Greece. The birth place of the European culture, slouvaki, feta cheese, and men who where male purses (technically, field bags). I fit right in wearing my ONA Berlin II camera bag. I also had the most feta in five days than in my entire life (one more day than planned, but I’ll get to that in a moment)! Though we arrived in the morning, by the time we found our way to the hotel, via the metro, it was the early afternoon. What a stark contrast from Oslo! Where Oslo felt tranquil, organized, and modern, Athens was stressful, chaotic and quiet old. Greece was in my bucket list and the one thing I wanted to do was to be in the presence of the Parthenon and other ancient Greek stuff. We’ve been to Italy and seen the Roman ruins, now it was time to experience something a little more ancient.
Due to our inability to adjust quickly to the hustle and bustle of Athens (“Athina”), we decided to take a ride on a tour bus to get acclimated I don’t usually like to “be a tourist”, but I had my own agenda anyway, so I simply used this as a vehicle. This bus functioned the same as the Hop On/Off busses in Oslo. The bus took us around town and had sixteen stops. Stop number four was Akropali (the Acropolis), the hill where the Parthenon sits on. We exited the bus and walked toe grounds a bit, but the Parthenon site was closed for the day. After a while of fighting pushy old ladies trying to sell “hand sewed silk table cloths” so that they can “feed their four children” (they all, coincidentally, had four little children), we found ourselves in an area called “Plaka” where cafes and touristy shops operate. The Akropoli museum was close by, so we decided to visit. We then hopped on another bus (same touring company) to Piraeus (city by the sea) for a seafood dinner. We were directed to an area of Piraeus full of restaurants serving pretty much the same seafood dishes. All we needed to do was choose one with either a favored ambiance or better prices, or if you hit the jackpot, both. After dinner, we needed to catch the metro back to our hotel. Everywhere in Athens is always a “five to ten minute walk” which really means thirty to sixty minutes. It could very well be that we’re really out of shape. All in all, it was a very good first day.
We spent most of the morning the next day looking for another hotel (the one we reserved the first night wasn’t satisfactory), so by the time we went back to Akropoli, the Parthenon site was closed. Again. I decided to take a few detail photos of the surrounding area. We were worried that we would not get to experience the Parthenon, since we intended to spend a few days in Santorini, so we rearranged our schedule a bit.
Just saying the word “Santorini” evokes visions of blue, domed structures, sunsets, and vineyards. Oh, and loads of tourists. We arrived very early in the morning and our hotel room wasn’t ready at that time. We were here for one night, so we had a very busy day ahead. We rented a car; a automatic Citroen c1 with three gears: Reverse, Neutral and “E” for “energy efficient”. We decided to drive to the Akrotiri excavation museum area and browse around. The Red Beach was nearby. We took advantage of this time to take some pictures of the Caldera area where it overlooks the volcanic islands, and the Red Beach. Once we found the Akrotiri museum, we drove to Thira (“Fira” in greek), the city at the cusp of the “cut de sac” in the bay area to check into our hotel room: Evgenia Villages and Suites. A quaint little establishment.
We had breakfast at the famous “The Corner” cafe, walking distance from or hotel. Then we set out to visit the Akrotiri site. Not much to say about it (nor much to see), except that its inhabitants were a bit smarter than their Pompeii counterparts. They figured out that all that rumbling was coming from the volcano they were living on and decided to leave approximately a year before their “big bang”.
After Akrotiri, we visited The Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum. Yeah, say that three times fast. The museum is underground and it depicts the history of wine making in Santorini especially through the Koutsoyannoppulos family, who still run the vineyards. We got to taste four delicious wines, mostly a tease to sell you a few bottles, but that tactic didn’t work on us. Instead, we bought a full case (six bottles), which we had shipped from the winery. Then we were off to Oia, on the north side of the island.
Oia is the quintessential Santorini. This is the place that is depicted in all those Santorini vacation ads, so it’s the location with the most tourists. But it’s beautiful!
After some shopping [sideglancing at Carline] and a lovely dinner looking out onto the Sea of Crete and waiting for that “famous” Santorini sunset (don’t read too much into that), we went back to our suite for the night, and left Santorini in the morning, heading back to Athens for our flight to Malta.
Well, thanks to the Greek Air Traffic Controllers’ strike, our flight to Malta was cancelled. After trying to find alternate transport to Malta at the airport, we encountered some police activity in the metro on our way back to the hotel. Police in riot gear were containing a group of individuals which were related to Turkish refugees (they were either sympathizers or actual refugees; my Greek wasn’t good enough to fully understand what was going on).
We secured travel out of Greece the following day of the strike, we found ourselves with an extra day, so we decided to take a day trip to Hydra by ferry.
Though the name may conjure up visions of monsters, Hydra (“Idra”; pronounced “ee-drah”), is nowhere near as gruesome. Hydra is both a village and the island. There are other villages on Hydra, but Hydra (the village) is the largest.
Since we were leaving Greece at 1am the following morning, we didn’t book a hotel for the night, so we had our luggage stored at the local courier (the only courier, it seems), who also dabbles in a few other “services” including mule rides with Popi and Sotiris (they are the mules). Oh, I forgot to mention that there are no vehicles on Hydra. The only mode of transportation on the island is on mule, horse, or on foot. Storing our luggage was “free” provided we hired the services of Popi and Sotiris. The mules take visitors up to the monestary and back down: a total trip of one and a half hours. Riding a mule is not as easy as it looks, especially when the mule is going down stairs and other inclines. Sotiris (the larger of the two) had “the pleasure” of having me ride him. Let’s just say that the mule was sweating by the time we reached the monestary, so I thanked Sotiris for his service and forgo the ride back to town, giving him a much deserved respite.
After a walking around the monestary for a few minutes, we headed back into town on a leisurely walk. It was possibly the most peaceful walk we’ve ever had.
We explored a bit when we got into town and then it was time for lunch. We met up with a local who invited us to sit with him and have a beer. We were skeptical, so we decided to just stand and listen to his story. After a fifteen minute chat, we made our way to the restaurant Psaropoula where we had a very satisfying lunch.
After lunch, we took another stroll towards the west end of the island (Hydra is on the north shore, near the middle of the island). We didn’t venture far. The walk could have potentionally gotten very involved and it was getting close to the time when the last ferry off the island leaves. So we had coffee and some ice cream and called it a day.
We took the last ferry back to Athens and then a taxi straight to the airport. We were on our way to Italy.