By Bob Schulman
Some people like cruising on gigantic ships...the bigger the better. For instance, you can be one of 5,400 passengers – almost the whole population of Aspen, Colo. – scampering around the 16 decks of Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. If zipping over the ocean on a floating city isn't your cup of tea, how about rubbing elbows with just 147 other folks under the four masts of Windstar Cruises' yacht-like Wind Spirit?
If even that many fellow passengers turns you off, consider bunking down with just a few other guests on a “gulet” – traditional twin-masted Turkish trading sloops turned into mini cruise ships. There are hundreds of them darting around the northern Mediterranean coasts, usually sleeping anywhere from eight to 24 passengers.
Many gulets come with air-conditioned cabins with toilets and baths along with galleys and sun decks, and some get outright luxurious with their own gourmet chefs aboard. “These days (gulets) are designed with comfort and not trade in mind,” says regional tour operator Peter Sommer.
Gulet cruises to the ruins of Greek, Roman and Byzantine cities on the Aegean Sea and particularly along the Turkish coast are becoming increasingly popular, Sommer notes. “(Vacationers) are genuinely curious about how people lived before, how they built, what they ate, how they worshipped.”
A typical week-long gulet cruise might skip along southern Turkey's Carian Coast with an itinerary like this:
Your gulet awaits you near Gocek in a little harbor on the eastern Mediterranean Bay of Fethiye. From there you sail across the bay to the ancient city of Lydae, and then up the coast to the ruins of once-great Kaunos, said to have been built by the grandson of the Greek supergod Apollo.
Next is a stop just off the coast at the magnificent fortress of Loryma on the island of Rhodes. From there you sail on to the temples, theaters and baths of the fabled city of Knidos, perhaps best known as the spot where Praxitiles' long-missing nude statue of the goddess Aphrodite once stood.
Your cruise ends up at a harbor packed with other gulets, skiffs, yachts and big cruise ships. That's Bodrum, where a handy airport awaits you (and thousands of other passengers) for the trip home, most likely with a flight connection at Istanbul.
Sommer notes that business is so good his company, Peter Sommer Travels (www.petersommer.com) is offering 19 different tours in the Turkey-Greece-Italy region this year, up from 15 in 2011.
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