Greek Isle Idyll

Nos­tal­gia and the In­sta­gram ef­fect on an Aegean cruise

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aN EMO­TION I could not im­me­di­ately name hit me when I woke up to see that we’d sailed to San­torini. Look­ing out at its cal­lous beauty – the wa­ter a gas flame-blue, the cliff tops bran­dish­ing a chaos of sug­ar­cube houses – it wasn’t so much a déjà vu or, well, even a déjà cruise (given that I’d ar­rived there in the mid­dle of a sum­mer night, cour­tesy of Sil­versea). It was closer to a cer­tain wist­ful­ness goosed by ... yes ... nos­tal­gia.

Plant­ing my feet, soon enough – on this, an is­land that owes its beauty to a ven­omous vol­cano, circa 1600 BC – it was a feel­ing that would only grow: nos­tal­gia, a word stem­ming, as it hap­pens, from the Greek, nos­tos (home­com­ing) and al­gos (pain). How fit­ting. Strange, though – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that while I’d been to Greece be­fore, San­torini, in par­tic­u­lar, had, un­til now, eluded me. But, then, it hit me: In­sta­gram! In a time when it’s one of the fastest grow­ing so­cial me­dia gate­ways – one that’s a big mov­ing bill­board and a map of the world we cart around in our hands – I had, in­deed, been to San­torini with­out vis­it­ing San­torini.

Pag­ing Alice. It’s Through the Look­ing Glass!

With this pic-per­fect is­land easily be­ing one of the places show­ing up with reg­u­lar­ity on In­sta­gram – a feed where an av­er­age of 95 mil­lion pho­tos are shared a day – the whole idea of not know­ing (the thrill of travel for so long) has be­come some­what el­e­men­tal. Like clock­work, ev­ery sum­mer, for the last sev­eral years, they’ve come, af­ter all: im­ages from the Aegean Sea ga­lore, par­tic­u­larly from Greece-lov­ing celebs rang­ing from Ri­hanna to Hugh Jack­man to Katy Perry.

The up­shot, wan­der­lust-wise? Not only one of the big­gest dis­rup- tions to hap­pen in the tourism racket at large – “Now you’re less than 10 clicks away from see­ing an im­age on In­sta­gram to pur­chas­ing a ticket to go there,” as travel pho­tog Chris Burkard once put it to Na­tional Ge­o­graphic – but, pos­si­bly even more in­trigu­ing, a more ex­is­ten­tial shift to the way we “ex­pe­ri­ence” places and things. Bingo: the feel­ing of long­ing and even melan­choly I felt bub­bling up when I landed in San­torini. I had a fa­mil­iar­ity with the fa­mil­iar!

Hav­ing said all this: if you are go­ing to hop the Greek Is­lands, is there any bet­ter way of do­ing it than by cus­tom cruise? No, dar­ling, there is not. For, what is cruis­ing – to stay with the theme of screens – if not scrolling by sea?

Start­ing and end­ing in Athens on this par­tic­u­lar odyssey in an Ital­ian ship chris­tened Sil­ver Spirit, it was val­i­da­tion of what I’ve known for a while as a Sil­versea vet: a stately non-densely pop­u­lated ves­sel on which all guests get their own on­call but­ler (should one need to ring for fresh limes, for in­stance), and most suites com­ing with its own ve­randa (all the bet­ter for spend­ing hours look­ing out id­i­ot­i­cally at the sea and/or watch­ing is­lands re­cede in the dis­tance when the ship de­parts).

Im­mu­nized from the well-known hor­rors of air travel 2018-style and free from the pack­ing-un­pack­ing – “Sir, lap­top in the bin ... Ma’am, shoes off” – prospect of glo­be­trot­ting as you go from place to place, the mer­its of cruis­ing on a high-end ship re­ally can­not be over­stated.

Did I also men­tion that you don’t take out your wal­let the en­tire time that you’re on board? Well, yeah, I just did. (Ev­ery­thing but ev­ery­thing is in­cluded). Or that there are myr­iad el­e­gant res­tau­rants to choose from and “room ser­vice” doesn’t only ex­tend to the lit­eral (you can have food de­liv­ered to any pub­lic area of the ship, whether

it’s to the Panorama Lounge, the Ob­ser­va­tion Li­brary or even the quite good jazz lounge). Well, con­sider it said.

In terms of a crash course in Greece, we were good stu­dents. In Mykonos, we me­an­dered through the Old Town, where a slew of white­washed build­ings and beck­on­ing high-end bou­tiques take you down maze-like al­leys on which wid­ows in black can be seen hang­ing their wash­ing and where, at one point, my travel com­pan­ion and I even found our­selves fol­low­ing a hu­man-sized pel­i­can we en­coun­tered on our way to visit the is­land’s sig­na­ture white wind­mills. In Pat­mos, mean­while – a more in-the-know is­land – we made the hill­side climb to the Monastery of Saint-John the The­olo­gian and the Cave of the Apoc­a­lypse, where St. John is said to have re­ceived the Rev­e­la­tion in AD 95 and later found fur­ther re­li­gion in fresh-caught fish while im­bib­ing on a beach renowned for its glit­ter­ing multi-coloured peb­bles.

One of the best parts of our nau­ti­cal ad­ven­ture? When the Sil­ver Spirit veered off course for a smidge, land­ing in a Turk­ish port, where one of the add-on ex­cur­sions in­cluded a chance to go see a sun­set-timed clas­si­cal con­cert set at the Tem­ple of Artemis. Un­fold­ing among the col­umns in a “ru­ined” open the­atre, it was an evening to soak in all right. (And one of the ex­tras that the cruise line is fa­mous for on its voy­ages around the world – rang­ing from hot-air bal­loons above the Namib­ian desert to go­rilla spot­ting in the Uganda.)

Sit­ting in the by­gone tem­ple on this par­tic­u­lar night, as the sky dark­ened above us and the mu­sic played on, it was one of those ohso-fleet­ing mo­ments: a junc­ture when a gap still re­mains be­tween our ex­pec­ta­tions and our trav­el­ling re­al­ity.

Nos­tal­gia, play thy game. www.sil­; 1-855-486-0912

A Byzan­tine Ortho­dox church in Oia, San­torini, with views of the sea and dor­mant vol­cano; Ru­ins of the Tem­ple of Artemis

Oia, one of San­torini’s cliff­side towns

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