Three weeks in Greece
- Submitted by: Mark Nowak
- Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005
I recently returned from a three-week vacation to Greece where I had an absolutely great time. The country is more beautiful than I ever expected it to be. The people are friendly and the prices are relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe. I learned a great deal and had much more fun than I had hoped for. The trip was a special treat for me because I have a good background in ancient history and Greek and Roman mythology. In a way, it felt like I was completing my classical education by visting the places where all the action took place.
Here's a basic description of the tour:
1993 MYTHOLOGICAL STUDY TOURS IN Greece
June 26 - July 16, 1993
Students, teachers and friends of Greece are invited to participate in Brockport's 37th consecutive mythological study tours to Greece. As they travel, participants study the developement of myths and their connection with the life of Greece. Various aspects of art, architecture, history and religion are encountered. Tour members also acquire a greater appreciation of developing Western civilization and of modern Greek culture. While opportunities for ordinary tourist travel are many, this program provides an insider's view of Greece, and a look at men, women, and legends of the past.
The program includes visits to, and lectures at, selected Mycenaean, Classical and Byzantine sites in Greece, affording the opportunity to examine the expression and development of mythological themes.
Credit can be arranged for students who are interested.
The tour director, Nicholas Mouganis, from Brockport New York has been giving these tours with his father and now on his own for over 20 years. He is fluent in modern Greek and in Greece, its mythology culture, people, and customs.
The basic itinerary is about 6 days are spent in and around Athens, visiting such sites as the Acropolis, Mts. Lykavettos and Philopapos, the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sunion and museums. A five day study tour of the Peloponnesus by private bus includes Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Sparta, Epidaurus, Mystras and Corinth. The course includes about 5 days of island travel in Crete, 2 in Santorini and 2 in Mykonos (with an excursion to Delos).
Since I took care of my own flight arrangements, the tour cost me $2155. My Alitalia flight tickets were another $1040. Plus, I spent another $500 or so out of my own pocket while there. I also put in another $40 to cover the unplanned addition of Mykonos and Delos to our itinerary. Armed with brochures from the Greek National Tourist Organization, printouts of the wealth of knowledge I collected and compiled from the more than generous people on the net and a Greek phrase book, I felt confident I wouldn't be completely lost when I reached Greece. As far as luggage went, I had my backback and a sort of rolling duffel bag that could be carried by hand or via a shoulder strap.
Saturday, June 26
Greece OR BUST
I took Alitalia flight 665 to Rome from Chicago at 3:15 PM. I did my best to sleep at my window seat during as much of the flight as possible. I noted that it was the first time I'd ever seen a cockroach on a flight -- just crawling up the window. The movies were 'Groundhog Day' and 'Forever Young.' The flight crew seemed pretty adamant about having the shades drawn at night -- couldn't figure out why. I stole a peek at the sun rising above the clouds. It was spectacular. It was about 7:30 AM when we landed in Rome where I got to see guards carrying automatic weapons and wearing bullet proof vests -- brought back memories of when I was in Rome three years ago. Rome is 7 hours ahead of Chicago time.
Sunday, June 27
I took Alitalia flight 480 to Athens at 10:00 AM. The airport was busy. Athens is 8 hours ahead of Chicago time -- that meant that calling someone at home who was home from work and not sleeping would have to be done in the middle of the night. I exchanged $150 while waiting for my bag. The exchange rate was about 227 drachmas to the dollar. I hoped to be met by Nick, but no one seemed to be there, so I had to figure out my own way to the Grand Hotel. Although I didn't know it at the time, Nick had left a message for me to do just that. I knew it was near Omonia Square, so I asked at the Tourist Police booth which bus would take me there -- #91. The officer also gave me a map of the city when I asked him for one. The bus only cost 160 drachmas. As is typical of European buses, you have to validate your bus ticket (insert it into a little box which either stamps it or cuts off a corner) on the bus. It was quite a ride for me since this was all so new to me. Riding through the city, I noticed how street signs and a lot of advertising were written in two forms -- the Greek alphabet on top and the Latin alphabet on the bottom. It was interesting to see what I was used to as symbolic notation actually used as an alphabet. When I got off the bus, I spoke with a few tourists to orient myself, stopped in at a nearby hotel for final directions, walked the last block or so and checked in at my hotel -- Room 611.
The view from my balcony gave me an unobstructed view of the Acropolis. It was literally within walking distance. My roommate Tae, a 32-year-old Korean engineer from California, wasn't around. No one else seemed to be either. The clerk at the desk told me they went for a walk before dinner, so I did the same. It was pretty hot, and the diesel fumes were pretty strong. I noticed that the locals seemed to only wear long pants or skirts. Even with temperatures in the 90's, you can pick out the tourists because they're the ones wearing shorts. There were plenty of young beautiful women around. They tended to have long dark hair and wear blue jeans with fairly thick black leather belts. They were thin and well proportioned. I may be accused of filtering out men, but I'd say that there were more women around than men. I also saw a lot of street vendors selling their wares. I'd heard about Athens being a hot, polluted city with dirty streets, but being from Chicago, it didn't seem any worse. It was actually more comfortable because Chicago is usually pretty humid during this time of year.
When I returned, I met the rest of the group -- there were 12 of us -- and Nick. It had a Jesus and the Apostles ring to it. We ranged in age from 18 to a couple in what seemed to be their 70's. Eight women, four men. Five of us were taking the tour for credit and would have to write a paper. Tae and I were the only ones who weren't from New York. There were Anne (18) and Erin (20), two attractive blonde sisters. I mention that only because of the seemingly magical aura of special treatment their physical appearance gave them. I called it the Blonde Effect. I'm surprised it hasn't been documented in any scientific journals. Mary Jane (49), wife and mother of three, and Audrey (59), an alumna of my alma mater (U of I in Champaign-Urbana) were friends rooming together. Frank and Marriotte Lane knew Nick's father. Carol (probably 60's) and Barb, a hip great grandmother, were roommates. Luz, a mother of two who seemed to be in her mid to late 30's originally from Colombia, and Janet (40), a member of Mensa, roomed together. I'm 26 and an electrical engineer who develops software for a living and pursues a PhD part-time. Anne, Erin, Audrey, Mary Jane and Luz were taking the tour for credit.
If my spelling changes for different Greek names, places or things, it's often because the spellings weren't consistent in Greece. I saw numerous cases of different spellings and misspellings for the same things throughout Greece. It seemed that in Greek there was usually one spelling, but when translated to the Latin alphabet numerous phonetic spellings are possible, and a dictionary must not have been consulted in some cases for words like garbage -- on a ferry it was spelled carbage. Close enough. The letters C and G don't exist in the Greek alphabet, so it's probably not unusual that the letters would at times get confused with each other. I've heard that the Latin C comes from the Greek Gamma, and the Latin G is a variant of the Latin C. I think one of the most interesting things I learned about the Greek alphabet is that Beta is pronounced like a V, and the B sound is created by a Mu followed by a Pi. That means Beta really sounds like Veta, and the word alphabet would be pronounced as alphavet.
We had a traditional Greek dinner at the hotel -- plenty of bread, Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives and feta cheese made from goat's milk), water and dishes (I have yet to learn how to pronounce) with plenty of olive oil everywhere. I never did get to like that cheese. The Greeks aren't as big on butter as we are, but tsatsiki, a spread of yogurt, cucumbers and garlic, was delicious on all the bread they served. Afterwards, we took taxis to the base of Lykavettos Hill where most of us climbed the rest of the way up to the top where the Church of St. George stands -- there is an extra charge for calling for a taxi. From there you get a spectacular view of Athens. Nick told us that there are many churches dedicated to the prophet Elijah in Greece. Elijah is Elias in Greek which is a lot like Helios, the sun god in Greek mythology. That's why churches named for Elijah are built at high points -- close to the sun. This is just one example of how elements of Greek mythology have filtered into the Greek Orthodox Church as well as other religions.
From the top it can be seen how Athens is mostly surrounded by hills which make it difficult for the pollution/diesel fumes to air out. Nick told us that Greece has about 10 million people and that about half of them live in Athens and the surrounding areas. The Greek people don't expect as much from their government as far as social programs go because the family is expected to take care of its own more than is the case in the US. They have casinos in Greece, but citizens of Greece are not allowed inside. You need a valid passport to get in. The Greeks are very upset that the former Yugoslavian area bordering Greece has decided to call itself Macedonia which is the Greek area from which came Alexander the Great among other famous Greeks. In the church an old woman and her husband told us in great detail about the history of the church and the images it contains. Nick, of course, did the translating.
Afterwards, Anne, Erin, Tae, Luz, Nick and I went to a dance club called Mercedes in the Glifada district just southwest of Athens where the beaches and the closed military base are. Getting taxis was as simple as walking to Omonia Square where they wait in line when the demand is low. The ride cost about 2000 drachmas, but we took two taxis. Outside the club we saw very well dressed people going in and some guys being turned away at the door. Nick had to do a little talking to get us in. We were a balanced group and we got the impression they were trying to avoid too high a guy-girl ratio. The cover was 2000 drachmas but that included a drink. I had some kind of sweet Italian ouzo. It was about 12:30. A band was playing, but no one was dancing. People watching was fun enough for a while. This was definitely a place for beautiful people. The women really know how to dress to highlight their femininity. If there is such a thing as a minimum drinking age in Greece, it must not be enforced. Some of the couches were reserved -- we learned that the hard way -- by a bottle of water at the table.
At about 2:00 they switched to recorded music -- really good music. I finished off my Long Island (another 2000 drachmas) and danced with Luz for about 2 hours straight. It was a blast. We were surrounded by very loud speakers. Together with the lighting, the music was excellent to dance to. Often they wouldn't play an entire song, just part of one and then smoothly move into the next. My ears felt like they rang for days afterwards. Some Greek music was played around 4:00, and some of the girls got up on tables and danced using sensual Turkish style arm and hand motions -- very nice. I thought that this just may have spoiled my enjoyment of US clubs. Between the dancing, the music, the lights, the women and my buzz, I was pretty happy. It was interesting to watch so many people dancing with cigarettes. The Greeks do like to smoke, but they don't seem any different from the rest of Europe in that regard. Anne and Erin had this thing about dancing -- they wouldn't do it. Instead, they met men. They met lots of men.
Tae and Nick left around 3:00 or 3:30. Luz and I left around 4:00 when things were starting to die down. We looked for the girls but didn't see them. We figured they must have left. When we returned to the hotel, we found out they were still out. As it turned out, they had met someone important at the club who gave them a ride home in his van. I believe their drinks were free and they were invited to come back the next night where a table would be reserved for them and they wouldn't be charged a cover. The Blonde Effect. I think the next night was some kind of topless swimsuit contest, but I'm not sure.
Monday, June 28
After a refreshing two hours of sleep and a shower without a shower curtain, I had breakfast with the others at the hotel. We took a chartered bus to Filopapos Hill to see the monument there and take in a spectacular view of the Acropolis. Nick gave us some of the history of the place before we went to the Acropolis itself. Athens is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare -- that's why she carries a shield, whom the Athenians chose as their protector after a contest between her and Poseidon, the god of the sea and earthquakes. At the Acropolis we walked through the Propylea and around the Parthenon, taking in views of the Herodotus Atticus Theater, the Theater of Dionysis, the Erechtheum and the Caryatids. Nick told us that the columnar architecture of basilicas is derived from ancient Greek temple architecture.
Afterwards, Tae, Mary Jane, Janet, Anne, Erin and I took taxis to a beach in the Glifada district. Since it was around two, we had trouble getting taxis, so we had to phone for them. Greece pretty much shuts down between 2:00 and 5:30 when people escape the heat by going home and napping. Then they return to work and work longer. They tend to go to the beach later when it gets a little cooler and have dinner around 9:00 or 10:00. The nightlife tends to start around midnight.
Driving in Greece is simply scary. I was riding in the front seat of the taxi, and we were driving so close to other cars I was scared to rest my arm on the open window. Stop signs seemed to be treated like yield signs, and once we went right through a red light. Lanes don't mean very much, and there are so many scooters and motorcycles everywhere that they tend to fill in any gaps between cars. Seat belts appear to be purely decorative. I'm amazed I never saw an accident during my entire stay. Nick had told us the first rule of driving in Greece: People are soft.
Nick also told us that cars in Greece are very expensive, so they are expected to last a long time. They have insurance, and the weather isn't as damaging as in the Midwest. Sometimes two guys will buy a car together to use it as a taxi. One guy will work a day shift and the other at night. To ease congestion, there are ordinances often preventing all taxis from being able to go to some places on the same day. The drivers risk stiff fines if they get caught breaking such ordinances.
Taxis can take on other passengers, but during my entire trip whenever I took a taxi, the driver would pull up to a prospective customer, hear where he wanted to go and pull away. Everything in Greece seems to be negotiable as well from wares to dinner bills to taxi fares. A fare can be negotiated before you decide to take the taxi.
The beach was a pay beach, costing 350 drachmas, but there were plenty of services and facilities once you were inside. The beach was topless, but most women wore their tops. My understanding is that all beaches in Greece are topless, but some are nude. The water was great and resting in the sun was appreciated. The water of the Mediterranean is so blue because of a lack of plankton which tends to mean a lack of fish as well. It makes the water very clear. Greece also receives plenty of sunshine but is drier and more comfortable than the humidity I'm used to. In fact, water shortages are not uncommon and people are asked to conserve.
For dinner we went to the Plaka (which means flat area) where lots of traditional tavernas can be found. These are restaurants with a band of about 5 members (including a bouzouki player) playing and singing during dinner. People will often get up out of their seats and dance to the music. The trolley we took blew a fuse, so we had to switch trolleys on the way. We ate at the Stamatopoulu Palia Plakiotiki Taverna -- it was recently mentioned in a New York Times article. I ended up sitting at the edge of or group right next to the band. They played a little too loudly for me to hear what Nick was explaining at the center of the group, and it bothered me when I was trying to eat. Oh, well. I was tired too. Later, I had some ouzo which brightened my spirits. The music was good, the food traditional and the dancing interesting and genuine. Nick was invited up to play the bouzouki, and he did for a few songs. He was quite good. Nick later explained that traditionally Greeks don't dance for anyone -- they dance for themselves. That's why sometimes it's considered improper to applaud a dancer.
Some of our group took a taxi back to the hotel, but most of us decided to walk back. Nick joined us and gave us a 2:00 AM tour of the Plaka. When we returned, Nick, Luz and I went to a cafe to talk. I had some tea and crawled into bed around 4:30 again. I was beginning to wonder how long I was going to be able to keep this up.
Tuesday, June 29
In the morning, we took in the National Archeological Museum and followed that up with a souflaki lunch at a local place. This was also the place where I first tried retsina, resinated wine -- that's right, wine with pine resin. I liked it. Luz, Janet and I went to see the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier next to the Parliament building. It happens every hour and the guards looked like they appreciated it -- the sun must have been nasty to them in those uniforms.
Luz and I explored the National Gardens. Walking through them was like walking through a maze. There were cats everywhere. Some would let you pet them. Actually, I noticed lots of cats throughout Greece including the islands. Another nice aspect was that there were palm trees everywhere.
We ended up meeting two Australian girls on our way to the Monastiraki bazaar. Philly and Lillian were spending months traveling across Europe. They had just arrived and were a little unsure of themselves. We talked as we led them to the bazaar. At the bazaar I haggled myself a wool sweater for 7000 drachmas -- his original asking price was 10000. Luz haggled herself a skirt before we left the same shop. Luz and I took the subway back to our hotel (100 drachmas and it was really easy).
After dinner at the hotel, we took our chartered bus to the Acropolis Sound and Light Show. It was a pretty tacky historical overview of Athens. While fighting off sleep, I could hear others laughing at the melodramatic narration. It was kind of fun, and it didn't cost much. We then went to see the Dora Stratou Folk Dance Company in the same area. The dancing was very good.
Afterwards, Anne, Erin, Tae and I went out with two Italian guys the girls had met. We went to another Plaka taverna (choosing it was simple -- a guy up the hill called to us when he saw us passing by and then hustled us up the stairs when we approached) where we had wine, listened to a live band and talked about topics ranging from the differences in our cultures to U2. One of my favorite moments was when Erin asked me if all those B.C. numbers got smaller as time moved forward. Afterwards, when that place closed, we went on a walking search for an open bar, and we couldn't find one. This event probably marked the pathetic low of our stay. At least it was still dark when we got in.
Wednesday, June 30
I slept on the bus ride to Delphi. Nick gave us some language lessons and provided us with a running narration on Greece that I didn't quite entirely catch. The first six years of school in Greece are mandatory, but the second six are optional. Going to a university is another matter. Anyone who is interested in attending in going to a university in Greece has to take national exams. I believe the exams were being given on Monday because we were told that more people would have been at Mercedes otherwise. If you do well on the exams, you are selected to go to university in Greece. Only quite wealthy people can afford to send their children out of the country.
On the way we visited Osios Lucas Monastery that dated back to the 11th century. The mosaics were especially interesting. There is no such thing as separation of church and state in Greece -- the church is on the government payroll. There are churches everywhere. Many are very small -- built by those fulfilling vows to God for some answered requests. Travelling in a chartered bus containing a total of 14 people was great. We all could have our own seats and spread out as much as we liked. Sometimes we'd take naps with our legs going across the aisle, and it was amusing to watch Nick climbing over people.
We had lunch in Arahova and reached the Temple of Athena in the afternoon. It was great to visit the place I had only seen in pictures. Delphi was considered to be the navel of the world. We drank from the Castillian Spring water where pilgrims would cleanse themselves before going on to the Temple of Apollo where the Oracle (called the Pythia) would answer questions after breathing in natural gases that induced trances. Aesop (the author of all those fables) was thrown to his death from the top of the springs for making fun of the gods. I get awed at touching ancient structures that have been around thousands of years before me, knowing that they'll most likely be there long after I'm dead for someone as yet unborn to touch.
We checked into our hotel. This one was the best we'd stay in during our entire stay in Greece. It not only had shower curtains and consistently hot running water, but tubs as well. The view from our balcony was spectacular (I'm going to describe a lot of the places we saw that way because I was very much impressed with how beautiful Greece is) -- you could see a sea of olive trees in the valley all the way to the port town below. Nick, Mary Jane and I went hiking into the hills above Delphi at 5:30. We could see some ancient ruins scattered about, but we climbed high enough where we could see some fantastic views of the Temple of Athena, the gymnasium and the stadium. We could also see the aqueduct that was carrying water to Athens. We were back at 8:10 -- time enough for a wonderful shower and bath before dinner at 9:00 on the hotel veranda.
After dinner, we went to George's where Nick had made fun of George's ability to play the guitar. George's wife served us -- I had ouzo, and George's playing and singing were better than we'd been led to believe. He must have practiced a bit more. We saw more dancing. It really is an art. Nick was really quite good. I tried it, but I just can't pick up on steps that quickly. We stayed for a while. I left around midnight, and most of the others soon left. I actually got a fair amount of sleep for the first time in almost a week.
Thursday, July 1
At 8:30 we boarded our bus for the Temple of Apollo. The complex was impressive with its stoas, treasuries, theater and stadium. I ran the stadium a few times. This was where the Pythian Games were held. I met an Australian named Simon there. We took in the Delphi Museum where we saw a great statue of the Sphynx after we visited a monastery dedicated to Elijah for nuns. Of course, it was way up high. A nun gave us a tour of the church where an incredibly elaborate artwork made out of olive wood was made. It took 20 years for the artist to finish it, and it was all based on the simple phrase: 'I am the vine; you are the branches.' The nun explained to us that novices have three years to decide if they want to spend the rest of their lives there. They don't go out much because the world has a way of distracting one's focus on God. She treated us to water and some kind of sugary treats (Turkish delights) before we left.
I was craving sugar. My sugar intake had gone seriously down since my arrival, and I was in withdrawal. It's no wonder these people were in such good shape. They eat much better than we do as a society. They smoke like crazy, but that's another matter.
Another thing I noticed was that along roadsides throughout Greece, it's not uncommon to come across little shrines containing various icons. These shrines are put at accident sites whether the people involved survived or not and are maintained by local people.
We had lunch in Arahova again. Back at the hotel I wrote a couple of postcards and went shopping with Luz. Delphi is such a small town that covering all the shops isn't all that difficult. Luz bought a 14K gold ring with the Greek key designed into it. I bought a similar one for my friend Mary Jo at home, hoping it would fit. I also bought a Hippocratic Oath T-shirt for my doctor friend Martha. There was a serious freak thundershower while we were in the jewelry shop. It didn't last long, and it was the only rain we saw during our entire stay in Greece. Nick used it as an example to show how people could have come to believe in a sky god like Zeus.
I washed some clothes before dinner at the hotel. The hotel gave Nick a bottle of something since it was our last night in Delphi. Anne and Erin had bought some ouzo and wine, and we ended up playing cards, drinking and talking on a balcony. We played spoons with straws and somehow turned it into a drinking game.
A van pulled up to the hotel. Anne was downstairs getting the key to her room when the people in the van told her that our guide was waiting for us at a club. We knew Nick was out with Mary Jane and some others he knew from a previous tour (One of the women who had been on his tour a couple of years ago with brilliant teeth had met and married a waiter from Delphi, and they were all out together with her sister and her sister's boyfriend). Not in the best shape for making decisions, the four of us piled into this van driven by people we didn't know. They took us a couple of blocks (like I said -- Delphi is small) to Club 93 -- For You. We were the only people there, but the music and dance floor were good and the drinks were free (The Blonde Effect). Then Nick and the others did arrive. They had been there earlier, but had left in search of something else and failed. Nick hadn't sent for us. The guys running the place basically forced us to dance. The girls put up a verbal fight, but even they gave in -- for a while. I danced with Mary Jane, and soon left with Tae around 2:00. The girls were surrounded by guys talking to them, and we were no longer in the aura of the Blonde Effect.
Friday, July 2
In the morning the bus took us to Andirion where we took a ferry to Rion (including the bus). I took a few pictures of a picturesque Venetian battery as we pulled away from the port. Loading and unloading the ferry was amazingly fast. We were now in the Peloponnesus. We visited Olympia where the first Olympics were held in 796 B.C. There we saw Phideus' workshop which had been converted to a church. Phideus was the architect of the Parthenon before working on Olympia. We saw the gymnasium, Temple of Zeus and Temple of Hera. I ran the stadium before we left.
Throughout the trip, often while riding on the bus or sometimes laying on the beach with my eyes clothes I kept getting into bizarre mental states where I'd be experiencing some kind of altered reality. Maybe the lack of sleep had a lot to do with it, but I'd find myself still awake yet hearing the conversations of the people near me, but the conversations weren't taking place as I heard them and often the people involved seemed physically oriented differently around me than was actually the case. For example, I'd be hearing a conversation with my eyes closed that I knew wasn't actually taking place. I'd open my eyes and see the people who sounded like they were talking around me were actually napping in different parts of the bus. I could then close my eyes and hear the conversation continue. It was pretty wild. It's almost as if the dream state could be accessed by just closing my eyes while I continued to be conscious. This kind of daydreaming felt so real with my eyes closed.
On our way to the Neda hotel, we stopped for a beach break. Anne, Erin, Tae, Mary Jane, Luz, Janet and I went for a swim and took in some sun before we checked into our hotel in modern Olympia. At the hotel we were greeted with complimentary shots of ouzo and water which gives the drink a milky color. Dinner was great. Afterwards, Luz, Anne, Erin and I went shopping. One Greek guy from a jewelry shop invited the women out for a drink and completely ignored me. He was pretty rude, but I guess that's what happens when you're not cloaked in the Blonde Effect. I wanted to go for a real walk, but the girls just wanted to shop, so I went out again with Mary Jane and Nick. We walked up some steep streets until we could get a good view of the town.
Saturday, July 3
MYSTRAS, SPARTA, NAFPLION, TOLON, EPIDAURUS
I overslept a little this morning. The drive to Sparta was spectacular. We visited Mystras' castle and palace and then Sparta and it's museum. On our way to Tolon, Luz, Tae and I were dropped off in Nafplion where there is a castle close to 1000 steps up a hill. Nafplion was the capitol of Greece in the 19th century. We climbed the steps, but the castle was closed for the day, so I climbed over the wall and ran around for a while taking pictures before coming back down. The three of us took a bus to Tolon. On it I met a nice Swedish girl and her sister. They were visiting Greece with their mother and would be visiting the island of Kos. They had already spent about 3 weeks in the area around Tolon. We didn't have much time to talk, but it was nice. When we got off in town, their mother directed us to a tourist office that helped us find the Hotel Sofia.
Nick was surprised to see us so soon -- we had made the roundtrip climb and descent at the castle in 30 minutes. Nick and Mary Jane informed me that the others had backed out on plans to see Aristophanes' Lysistrata being performed in Greek at the 2200 year old Theater of Epidaurus -- the one with the famous accoustics. We needed 4 people to go, so we convinced Audrey to come along. We ate dinner hurriedly before the others, so we could make the 9:00 PM performance on time. We took a nice 5-speed Mercedes taxi, but we were stopped by heavy traffic. There were police turning people back who didn't already have tickets. They said the performance was sold out. With the full moon rising we dejectedly turned back.
Nick asked the driver if we could get a discount since we never actually made it. The driver said he really couldn't. This is where it got interesting. Nick told him to turn around again and head for the theater. By the time we reached the spot we were stopped before, much of the traffic had cleared and we could get further. Nevertheless, we were stopped a little further on. They weren't letting many cars through. Nick got out and made a little scene with a police officer. When he got back, he told the driver to go on through. He turned to us and said we should have heard how bad his Greek got while he talked with the officer. He told him we had people waiting for us with our tickets and that he had tourists with him who came all this way to see the play or something like that.
People were parking on the side of the road. The driver took us all the way in, an a meeting place was chosen -- the driver was going to wait for us! Well, they were sold out. They were more than sold out. The Theater of Epidaurus has a capacity of around 12300, and they had sold 19000 tickets. People were, oh, upset. It was something close to a mob scene with lots of yelling going on, but people were still well behaved. We moved towards the gate anyway. Nick slipped through in the crowd of people who had been turned back. He kept asking the same question repeatedly until the answers started to change. We just wanted to see the setup of the theater with all those people in attendance. As more people left, we snuck in as well. We moved up the hill and past some more guards who gave orders to prevent anymore people from going up.
The theater was an incredible sight. All those people in that ancient theater. We were standing, but when a seat opened up, the people called to us to have one of us come down to the seat. Mary Jane went. The rest of us found spots together higher up. Across from us was a big student group who started shouting cheers that made the crowd laugh. They even knew an American one. Whenever someone would move in front of you, they would ask if you could see. I was very much impressed with the courtesy and good cheer of these people under such crowded circumstances.
It was close to 11:00 when the play actually started. A little girl walked out and gave a little speech. The noise of the crowd made her hard to hear, but even so the acoustics were very good. The lights died, and I had such a thrill just being there among all the people in that famous ancient theater under the light of the full moon watching the opening night performance of Aristophanes' Lysistrada and knowing we had a taxi waiting in the parking lot. Yeah, I was having fun. You could see little points of light that were the lit cigarettes of the people around you. Actually, so many people were smoking I was amazed at how much second-hand smoke I was inhaling in an open-air theater.
The comic play is about Athenian women who withhold sex from men to get their rights. The women were played by men, but I couldn't say for sure that there weren't any women on stage. The sight gags were funny, but we didn't get the puns. Even Nick had some trouble, but he told us that it was very raunchy material.
We left about an hour into the play -- Nick threw coins at Mary Jane's head to get her to turn around and notice us. The taxi took us back to Tolon where we walked down the main strip and had ice cream and coffee at a cafe. One thing I missed was the concept of a bottomless cup of coffee. Every time you wanted a refill on coffee, you had to pay for it everywhere we went. Throughout Greece you can see children helping in their parents' businesses -- in cafes, hotels, whatever.
The taxi wasn't as expensive as you might think. Normally, I'd say fares were less than half of what they are in Chicago, and the fare had been set to include the wait for us. Afterwards, Mary Jane went for a swim, and I went for another walk. Anne, Erin and Luz were out meeting guys. It was an especially bad mosquito night. It seemed that throughtout the trip Tae was being bitten about ten times more than I was. His theory was that by the time I got in they were full.
Sunday, July 4
MYCENAE, TIRYNS, EPIDAURUS, CORINTH, ISTHMUS CANAL, ATHENS
In the morning, we drove to Mycenae where Agamemnon and the famed Greeks of the Trojan war came from. We walked through the Lion's Gate and visited the nearby beehive tomb. Afterwards, we visited Tiryns, the hometown of Heracles himself. The walls of the city are made of rocks so massive that according to myth they were built by Cyclops. The city had been closed because of the danger of falling rocks, but it was open the day we were there. Then, we returned to Epiduarus and toured the massive complex there that had been a major healing center. Plays at the theater were often part of the remedies given. Asclepius, the great doctor who had been taught be Chiron the centaur and killed by Zeus for bringing people back from the dead and later made a god, was prayed to there. People would come, pray to Asclepius and dream. Asclepius would come to them in their dreams. Their dreams would then be interpretted by the healers and remedies would be developed accordingly. Some of the remedies would include seeing certain plays in the theater. Way back then the Greeks believed in a connection between the mind and the body.
The theater was quite a sight in the daytime as well but very different from the previous night. After a brief walk through the museum, we continued on to Corinth where we were able to walk over the impressive canal there. Then, it was back to the Grand Hotel in Athens. We had a meeting to discuss changing our itinerary. Mykonos and Delos were not in the original plan, but there was enough interest that we altered our schedule and decided to pay a little more if we had to. I decided at the last minute not to join Anne, Erin and Luz with the guys they met in Tolon for a night out. Turns out I made the right decision because they didn't go dancing as expected.
Instead I joined Nick and Mary Jane on a trip to an expensive night club. It was called the Can Can club, and the musical acts reminded me of something you'd see in Las Vegas. It was very expensive. Wine cost the same as whiskey. We ordered a half bottle of whiskey and fruit dish -- the bare minimum to stay. A full bottle came and Nick protested. The waiter told him to only drink half of it. Nick wanted to see a certain singer he'd seen before. I could tell why when I saw her. She was gorgeous. Dressed in a black gown and sporting, oh, a perfect body with dark hair, she sang for a while. People would have waitresses dump aluminum plates and flowers on the performers. Sometimes they would order a bottle of what looked to be champagne. While the performer was singing, waiters would open the bottle next to him and pour into a champagne glass which they would then hand the performer. He would then raise it to his benefactors, not take a drink, hand the glass to a waiter and the waiters would take the glass and the bottle away. Also, women would dance on tables, and a performer could find himself surrounded by people from the audience dancing on stage. We left around 3:30.
Monday, June 5
We had a free morning for a change, so I slept late enough to just make it for breakfast at the hotel. Tae and I went to exchange some more money, and on our way to the bank we were approached by a guy who wanted to trade $200 in cash at an exchange rate of about 270 drachmas to the dollar. You gotta love the black market. We should get one in the States. Unfortunately, Tae and I didn't have that much cash on us and he wouldn't trade anything less than that. We had to settle for the the bank with its commission. We then went to the Monastiraki bazaar. We bought postcards and Greek music cds -- we even had to haggle for the cds. Tae ended up haggling for a very expensive elaborate chess set with brass pieces in the shape of mythological figures -- each pawn was a sphynx. The whole set weighed about 50 pounds, and he got it for 37000 drachma (about $160). They let him have some theater masks at a discount as well.
We had to be back by noon, and time was running short. Tae exchanged some more money and we made our way to the nearest post office to send his new set home. The line was moving slowly, so I took the rest of Tae's stuff, ran back to the hotel, packed up our belongings and told Nick the reason we might be delayed. It was close to 12:30 when Tae finally made it back. It had cost him another $150 to send the set back via airmail -- shipping it wouldn't have been much cheaper. He said that if he'd known that it would cost that much, he wouldn't have bought it. The last I had heard from Tae was that only half of the set had arrived and in twice as many pieces -- it was pretty sad.
We didn't have time to go to the local souflaki place, so we decided to stop someplace on our way to Sounion where the Temple of Poseidon is. When we did stop, it was at pastry place that had me drooling. I had some chocolate milk, some chocolate pastry, a Pepsi and what was basically a corndog -- yum!
We continued to drive down the coast of Attica enjoying the beautiful sights. The Temple of Poseidon was impressive. It was very bright in the sunlight. It was quite a sight. The Athenians built it after they chose Athen to be their protector as a kind of consolation prize to Poseidon whom they didn't want to offend in the 5th century B.C. The temple is also located at a spot where it would be the last thing they saw as they sailed away or the first when they came home. There was quite a bit of grafitti on it -- some even said to be Lord Byron's (who gave his life fighting for Greece). We then returned the way we came and spent some time at Varkissa beach before driving to the port at Pireas where our ferry to Crete waited.
We were booked in first class cabins on the King Minos of Minoan Lines. Tae and I were in Cabin 336. We watched on deck as we pulled out of port. We could see Lykavetos Hill and the Acropolis in the distance. We also went by the Achille Lauro, the ship where that terorist attack took place a few years ago. Bunk beds aren't quite what I'd expect from first class, but it was luxurious compared to the arrangements the people sleeping on deck had. We also had a fantastic dinner on board. Tae felt like he was getting spoiled since he wasn't used to traveling so well. Afterwards, we sat on deck and talked before turning in. The trip to Crete was about 12 hours, and we had to be up early.
Tuesday, July 6
CRETE: IRAKLION, KNOSSOS, AMNISSOS
I woke up around 5:00 AM. At 6:30 we arrived in Iraklion which used to be called Candia. The word candy comes from the name of the city because of the sweets they made there. As we pulled in to dock, we could see what is left of the old Venetian battery. A female travel agent and bus were there to meet us when we disembarked. Carol had fallen from her top bunk and hurt her foot. We were taken to the Daedalus hotel, named after the mythological engineer who designed the Labyrinth and built wings for his son Icarus and himself to escape the island -- Icarus never made it because he flew too close to the sun and melted the wax that held his wings together. There was a painting of Daedalus in flight in the lobby.
The owner of the hotel greeted us all with handshakes. We dropped our luggage and took a public bus to the Palace at Knossos. We beat the crowds from the cruise ships but not by much. The place had been excavated and partially reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans. Nick went over the myth of King Minos, Pasiphae, the Minotaur, Daedalus, Theseus and Ariadne and the different theories of the ancient Minoan civilization that lived there. We then took the bus back to town where we went to the Iraklion Archealogical Museum where a famous snake goddess figurine and numerous frescoes can be found.
Afterwards, I bought a black T-shirt which had the epitaph of Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, written in Greek on it: I do not hope for anything, I do not fear anything, I am free. 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' and 'Basic Instinct' were playing in the theaters. After lunch at a local place, Nick, Mary Jane, Anne, Erin, Tae and I took the public bus to Amnissos beach. This beach cost 200 drachmas. The waves were much higher and we could see planes fly over and land at the very near airport.
Although I didn't know it at the time there is a cave about a kilometer south of the beach that can be visited. It's known as the Cave of Eileithyia (Ilithia), the goddess of childbirth. It was used for cult rituals from the Neolithis era up to the 5th century B.C. and many idols of women in the act of giving birth were found there. Dinner at the Psaria Fish Tavern was excellent. I had swordfish. Anne and Erin never really could find anything among the Greek dishes they liked. They kept splitting a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers without olive oil and eating little of anything else. I wasn't sure how they were surviving.
Nick walked us to a place where he knew a dance club was. It was closed on Tuesday -- go figure. Museums and archealogical sites were closed on Mondays which was sometimes inconvenient. Nick was always trying to make sure everyone had a good time. Sometimes I think he tried so hard it turned the experience into too much of a chore for him. After we returned, Tae and I wwent to a cafe in the Platia Kalergon where he had a beer and I had some iced coffee.
Wednesday, July 7
VORI, GORTIS, PHAISTOS, AGHIA TRIADA, MATTALA
Tae's watch alarm accidentally woke us up at 5:30 AM. We got up later at 7:15. After breakfast, I went over to the local office of tourism to pick up some maps and some information on the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe, which was on the opposite side of the island. I also found the local post office and bought some stamps. We then took a chartered bus across Crete, stopping a spot where huge boulders could be seen (according to myth these are the fossilized remains of the bread of Zeus), the Museum of Cretan Ethnicity at Vori and the archealogical sights at Gortis, Phaistos and Aghia Triada. Then we had lunch and swam at Mattala in the Lybian Sea on the south side of the island. I had a chocolate-banana milkshake for dessert. It was most welcome. This beach wasn't a pay beach, but they had umbrellas and beach chairs that cost something like 900 drachma to use.
On the way back to Iraklion we stopped back at Gortis because I reminded Nick we hadn't seen the Temple of Apollo which was nearby. Nick was glad we did because we were able to see modern Italian archealogy in action -- they were using jackhammers. Nick said he didn't know that the site was so extensive. We took Carol to the hospital because her foot wasn't getting better. Anne and Erin thought the place was a madhouse, but it didn't look so bad to me. They X-rayed Carol's foot and found it was broken. They put a plaster cast on it and told her to stay off it for three weeks. You gotta love socialized medicine.
Tae and I went to the Platia Kalergon for dinner where (as is typical in Greece) they have people inviting you in to eat at their cafes. We didn't get back in time to join Nick, Mary Jane and Luz for a free Cretan music concert, so we went cafe hopping instead. I had a beer at one and a screwdriver at another which was in a popular off the beaten path square. The people of Crete have a certain sense of pride in being Cretan that's a little different from being Greek. They have their own style of music and a slightly different lifestyle.
Thursday, July 8
MALLIA, KRITSA, PLATEAU OF LASSITHI, DIKTION CAVE
Today we had a very full and enjoyable day touring the island by chartered bus. We drove by a Hard Rock Cafe in Hersonissou, but we couldn't stop for me to buy a Hurricane glass -- I collect them. We visited the Minoan Palace at Mallia, had delicious yogurt and honey in the town of Kritsa and visited a 13th century church with frescoes. Outside of the church I bought a little bag of almonds from an old woman who had apparently sewn the bag together from a piece of plastic. The bag of almonds cost 100 drachma -- less than 50 cents -- which hardly seemed worth all the effort she had obviously put into it. We also enjoyed a spectacular view during the ride to and in the Plateau of Lassithi where there are windmills everywhere, had lunch and entered the cold, deep and dark Diktian cave where according to mythology Zeus was hidden from his father Cronus until he was old enough to overthrow him. We had to hike up to the entrance up a hill. Donkeys were available, but we declined. Walking down into the cave was a little treacherous since the only light came from the opening high above and a few candles, and the footing was sometimes slippery. There was, however, a handrail for much of the way. It was cold and damp and very neat. I asked Frank how it compared to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and he said that it didn't really -- that they basically have a sidewalk for you to walk on. We made a circuit in the cave and left, walking down the way we came. Nick explained how the ancient Greeks viewed a cave as a kind of womb in the earth. It was easy to understand why in the cold, damp darkness. Leaving the cave represented a kind of rebirth. Cults had used the cave in the past for their ceremonies.
The bus driver had brought along his son today, and wouldn't accept a tip at the end of the day. I guess he enjoyed being our driver. Nick told us that the drivers often get treated like dirt by tourists. We applauded our driver when he made an incredible turn in one of the towns we went through. Throughout our trip I was always being amazed at how well they could maneuver such huge buses through some very narrow, winding roads.
Back in Iraklion Nick, Tae, Mary Jane and I made arrangements for a hiking trip to the Samaria Gorge at the travel office of the woman who had met us at the port. The woman said Nick would have a hard time in the gorge because he wasn't as lean as the rest of us. We ate dinner at the same place we had on Tuesday. I had swordfish again. I asked the local Tourist Police if there was a Hard Rock cafe in town, but they didn't know of any.
Friday, July 8
Up at 5:15, Tae, Nick, Mary Jane and I met the Adamis tour bus about a block away from our hotel in front of the Astoria Hotel at 6:00. We were the first people on, but we were soon joined by many others, mostly Germans it seemed. Our guide from Holland was a very fit blonde woman who could speak Dutch, German, English, French and Greek apparently fluently. I was impressed. We could have avoided taking a tour by spending the night in Hania or Rethimnon, but it just hadn't been practical. I think most of us napped a little on the trip across the island. At Omalos we were given a whole twenty minutes for breakfast and a trip the bathroom -- I hate tours, that cattle drive feeling. It cost quite a bit too -- 8100 drachma when we bought our tickets and another 2100 on the bus. I wasn't sure why the tickets didn't cost the entire amount. I'd do it on my own next time.
Although Crete had been conquered many times throughout history, when the Nazis took the island, they failed to take the gorge. The freedom fighters in the hills made that impossible.
Once we were in the 18 km gorge, which is a national park, we were on our own. It was about 10:30. We let just about everyone pass us, so we could hike in silence and enjoy the view without distractions. We started way up high (about 1000m) where it was actually quite cool and made our way down the canyon. The views were breathtaking, and we quickly warmed up. The descent was pretty steep. I think we dropped 700m in just the first few kilometers. Tae and I went on ahead and Mary Jane and Nick caught up with us when we stopped at a rest area to eat and drink. There were a number of tired looking people hiking uphill -- next time that's the way I'd like to do it. Donkeys were available for those who became injured.
It was definitely worth the effort. At its narrowest point the gorge thins out to 3.5 meters across. I took a neat picture straight up catching the steeply rising walls around me. At times the stream was above ground, at others below. It took us about 6 hours to casually make our way out of the park and walk the last couple of kilometers to the town of Agia Roumeli where the others waited at a restaurant and a beautiful beach beckoned. Tae went for a swim. I had a Coke. Mary Jane had a beer. Nick was disgusted with how commercial the tour was and how they had everyone meet at a restaurant. Nick was tired. This was his first time in the gorge, but he thought he'd make it an optional excursion on future tours.
We took the last ferry at 6:00 to Hora Sfakion. The views were beautiful. Pictures just don't do justice to the beauty of Greece. We stopped briefly at Loutro before getting off at Hora Sfakion where a bus took us back to Iraklion. It was about 10:30 when we were dropped off. We went back to the swordfish place where the others had already eaten. The cook was pretty much shutting down for the night, so I had to settle for a spaghetti dinner. I took another walk by the Tourist Police office to check on Hard Rock Cafe locations, but they were closed. It was after midnight and I decided to turn in after such a full day. I passed Anne and Erin at the main desk of the hotel. They asked me out. I said I'd go if it was to someplace fairly quiet where we could talk. Okay, so I'm easy.
We went to a cafe in the out of the way square, had drinks and talked. I had a screwdriver. After a while a waiter brought us all shots of something. He said they were a gift. The Blonde Effect -- and it was only beginning. We talked for a while longer and then went inside to pay for our first drinks. We met the waiter (Kostas), the bartender (Vitas) and a couple at the bar, Eva and Nick. Eva's mom is from Singapore, so she had striking Asian features, but spoke English very well. She lives in Athens. Vitas and Kostas started pouring free shots for all of us. In the end the girls and I had each had 4 free shots, the last ones being vodka and ouzo. They invited us to join them at a club called Trapeza (which means bank in Greek). We agreed. So within minutes of meeting these people, we were getting into their car and driving off to a dance club. The girls and I were wearing shorts and I wasn't sure we'd get in like that. I asked Eva what the cover was and she said that she didn't know -- she never had to pay it. We walked through the door, and they obviously had connections because she motioned that we were all together and they let us right in. I think I was the only guy there wearing shorts.
The girls quickly set about to meeting guys. I was enjoying the great music and the women dancing on tables. That was enough to keep me there all night if nothing else. It was fun. It took only a couple of minutes before Anne was propositioned. After being up early for an intense day of hiking, I didn't return to my room until about 5:00. I did, however, get some sleep that night.
Saturday, July 10
IRAKLION, ARHANES, HERSONISSOU
I got up to visit the church of St. Titus with the others. Like in Italy, shorts were prohibited at most of the churches we visited throughout Greece. We then visited the weekly bazaar in Iraklion that reminded me a lot of Taste of Chicago with vendors selling food and wares for blocks. We bought some fruit and had it prepared for us at the swordfish place. We then took in the Museum of Cretan History. The afternoon was free, but a few of us took taxis out to Arhanes, a nearby town not used to tourists, where we ate a real meal under a roof of growing grapes. Nick, Marriott, Frank, Mary Jane, Luz and I went -- I think Janet and Audrey were there as well. Afterwards, the others took a bus home while Nick Mary Jane and I hiked to the top of a big hill that is referred to as the Face of Zeus. I was up ahead and lost the path. That was bad because that meant I would have to basically hike/climb vertically through prickly plants basically the whole way -- in shorts. I'd seen a snake before while hiking and that didn't make me feel any better. It was pretty terrible, but going back didn't look any better. I gritted my teeth and told myself that I had to keep going. I made it to the top, but my legs were pretty scratched up and the palms of my hands got it too but not as badly.
The view was tremendous. I took a few pictures while I waited for Mary Jane and Nick to join me. They had found the path, and I was glad it was there for the trip down. We had to walk to the town square to find a taxi that would take us back to Iraklion. It seemed like all eyes were on us as if we were from another planet. I also noticed that the cafes were filled with men just hanging out. The only women I saw seemed to be serving the men. I stayed in the taxi which took me back to the Hard Rock Cafe in Hersonissou and then brought me home. I ran into the cafe only to find out that they were out of Hurricane glasses -- Ugh! I settled for a black T-shirt and left. I did, however, get a great view of the sun setting on my way back into Iraklion.
Tae had rented a car today and spent time at a far off beach. He couldn't get enough of the Greek beaches, and he very much valued being on his own and free. After another swordfish dinner, Luz, Tae, Anne, Erin and I went cafe hopping. We went to three in all (actually Tae left us after the first one to get to bed by 1:00). The last one was back at the off the beaten path square. We met Kostas' sister Evi there and struck up a conversation. She goes to school in New York. We went to Trapeza again. The cover was 1200 or 1500 drachma, but that included your first drink -- I had ouzo. The music wasn't as good this night, and it was mostly guys again, but with Luz there I had a steady dance partner. Kostas and Vitas were there a swell. Kostas introduced me to a girl named Peggy who as it turned out is from Chicago. She's going into her 4th year in biology/pre-med at UIC. She had been visiting in Crete for about a month and a half. Although she was born in the US, she had returned at the age of 10 and then gone back to the US when she was 16. We talked a bit, but she was with friends and had to go. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers before saying goodbye.
Anne and Erin were surrounded by guys again. Evi was there as well. Luz and I joined her and talked about politics and the differences between our cultures. I walked Luz back to the hotel and came back the club. Even the Greek guys were getting tired. One said almost pleadingly, 'It's time to go home.' The girls wanted to know if there were any other places still open. This time when we got back, it was getting light. There was no point in going to bed.
Sunday, July 11
SANTORINI (THERA): KAMARI, FIRA
I felt pretty good at breakfast. Nick looked tired. He said the girls looked like they were in bad shape, and when others commented about him, he gave climbing the mountain yesterday as an excuse. I said I climbed the same mountain, and he came back with, 'Yeah, but there's something wrong with you.' I asked him if he'd gone anywhere last night. He said he just went to bed. I told him we just went the bank and asked where the bed (meaning dance club) was located. We got a good laugh out of that one. You had to be there.
Our ferry was late, so we went to see a service at the Church of St. Titus. It was interesting. I wrote postcards from the roof of our hotel as we looked into the sea for the ferry. When we saw a white dot, Nick had us take taxis to the port where we had to wait a little longer. The ferry trip took about 4 hours and was extremely windy. I managed to take a little nap on board sprawling out across a couple of seats. I woke Nick up for the arrival. It was fabulous. Santorini (named after St. Irene) is what's left after a volcano that erupted violently in 1450 B.C. The island is in the shape of a crescent and has a still semi-active caldera in the center that can be visited by boat for those wishing to swim in hot springs and inhaling sulfuric gases. The views were extremely beautiful.
At the port we were greeted by a throng of people trying to get us to stay at their hotels or homes. We took a bus to the Hotel Litsa, a block from the black sand beach at Kamari. The pebbles were more on the grey side, but walking on them with unprotected feet was unbearable. We ate at a traditional taverna before a bus took us to the main town of Fira. Santorini is covered with plenty of blue and white houses, giving Fira a kind of Magic Kingdom look to it. There were shops everywhere open very late, giving the place a commercial feel to it. I cynically said they could advertise the town with the phrase, 'Come for the view, stay for the shopping.' It was undeniably beautiful though. I bought a Santorini T-shirt. Nick, Mary Jane, Audrey and I avoided the cable cars and hiked down to the marina where we had drinks. The path is used by donkeys, so we had to watch where we stepped. I had some iced coffee again.
We had met up with Janet earlier. She gave me a piece of rose quartz she had bought. At some point during the trip I had told her that when I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, a fortune teller told me that I would meet my soul mate this year and that I could help attract her by carrying some rose quartz. I was touched by her thoughfulness and at remembering such a thing.
We listened to some traditional live music on our way up. There were a lot of couples around being quite the romantic spot. We ended up taking a taxi home because we missed the bus at 12:30 or so. However, the island is small enough that I could have jogged the 6 or so miles home. The water was off when we got back and Tae was out with the key -- this was the only time we were supposed to carry our keys with us in Greece. The faucet water tasted a little salty but was okay to drink. I heard they use some kind of reverse osmosis process to get their water. Anyway, we walked around the beach. Tae met up with us, and we went to a beachside cafe where I had some ice cream.
Monday, July 12
FIRA, KAMARI, PYRGOS, OIA
Tae went beach hopping today. I got up at 9:30 and joined Audrey and Mary Jane on a bus trip to Fira. Bus fare was 190 drachma one way. We walked around. I took some pictures. We visited the Catholic Church and Monastery of St. Catherine and had lunch at a cafe with a spectacular view where they were playing Yanni -- very cool. After we got back, I spent a couple of hours on the black sand beach, swam some, talked a little with a topless girl and got too much sun. I was starting to feel a little lightheaded by the time I got up for another bus excursion at 4:30. The sun was so strong and the beach so hot that you would wince if your elbow strayed off of your towel.
Nick took Erin to the local pharmacy to get something for canker sores. You can get all kinds of drugs more easily in Greece without a prescription. While she was crossing the street no less than three guys on motorcycles or scooters asked her if she wanted a ride. I decided that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I would like to come back as a blonde female.
We had dinner at the local taverna before going sightseeing. The views of the island from the bus were outstanding. We visited Pyrgos and went up to Monastiri where we had to watch where we pointed our cameras because pictures of the military installation up there were prohibited. Because of the dryness of the climate, there are many vineyards on the island and throughout Greece. We then made it in time for sunset at Oia where people come out and sit on the tops of houses to get a good view. It was beautiful but also a little too hazy. There were many couples around. After walking around town for a while and getting some ice cream, we came home. Tae and I joined Janet, Luz and Audrey for ice cream. Luz and I were the last ones left, so we spent time talking and people watching.
Tuesday, July 13
OLD THIRA, AKROTIRI, MYKONOS
We were up early to visit the Helenistic site of Old Thira. It also gave us a great view of where we were staying and the beach. I was always amazed at how difficult building these cities must have been -- carrying so many huge rocks uphill. We then visited Akrotiri. I found the site very interesting. It's a site a lot like Pompei, but 1500 years older. They didn't find any bodies there, so they figure that the people knew the volcano was going to blow and escaped in time. We could see ongoing excavation work in progress there. Nearby, a red sand beach can be found.
During the afternoon I wrote a bunch of postcards. We were taking the hydrofoil to Mykonos at 5:00. It costs about three times as much to take a hydrofoil than a ferry, but it's much faster. I'd never been on one, so it was quite a treat for me. It was all enclosed, but the back had a small deck -- room enough for several people to stand or sit. After we were all settled, I went out on the back deck for the view. We slowly left the port, and then it was pretty thrilling when the hydrofoil rose up on the water as it picked up speed. The views were once again breathtaking. Passing ferries was fun too.
We stopped at Ios, which Nick told me had basically one city and used to have a drug problem, Naxos, Paros (we had to basically go around the island to reach the port) and finally Mykonos. I caught a great sunset while on the middle deck of the hydrofoil before we got in. I also noticed a young girl on deck that I kept seeing wherever we went. Actually, I kept seeing a lot of the people from the hydrofoil -- Mykonos isn't all that big either. The island has a reputation for nightlife which I can verify to be true. We checked into our hotel and returned to the port town for dinner at a pizza place. We had to allow the hotel staff to write down our passport numbers.
At some point during the trip Nick and I discovered that our digital watches gave the same time to the second. We decided that as a result our watches gave the offical time for the trip.
Nick, Mary Jane, Tae and I took in a cafe where I had more iced coffee and walked around where all the action was taking place. Tae and I went our way. We stopped at one bar where I had a Long Island and he had a beer. The Long Island was pretty expensive -- 2000 drachma (about $9). He talked with some girls. I invited a couple from another table to join us, but no such thing as a male Blonde Effect as far as I know of. We also had a little trouble finding girls who could speak English well enough for a conversation. At 3:00 AM we took the free bus to the Hard Rock Cafe. It seemed unusual that they would put it a few miles out of the port town. We were the only ones on the bus besides the driver. As we approached it, we could see the lasers they were using to light up the sky. The cafe was more like a complex with a swimming pool, huge restaurant, video arcade, bar, dance floor, shop and outdoor bar shaped like a giant guitar. There was a huge group of people waiting for the bus threatening to rush it when it stopped, so the bus driver kept the bus moving, so we could get off. I don't think I've ever stepped off a moving bus before. I had my long awaited Hard Rock Cafe Hurricane and took the glass as a souvenir. They were playing hard rock (not the usual stuff they play in dance clubs) and people were dancing. We took the 4:00 AM bus back to the port town and a taxi back to the Hotel Kamari by Plati Yialos beach. The fare was 800 drachma (about $3.50).
Wednesday, July 14
Up at 7:30, most of us took the ferry across choppy seas for an excursion to Delos, the scared island that was home to the Delian League. We had considered chartering a smaller fishing boat to get there but decided against it. It's a good thing too -- Nick thought we would have drowned if we had. The waves were huge. There were many ruins to be seen, so I left the group and moved quickly and climbe the hill for an even better view. Mary Jane was with me most of the time. There were many temples (including one to Isis) and a theater. The Romans when they conquered a people liked to make them feel like they were part of the empire, so they would build temples to their deities as well. We took the 12:15 ferry back. It's illegal to be on the island after 3:00. I saw the girl from the hydrofoil and her friends on the ferry back.
We then ate lunch at a nearby port taverna (Nikos). I walked around with Luz and took a bus back to the hotel where I ended up joining Nick and Mary Jane at the beach for a couple of hours. On the bus ride back an Australian girl was bothered by a couple of Italian guys. One wanted her to sit on his lap and wouldn't take his arm from around her waist. She did her best to ignore him, but her female friend got pretty upset asking them why they couldn't just leave her alone, why they assumed they wanted to be touched and bothered like that. They just had smart remarks for her, but they got off okay.
Even though the views at the beach were tremendous, I spent most of the time sleeping, waking up just to turn over. Tae, Anne and Erin spent their day at the beaches. Paradise beach was nude and Super Paradise beach was gay. Tae thought Elia beach was better than Paradise beach.
We ate dinner at Zorba's down by the beach. The food was good and they had dancers entertain the customers. That part was kind of tacky. Even though the dancing was good, the dancers wore T-shirts identifying themselves as dancers with exclamation points -- way too touristy. Anne and Erin left and said their goodbyes -- they had decide to leave the group and spend more days on Mykonos before returning to Athens and then on to Italy. I figure that if I every see them again, it'll probably be on an episode of Studs. Tae left that night on a midnight ferry back to Athens. From there he would take a flight to Rome where he would tour for another week or so. He couldn't get a cabin, so he was going to have to sleep on deck. He didn't even have a sweatshirt, but he was going to try to get one at the Hard Rock Cafe boutique at the port. As it turned out, he didn't get one, but he was able to sleep indoors on airplane type seats.
Mary Jane and I watched the dancing pretty late waiting for Nick. The three of us took a taxi to town where I had some more iced coffee. I convinced them to check out the Hard Rock Cafe, so we took the 2:00 AM free bus out. They were impressed. Nick thought he might take a future tour out there. We had some snacks in the restaurant and walked around before they left on the 3:00 AM (or so) bus. I saw the same girl and her friends again. I ended up having a Long Island and dancing for a while before taking the 4:30 bus back -- it only took about 10 minutes to get back to town. People were still swimming around 4:00 AM. While waiting for the bus I laid down and enjoyed the view of the stars and the aurora borealis effect the laser made on the sky. The girl and her friends were waiting for the bus too, and I struck up a conversation. Her name was Mary, but I started talking with Eve. She asked me if I was from England. I told her I was from Chicago in the States. She said, 'Same language -- different accent.' They were recent high school graduates from Belgium on a 2-week classical vacation in Greece, basically covering what we covered in less time. They told me they were tour sites and partying all night which sounded very familiar. Once again I felt like an uncultured American boob since everyone had to switch to my language to accomodate me. I was born in Poland, but I think I only heard Polish spoken once or twice during my entire stay in Greece.
Thursday, July 15
I walked through the town, made my way to the bus station and took the 5:00 AM bus back to my hotel. It was the last bus, and it left seconds after I got on. Nick was now my roommate, but I didn't wake him when I got back. After about an hour of sleep, we were up for a quick breakfast, so we could catch our 8:00 AM ferry. I was a little disappointed that we wouldn't be taking the 2:00 PM ferry like the Belgians I met. It always feels weird to meet some interesting people from different backgrounds, speak briefly and then never see them again.
The ferry stopped at Tinos (where a shrine where people make pilgrimages for healing miracles is) and Andros before arriving at the port of Rafina. From there we were bused back to the Grand Hotel in Athens. I didn't sleep on the ferry, but I did on the bus even though it was just an hour to the hotel. I helped Luz look for travel information around town. We met up with Audrey and Mary Jane, bought stamps, changed money and had milk shakes at McDonalds. We did a little more shopping at the Monastiraki bazaar. I haggled a woman down from 10000 drachma to 6000 for a tablecloth for my mom and bought some more postcards.
We noticed that there were far more tourists in the city than when we had first arrived. For example, every room in our hotel was booked. We ate dinner once again at the Stamatopoulu Palia Plakiotiki Taverna in the Plaka. I was pretty exhausted at dinner. I was struggling to keep my eyes open as Nick gave us an informal quiz over everything we'd covered. He told me I wasn't allowed to answer any questions he labeled as easy. As it turned out, even his easy questions were pretty hard. Marriott said I couldn't fall asleep because I had been so tireless during the whole tour. Well, I was definitely tired now. Nevertheless, I went out with Luz, Mary Jane and Nick for some iced coffee at a place called the Neon near our hotel. It wasn't until 1:30 that I finally got to bed -- my own room for the first time.
I noted that I had definitely packed too much stuff for three weeks in Greece during the June-July timeframe. Washing clothes as we traveled was easy, and it was so warm that I slept on top of the covers most of the time -- my bed usually didn't need to be made in the morning. Mosquitos were sometimes a problem, but for some reason I didn't get bitten as much as some of the others in our group.
Friday, July 16
Most people left today. I got up to say see Luz off on to the express bus to the airport. She was going to fly to Rome and tour more of Europe. Janet, Mary Jane, Audrey and I were there at 7:00 or so. I later took the same taxi to the airport with Nick, Mary Jane and Audrey after saying goodbye to Janet, Carol and Barb. Nick explained to the driver that I was in search of a Hard Rock Cafe in Athens and to keep driving until I gave up. We said our goodbyes and I drove on. It wasn't long before I gave up. I came to the conclusion that if there had been a Hard Rock Cafe, it closed with the closing of the military base because it wasn't in the nightlife guide and the concierge had no clue -- neither did the driver.
With some difficulty I managed to take a bus to Eleusis where a mysterious cult came to worship and discuss the secrets of life and death as handled down by Demeter. The secrets were just that and to this day no one knows waht they were because the penalty for revealing them was death. It was 2:45 when I finally stepped through the gate. I was promptly told they were closed and I had to come back tomorrow. I managed to take one picture of what ruins I could see before I left with one of the security guards who showed me where the bus station was.
His name was Spiros, and he spoke English fairly well. He may have been in his early twenties. He told me that he had been in the States in California and liked it a lot. When I told him I was born in Poland, he confessed that he felt Americans take for granted what they have and aren't as family oriented. Americans are more stressed out while Greeks are more laid back. In fact, one of the hotel clerks at the Grand Hotel had asked me if I was born in the US. When I told him I wasn't, he said he didn't think so. I asked him why, and he said that for one thing I was calmer than the other Americans.
Spiros also said that when Polish people come to Greece, they work very hard. He told me that he had studied computer science, had to do a mandatory stint in the military -- 18 or 19 months for him, and was training for his first marathon. He had a hard time finding a job, but he landed the one at the museum on contract. I had run three marathons, the last in the early part of June, so we had plenty to talk about. He was worried about being able to finish, but when he told me how he trained, I had no doubt he would finish and finish well. After the bus stopped at the station, he walked me to Omonia Square just to make sure I made it back okay.
I ate at my first three-level Wendy's. The second level was even split into two more. I've never been to a Wendy's with an elevator before. Alone and in Athens, I did a walking tour at my own pace. I went through the Plaka, went by the Acropolis, watched the changing of the guard again, returned for dinner at the hotel, read a little and then went out one last time to see the city at night. I even caught the changing of the guard again at midnight. I had one last iced coffee at the Neon and went to bed only to be woken up by a wake-up call at 4:00 AM.
Saturday, July 17
I checked out, and the clerk brought me a breakfast tray in the lobby. I very much appreciated it. My extra night at the Grand hotel cost 8000 drachma (about $35). For that I got an air conditioned single room, dinner and breakfast -- not bad. It was still dark when I walked over to the express bus stop for the airport at 5:00. It was the same spot I got off the bus in Athens some three weeks ago. In 30 minutes, I was on my way. I checked in, but I didn't have time to wait in line to change my money before getting on my 7:30 AM flight to Rome -- Alitalia flight 487. That was a shame because changing money back at O'Hare airport in Chicago was costly. In Rome, I had about 90 minutes. I took Alitalia flight 664 to Chicago at 10:00 AM. I ended up sitting next to a guy who had spent a week in Italy on business. We talked quite a bit and he wanted to know how the women of Greece compared to the women of Italy. It must be a Mediterranean thing because they tend to have a very natural beauty. For example, you just don't see them overdosing on makeup or sporting complicated hair styles, waves or perms or Honestly, they just don't need them. The movies were 'Untamed Heart' and 'Groundhog Day.'
When I got home, I found I had lost a couple of pounds probably due to all the hiking we did. In three weeks I had gone through 9 and 1/2 rolls of film. I can't say enough about Greece. Throughout my stay I kept thinking how glad I was to be there. I highly recommend a stay of some significant amout of time in Greece to enjoy not just the beaches and nightlife but also the history, culture and people as well. Feel free to write me if you have any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.