European journey only gets better in Athens

There is probably no better way to describe the antiquities of Athens than awe-inspiring.

Athens has been continuously inhabited for over 7,000 years. The overall experience in Athens covers more levels of culture than any other place in Greece.

We enter through the port city of Piraeus, which is a suburb of Athens. It is a very busy port housing the ferry system that serves the 600 islands of the Greek Isles. Athens is the largest city in Greece with a population of over 4.5 million. Trust me, traffic in Athens makes traffic in Seattle and Federal Way look like a walk in the park.

Athens is situated on the central plain of Attica with several low hills, the most famous of which is the Acropolis, the high point of the city. The walk up to the Acropolis is a strenuous one with steep stairs and many spots where rough stones are the walkway. It is very difficult for the elderly or mobility impaired.

Once at the top after passing through the Temple of Athena Nike, you are treated to incredible views of the Parthenon, a masterpiece of Greek architecture that has stood for more than 2,000 years. Constructed of white marble in the 5th century B.C. when Athens was at the height of its military power and an intellectual center, the Parthenon has survived wars, sieges, sackings and pilfering. Unfortunately it is deteriorating quickly from the effects of all the pollution created by the heavy traffic and 4.5 million residents.

Ongoing restoration efforts are under way, but the pollution is a formidable enemy. The views from the Acropolis are spectacular overlooking the ancient 17,000 capacity Dionysus and Odeon Theater and other significant temples and historic sites of Athens.

Our tour continued with a visit to the ancient Agora, Stoa Attalus at the foot of Acropolis. Agora was the marketplace and where the origin of democracy can be traced and the seeds of Western culture sown. We visited Hadrian’s Arch and Syntagma (Constitution) Square and the 18th century House of Parliament with the ceremonial changing of the guard. We stopped for a very traditional Greek lunch and then concluded our visit with shopping in Plaka, the old town of Athens.

Our journey continues across the Mediterranean Sea crossing between Italy and Sicily to our next port of call in Naples. The best way to describe our experience here is "WOW!" Our tour took us from Naples down through Sorrento, then across the Amalfi Coast to Salerno. What a stunning and beautiful trip. The drive along the narrow, winding mountains is breathtaking. The towns perched on the sides of these steep cliffs are incredible. It is small wonder the Amalfi Coast has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Unfortunately, starting next year large tour buses will be banned from this road, so in the future you may have to rent a car or take a private tour in a smaller vehicle to see it. This is an excursion not to be missed.

From Salerno, we went to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. This ancient Roman town was buried along with its 2,000 residents in 79 A.D. when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. It is the best preserved specimen of an ancient Roman town in existence and contains an extensive forum, lavish baths and temples and patrician villas decorated with frescoes.

You should not miss the Villa dei Misteri whose paintings are in such good condition that it is hard to believe they are over 1,900 years old. The southern part of Italy offers spectacular sights, history and culture that are quite impressive.

Our next port of call is Rome. There is so much to see in Rome that you have to pick and choose what you want to do to maximize your one-day port of call. It is simply not possible to do it all in a day. You actually sail into Civitavecchia which is approximately 65 miles or a 1 ½-hour ride into Rome each way, further eating into your available time. We chose a nine-hour tour called Rome — the Eternal City.

We have been to Rome before and have seen the major sites so for us, we wanted to focus on revisiting the primary attractions of Rome. Our tour took us to the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica and Piazza San Pietro which stands before St. Peters and holds up to 400,000 people. The Vatican is an inspirational visit and certainly the most popular attraction in Rome.

Afterward, we stopped at a great restaurant named the Michelangelo two blocks from the Vatican for an excellent lunch. From there, it was on to the Colosseum. This ancient behemoth dates back to 80 A.D. and held 75,000 Roman citizens. After leaving the Colosseum, we did a short driving tour around the Circus Maximus, the Rome City Hall and the adjoining Piazza Venezia with its massive monument to Victor Emmanuel II and Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Off we sail into the sunset headed for our next port of call in Livorno.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way and can be reached at

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