Published: January 15th 2009April 28th 1996
Oh yes, it has been all of 12 years since I made that memorable 38 day trip to Europe visiting Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. I found my 1996 journal, so that helps. But memories started flooding my mind of a time when I snagged my longest-ever leave of absence from work, risked losing my job in the bank, or at very least fall out of favor from the bank's owners. None of that happened. Now living a semi-retired life, I plan to break up this long journey into several blogs to chronicle how much fun one can get in their early 40's!
First off, GREECE. We left Manila for Athens with a single stopover in Singapore. It was a long wait for our connecting flight, but Changi Airport is one airport worth a stopover. It was also a good opportunity to chat up with my traveling group, all 20 of us Filipinos. There was a whole family of businessmen, a retired General with his young 2nd wife and the 2nd wife's only daughter from a previous marriage, a young college graduate traveling alone to enjoy his graduation prize, a couple of retirees
who now run a successful business, another family with 2 teenage son and daughter, a pair of college professors in an exclusive convent school, and a middle-aged single mom with her high energy, hyper son with a German sounding name.
The airport in Athens was a disappointment. We may have landed in Europe, but at the time, we felt like we needed to get on another flight to reach Europe. Coming from the Third World, and having saved up real good for this trip, I guess we all had high expectations. But no, our trip does not start and end with the airport, so we managed to look forward to the coming days.
Our hotel in Athens has a good location. Having dropped our bags, we hit the road and strode off to take in the main artery of the city. We found the National Museum where we spent the whole afternoon, walked around a small park, tried out some curio shops, and tired ourselves enough before getting back to the hotel to meet with our Globus Tour director and other travel companions. Our big Filipino travel group was joined by an assortment of other
nationalities. Mostly from America, Australia , Canada, plus a Chinese matron traveling alone. We were advised by our Tour Director that we still have a full day in Athens tomorrow, before leaving the city to check out the rest of Greece. After dinner, we all decided to call it a night and conserve our energy for this long holiday.
The following day is a day for the capital's classical sights. The Parthenon
atop the Acropolis. Straight out of a history book, here I am staring at the crowning glory of all of Greece. Ancient civilization. The Erechtheum
with its Port of Maidens. The beautifully preserved Theseum, Roman Temple of Zeus, Theater of Dionysus and the Agora
where Socrates taught. Vistas of the Royal Palace and various buildings in the city contrast with the remains of a glorious past. I was so hyped the whole morning. Knowing these colossal structures stood long before the birth of Jesus! The books available at the Museum have photos of the remaining building with transparent overlay showing how the buildings must have looked before. Amazing. The Statue of Athena
stood tall in the transparencies. You just have to give it to the
Greeks for giving birth to this civilization. No wonder their tourism industry is flourishing. Some inheritance they got! In a way, I was afraid some of the structures may not last long enough for future generations. I silently wished a second visit is made possible where these structures still remain. I also made another prayer that I continue to enjoy good health to be able to sustain my penchant for these adventures. Looking around, I found quite a number of senior tourists experiencing difficulties scaling the steps. Some gave up and started their descent. A pity. The highlight of the Parthenon visit lies at the top, with the added bonus of a panoramic view of the sprawling metropolis. I remember yesterday, while sipping a cup of coffee in the Museum cafe, how majestic the Acropolis looked from afar. It is a no-brainer that the early Greeks set up the seat of their government on top of this mountain. There was no way any army can attack from any side without being watched!
The next day, we woke up early for breakfast. Hmmm, olives this early in the day. Well, this is Greece! After breakfast,
we boarded our coach for the long trip to Meteora. We motored north, past the Plain of Marathon.........where in 490 BC (or so my travel journal circa 1996 states....) about 10,000 Athenians defeated more than twice that number of Persian invaders. All throughout the bus ride, our Tour Director spewed out many historical trivia which we all tried to listen to, while fighting off sleep. He mentioned the Spartans, a revenge for Marathon, a place called Drama, but don't ask me to put them together in a story. Talk about talking Greek! But then again, isn't it amazing how these Greek words found their way into our everyday language?
With absolutely no idea what Meteora offers, I was completely bowled over when we reached the place. Rock-top monasteries. This unreal, fantastic landscape even has good stories to tell. We visited 2 monasteries: Varlaam Monastery and St. Stephen's.
Oh sure, one is guaranteed a panoramic view of this surreal landscape. One story went that in the olden times, the monks who had to climb up the monasteries may instead get into this basket strung with a rope which the monks up in the monastery had to pull up. While
the monks 'up there' pull the rope to bring the monk in the basket up, the latter literally prays every step of the way as he puts his complete trust on his fellow monks to keep him whole and alive. Good thing we did not have to get into any basket , as there are now access roads leading to the monasteries atop the rocks. Up there, the ladies in our group were asked to don skirts before entering the monasteries. In both, we were so impressed with the collection of medieval icons found inside . Then one of the guys in our group mentioned that this monastery and this entire place was actually the setting for one of the James Bond movies. I think "For Your Eyes Only" is the movie title, where a helicopter goes around the top of the rock monastery, affording the viewer a glimpse of the panoramic vista of Meteora. Now, I remember!
We stayed the night in Kalambaka
, the town next to Meteora. The hotel was a disappointment. Very damp. Very spartan. I thought then that the guests probably never bothered with the place as most are out for the day
to spend visiting the rock monasteries. Well, I shouldn't really complain. I got enough excitement for today.
From Meteora, we drove north to Thessalonika
. This is the second largest city in Greece, and probably one of the oldest. Along the way, we visited the Royal Burial Ground of Vergina. This is where King Philip II's tomb was identified by archaelogists after many years of excavations and research. Our Tour director reminded us that the continued wars between Athens and Sparta weakened both, and allowed the emergence of the Kingdom of Macedonia. We went past Pella, the ancient Macedonian capital where Aristotle taught the young Alexander the Great.
Finally, we reached Thessalonika. We entered the Archaelogical Museum
where one learns more about Ancient Macedonia, the nation which made Greek culture its own, and spread it as far as Egypt and India. The orientation drive also took us along the sea front and to the Roman Arch of Galerius. We spent a night in Thessalonika before making our journey to Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. But these 3 will be covered by separate blogs. So let me continue with our adventure upon re-entering Greece (from
Istanbul). Our re-entry was through the Sea of Marmara into the Greek part of what was once the Roman province of Thrace. Here, mosques and minarets testify to a long history of Ottoman domination. We retraced the journey of St. Paul along the Via Egnatia
as we entered Philippi. Good thing I wrote a journal of my adventures here..........I would not have remembered all these names. Tonight, we stayed in a hotel in Kavala
, a Macedonian crossroad town called Neapolis
by the Romans and Christopolis
by the Christian crusaders.
Delphi, Then Back to Athens
Before heading back to Athens, we stopped by Delphi
. Following the shoreline of the Aegean Sea, we passed by a landscape dominated by Mount Olympus, the mythical home of Zeus. We broke the journey here, and rested our tired limbs. The following morning, we toured the ancient sanctuary of the god Apollo on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Oracle of Delphi
! We checked out the excavations, as well as the Archaelogical Museum. We particularly admired the Charioteer
, an extra-ordinary 5th century BC bronze statue. I like Delphi. The winding roads and the quaint curio shops near our boutique hotel make for
Echo? Was that just an echo?
a very romantic scene. I tried hard to think if the place was used for any movie setting, but nothing came to mind. Somehow, this scenario sets you up and puts you in a shopping mood. But I am happy with my purchase of a jewelry set in Delphi. The 'eternity ring, earrings and necklace' in gold looked like a good investment. I was looking at another set, but remembered this is just the first leg of my trip. So I pulled myself out of the store and headed back for our hotel.
I wore my new matching necklace and ring this morning on our way back to Athens where we plan to spend about 2 more nights before the second leg of our journey. With time in our hands, and with the hotel shuttle leaving every so often to take us to the Plaka,
we found ourselves shopping again. An enterprising Greek found me and invited me to his store where he offered ouzo.
Now, no one takes ouzo lightly. It's a very Greek drink, like vodka is to the Russians. This Greek made us all sit down, enjoy our ouzo, then promptly displayed
Island Hopping in Greece
Help! Is this Hydra, Aegena or Poros?
some of his jewelries for sale. He showed me a gold bracelet that was an exact match to the earrings, ring and necklace I was already wearing. And I thought I am long done with my shopping! So, as every lady shopper would say, " I deserve this" and took out my card to pay for the bracelet. Oh.....I can hear the soundtrack of Zorba, the Greek in the background. The Greeks sure play beautiful music.
To cap our Greek adventure, we spent the day before our departure on a day-long cruise of 3 nearby islands. Aegena, Hydra and Poros were tiny islands, but big on sights. The Temple of Apollo was not limited to the big cities. There were excavations and temple ruins here too. I like my photo in one of the islands where a donkey is "parked" somewhere behind me. This spectacle adds flavor to our Greek adventure. There were also more jewelry shops in all 3 islands but I was too afraid to enter any. Instead, I drank more ouzo and listened to Zorba's music. In 2009, I revisited Greece and blogged about my adventures in Meteora, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos , Patmos and Athens. Check out my blog on one of my favorites: Revisiting Meteora
There are more photos below