Published: June 13th 2008June 9th 2008
you can click on any photo to enlarge it and actually go through them in that larger format.
Kalimera (good morning), or herete (good afternoon), or kalispera (good evening) - whichever fits - everyone,
Yep, that is the extent of the Greek I learned on this trip, except for please and thank you. Bernard studied Greek in college, so he could decipher the Greek alphabet and towards the end he was actually making out words, ideas, etc. One great thing about Greece is that, in addition to their alphabet, almost all signs are in Latin letters as well.
Our Greek holiday consisted of two days in Athens
, one day in Delphi
, eight days on a yacht (with 44 fun people) visiting Delos, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Turkey (Ephesus), Patmos, Santorini and Paros
, then four days on Greece’s largest island, Crete
. Each place had its own charm and delights.
While a few days were a bit warm, there was always a nice breeze. We didn’t have any rain anywhere, and while sailing, the seas were smooth. Could NOT
have asked for better weather. The cruise before ours wasn’t so lucky - they had rain and
wind the entire 8-day cruise. There was a below-deck dining room and one up top, which was open and lovely. We had almost all of our meals up top; the cruise before ours had to have all of their meals below because of the terrible weather.
The food on Crete was the best we had in Greece, plus their locally produced wines were VERY
nice. In Greece, in general, the food was plentiful and delicious. On the boat most meals were served buffet style with four or five vegetable choices, the ubiquitous Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions and feta cheese), two meat choices, several starch choices, red & white wine, cheese & fruit, dessert and coffee. Yeah, the diet started the day we got back to Tucson as we were having trouble zipping our pants.
While never touted as one of Europe’s great cities, Athens was really spiffed up for the 2004 Olympics, not to mention the new stadiums and sport facilities they built, and the roads they improved. Of course it has the Acropolis
with the Parthenon
sitting so majestically atop it and you can see it from almost everywhere in the
Theatre, Greek no less
city - stunning.
As I’m sure you know, history is everywhere in Greece, thousands and thousands of years of great cultures. We had superb guides who not only spoke of history, but were able to intertwine the colorful and fanciful mythology and bring it to life.
Delphi, where the famous Oracle sat, is in the mountains several hours by car from Athens. It is stunningly situated on a precipitous cliff edge on Mt. Parnassos. The old town of Delphi was moved when archeologists discovered under it the remains of the Sanctuary of Apollo (4th Century BC), which is an impressive site, albeit naught but stones and pillars now. This was where the Oracle sat, they found evidence of many treasuries and council houses, not to mention a theatre and the best preserved stadium in Greece. The Delphic Oracle
was the most powerful oracle in Greece, and was always a priestess over 50 years old who sat on a tripod at the entrance of a chasm, which emitted vaporous fumes. When the priestess inhaled these fumes, they induced a frenzy. Her seemingly unintelligible utterances in answer to a pilgrim’s question were translated into verse by a priest.
Delos, Terrace of the Lions
Presented in the 7th century BC from the people of Nexos to guard the sacred site of Delos
Battles were fought, marriages took place, journeys were embarked upon and business deals clinched on the strength of the Oracle’s utterances, believed to be divine guidance. Turns out, or so modern scientists contend, that the vapors were natural gas emissions, which induced a delirium. I like the old Greek version better.
On our way back to Athens by bus we visited more ruins, Mycenea
, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Tomb of Agamemnon
, aka the Beehive Tomb.
Delos is perhaps the most important archaeological island in the Greek archipelago, and is uninhabited now. It is the mythical birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis (in Latin Diana). Delos was first inhabited in the 3rd millennium BC. The oldest temples and shrines date from the 8th century BC. It reached the height of its power in Hellenistic times (323 BC - death of Alexander the Great - to 146 BC when Rome conquered) becoming one of the three most important religious centers in Greece and a flourishing center of commerce. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BC which brought even greater prosperity - due largely to a lucrative slave market that sold up to
From a postcard I bought - my camera isn't NEARLY that good nor can I fly.
10,000 people a day. Mind you, the slaves weren’t actually on the little island, but their buying and selling took place there.
The draw of Mykonos is its beautiful setting, winding streets, ancient windmills, good shopping and many beaches. It is the “party” island the kids from Athens head to for the equivalent of spring break.
After a break from ruins, Kusadasi put them front and center again. Not too far from this lovely seaside town is Ephesus, another great Greek city (now in Turkey). Ephesus
was famed for the Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), and both were destroyed by the Goths in 264 BC. The emperor Constantine rebuilt much of the city and erected a new public bath and library. The town was again partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 AD. The importance of the city as a commercial centre declined as the harbor slowly filled with silt from the river.
We also visited the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, where St. John was supposedly buried (see next section, Patmos).
On the way back to the boat in Kusadasi we stopped at a carpet factory -
Ephesus, Kusadasi, Turkey
The great Library at Ephesus
wow, beautiful works of art being created, but pricey and we were not in the market for a carpet.
Patmos was our next island to visit. In 95 AD St. John the Divine was banished to Patmos from Ephesus by Roman Emperor Domitian. While residing in a cave on the island, St. John wrote the Book of Revelations. In 1088 an abbot, who came from Turkey to Patmos, obtained permission from the Byzantine Emperor to build a monastery to commemorate St. John. Pirate raids necessitated powerful fortifications, so the monastery looks like a mighty castle atop a high hill in the middle of the island.
Santorini is one of the most popular of the Greek islands, but also one of the most crowded and expensive. Officially known as Thira, thousands visit annually to gaze in wonder at the submerged caldera, a vestige of what was probably the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history.
Around 1650 BC a colossal volcanic eruption caused the center of the then circular island called Strongili (the Round One) to sink, leaving a caldera with high cliffs - one of the world’s most dramatic geological sights. Some archaeologists have
View from the monastery of St. John
speculated that this catastrophe destroyed not only Strongili, but the whole of Minoan civilization as well.
This eruption buried the settlement of Akrotiri
which is still being excavated. The site was not open to the public (renovations going on) but they had most of the important pieces and reproductions in a very nice museum. NOTE: No human bones were found at Akrotiri and the archaeologists speculate that the inhabitants had warning of the pending eruption and sailed away (few boats have been found), but were perhaps caught by the tsunami the eruption created.
Paros was our last island and is an attractive island with softly contoured, terraced hills culminating in Mt. Profitis Ilias. It is famous for the pure white marble from which it has prospered for millennia. The Venus de Milo
was carved from Parian marble, as was Napoleon’s tomb
We had a night at a luxury hotel in Athens with a farewell party for our cruising buddies who were heading home. Up at the crack of dawn for our flight to Crete.
Crete is Greece’s largest, most southerly island, and arguably the most beautiful. A spectacular mountain chain runs from east to
This was a breathtakingly beautiful island
west across the island. The mountains are dotted with agricultural plains and plateaus, and sliced by numerous dramatic gorges. Long, sandy beaches speckle the coastline, and the east coast boasts Europe’s only palm-tree forest.
We stayed in the old, walled center of Iraklio
(aka Heraklion), but traveled to two charming towns, Chania and Rethymnos
. One whole day was spent at the ruins of Knossos
, the capital of Minoan Crete.
The first palace of Knossos (aka The Labyrinth) was built around 1900 BC. In 1700 BC it was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt to a grander and more sophisticated design - they reinforced with timber to withstand future quakes. The myth of the Minotaur originated here.
Our yacht, The Pantheon
(see photo below), was small but very comfortable. It also enabled us to get into harbors the big cruise ships couldn’t (didn’t stop them all the time however, they just tendered their lot in). Our captain did try to get us to islands before the big boats came, and generally succeeded, although we did have the experience of being in port at the same time as a large ship - not pleasant as some of these cruise
With a mountain range running east to west, the setting for the many orchards, vineyards, and olive groves of Crete made a drive in the country special. We had the best food and local wine in Crete.
ships carry over 3,000 people! We were there at just the beginning of the high season - couldn’t imagine being there in July & August when all of Europe heads south PLUS the cruise ships are numerous. The charming, narrow streets of some of the island towns must be impassible. SIDE NOTE:
We were supposed to meet old friends from Alaska, the Hansen family (Deb, Martin, David & Mark)
, in Kusadasi - they were traveling in Turkey at the same time we were cruising the Aegean. Well, I messed up on our dates and we got to Kusadasi several days before the Hansens did. Managed to get them a message, so no harm done, plus we are going to be in Alaska this summer and will see them there.
What a pleasure it was then to actually bump into the Family Hansen in the London airport. Turns out we were all on the same plane back to the states - we hadn’t shared flight information when planning to meet so this was a very pleasant surprise. Too funny.
There are more photos below