Trip to Greece
We're back! This page is dedicated to the tales of my trip to Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini with my friend Pam. (And yes, we're still friends. So much so, we're looking at Chile and Argentina for 2009!)
Part I: Athens
Sept 13 - Sept 15, 2007
On Thursday Sept. 13th I met Pam at the airport where we boarded our flight to Athens, which was to go through the Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris. Now, I've never had any desire to go to France or Paris, but I must admit this sounded kind of cool. Air France was also (mostly) an awesome airline: we had great food, champagne, and video games! (A rip off of Mahjong was our favorite, keeping us occupied for hours.) Once in Paris, however, fun took a hiatus as we had to deal with lack of signage (in any language!) and a passport-stamping "line" that wasn't a line, but rather more like a mob of tired, hungry people from all over the world jockeying for position. It was so bad that at one point a fight nearly broke out between an American and someone who was (presumably) non-American because of the perception that the American "cut in line". We were so unhappy with the process that we seriously considered "writing a letter". Once we made it through Paris, however, we got to Athens without a hitch (just 3 little hours). I ended up being able to sleep on that shorter flight, thanks to the Tylenol PM I downed just before getting off the Paris flight. The Athens airport, in stark contrast to Paris, was a pleasure. We quickly received our luggage and were met by a representative from our travel company, who gave us our itinerary, rest of our tickets, and lots of information (which was a bit to digest after the long trip there). He escorted us to a car whose driver, Dimitri, gave us many tidbits along our drive to the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel.
After checking in (probably near 11 am Athens time), I was relieved not to be feeling the incredibly crippling tiredness I experienced a year earlier after landing in Rome. We freshened up (I'll never forget my surprise at the foot-wide shower door that didn't move, and the water that got EVERYWHERE!), then decided to try to make our way to the Plaka.
We ended up having our first Greek salad at a restaurant called God's Restaurant. (When Pam finds the recipe for the one that's closest to what we had, I'll update this, because I just KNOW she's looking!) For the rest of the day...well, as long as we could stay awake, we walked around getting our bearings and looking in the various shops, thinking about what we were going to buy.
The next morning at precisely 7:45 am, we were picked up by a bus that would take us on a 1/2 day tour. We were slightly asleep until 9 am when the tour guide actually got on the bus to begin the tour, but it was nice having seats high and up front so we could see the city a little as we were picking up other passengers. Our first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, where the Olympic Games used to take place.
Next up was the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I liked this a lot more than the stadium; it reminded me a bit of the Roman Forum. Our tour guide had these neat little cards that showed pictures of the present day, then had an overlapping card that would show you what the structure probably looked like back in its day.
The tour continued with a drive around Syntagma (Constitution) Square, but unfortunately we weren't able to get out of the bus, not even to see the changing of the guard. I took several photos through the window of the bus though, and we planned on going back to that area the following day. (Unfortunately, we never made it.)
Next up was of course the highlight of the tour: the Acropolis. One interesting thing that did not occur to me before was that the Acropolis, well, is HIGH. I had no trouble with the paths leading up to the Propylaea (the entrance) -- save for the fact that the material used for the walkways was super slick, and people were slipping all over the place -- but as we started to climb the stairs I wondered whether my fear of heights would be a problem. I had no idea how much I'd be facing that on this trip, and I think...well, that I did quite well overall!
We started at the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, proceeded to the Propylaea, and then were rewarded with both the Erechtheum and the Parthenon. Our tour guide was very informative about the structures and again showed us photos of what they might have looked like.
She told us how the Parthenon was built as a temple to the goddess Athena, after the goddess won a competition against the god Poseidon. Apparently they were each asked to produce a gift for the people of the town: he produced something to do with water obviously (which residents associated with war) and she produced the olive tree (supposedly the one that's always growing near the Erechtheum). As a result they named the town after her, built the Parthenon as her temple, and placed a magnificent gold statue of her within it. (Our tour guide simply indicated that the statue was "lost". For more information on this myth see Lady of Athens.)
The other interesting thing I learned about the Parthenon is that, because it is built on a hill, the architects had to make some adjustments. In other words, if they were to build it using straight lines, it would appear lopsided. So, the whole structure is built with very subtle measurement differences to account for the slope of the hill. (For example, the stairs aren't all the same width--they get slightly wider, though it's not perceptible if you were walking on them.) And, if you follow the angles within the architecture of the Parthenon up until they meet in the sky, you will get a pyramid!!
An interesting thing about the Erechtheum (which we overheard from another tour guide) was that one of the Caryatids on the porch of maidens was used as the model for the Statue of Liberty. (Whether that's true or not I haven't verified, though one did look strikingly familiar.)
After making our way back down from the Acropolis, we walked through the Ancient Agora, or marketplace. However, we were hungry, so we didn't spend a lot of time there. We instead got another Greek salad (and I ate grilled octopus)! On the way back to our hotel, we took in the sights of Ermou Street, then stopped for a caffeine frappe (very popular in Greece) at a comfy chair restaurant. In a shop back in the Plaka (on our way back to our hotel), and one upping my Rome butt grab, I got proposed to and kissed by a Greek man who said his name was Apollo.
Unfortunately, this was for all intents and purposes, the end of our time in Athens. (I was violently ill for the next, oh, 24 hours, during which time we 1) couldn't sleep 2) amused ourselves by watching all manner of TV (in 5 different languages). What was fortuitous was that it was election day, and there was rumor that many things would be closed. An amazing thing happened however, that evening. As we were just finally dozing off, we heard what sounded like the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. (Horns honking, people yelling, etc.) Because we had been watching the news, we realized it was because the election results were in, and people were excited about the winner! (I can't even imagine that happening here.) It just goes to show you how much people in some places appreciate democracy. The noise lasted so long that we had to shut the window. The next day, as I was able to handle my first full meal of...well, crustless toast, we took a taxi to the airport for our flight to Mykonos.
Note: For my full set of photos from Athens, please visit my Picasa Web Album of Athens.
Part II: Mykonos
Sept 16 - Sept 19, 2007
So before I continue, let me just say that my months of learning Greek were pretty much wasted. I mean, I enjoyed learning how to speak the language (I didn't get into reading), but I wasn't able to use it much. People in every place we went spoke to us in English, and then of course when I tried speaking Greek, apparently I'd do it well enough that a stream of incomprehensible response would come back and I'd be forced to admit ignorance. But anyway....
The flight from Athens to Mykonos was quite amusing. You're in the air for 15 minutes total, during which the flight attendants manage to serve a beverage. Once at the airport in Mykonos, we wandered around outside a bit, getting our bearings. We had no arranged transfers to the hotel, so were looking at taxis. One taxi driver asked where we were going, made a face, and then just drove off. We were appalled and confused until I noticed a bus with Mykonos Grand on the side of it. Once we found the proper bus, we were on our way (for a small fee of course)!
Let me first say that this was the most gorgeous hotel EVER. Our room was amazing, the views were amazing, the pool was amazing, as were the sunbathing chairs / sofas, beach, and (expensive) food / drinks. It was also filled with COUPLES, honeymooners and anniversary celebrants no doubt. This, at first, was disturbing to us as traveling friends, but with the beauty of the place, it only took a day or so to stop getting sour over the groping young couples and the not-so-much-speaking older couples.
Our days consisted of the following: waking at a nice normal (non-work) hour, going down for the complementary buffet breakfast (also amazing), grabbing a bunch of towels, claiming a beach chair, and sitting out in the sun by the pool (overlooking the sea and Agios Yannis beach). Reading was a favorite past time, and thank goodness my stomach was better because that 11 euro strawberry daiquiri was just amazing. :-) When we got tired of the sun, we went back to the room, showered, and then walked up the hill to the little convenience store that sold us bus tickets and cheap bottled water. The owner was a somewhat disagreeable fellow, at least until he got used to us and we spoke a little Greek at him.
We would then board the bus to Mykonos Town. (This was often a little scary, as the streets had no sidewalks but were often traveled by pedestrians, and there were some low-hanging balconies that jutted out into the streets closer to the town. The horn for the bus--which you could imagine was used quite often--was a whistle-like sound that was kind of funny. Speaking of funny, so was the string of Greek that came out of our driver when a pack of college-aged kids attempted to board the bus with open bottles booze and no tickets.)
Our first night was less than ideal. The wind was really whipping around and it was FREEZING! Not at all what we had expected. To top it off, we'd let ourselves sunbathe for too long, and were ravenous! We stopped at a restaurant in the Little Venice area, and though were called "sweeties" by the would-be waiter, he was much more enthralled with the three Asian girls sitting next to us, and proceeded to ignore us for the rest of our time there. The food was average at best, and we were disappointed. We walked through some of the streets and got excited about the prospect of shopping (tomorrow when it was warmer)!
Our second evening in Mykonos Town was much better. We ended up at Nikos's Tavern (which was recommended to us by the front desk at the hotel). The grilled veggies and salads were to die for, as were the 2 euro glasses of wine! We ended up eating here again the last evening, it was that good. It was also cool that pelicans occasionally walked right by your table!
Afterwards, we had dessert at a place that if I recall correctly was called the Donut Store or something equally nondescript (plus you wouldn't be able to see the sign if you were there anyway). A very sweet man prepared crepes for us two days in a row: chocolate with banana first, then chocolate with coconut. Really tasty stuff.
One of the things I was going to allow myself to purchase on this trip was a new dance top. I was originally thinking of just for normal wear, but this turned into "competition level" quite quickly, when we saw these cute knitted (yes, knitted!) tops at a store called Joanna's Knitworks. We went inside and were quickly amazed at: 1) the number of beautiful sweater designs 2) the number of cute fancy tops (suitable for dancing) 3) the fact that everything fit US (two people who have a lot of trouble because we're small). Joanna spoke very good English and proceeded to help us select colors and styles, like a older family relative who knew what she was doing. As I was trying on the dance top I ended up buying, she asked me if I had a husband. When I replied "no", she said something along the lines of "this will help you get good rich husband!" It was very amusing. What was also amusing about Joanna was her frequent mention of how movie stars wore her clothes (she was big on Jane Fonda in particular), and how she was thrilled to have us to try on her things. She made a point of the fact that she made the clothes "for us" (i.e. for women our size), and that she does not want her work "on fat women". We thought this was cute, especially when she admitted she doesn't wear her own clothes anymore, and couldn't help giggling when a woman came into the store as we were paying and Joanna kept yelling to stop her her from trying on the sweaters.
By our last night in Mykonos, we were ready to go, but at the same time, not so ready to go. It had been nice just relaxing every day, and we hoped Santorini would be similar. We took our last walk through the streets and then prepared for our ride on the hydrofoil to Santorini.
Note: For my full set of photos from Mykonos, please visit my Picasa Web Album of Mykonos.
Part III: Santorini
Sept 20 - Sept 23, 2007
The people at Mykonos Grand happily drove us to the port to catch our boat for a small fee of 5 euro. We were very early, but the line was so long we were wrapped around the corner of a wall, and therefore had no idea what was going on. Finally, we decided to move up to see, and were informed by a passing tour guide that we could get in either line (there were two lines, one for each type of boat) because the other boat had left. We stood there for a little while longer, then saw our boat, Flyingcat 4 pull up.
Getting on the boat was an experience. People were getting off the boat at the same time, and you had to haul your suitcase up a pretty steep ramp and a few stairs. (I'm happy to report though that this is the ONLY time I really had to haul my suitcase anywhere, in contrast to Venice last year. But I packed light just in case.) Of course they had you stack your suitcases on a rack, and I put mine on the floor below, so I wouldn't have to reach up. Before I found my way to my seat, a man who was working for the boat took his foot and harshly kicked my suitcase to the back. I was not at all happy with that, since I did already have a somewhat fragile souvenir in there and bounced off the wall with the force of his kick! Pam and I ended up with seats split across the aisle, but it was no matter: the dramamine I had taken "just in case" had kicked in, and after watching a few moments of a Greek soap opera on the TV I was out.
We arrived in Santorini about 3 hours later. This turned out to be the most interesting of our hotel transfers. As we did in Mykonos, we looked around at the sign-bearing people to see whether there was anyone from our hotel there. Nope. People started to scatter and we were left standing there, trying to discern where we might get a ride. Suddenly a man came up to us and offered us a bus ride to our hotel for 10 euro, and tried to take our suitcases from us. I wasn't getting a good vibe about this, mostly because I couldn't see an actual bus anywhere! We discussed it and again I wouldn't let him take my suitcase until I saw the actual vehicle. Luckily there was a bus, and I felt much better when an older couple we recognized from Mykonos was on board. So we were off.
This was an even more hair raising bus experience than we had previously encountered. Santorini is on the side of a cliff, and so the road leading up from the port was basically straight lines with hairpin turns on either side. Our driver, however, was very careful and so we felt better.
Our hotel, El Greco, was the first stop once we reached the other side of the island. This was our most interesting hotel experience, to say the least. Unlike Mykonos Grand, the clientele was on the "older" side. Our room was really wacky--it was all at a weird angle, we had a sauna inside the room, but the bathroom itself was so small that you had to step inside the shower stall to be able to close the door. In addition, the abundance of towels that we had so enjoyed while in Mykonos was not something we enjoyed here. In fact, we quickly became "towel hoarders" because of the lack of towels both for bathing and for the pool. Pam described a very funny situation: she went to the front desk for something, and saw a man who didn't speak the language mime the use of a shower by using his hand as a shower nozzle (above his head), making the noise "psssh psssh" and then miming drying off his back by wiggling his hips back and forth with his arms out to his sides! We also had burnt out light bulbs everywhere--this was manageable until the last one in the closet (I mean, the bathroom) went out and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face to shower!
Anyway, barring all that, we found that the 5-10 minute walk into the town from our hotel was quite nice. Also, the food/drinks by the pool were good and more reasonably priced. We pretty much followed our Mykonos routine, getting up, having breakfast (which definitely wasn't as elaborate as the other places), and TRYING to lay by the pool. It was actually quite windy in Santorini most of the time we were there, and often the sun hid behind the clouds to the point where we were quite cold trying to sunbathe. The second day, we actually made arrangements in the town to go on a tour of the volcano and hot springs, because we couldn't imagine trying to lay out. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
The town of Thira (which is where we were mostly on the island) was supposed to be, according to what we knew, a party town. It was similar to Mykonos in that it had many narrow streets filled with restaurants and shops, but it was also different. In some ways (jewelry stores for example) it was much more upscale. We weren't quite sure how all those really pricey places stayed in business, and eyed more than one beautiful blue topaz ring. However, the general shopping seemed to be overpriced and not really worth it.
We did, however, get into a groove. We selected a cliff side restaurant where the food/drinks were good, the waiter was a hoot, and Jen got over some of her fear of heights by coming down some mad scary stairs. I was also tipsy enough to be able to handle the street leading up to the cable cars, which resulted in a truly amazing view of Santorini at night, not really capturable with my photography skills (or lack thereof).
Our first time at this particular restaurant--whose name I forgot to get, arrgh!--they played "Save Room" by John Legend so I attempted to lead Pam in some West Coast Swing, which of course everyone watched.
We also had amazing pastries each night from a family owned place named Zotos. Everything chocolate (of course) and not at all pricey.
As for the volcano/hot springs tour, this is an interesting story. We ended up at a travel place and asked them what they had for a half day tour. 16 euro each, but you had to get to the Old Port. How do we do that? Cable car or donkey. Hmmm...well I wasn't about to do the cable car; Pam wasn't about do to the donkey (and I'm not sure I was either, being that said donkey would probably be walking down the side of a cliff--yes I'm a chicken!!) We thanked the woman and left. At another travel place, they told us 18 euro pp, and we would meet there for the bus that would take us to the boat. Yay! Sign us up. The next morning we were there for 9 am, only to find out that it was too windy and that none of the tours were going out. I was not at all happy about this, as I was looking forward to hiking around the volcano. (And unfortunately, it also caused me to ignore cute Greek boy at the front desk back at the hotel.) However, we decided instead to take the bus and visit the black sand beach in Kamari. These turned out to be fabulous pics, but the beach itself wasn't all that fabulous. (It was really black pebbles, you had to rent chairs, and again, it was windy and COLD!) But, we got some food and drinks, walked the streets, and made the most of it.
Our last night there we took so many photos of the sunset from the restaurant, but then again, so did everyone else. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and we didn't want to go home the next day. About a 1/2 hour after we left the restaurant, I tried to sneak back in to use the "water closet" because we still wanted to walk around a bit more before leaving. Our funny waiter totally got me with his "you can't come back in" serious face. I thought he was giving me s**t but who knows in another country, right? :-)
Our ride home was primarily uneventful, save for some turbulence in the last hour from Paris back to Boston in which a not-so-considerate airline attendant woke me from my first sleep in oh, 24 hours because she couldn't see my seat belt. I'm feeling totally recovered from the jet lag (it's a week to the day) and I'm excited about the prospect of another trip. Who knows where I'll end up next year!
Note: For my full set of photos from Santorini, please visit my Picasa Web Album of Santorini.