ABOARD THE MV AEGEAN ODYSSEY —I am convinced that this is the future of travel, particularly of cruising, but also of any kind of travel. The addition of a cultural, artistic or archeological enrichment is very attractive for the modern traveler. Their everyday lives are complex and challenging, and I believe because of that, they will have expectations for a more intellectually demanding tourism experience. They want to do more than look; they want to learn and grow and explore connections.
The lecture series on Voyages to Antiquity are perfect. On this cruise, there are two lecturers on board. Professor Robin Cormack is a professor emeritus at the Courtauld Institute of Art and a highly respected senior expert on Greek and Roman history.
According to Professor Cormack, “The lectures give you the opportunity to stand back and ask, ‘Why should I visit here and why is it important? ‘” His first talk was called “Sailing to Byzantium” , wherein he talked about the treasures of the Ottomans and where they had gone. They are scattered around the world, and many of them were sent to the monasteries of Mount Athos for safekeeping.
Professor Cormack lived in one of the monasteries on Mount Athos to do his research and he told the stories of his experiences there. No women are allowed on Mount Athos, and the monks live a solitary and austere life, with most of their time spent in solitude and prayer. But the monasteries are immensely wealthy, with gold icons, 14th and 15th century gold encrusted vestments, and libraries full of valuable manuscripts. His talk brought the island to life for us, and sailing past the ancient monasteries took on a much richer depth because of his shared insights.
The other lecturer was Dr. Thomas Mannack, a reader in Classical Iconography at the University of Oxford, and a universally acknowledged expert in Greek and Roman pottery. He is not only highly knowledgeable, he possesses a deadly wit that makes his lectures entertaining as well as compelling.
Shards of painted pottery, he claims, tells us more than anything else about the ancient world. Much of the literature that would have told us about that world has been destroyed or lost. But painted pots remain and tell us the stories of everyday life. “They are hard to destroy, they were often placed in graves so they were protected, and even if they are found in shards, they can be reconstructed.” I will never look at an ancient pot in quite the same way again.
And before we visited Delos, he introduced us to the stories of the births of the Greek Gods, introduced us to Apollo and prepared us for our visit to Delos, and the small but fascinating museum on this uninhabited island, one of the holiest sites in antiquity. His final lecture helped us to absorb the wonders of the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens with a more critical and appreciative eye.
Both lecturers came on all the excursions and were often engaged in discussions with passengers who had questions or were interested in more information about a site or an antiquity. The quality of the lecturers and their accessibility for me puts this cruise on an entirely different level from other cruises, making it both enriching and unforgettable.