of the many classical associations he has contributed to.
With the launch of our new Far East programme for winter 2012-13 last month, the marketing teams in the US and UK prepared a variety of materials for both our customers, journalists and the travel trade. The initial response has been very positive with early bookings higher than expected.
We thought that you might want to see a recorded interview with David Yellow, our Managing Director, who explains why Voyages to Antiquity has moved into this area and the creative rationale behind the programme which includes exciting cruise and stay programmes to some of Asia’s most vibrant and dynamic cities.
1. Are you a cruise expert or novice?
I am certainly not a cruise expert – I am learning still – but I am not a novice to ships. My first journey to the USA was by ship – I travelled the five days on the QEII and my first sight of America was the legendary Statue of Liberty, and I wish I could travel there that way again. I have travelled on many (not always comfortable) ferryboats among the Greek Islands (deck-class when I was a student).
My only cruise experience before the Aegean Odyssey was on the small three-masted sailing ship, Sea Cloud II, when I lectured for Friends of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It was very elegant to look at, but you certainly knew when a gale was blowing in the Aegean Sea. After our inauguration on Aegean Odyssey, my wife and I did actually do something quite new for us – we went together on a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan, and really enjoyed it (we timed it just before the unpredicted “Arab Spring” events in Cairo).
2. You first cruised with Voyages to Antiquity last year – how did you find it? What were your highlights?
It was my first experience on a ship that was large enough to be comfortable, and small enough to feel part of a family. We cruised from Istanbul to Venice – my two most favourite cities in the world. The highlights were (1) passing through the Dardanelles with a very moving talk from a fellow lecturer about the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, (2) passing by the monasteries of Mount Athos and seeing their striking architecture from a distance without having to suffer the appalling food offered to you when you walk there on foot, (3) a day at Arta from the ship during a Greek strike when the cruise managers persuaded the police to give the fleet of coaches an armed escort from ship to the cathedral of Arta, and (4) my first ever arrival at Venice by sea – what an amazing sight to see San Marco and the Doge’s Palace from the ship (followed up by a special cruise visit to San Marco in the evening – pure magic).
3. What do you like most about Voyages to Antiquity?
I like the informality and chance to meet and talk to all sorts of travellers. I have remained in email touch with several passengers, making new friends for example from Australia.
As a specialist I do of course know the sites that we visit, but I always learn something new from going back, especially when people ask searching questions (the simplest questions are always the most challenging to answer clearly).
4. You will be sailing with Voyages to Antiquity on three voyages this autumn, what are you looking forward to the most?
Yes I am on the ship in October and again in November so it’s a good thing all my teaching at Cambridge is in the winter term and not the autumn term, but Mary will be hard at work when I am on the ship. That’s a bit like the unfair question “What is your favourite painting”, because my life is so full of travel and paintings.
My first cruise includes the site of Aphrodisias in Turkey where in the 1980s I was part of the excavation team looking at the Medieval building found in the course of digging up this Roman city which is crammed full of statues. One year Mary Beard came out to look at Roman inscriptions and this is the place where we met. So going back to Aphrodisias has its romantic associations – not many people can say they met their future wife in the City of Venus.
My second cruise includes Sicily which is the most amazing and unexpected mixture of cultures – Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Norman. I first when to Sicily in the company of my boss when I was a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London; he was Anthony Blunt and he was writing a book on Baroque architecture. Later he was exposed for his activities in the second world war. On this cruise I plan to give a lecture which compares the ways that Anthony Blunt and John Julius Norwich have written about Sicily.
The highlight of my third cruise will be going back to the monastery of St Catherine’s at Mount Sinai – I am currently finishing a book about the monastery and its art, the culmination of many visits I have made to this impressive retreat “at the end of the world”. It is always a thrill to go there
5. What are your top five must see locations in the Mediterranean and why?
(1) I had my 21st birthday at Venice – I got off what was then the original Orient Express on the journey home from Athens, spent a day there, and fell in love with Venice (like so many others). I go back as often as I can, and usually take J.G.Links book, Venice for Pleasure. I agree with the recommendation on the back of my copy at home “The best guide book to any city every written”. I read it at home too, just for nostalgic fun.
(2) Istanbul is the centre of the culture which I have studied for decades. Constantinople was once the centre of Europe, and remains an incredibly lively city. The visit to St Sophia needs to be done time and time again – each time you visit it looks larger and even more impressive as a sacred space – it is amazing that a building of this scale was built in the 6th century, and remain the place of so many historical events and visits.
(3) Pompeii AND Herculaneum, I treat them as one, and go to both. Between them, you see what it was like to be a Roman. I would have been very happy to have lived in the House of Tragic Poet, the house which Bulwer Lytton made the central place for the Last Days of Pompeii. These two places get even better each time you go back, and see a little bit more.
(4) Cairo is a different world – you suddenly realise you are in another continent. Everywhere is crowded and usually hot, but the Tutankhamen treasures in the Cairo Museum always bowl me over, even though my real reasons for study in the museum is to look at the Fayum portraits from the Roman period. As for the pyramids, the tourist hustle is instantly forgotten when you see the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. For me it is the thought that Herodotus and Hadrian were here too. I most of all envy our son who during his year learning Arabic at Cairo managed a few month ago to achieve climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid, an experience that belongs to the times of Agatha Christie, and few can do it today.
(5) So all my choices so far have been urban sites (that is rather revealing I suppose), and I only have one more choice left! So it’s got to be a view – actually there are dozens, like the view of Santorini from the ship, but my best is sight of Mount Etna erupting seen from a ship. This happened to me at the end of a lecture. We put up the blinds – and found there was a volcano erupting over the sea outside.
6. What’s next for you?
I hope to be lecturing on a Far East cruise – the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat are two of my best places outside the Mediterranean. But being an art historian, and needing to see my materials at first hand, means loads of travelling – by air I prefer to arrive as soon as possible, but I am beginning to see by ship the pleasure is as much in the journey. I need to finish two books just now.
Mary and I travelled a lot in their holidays, mostly to Greece and Italy, with our two children, Zoe and Raphael, now both students. But we can sense that they think our destinations were too tame – she is researching in distant South Sudan, and he has just moved from Cairo to New York. We sense they are challenging us to find more and more exotic destinations…
Alison Lewin is the Cruise Coordinator on board the Aegean Odyssey. In this interview she tells us why she doesn’t regret giving up a life on the stage for a life at sea and who is driving the ship when the captain is having his supper!
1. Where are you from?
My home town is Liverpool in the North West of England. Other than me, its most famous export is the Beatles.
2. This is your first cruise position, what did you do before joining Aegean Odyssey last year?
I have worked in operations management for over twenty years but more recently I have been working as an actress in London. I’ve got my Equity card and you might be able to catch me on the TV when we’re not sailing!
3. What does your role as Cruise Coordinator involve?
My role is quite diverse and I’m the front face of the management team on the ship. My role involves scheduling and timetabling everything that happens on the ship.
I also host the welcome meetings, cocktail parties, dinners at the Captain’s table as well as looking after the guest lecturers. I am also involved in future sales for the ship.
4. Away from Aegean Odyssey what are your hobbies and interests?
The theatre is my first love and it’s the thing I miss most when I’m at sea. I read a lot, too. If I could have anything, … maybe an English cinema in any port, I’d love to watch a movie.
5. What is your favourite port and why?
My favourite port has to be the lovely island of Malta! My dad is Maltese and I have a huge family based there and whenever we are in port I take the chance to see my family – they love it, too.
I also like Nauplia in Greece, the town is a favourite because it’s the prettiest place I’ve been to as we’ve sailed around the Mediterranean. Lastly, I’m a bit of a shopaholic and Syracuse, again in Sicily, has to be a top choice as the shops are fantastic.
6. Why do you feel Voyages to Antiquity is so special?
Voyages to Antiquity is my first cruise line and guests tell me how different we are from the bigger ones which are more well known. It’s not just the proposition relating to the choice of the tours themed around ancient history; it’s about the personal experience and the friends which are made during each cruise.
The size of the Aegean Odyssey enables us to create a real family atmosphere and sense of togetherness onboard. Many of our guests are single passengers and I am often told that they really like the way we make the whole voyage an inclusive experience without pressurising them to join in.
I like the informality of the ship; we tend to be on first name terms with passengers and by the end of the two weeks it’s really difficult to say good bye. Increasingly we are seeing guests returning, which is really great. I think our crew are wonderful and our passengers seem to think so, too.
Tuesday, 6 September – a busy morning in Palermo followed by a relaxing afternoon and evening.
This cruise (Sicily is the Key to Everything) has been quite intensive with lots of tours since we departed Athens on 28 August. An afternoon on board the Aegean Odyssey meant that guests had time to relax by the pool, take a dip in the Jacuzzi or even a fire and ice pedicure to soothe their delicate feet after all of our excursions.
For those guests who fancied something indoors, we had an afternoon Jazz session with our resident duo Massina and an afternoon tea dance with our resident Trio ‘Cafe Concerto strings’.
We’ve been joined by Professor Mary Beard, probably one of the most well known speakers we have on our programmes. She gave us a fascinating and informative lecture on the history of the relationship between the Greek and Roman Empires, starting with the Temples of Paestum which we were visiting the next day.
We also had a Poetry Hour with great recitations from our Shore Excursion Team… we had everything from Homer to Edward Marriot. This was great fun with our passengers wanting to perform their own poetry, too.
Early evening gave way to a delightful cocktail party for the members of our Odyssey Club, for those guests who have cruised with us on more than one occasion, followed by dinner for a group of us at the ’Captain’s Table’.
For most of our guests, the highlight of the day was anchoring below the magnificent volcano that is Stomboli …with its constant stream of lava cascading down the side into the sea. This wonderful sight was superbly illuminated by the moonlight, making it truly magical.
To round off the evening we had a rousing Classical Concert performed by Cafe Concerto, such a great mix of a day!
Professor Mary Beard’s lecture series on Pompeii was one of the highlights of Voyages to Antiquity’s programme in 2010 and we are delighted to welcome her back this year on our 26th August departure. Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and the author of the best-selling book Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, Mary was recently nominated for a BAFTA for her BBC television programme on Pompeii. Below are her thoughts on cruising, Pompeii & more.
Are you a cruise veteran or was this a new experience for you?
Utterly new. It was actually my very first cruise. I had always been a bit suspicious of cruising honestly, but I took to it rather easily. You can tell that I was a convert as I am coming back.
How did you find life on board and what were the highlights of the trip?
Life on board was trouble free! Food and drink was jolly good and there is a great atmosphere. One of my ex-students was working as an assistant… and it was a real hoot to see him dressed up in his cruising uniform.
Highlights? I had been to the places we visited before of course, but everywhere does look very different if you see it from the sea. That was something new for me.
You must have visited Pompeii many times. Do you always find something new and exciting when you return?
Yes, Pompeii is so big and varied that you always find something new each time. It’s the litte things which are so engaging… I love looking out for the holes in the pavements where the animals were tethered up, or the grooves in the stonework which show you where the shutters and doors were fixed.
There are numerous new television programmes and books exploring Greek and Roman history. Do you think that there is an increasing interest in ancient history?
I think there has always been a huge interest in ancient history… but each generation finds it again and it always seems new. There are some really good things coming out right now, but I remember all kinds of things in our local library when I was at school. Michael Grant’s books were pretty good, and Moses Finley’s ‘World of Odysseus’ is an all time classic.
What would be your top five ancient sites to visit?
Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia, Delphi and Hadrian’s Wall.
After the book and television programme on Pompeii, what is your next project?
More of the same, I am afraid. I’m hoping to make a short series on daily life at Rome.. and I must get on with my book on Roman Laughter.
We welcomed over 40 lecturers and specialists on board Aegean Odyssey in the first year of our operation. We thought you might like to see what Dr Oswyn Murray said about our first year after sailing with us on three cruises…
Voyages to Antiquity: the first year
After more than thirty years as a lecturer on Mediterranean cruises, I was excited to be asked to take part in this new venture; I have seen more of the ship than most, since I lectured on three cruises, around Sicily in the spring, down the Adriatic in the autumn, and on the last cruise through Egypt, Sinai, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Turkey. For me this first year has been a huge success.
After a slightly shaky start the boat service improved until it is now really excellent. The Filipino crew is very friendly and the small size means that you can get to know most of the passengers, who are a heady mix of groups from the USA and Canada, and individuals from the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. My fellow lecturers from Australia, the UK and the USA were knowledgeable experts and great personalities.
A genial captain, a sparky cruise director and an excellent chef made the experience very pleasurable. I liked especially the young and enthusiastic classics graduates who acted as chaperons on the desk and on shore. Indeed (since the price is quite reasonable) I hope that future cruises will attract families with younger people, especially those who are thinking of going to university to study the ancient or the medieval worlds: there is nothing to beat actually seeing the sites to awaken interest, as I know from forty years experience in university teaching.
This informal, relaxed small ship cruising offers the best way to visit the Med: you can stop in so many ports and avoid most of the crowds on the big ships; you have ample time ashore to dine and shop in small towns. The land excursions are well planned and adventurous, even involving some overnight hotel stops and quite long coach journeys or flights. I visited many places that I had not seen before, and look forward eagerly to next year: see you perhaps coasting along north Africa or voyaging round the Black Sea?
Fellow of Balliol College Oxford and university lecturer in ancient history