So far, this has been the highlight of the voyage.
Ours was the only cruise ship to pull up to the small terminal, so we would not overwhelm the small town of Argostoli, the capital of Cephalonia, one of the seven and the largest of the Ionian islands off the Greek coast.
We had signed up for the natural wonders tour, because it warned of a high level of activity and we figured most of the older passengers would choose a more sedate leisurely tour. We were wrong—a total of four full size buses were filled to capacity for the trip. Our tour guide spoke fine English, since she was born in Montreal, and she pattered on with a historical survey of the island and the wonders we were about to witness.
Our first stop was the Dragorati Cave at the village of Sami. To reach the cavern, you have to walk down more than 100 steps, and early indications were that some of our fellow passengers would never make it back up. The cave is spiked with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites which display the subtle colorations of the minerals in the waters that form them at the rate of one centimeter every century.
After about an hour in and out of the cave, just long enough for everyone to gingerly step down and slowly crawl back up to the surface, our bus took off for Melissani Lake.
After more stairs and ramps down to the sunken lake, we alighted at a small landing where row boats met us for a quick tour of the tiny body of water. What makes Melissani worth seeing is that it is underground, with a shaft of light streaming from above where the ceiling collapsed some thousands of years ago. Scientists have since determined that the waters from Lake Melissani flow from one side of Cephalonia to the other—underground.
The effect inside the little lake is stunning as we floated across the clear deep water through the sunlit section, then along a small stream where the water shallows to about 10 inches before it leads to a sealed cave. The effect is not unlike the Indians in British Virgin Islands. The cavern here, however, is home to thousands of bats that sleep during the day in the ceiling and feed at night. We were not interested in staying around to watch them wake up.
Later in the trip, our guide slowed the bus down to show us where the waters that feed the lake drain out on the other side of Cephalonia. She also pointed out spectacular beaches that rival anything in the Caribbean, particularly Myrtos Beach on the northwest peninsula of the island.
Near the end of the tour, our guide gave us an emotional account of the slaughter of thousands of Italian soldiers by the Nazis during WWII and showed us the cliff where many of the former allied forces were gunned down by the Germans to fall into the abyss below. The incident was made into a movie starring Nicolas Cage based on a popular book that uncovered the gruesome story of treachery and savagery among enemy factions who started the war on the same side.
With that bit of cheery commentary, our guide followed up with a few stories of virgins who plunged to their deaths rather than being raped and sold into slavery by Barbarossa working for the Turkish ruler Suleiman the Great.
By the time the tour ended and we disembarked our bus, we needed a drink.
We also needed lunch, so we wandered along the waterfront street looking a block inward hoping to spy a welcoming establishment. But Argistoli’s commercial district is strung only along the waterfront at the port, so we settled for a nicely appointed restaurant named the Captain’s Table overlooking the Red Train central desk and the bay beyond.
The menu at the Captain’s Table features an entire page of appetizers and tastings. Against our better judgment, we ordered five—stuffed vine (grape) leaves, grilled sausage with fries, fried zucchini and eggplant, spinach pie and sautéed mussels. And bread.
Three of these would have been plenty. Four would have been piggish. Five were just sinful, stupid gluttony.
We washed all this down with a small 187 ml bottle of white wine for Lynn and a 500 ml pichet of red for us to share. The total bill was 35.50 euros. If not for our gluttony, the bill would have been about 25 euros.
We staggered out of the Captain’s Table and walked a short distance down the street to catch the ferry across the bay to the port city of Lixouri, about a 30 minute boat ride away. By now, the sea breeze had filled in quite briskly, and I reckoned it hit 20 knots, since we could see whitecaps on the back of the waves. Since our ferry was steaming ahead at 10 knots VMG, the apparent wind was a good 30 knots before we turned into the basin at Lixouri. Quite a boat ride for 5.60 euros. The trip back was downwind and a lot calmer, but still 5.60 euros.
Although our ship would not leave port until after 9 p.m., we concluded we had enjoyed enough adventure for the day. So we walked back down the cruise terminal but not before stopping at the 160-foot mega-yacht named Prana. I chatted with the crew for a minute, as the deck officer pointed out that the name on the boom was written in Sanscrit, so it was not likely we would ever decipher it. I should have asked but forgot, where they were off to, because I suspect the Caribbean is not likely to be on their winter cruise this year.