Grecian Formula for Romantic Fun

<i> Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers</i>

We stood at the rail of Sun Line’s Stella Solaris, sailing from Mykonos at midnight on our way back to Piraeus at the end of a seven-day Greek Islands and Turkey cruise.

We found cruising the Greek Islands and Turkey exotic, exciting and very romantic, despite its being sometimes exhausting, especially on days when the ship calls at one island in the morning and another in the afternoon.

That’s why, if the pace gets too hectic, passengers should plan to budget their time. Here’s a rundown on the most popular ports. The Stella Solaris calls at the first nine.

Athens and Piraeus: The magnificent Acropolis tops the list here; try to visit in the early morning when the crowds are smaller. The Plaka offers inexpensive shops and cafes day and night.

If your ship makes a day call at Piraeus, take the local train into Athens and walk around on your own as an alternative to a half- or all-day shore excursion. Try to walk whenever possible, as Athens traffic is so heavy that cars are permitted entry to the city, by license number, on alternate days only.

The Mycenean collection in Room 4 of the National Archeological Museum is the most dazzling and an often-overlooked small treasure is the Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art. One of the most atmospheric restaurants in Athens is Gerofinikas at 10 Pindarou St. Enter through an alley and point to the dishes you want in a big handsome deli display.

Crete: The angular 4,000-year-old Minoan Palace of Knossos reconstruction may remind you of a Frank Lloyd Wright structure. No matter how many other archeological museums you’ve visited, don’t miss the one in Heraklion. The city market sells dittany of Crete, a local herb.

Delos: There’s a mystical air about this island, because no one is permitted to live here or to come ashore except as part of an organized group with a guide. Despite the temperature, slacks and sensible shoes are the most practical attire, as brush and weeds grow around the ruined buildings. The famous marble lions of Delos are roped off because visitors have been wearing them out by climbing onto them for photographs.

Dikili and Pergamon: While the excursion to Pergamon gets the emphasis here, allow a little time on your own to walk around the old-fashioned Turkish village of Dikili, especially if you can be there during the Tuesday morning market.

The hilltop ruins of the famous old city with its 200,000-volume library, the first to make a book with parchment pages instead of papyrus scrolls, overlook the modern town of Bergama. A tour of the remains of the Asklepian, a forerunner of today’s psychiatric hospitals, is bizarre and fascinating.

Istanbul: If you only have a day to spend in one of the world’s most fascinating cities, schedule a tour that includes Topkapi Palace (head first for the jewelry) and Hagia Sofia, or the Blue Mosque, in the morning and a visit to the covered bazaar in the afternoon.

If you have a second day or have covered the highlights before, stroll across the Galata Bridge past the fishmongers and through the Egyptian spice market, with perhaps a day cruise or bus tour to one of the villages along the Bosporus for lunch. We like the Garaj in Tarabya.

Kusadasi and Ephesus: The Turkish town of Kusadasi on the Turquoise Coast is a popular mecca for budget-minded sun-lovers. For cruise passengers, though, the splendid marble city of Ephesus is the main attraction; few excursions in the ancient world are so satisfying and accessible to the average visitor.

We dined well at a waterfront restaurant in Kusadasi called Kazim Usta, not far from where the Stella Solaris usually docks. Izmir, a call for the Royal Princess on Black Sea cruises, also is an access port for Ephesus.

Mykonos: Most ships call here for part of a day or evening, and shopping in the fashionable boutiques and dining in the outdoor waterfront restaurants is the primary activity. Just wandering around is probably the best way to see it. Restaurants get very crowded on summer evenings, so dine early or return to the ship for dinner.

Rhodes: The island of the roses attracts as many visitors to its beaches and sunshine as to its antiquities. Lindos is the most important of the latter; dress comfortably during summer; temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees.

In the old town the medieval castle, rebuilt under Mussolini in 1940 “in the 18th year of the Fascist Era,” is a monument to bad taste.

Thira: Some think Greece’s volcanic island rising steeply out of the sea is the remains of the lost island of Atlantis. Unless you really enjoy plodding along on a donkey’s back up the famous steps, choose the fast-moving cable car, which costs the same. You shouldn’t need a guided tour here; just meander through the narrow streets.

Corinth and the Canal: Some smaller ships--notably the Seabourn Pride and the Ocean Islander--cruise through the narrow Corinth Canal, started by Nero and completed centuries later by the French and Greeks. The ruins of the city of Corinth are so extensive that it’s easy to imagine it as a bustling combination of Las Vegas and Bangkok, which it was during the wicked days when St. Paul came to address the citizens.

Nauplia: Royal’s Golden Odyssey includes a call at this beautiful seaside town in the Peloponnesus, where a row of waterfront restaurants serves superlative fresh fish dishes at lunch and dinner. An evening in the old square here, dominated by the marble Venetian lion of St. Mark’s, is comparable to walking into a Greek version of “Our Town.”

Thessaloniki: Only Seabourn’s Seabourn Pride has scheduled a call at this Macedonian city, a pity because the archeological museum here contains the rich collection of artifacts unearthed during the last decade from Macedonian tombs at nearby Vergina, one of them thought to be that of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.

Sun Line’s Stella Solaris will be cruising the Greek Islands and Turkey this season between now and October, beginning at $1,230 per person, double occupancy, for a seven-day itinerary. Sun’s Stella Oceanis offers three- and four-day cruises through October, and the line’s little Stella Maris includes the Bosporus in its seven-day programs in April, May, September and October.

Others scheduled for two or more cruises to the Greek Islands and Turkey this year include Ocean’s Ocean Islander, Seabourn’s Seabourn Pride, Princess’ flagship Royal Princess, Royal’s Golden Odyssey, the Royal Viking Sky, Chandris’ Azur and Romanza, and Epirotiki’s new 422-passenger Odysseus (the former Aquamarine), which joins that line’s other ships in the Mediterranean.