This article was written by TAOLB Resident Mom, Sara Long, and originally published in the May 2018 issue of The Art of Living Beautifully magazine
Fifty years of marriage has brought many amazing experiences with it, but none more remarkable than our recent anniversary cruise to the Greek Isles of the Mediterranean. Our trip began in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of democracy. As we began our first excursion, the Acropolis loomed large from a hilltop in Athens, the pinnacle of ancient Greek learning. There is so much history in this area: civic, spiritual, and culinary. A visit to the Acropolis Museum was a special treat as we studied the many artifacts, statues, and friezes that have survived thousands of years to tell the story of Greece’s development and its influence on our world. The local shopping and dining of the Plaka lured us in to enjoy plates of appetizers and the local wine. From the balcony of our beautiful stateroom of the Viking Star, we were struck by the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea with its many shades of blue – from aqua to turquoise, cerulean to French blue, navy to blue-black – and always crystal clear. The artist in me found it to be a study in every shade of blue imaginable, and I continued my study of the azure hues as we set sail on our 10-day cruise.
Our first port of call was Santorini, an island of gleaming white villages with blue domed roofs perched atop black volcanic rock and ash. Everywhere I looked were spectacular views, narrow winding streets, and charming cafes and shops – each view just begging me to paint it! Our guide for the day, Nikos, was a delightful Greek man who could have starred as the father of the bride in the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” His pride in his country led him to take any word in the English language and prove that its derivation was from an ancient Greek word, and thus, Greece was the origin from which everything began. We enjoyed him immensely!
The main towns that make up Santorini are Oia, Fira, and Thira. From Oia, one can catch the ultimate sunset, breathtaking and memorable. It is the prettiest of the three towns, with spectacular views, cobblestoned streets, shops of native artwork, olive oil, ouzo, and scenic cafes that cascade down the sides of the cliffs. The only decisions I had to make were whether to paint it in oils or watercolor and how could I mix a color to show how blue the water was? This was truly one of the most scenic spots I have ever visited.
Another favorite stop on our cruise was the port of Corfu, a hilly, heavily forested island in the Ionian Sea. The island’s main town, also called Corfu, was made up of cream-colored houses with red tiled roofs that ambled up the mountainside. This place was a fun-to-explore small city whose architecture in the Old Town was formed from a hodgepodge of its past rulers – from Venetian fortresses to a French colonnade and bits of Roman columns throughout the city. Corfu is a Christian country, and its many churches are alive and active. In the Church of St. Spyridon, the patron saint of the island, we witnessed a baby’s baptism going on in the midst of locals coming in and lighting candles and praying; the locals seemed oblivious to the tourists filling their streets and churches. There we also found one of Europe’s largest public squares and a lovely promenade once reserved strictly for the aristocracy. Our walking tour of the Old City revealed many different influences through their history from Romans, French, Germans, Venetians, and English. I found myself photographing every window box with flowers in it, unusual doors or balconies, and even the cats and dogs lying on the cobblestoned streets, all in preparation for a painting frenzy when I got home. Fashioned by the once powerful Venetian Republic, Corfu is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This island is famous for its extra virgin olive oil and its kumquat liqueur or brandy. I can attest to the deliciousness of both! Corfu is also the birthplace of Prince Phillip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England, and we saw the former royal villas where he was raised. We boarded the ship that evening with me wishing for my sketchbook and watercolors to record these vivid memories forever.
A third favorite day was our excursion to Kotor, Montenegro, on the Adriatic Sea. This port is often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, but it is actually sitting on a submerged river canyon. Its towering cliffs offer spectacular views of red roofed houses amid Romanesque cathedrals and wandering narrow streets. Its stunning Venetian walls were built in 1420, and they zig-zag to the top of the mountain for a total of 13,000 steps, which we could have climbed for the price of 8 euros. We did not and chose rather to sit in the warm sun of the outdoor cafes and sip local wine and watch the people and the cats. Yes, cats! They were everywhere in Kotor. Our guide told us the people welcomed the cats because they had once saved the town from extinction when the Black Plague had overtaken the area, and the cats ate the mice who were said to carry the plague. Thus, cats were everywhere…just another reason why I loved Kotor. I feel a few cat paintings are in my future for sure. We also took an excursion to a 12-acre working farm of olive trees, grape vines, herb gardens, chickens and goats. The Moric family (an older couple and their three grown sons) is the 8th generation of olive oil producers. They showed us the process for growing, harvesting, and pressing the olives for oil. Then they served us plates of homemade, homegrown delicacies of olives, cheeses, breads, eggs, honey, wines, and pomegranate juice. Served in their own home, it was a special treat to visit with this family and see how they carry on their family heritage.
We had ten days of cruising and excursions with many other unique opportunities to experience a world so different from our own. We made friends with couples from around the world and were blessed to celebrate Easter and Christ’s Resurrection on the ship with an Anglican priest who was on our cruise, who led us in communion and the singing of hymns. It was another amazing experience on our trip of a lifetime. For ten days my mind and imagination were inundated with images and colors to rival none. Everywhere I looked was a painting to be captured! Just imagine what might emerge from the inspiration of this wonderful trip! Now, to the easel!