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RBB's Greek Oddysey

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On more than one occasion, I was asked by locals if I was Greek. In fact, I am not. One could take that, though,

to mean I'd be welcome there, and I'd certainly consider a move to Greece if circumstances would merit so dramatic

a life-change. It's an amazing country full of amazing people - direct and quite frank, but friendly and warm even to

strangers and foreigners.

We left Saint Louis for Atlanta at 10:00 am on September 13th, where we waited for seven hours for our overnight flight to Athens.

It was an unpleasant flight - ten-plus hours with an unhappy newborn and a 2-y/o who liked to kick seats immediately

behind me - there was little sleep to be had. Nonetheless, we decided to power through without napping after our

arrival at 11:30 am the next day. We made our way to our hotel (the Art Hotel in north Athens - nice enough place,

but our room was tiny), we were picked up for our first excursion - a bus trip to Cape Sounioun to see the temple of

Poseidon.

Downtown Athens, just north of Omonia Square, and just south of our hotel:

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Our hotel:

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The road to Cape Sounion:

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The temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. The temple's location was important because every boat coming to Athens

passed by this point. It overlooks the Aegean sea, so named because King Aegeus threw himself into the sea from

this point when he thought his son Theseus, sent to kill the Minotaur in the palace of Knossos in Crete, was dead:

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On our way back, we passed some of the fire-damaged hills from the recent brush fires near Athens:

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More in a bit...

-RBB

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Day two, we made our way up to Delphi (pronounced DELL-fee by the locals), home of the famous Oracle and of temples

devoted to Athena and Opollo. The site is on the side of mountain and is much larger than I expected - if you go, wear

comfortable shoes and arrive in shape...

The gymnasium where athletes trained for competition at the stadium

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Delphi contains a temple to Athena and Apollo, as well as the Oracle at Delphi

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The treasury building:

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Coming up to the temple of Apollo:

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The temple from above:

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More Delphi to come:

-RBB

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The theater:

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And all the way at the top, the stadium:

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There's also a museum containing many of the artifacts recovered on-site:

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And a model showing how Delphi must have appeared at its peak:

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Athens day three up next.

-RBB

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On our last full day on the mainland, we saw the sights in Athens itself. First the National Archeological Museum. The museum had employees in every room preventing patrons from touching, taking pictures with flash, or curiously, posing with the artifacts:

Poseidon - originally he was holding a trident:

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A siren:

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Aphrodite, Pan, and Cupid:

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Caesar Augustus in bronze:

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Artifacts from a Roman chariot (the chariot itself, obviously, is not original...):

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A headpiece:

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Monastiraki Square - home of the Athens flea market:

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More from around Athens to come...

-RBB

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Next, we made our way to the Acropolis. First, the Propylaea - the entrance to the Acropolis:

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The view from up there was amazing. It was incredible to see just how huge Athens is - multistory buildings stretched nearly as far as one could see. Four million people live in Athens proper (there are five million in the metro area), and there are no highrises:

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The Temple of Zeus as seen from the Acropolis:

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The Parthenon:

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The Erecthion:

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The Porch of The Maidens, or Caryatids:

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Next, a stop at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built by the Romans. At the entrance is Hadrian's Arch:

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And here are the ruins of the temple:

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Wild olive trees were everywhere:

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Ruins of a Roman bath:

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The next day, we took a hydrofoil to Mykonos.

-RBB

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On Mykonos we stayed at the Venioula's Garden Hotel just outside Mykonos Town. It's a really nice place aside from the 3/4-meter by 3/4-meter shower...

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The hotel staff was nice enough to supply us with pool towels:

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I, unfortunately, was unable to swim because my nails had not recently been trimmed and I'd eaten 2 1/2 hours earlier...

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Mykonos Town, knowns as Hora to the locals, was originally a haven for Pirates. The stone-paved streets were intentionally skinny and confusing to aid in escaping attack. Now, they're home to rows upon rows of shops and restaurants. For the record, the white between the stones is whitewash, and is does not always follow the mortar between the stones - some propterty owners drew their own...:

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Traffic and no sidewalks made for an interesting walk into town:

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Hora is known for its picturesque windmills:

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Just across from the windmills is Little Venice - so named for the buildings that jut out into the sea. These were initially home to boat/pirate boat captains:

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King Prawns - nearly a foot long - at a market in Hora:

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"Cuban Cigars and other things you might need"

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Psarou Beach, about 6 miles or so south of Hora:

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We ended our stay on Mykonos with a quick side-trip to the island of Delos. Delos was a hub of commerce and trade for the Mediterranean for nearly two thousand years. But roughly 2000 years ago the city experienced a rapid decline. By the year 100 AD the entire island was pretty much abandoned, an it's never been rebuilt. The benefit of the for us today is that the ruins were never built over. The site itself is absolutely massive. I've only uploaded a couple of the pictures I've taken so far...:

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This is a view from Mount Kynthos (all Cynthias are named after this mountain) of just a part of the site:

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Mosaics in the Dolphin House at Delos:

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There were literally thousands of vases just sitting out, and ceramic shards were everywhere including on the walking paths:

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From there, it was on to Santorini.

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Santorini was absolutely beautiful - probably my favorite part of the trip. The topography of the island is really interesting - it's an volcanic island that blew itself apart a few thousand years ago. The result was a massive caldera ringed by 1000-ft walls. Volcanic activity has since produced a new island at the center of the caldera that still considered an active vent, though the last major eruption occurred in 1959:

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Santorinians have taken advantage of the unusual topography, building towns dramatically perched on and over the edge of the Caldera.

Fira, the capitol and largest town on the island:

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Views of the Caldera:

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More Santorini to come.

-RBB

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On the north end of the island is Oia (pronounced Ee-ya). It's even more attractive than fira, IMO:

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People from all over the island flock to Oia at day's end to see the sunset - supposedly it's one of the best venues on earth to watch the sun set:

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Enjoying a nice cold lager while waiting for the show to begin:

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Yet more Santorini to come.

-RBB

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We stayed in Kamari, home of a famous black sand beach. Well, not sand, really. More like black rocks. Pretty, but not fun to walk on and slippery when wet:

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I took these while waiting for the boat to Crete at the port in Athinios:

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As an aside, the cruise ship Sea Diamond sunk in the Caldera roughly 2 1/2 years ago. The wreckage is still seeping fluids. There's a ring over the Sea Diamond intended to trap oil and gas that seeps to the surface:

Link to huge pic of the boat sinking, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The wreckage as it appears today from the port (look for the orange balls identifying the oil trap):

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Finally we made our way to Crete.

-RBB

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We didn't have much time in Crete - our hydrofoil from Santorini didn't make it to Heraklion until 9:30 pm on day one - two and a half hours behind schedule - and we flew out at 10:00 am on day three. That left really only one day to explore.

Lato was probably the nicest hotel we stayed in - small, but very chic. Here's the view from our room of the port:

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We first visited the palace of Knossos. Built by King Minos around 2000 BC, and rebuilt a few hundred years later, it was destroyed for good by fire in 1400 BC. An archeologist partially rebuilt certain sections of the palace to give an idea of what it could have looked like:

The reliefs are copies - the originals are in museums currently:

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The High Priests' chambers:

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This is thought to have been the Queen's quarters:

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We spent the rest of the day looking for a nice beach. We decided to try Malia beach, which was the only beach reachable without a climb - good because my wife had hurt her knee climbing around at Delphi and was pretty much done with hills.

A bus dropped us off at the town of Malia an hour later, and pointed us left to the beach. What we weren't told was that the beach was over a mile away. One lovely mile-long walk (and one sorer knee) later we arrived at the beach to find a young boy being swept out to sea. Beachgoers had to flag down the lifeguard, who wasn't really paying attention to rescue him. Within 20 minutes he had to rescue three girls who also had been swept out. Needless to say we didn't venture far away from the beach. Even in knee-deep water, currents were strong and there were large rocks underwater. Not my favorite beach. Still, the scenery was nice and it'll make for a nice story for the kids...

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One last note - this was plastered over every pack and carton of cigarettes in the duty-free shop in the Heraklion airport:

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-RBB

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Random thoughts on Greece:

My impression* of traffic.

  • Traffic laws are not law, per se - they're more like suggestions.
  • Lanes are not followed until you get near intersections where you are required to stop.
  • Stop signs need not be obeyed unless you need to stop for someone else already in the intersection. The same applies for red lights.
  • Turn signals are not a request to change lanes - they are a pronouncement that you *are* in fact, coming over so get the heck out of my way. If there's no one in the way, no turn signal is necessary.
  • Turn signals are not to be used when turning a corner. That's why you have a horn.
  • If you drive a motorcycle or scooter, you are totally immune from any and all traffic laws. When you approach a red light where traffic is already stopped, you may squeeze between lanes (or even enter oncoming lanes) to get to the front of the line. No room on the road? The sidewalk is an option, as are stairs and pedestrian throughways - even if they're filled side-to-side with outdoor restaurant seating. There are tons of scooters and motorcycles in Greece to take advantage of this.
  • I witnessed a full-on e-brake u-turn in downtown Athens in full view of a city policeman. He didn't even look up.
That's just Athens. The islands are worse.

* There actually are traffic laws in Greece. If you visit and drive over there, you break them at your own risk - the cops do like to target rental cars/tourists...

Taxis in Athens are yellow. On the islands, they're all grey. something to note if you visit.

I have discovered the joy of tsipouro. De. Lish. Shus. Seriously, some of the best alchohol I've ever tried. I am not, however, a fan of ouzo - too licorice-y...

In non-alcoholic Greek consumables, I had some of the best lamb chops ever eaten by man. Greeks put french fries in their gyros, and it is a good thing. Other than that, the Greek greek food is pretty close to the American greek food which is OK by me... Oh yeah, except for the Octopus. Also yum...

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OK, I'm done hijacking the phoram now.

-RBB

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Thanks for the pics! They bring back memories when I visited Greece two years ago. We were winding down from a month-long trip of the entire continent, and I was just chilling, making sure to forever remember how good souvlaki and calamari and fried pita and house wine can be on a gentle, warm, Mediterranean summer's evening.

* Lanes are not followed until you get near intersections where you are required to stop.

Seriously... when I was on the what felt like the equivalent of PCH in Greece, two rows of cars were driving on one lane.

* I witnessed a full-on e-brake u-turn in downtown Athens in full view of a city policeman. He didn't even look up.

:lol:

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Looks like a fantastic trip. Thanks for posting all the beautiful photos and the great descriptions. Did you forget that I can fit in a carry-on bag? Edited by ocnblu
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