Trip Start Sep 18, 2011
29Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Another spot we have always wanted to visit: Greece! We flew very cheaply via Easyjet from Geneva to Athens. As we mentioned in our last post, we had planned to meet up with Taylor and Michael, friends that we met in Queenstown but from Fort Collins, Colorado, ironically. If you recall, we met them in the Dorito aisle at a local supermarket shortly after both of us had arrived in New Zealand. We shared many adventures with them there and happily found our post-NZ plans aligned with a crossing of paths in Greece and Turkey. All of us have been looking forward to reuniting again for three weeks and the sounds of Taylor and I shrieking with joy when we first saw each other at our Athens hostel confirmed we were going to have one heck of a trip!! But I will say we had a few setbacks…read on.
Our first impressions of Athens while walking around at night was of history and graffiti. We could literally see the brightly-lit Acropolis reigning over the city from the end of our street. The rest of town was much more gritty, dirty, and graffiti-laden; the contrast between the two creates an unusual ambience we have not experienced elsewhere but is perhaps reminiscent of Rome.
The next full day was set aside to visit the ancient temples and ruins of Athens. The main stop on our walking tour included the Acropolis, the most famous historical site in all of Greece. Because we went unprepared and didn't learn much while we were there we had to do a little research when we got back. We found out (thanks to the UNESCO website) that in the second half of the fifth century BC philosophy and art flourished and an exceptional group of artists transformed the rocky hill (acropolis) in to a unique monument of the arts. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, and the small temple to Athena Nike.
Next we hit up the Temple of Olympic Zeus which is a colossal ruined temple in the center of Athens that was dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian Gods. Again, another incredibly old ruin that was completed in the 2nd Century AD. I can't believe these temples are still around! We had worked up quite a big appetite and the only thing on our brain was the one and only Greek gyros! We only had to eat one and we were hooked. I think over the course of the next 3 days we managed to put down 6 gyros each (lunch and dinner, oh yeah)!
Besides Santorini, one of our top spots to visit in Greece was the Meteora monasteries which are about 5 hours north of Athens. The four of us hopped in our tiny rental car (Panda Fiat) and left the sprawling and crowded city of Athens headed towards the hills, valleys and road less traveled to Meteora. About an hour in to our drive, however, Chip's 6th sense kicked in to gear when he felt something was wrong with the car. We pulled over and looked things over. Tires still intact, check. Engine sounds fine. We got back in and pulled on to the highway again all agreeing that 'it's probably nothing’. Five minutes later things still didn’t feel right so we pulled in to a gas station and as the girls grabbed snacks, the guys completed a thorough check. We came back out a few minutes later, the left front tire was off, and it was clear that the tire had been worn completely out as there were wires sticking out in all directions with a huge bulge in the center. We mounted the spare and cruised a bit further down the road and stopped in at the local Firestone store to see if they could put on a new tire. Of course, they spoke not one word in English but the boys’ sign language proved to be perfect because within 45 minutes we had 2 new tires and were back on the open highway. We were thankful nothing serious had happened. A blown tire would not have been fun.
After driving for 3 ½ hours we made a detour to eat gyros for lunch and visit the famous archeological site in Delphi, finished the remainder of our drive, and checked into our hotel in Meteora. The following day was dedicated to seeing the six monasteries of Meteora (meaning "suspended in the air") that were built high up on natural rock sandstone pillars. The area of Meteora was originally settled by monks who lived in caves within these rocks during the 11th century. Times became unstable during the age of Turkish occupation and the monks climbed higher and higher until they were living on the inaccessible peaks. Between the 14th and 16th centuries the monasteries were built by bringing material up hundreds of feet via a hand powered winch system and basket. Driving up the winding road to the monasteries was incredible. Within an area of 10 miles or so was a green forested valley with large rock pinnacles shooting straight up and perched at the very top of each were the different monasteries. We gained access to three of the six by climbing up stairs that were built along the side of the cliffs. Unfortunately, after the very last monastery our camera stopped working. We have no idea what happened but it definitely took me a few days to get over the fact that we weren’t going to have our amazing zoom lens and camera features for the rest of our trip in Greece and then Turkey. Around mid-day we were back on the open road heading south again to Athens to stay one more night in our city hostel.
We woke up early the next morning and were happy to leave the graffiti-ridden city of Athens and head out in to the wide open ocean via ferry. The Greek Isles await us!!! My whole life I’ve been waiting to travel by ferry through the numerous islands (you know, there are over 227 inhabited Greek Isles?). I’ve talked to several people who had been, done a ton of research and we had all narrowed our plans down to four places. Two days in Naxos, new on the tourist map, then three days in Santorini; of course, who wouldn’t want to go there with the stark white houses and blue domed roofs clinging to the side of the cliffs. Then two nights in Crete and finally a quick stop in Rhodes, one of the larger islands that would be our go to for starting our visit in Turkey.
I remember pulling in to the Naxos port after our 5 hour ferry ride and thinking 'this seems nice.’ There were normal looking beaches (no palm trees) to the right of the port, the town of Naxos was built up on a small hill and behind it were other larger hills that were barren and dry. The streets from the port that led to our hotel were tiny enough for one car at a time but cute store fronts and restaurants were on either side. When we arrived at our family run hotel our host, George, showed us to our room and let us get settled. We immediately threw on our beach clothes, grabbed our books and received directions from George on how to get to the closest beach. Ten minutes walking and we were plopped in the sand, soaking in the rays of the sun and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves. We ate in for dinner since our room was supplied with a kitchen and sat outside on our balcony discussing life until 11pm. I know, nothing to write home about but it was a pleasant day in Naxos.
The following day in Naxos we planned on hiking Mt. Zeus, the highest mountain the Cyclades at 1003 meters. Our original plan to catch a bus to the inner island town of Filoti but was replaced by a scooter rental that we spotted along the way. We donned our helmets and took off on our half hour ride in the Naxos countryside towards Mt. Zeus. The island of Naxos was bigger than I envisioned. It was also more dry and desolate. The hills, towns and sights that we passed by on our bike were quite colorless just different shades of brown. Our 2 hour hike to the summit of Mt. Zeus offered great views of the surrounding area however and we definitely needed the exercise. We climbed the steep descent to the bottom, hopped back on our motor bikes and made our way back to our hostel. As Chip and I were cruising along, five minutes from our hostel we rounded a tight corner and our bike lost grip from the road. We went skidding down, hitting the blacktop below. Luckily (or thankfully) we were both wearing helmets and weren’t driving fast. Both of us were in shock at first. Taylor and Michael pulled up behind us (not witnessing our fall) and thought we had just pulled over so they could catch up but they soon noticed our concerned faces, blackened clothes and road rashed arms, legs and knees. After a few quick ‘thank God you’re okay’ hugs we were back on our motor bikes. It all happened so quickly that we barely had time to reflect until we got home and realized that it could have been worse. I can recall smacking my head on the pavement and then thinking to myself ‘that didn’t hurt at all!’ I LOVE HELMETS!! That’s my takeaway from this experience. After we dressed our wounds (and Chip’s pride), we grabbed a bite to eat and spent the rest of the evening relaxing, rightfully so.
The following morning we were due to catch our ferry to Santorini. After our slightly disappointing stay in Naxos (visually not what we expected) we were all looking forward to the tourist dream island of Santorini. Everyone in the world has seen the white houses with blue roofs. Yes, this was the place. Five hours on our ferry passed quickly and we were rounding the island of Santorini in no time. After researching we learned there were two sides of the island in which to stay: the caldera (volcano view) or the beaches. We chose beaches and picked a hostel right on the black sand of Perissa beach. We arrived at the main port which consisted of a small clump of car rental agencies and a few restaurants. Once our shuttle arrived we traveled up a bunch of switchbacks to the top of the steep cliff, nothing but brown rock until hundreds of feet up with a town clinging to the top and edges. A quick jaunt across the island and we reached our beach town, Perissa, where we spent the remainder of our day. Perissa was not what we expected in a beach town. It’s hard to explain exactly how we felt at that moment but we were disappointed in what we saw. The land and mountains were dry, uninviting and there was no green vegetation in sight. The beach was much like being on lake Erie and as we walked along the streets we noticed a lot of trash, tons of vacated and half-built homes that were left abandoned, and no sense of community. It was such an odd place for tourism, we all thought.
The following day we were excited about regaining our love for Santorini and booked a full-day boat trip out to the caldera, a hot springs, and a stop in Oia town to watch the sunset. Our first stop took us out to hike around the still-active volcano that helped form the islands that make up Santorini. Afterwards, we motored to the island behind the caldera where a natural hot spring flowing into the ocean is situated. Our boat anchored and we flung ourselves off the back and swam our way towards the lukewarm water where we spent 20 minutes swimming around. Our third stop took us to the island of Therrassia. Honestly, we’re not exactly sure why we made a stop here because it did not add anything great to our trip. There were some dilapidated houses, mangy looking dogs and cats and trash lying about. We did come across a white church with a blue domed roof that was beautiful. We waved goodbye to Therassia and made our way to the highlight of our day, Oia (pronounced Ee-a). This is where every single Santorini postcard picture is taken from and supposedly one of the best sunsets in the world. Our boat dropped us off and we chose to walk (rather than catch a donkey ride) up the steep cliffside to the town clinging to the edge. We could definitely see why tourists liked Oia, it was beautiful with narrow pedestrian-only streets alongside white buildings, restaurants, and occasional viewpoint areas. Our only trouble was trying to find the blue domed buildings. Where were they, we all thought? We made a stop at a shop that sold the famous postcard and realized one thing: All the shots are of one small group of blue-topped buildings! I felt cheated...so you’re telling me that all the pictures in magazines I’ve seen over the years and tv programs that feature Santorini is only focusing on one small cluster of buildings that are white and have a blue roof? There are some tourism geniuses up in Santorini because we were definitely fooled in to thinking that the whole city was going to look like this. Either way, we asked where it was located and learned that it was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We had found it and yes, it was definitely beautiful! Sunset time was approaching so we made our way along with hundreds of other spectators to watch the famous sunset. Chip and I grabbed some dinner at a rooftop restaurant and romantically watched the sun set. They were right; it is definitely one heck of a sunset. For anyone visiting Santorini, I would definitely recommend the boat trip and sunset but other than that there is not a whole lot else to do.
We had three days left in Greece and two of those were spent relaxing on the massive island of Crete. The small time we spent just outside of the main port we found to be the most comfortable and beautiful. It had flowers, green trees, mountains with snow on top, and beaches. We didn’t have enough time to delve in to exploring Crete but I can say we would be interested in visiting in the future.
Our last full day in Greece we were aboard the thirteen hour ferry from Crete to Rhodes. It sounds horrendously long but it was actually the best boat ride we had had yet and the only reasonable option to make our way towards Turkey. The boat wasn’t even close to packed so we had plenty of room to lounge, take naps, play games, there was internet on board, a cafeteria, televisions, etc. The time honestly flew by and suddenly we arrived in Rhodes at 11pm. We had only a short stopover as our ferry to Turkey left the following morning, so we had time only for a quick stroll through the old walled city before bed. It was actually quite fascinating and had a great vibe to it, managing to combine an active, lived-in feel but still keep the air of walking around hundreds of years ago. We wished we had more time, but it is perhaps a good thing to leave a place feeling that way.
To close, Greece (particularly the isles) had definite beauty, but was underwhelming in many ways. Not unlike an aging supermodel, it still looks fantastic from far away and in airbrushed photos. Get up close and personal, though, and you might be surprised at what you see. Perhaps it is simply the struggling economy or the fact that we visited in the off season, but much of the country had an air of decay rather than aging gracefully. It is a place that we’re glad we’ve seen, but one that we likely won’t return to any time soon. That said, what made Greece a blast was the same thing that makes any trip fun: Great company, decent food, friendly locals, and the time to enjoy all three. Next, we head north to Turkey and the coastal city of Fethiye as we make our way through our last country before heading back home. We have high hopes but will be cautious with our expectations. Until then…
*Click on pics for more :)
Lots of Love,
Linds and Chip