Monday, 20 May 2013

Lessons Learned

This was a great trip, ideal for a grandmother/granddaughter, as we have similar ideas of what makes for a good travel adventure. We both enjoy shopping, hiking and seeing ancient sites. Jordan’s favourite part of the trip was seeing all the ruins. She is like her grandfather in enjoying history, and takes her time looking at each thing and reading the signs that are posted at the ruins.

My favourite part of the trip was appreciating the natural surroundings, as Greece is such a beautiful country. Being on the water is such a treat, particularly when it is hot out. I also appreciated the way that the people of Santorini have built their homes on the caldera (inside rim) of the volcano, as this is a real architectural feat! It is also an act of faith, since this is an area that is at high risk of another earthquake!

We both agreed that if we were to do it again, we would have probably only stayed in Naxos for three nights. We enjoyed Naxos for all the ruins, as there is a lot more to see than there is in Santorini. It is also much quieter, as all the tourists seem to prefer Santorini. The beaches in Naxos, in our opinions, were much nicer, and definitely much quieter! However, Santorini offers a much more touristy atmosphere, with lots of beachside restaurants and a lovely boardwalk along the beach. There are also more people, which made it a little more fun for Jordan.

We would also have flown directly into Santorini, as the ferry is just so painfully long, especially after such a long flight.

We were sorry that we missed out on seeing the volcano or seeing the sunset, as the weather just didn’t cooperate with us. If we were to do this again, we would book the boat tour to do this as soon as we arrived rather than waiting until the last few days.

Day Ten and Eleven: Time to Go!

We were not looking forward to the looooong journey home, as it would entail an eight hour ferry trip, an hour long bus ride to the airport, a six hour wait at the airport, a three hour flight to Munich, an eight hour layover in Munich, and a ten hour flight home! Whew! Just thinking about it was exhausting! Luckily, we didn’t set out until 2:30 pm, and it was a beautiful day, so once again, we laid around the pool, did some shopping, and I finally swam in the Mediterranean Sea! It was cool, but once I was in, it was absolutely wonderful; just the perfect kind of cool that feels so good on a really hot day!
As I left the beach for the final time, I couldn’t help but think what an amazing thing it is to be able to travel to a place that had only existed in storybooks and movies for me in the past. To actually see the ruins, meet the people, hear the language, eat the food, appreciate the sea and beautiful country is such a gift, one that I will treasure for a lifetime!

My Favorite Picture of all!
The ferry ride was not nearly as bad as we had anticipated, probably because we were starting out rested rather than taking it at the end of a very exhausting trip as we had at the beginning. We sat out on the deck for a few hours and just appreciated the gorgeous weather and cruising through the islands. I met a man from Toronto and enjoyed talking with him. The only problem is that he was on the lower deck and I was on the upper deck, so we had to shout back and forth over the engines for about fifteen minutes. It was kind of fun, as people from below kept coming along to see who he was shouting up , since they couldn't see me unless they came and stood right beside him.

Santorini from the water
As the day wore on, and Jordan and I felt like trying to catch a bit of sleep, I decided to spring for what they call air seats, which are lovely recliners, in a separate cabin. Many of the people take their chances and sit in these seats without paying the extra nine euros each, but we wanted to not worry about the embarrassment of having someone come along and possibly kick us out.

When we landed in the port in Pireaus, we were hoping to catch the airport bus, but it was just pulling away as we were walking toward it. It was midnight, and we were a bit nervous about waiting for the next bus, particularly as the ferry crowd started to disperse. After waiting for about ten minutes, and growing increasingly anxious about the sketchy neighbourhood, and being the only people standing at the bus stop, I decided to check on the price for a cab. “Fifty euros! No thanks, we’ll wait for the bus.”
“How much you wanna pay, lady?”

“Thirty euros, that’s ten more than the bus costs.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it for forty.”

“No, it’s okay, we’ll just wait for the bus.”


“No, I can only afford thirty.”

“Okay, okay, It should be fifty, but I’ll do it for thirty.”

So, in we got, but the entire forty-five minute drive, the cabbie complained about the price, showing me on the meter each time it went up: ten euros, twenty, finally when we stopped, forty-five euros. Honestly, I’m not sure if he thought his whining would encourage me to give him more money, but it only made a very tired and very cranky me feel more tired and cranky! We were very glad to get out of his cab once we finally reached the airport.

Our flight was at 6:30 am, and it was now 1:00 am; too late to get a hotel, but oh, such a long time to wait to catch our flight. This was probably the hardest part of the trip, as we both needed to sleep, but short of stretching out on the floor as some weary travellers had done, there really wasn’t anyplace to sleep. I finally found a chair without an armrest that was beside a little table, so I curled up and put my travel pillow on the table, where I rested my weary head. Amazingly, I fell asleep almost instantly, and caught a couple of hours of sleep, but Jordan had no such luck and just sat awake all night. 

The flight from Athens to Munich also went quite well, but the smell of the food cart as it came down the aisle woke me from my pleasant dreams, as I was so hungry that even airplane food tasted good!

Arriving in Munich, we had no idea what to expect. We went to the information desk at the airport, and the lady gave us a map of the town as well as a subway map and told us how to catch the subway for a forty-five minute ride into Munich.
Coming out of the subway, we had the most jaw dropping experience as everywhere we looked, there were grand old cathedrals, lovely water fountains and beautiful old buildings.

We had fun wandering around, talking to people and just enjoying the day. This is a very green city, and it was a beautiful sunny day that reminded us so much of home. The people were so friendly, and comfortable, we both agreed that this is a city that we would very much like to return to.


The view from the subway was beautiful, as this is a very green town, with lush trees, grass and flowers. The vegetation and climate reminded us very much of home.

We stepped into a coffee shop for lunch, and decided instead to feast on the delicious German pastries. I had tiramasou and Jordan had a giant puffed pastry. I’m not sure what it was about her, but two different German men old enough to be her grandfather decided that she needed taking care of. The first gentleman went and found her a fork, and the second went and got her some napkins. Although neither of them spoke English, we had lots of fun laughing with them as Jordan enjoyed her very messy dessert.

Back at the airport, waiting for our plane, we found these great reclining chairs where I now sit typing up my blog. I have never seen a nicer airport, it also has couches that are already taken with people sleeping, and little pods with a single bed in them that you can rent for ten euros an hour. Whoever designed this airport was really thinking about the needs of the weary traveller.

We have a ten hour flight ahead of us, but we have done quite well in spite of our lack of sleep. Hopefully we will catch some sleep on the plane, and before we know it, be asleep in our very own beds!


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Day Eight: Walk? Who, Me?

As we were walking toward the zigzag road leading up the mountain, I mentioned to Jordan that this would probably be a lot like the Grouse Grind. “I hate the Grouse Grind,” she said. “Me too,” I agreed. So, off we went to the tour company to see how much the bus would cost to the top of the mountain. “What, ten euros each, for a ten minute ride??? Highway robbery!” For another five euros we rented a little car for the day, and off we went to explore the island. 

Fortunately for us, this is a very small island, so it is hard to get lost. Unfortunately for us, the road signs are either non-existent, or they are in Greek, so we spent a lot of time driving around in circles. Lucky for us, the car we rented was a little puddle jumper, so we were able to back down narrow hills and alleys after driving into dead ends.

We headed up the zigzag road leading up to the ancient city of Thira. As we made our way past very tired looking tourists, we were happy that we had decided to rent the car. Once we arrived at the top, we still had a fair amount of climbing to do, and managed to walk for about an hour, so we enjoyed our share of exercise for the day.
Thira was an established city dating back to the 8th century BC. It is amazing to see the ruins, complete with broken pillars and carvings of birds and animals in the rock facings.

Ancient Theatre; facing the stage, with the seating built into the hill
 The museum is also amazing, with pottery and paintings dating back to this time. It is truly inspiring to think of how people managed to create such amazing art and architecture with primitive tools more than 28 centuries ago! It is even more amazing that these treasures have survived all these years, through multiple earthquakes and being covered in volcanic ash.

After leaving Thira, we toured the entire island, stopping at lovely beaches, and gazing over amazing rock cliffs.

We headed out to Faros, which is the lighthouse at the very tip of the island. This is an a beautiful place, as we could stand right on the cliff, looking straight into the sea directly below. This spot also allowed us to look on both sides of the island, including the high cliffs on one side and the black sand beaches on the other.


On the road from Faros

We headed off to see yet another ancient village, Akrotiri. This is very different from Thira, as the modern village has been built right around it. Akrotiri was completely covered by the volcanic eruption in the 1600s, and wasn't discovered until the 1860s. It is thought that Akrotiri was originally settled as early as 3000 BC. Wow! Imagine that! We are looking at some verrrrry old buildings! Yes, Jordan, even older than grandma!!

After taking a break to lie around the pool for the afternoon, we decided to head out to the opposite tip of the island to watch the sunset. The village of Oia is supposed to be the best place on the entire island to do this. However, we had no idea that it was quite a long way, since we had mistakenly believed that this was the village that we had walked to yesterday from Fira.  After driving for what seemed forever, we finally found the town. After parking, we found a good place to watch the sunset, but sadly, the clouds moved in, and it was a rather disappointing show!

Even more surprising was discovering that the town that we thought we had walked to yesterday was not this town at all! And here I always thought that it was Bryce's fault when we got lost on holidays!!


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day Seven: Fira? Thira? Who's Lost, Not Us!

We set out to find the ancient city of Thira this morning, so we asked directions, and one of the local women pointed us in the direction of the bus. We headed toward the bus stop where there were lots of people standing, and asked one of the women standing there if this was the bus to Thira, and she said “Fira”. Given that in Naxos, there was more than one name for the same place, I assumed that the same was true in Santorini, so assumed that Fira and Thira were the same place. Jordan tried to get me to go across the street to the Travel agency to catch the smaller bus to Thira, but since I am older and wiser, I won the argument.

For a mere 1.6 euros each, we got a great bus ride, again straight up the mountain until we reached the very top. The bus driver announced, “ride finished,” which was a polite way of saying, “get off the bus!” We had an absolutely delightful day walking from the town of Fira to Imerovigli, which is about a four hour walk round trip. The entire walk goes along the crest of the mountain, looking into the caldera (the inside) of the volcano, and in spots looks down on both sides of the island with amazing views out to the sea. The entire path is paving stones, with lovely little tourist shops, restaurants and small hotels built into the side of the caldera overlooking the water. This is one of the places that people come to enjoy the famous Santorini sunsets.

houses built on the caldera
We walked along the entire route and were completely surprised to not find the ancient city of Thira. At the end of the path, it was clear that there was nothing else, so we asked a woman who was resting under a tree if she knew where it was. We had a lovely conversation, she was visiting from Austria. People are always surprised when we tell them where we are from, as most of the tourists here are from Europe, they can get here with a 3 or 4 hour flight. When we tell them that it took us 30 hours, they just look at us and say, “so far, so far.” Yes, we are NOT looking forward to the return trip!

The only problem with this walk was Jordan harassing me about breathing heavy when we walked at a steady pace up long flights of stairs. Sheesh, she expects me, a 60 year old (61 in a few weeks!) to keep up with her, a 19 year old! Hmph, I’m going to get her to run a half marathon with me and then we’ll see how she does! Too bad I won’t be around when she’s 60 to give her a bad time!
This is truly an amazing place. It is thought that this is the place that Plato was referring to when he wrote about the lost city of Atlantis. Given that half the island disappeared into the sea with the last volcano, it makes a lot of sense that this is probably the area that he was referring to. In any case, Santorini claims the Atlantis story as its own, and there are many stores, restaurants and hotels carrying its name.

When we came back to our hotel, we asked the owner of the hotel where the ancient city of Thiros is, and he pointed up the mountain right beside the hotel. There it is, he said, straight up that zigzag rode. We could take the tourist bus up there, but it will be a good workout to do the hour long walk straight up the mountain. We will see how we do tomorrow, maybe it will be Jordan huffing and puffing!
Zigzag road to Thira

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day Six: Santorini Satisfaction!

We were up bright and early in order to pack and return the rental car by 11:00 so that we wouldn’t have to pay an extra day. We had a few hours to kill before the ferry came, so we did some last minute souvenir shopping. Yes, our lucky families are in for some lovely Greek treasures! They have a great service here, for one and a half euros they take care of your suitcases so that you don’t have to drag them all over town while you are waiting for the ferry.

The ferry ride was lovely, as the weather was nice and warm, and we had some great views of the islands. I had to keep moving out of the sun, as I was actually getting too hot, but Jordan managed to bake the entire trip! She is getting nice and brown!

Arriving in Santorini was very exciting, as we sailed along the entire length of the island before finally pulling into port. It is a long crescent shaped island, with incredible red cliffs, and the houses way up high overlooking the sea. Santorini is a volcanic island, and every time that the volcano erupts, it completely changes the shape of the island. The last time it erupted, part of the island sunk, creating three separate islands. This is where the lost city of Atlantis is supposed to be! Fortunately, it hasn’t erupted here for hundreds of years, so we should be okay.
Cities built on the rim of the volcano

The ride from the port to our hotel was about twenty minutes, up a zigzag mountain road, straight up over the mountain to the other side of the island.

We are staying at the Boathouse, a lovely little hotel in the seaside village of Kamari. Our room opens right onto the pool, with a black volcanic sand beach and the ocean beyond. What a view! We feel like we have landed in a magic place!

The view from our room, with the ocean behind the trees.

Our Hotel: The Boathouse

After lying around the pool for a few hours, we strolled along the boardwalk, which runs the entire length of the beach. Eventually, the beach ends when it comes up against the mountain. Amazing!
We enjoyed a delicious supper of Santorini salad (Santorini’s version of a Greek salad, with the goat cheese and tomatoes grown right here!), tzatzki and chicken with bruschetta. Did I ever tell you that Greek is my favourite food? It is going to be hard to go back to regular eating when we get back home!

Day Five: Driving in Circles

Just when we think we are getting to know the island, we find that we are no better at following Greek road signs than we were on the first day! We were so hoping to find the back side of Mount Zeus, as it is supposed to be a great hike with fabulous views, but in spite of repeated attempts to find it, circling around and going back and forth around the area that we thought the map told us, we just could not find it.

However, we did find another beautiful beach, and this time, there was a sign to tell us where we were! The road to this beach zig zagged through the mountains, on a narrow road with no shoulders and hair pin turns. Every time a big truck or bus came toward us, we pulled over to the edge as close as we could get and stopped so that the truck could get by. It’s a good thing, because they all tend to drive well into the oncoming lane, and given their size, they would definitely win in a game of chicken! Over the cliff would be no way to end our holiday!


Moutsouna Bay

Jordan is quite impressed with my driving, as we have ended up a few lanes that suddenly narrow to the point that it is obvious that they were not meant for cars. Backing out of these tight places is quite a challenge, especially when a steep hill is involved!
We have passed some interesting looking characters, and fortunately a few let us take their pictures. Here is one of a man who was just walking down the road in the middle of nowhere, no houses for miles around.

 We stopped to ask another old lady if we could take her picture, and she shook her head “no”, but asked if we would give her a ride. I NEVER pick up strangers, but what the heck, this is an island, and it really does feel like everyone is family here. I took her down the road a few miles, and let her out. Thinking that she would let me take her picture now, I asked again, and she still shook her head “no.” Oh well, it was still nice to do a good turn, but I really did want her picture! (sigh)

After much wandering around in the mountains, we finally found a Kouros, which is a stone statue that is lying down in the forest. It is thought that these statues originally were upright, but fell over when they were being moved. It looks like the Kouros is made all of one gigantic piece of stone, so it must have been a real accomplishment to carve!

We also passed by a marble quarry, very beautiful! There is marble everywhere here, it seems so amazing that something that is so valuable is so easily obtainable here!

At the end of our drive, we went to the end of the road near our hotel to see a resort that was halfway built before all the locals here put an end to it. This is a huge piece of property, overlooking a beautiful beach, with many sprawling buildings, and every room opening out onto the ocean. The problem is, that someone forged a document telling the developer that they had the deed to the property. At the time, the government here was a dictatorship, so the locals couldn't do anything to stop the illegal building on what was supposed to be protected land. Once the government changed, the locals were successful in putting a stop to the project, and now it sits abandoned. Very sad all the way around, it is now a blight on the landscape, and I can't help but feel sorry for the poor people who much have wasted millions building something that is now just waiting to be torn down.

We are off to Santorini tomorrow. Jordan has been anxiously awaiting this part of the trip ever since we planned to come to Greece. Hopefully the weather will be good so that we can sit out on the deck and get a tan!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Day Four: Jet Lagged Jordy!

Jordy just couldn’t drag herself out of bed today, so after laying around the pool for a few hours, I set off to do some exploring on my own. I decided to head back to Halki, one of the towns that we had driven through yesterday, as it looked so quaint. Halki is a very old town, with narrow lanes overgrown with grape vines and backed by olive groves. It is a fascinating town, as many of the townspeople still dress in the traditional way, and many of the lanes end in abandoned buildings overgrown with vines. There are also a few very old churches here, and even a castle!


Tower of Gratsia

St. George Diasoritis Byzantine Church
On my way back, I stopped at yet another very old church from the 6th century. I had to walk about a kilometre off the road to get to this one, but it was well worth the trek. It was so unbelievably peaceful, I was just happy to sit and contemplate the amazing history that is in this place, and the incredible link to my God. It brought tears to my eyes to be in such a beautiful place, and I felt what a beautiful, rare privilege this entire trip has been!

Church of Ayios Nikolaus

Monday, 13 May 2013

Day Three: The Wandering Wonder Women!

Getting up around 8:00 in the morning, it is 10:00 pm back home, so both of us like to go online to check emails and Jordan her Facebook. It is very strange to be on the opposite side of the clock from everyone back home, so we make sure to do all our connecting early morning and just before bed.  

After yet another delicious breakfast and a slow start to our morning, we finally set out to go exploring around 11:00. We set out to find the Cave of Zeus and Mount Zeus. Of course, we took a wrong turn, and instead of ending up in the middle of the island where the mountain is, we ended up driving clear across the island, ending up at a beautiful beach. While it was quite a spectacular site, we had absolutely no idea where we were, and no clue how to find our way back.
Hmmm, driving with Jordan as the navigator is much the same as driving with her grandfather as navigator, after much conversation about map reading skills, I finally pulled over to try to figure it out, but it really didn’t make much more sense to me than it did to Jordan. We turned around and went back the same way we came, stopping at every sign and trying to find it on the map to see if we could figure out where we were. The good thing about driving around this island is that there are interesting sites and beautiful scenery at every turn, so the adventure is fun whether you know where you are or not! Here are a few of the lovely sites that we found along the way.

Finally, we saw a sign pointing toward a town that was on the map, and as luck would have it, it was exactly the town that took us to the mountain and the cave.

After parking our car at the bottom of the hike, we started up a lovely path with set in paving stones, past natural springs; pretty luxurious for a hike, these Greeks really know how to make life easy for us tourists!
Not so fast, soon the path ended up and we had to pick our way straight up the mountain.

We scrambled over rocks large and small for about half an hour until we finally came to the cave. “I’m not going in there,” said Jordan, “there will be bats, and besides I’ve seen too many horror movies.” As I approached the cave, I decided that I was in complete agreement with her, as it was pitch black inside, with a dirt floor and who knows what inside. I changed my mind about the Greeks making things easy for us tourists. The least they could have done was paved the walkway and given us a few ceiling lights, but I guess that would have ruined the natural ambience of the place.

The views from the climb made the hike all worthwhile, and we were both grateful for a chance to work off some of the calories that we have taken in from the amazing Greek food that we have been feasting on. After getting lost a few more times, we finally made it back to our hotel to enjoy some sunbathing for a few hours before heading back into town for supper.

We got to witness a real Greek wedding at the church in the middle of town. It was so cool to see the bride being escorted to the church complete with violins and her entire family following her.

After wandering around town shopping for a few hours, we chose the restaurant with the most people in it for supper, as we figured that would likely have the best food. We were not disappointed, as we enjoyed the most delicious Greek salad and mousakka that I have ever had in my life! Ah, life is good on a Greek island, we may never come home!