Greece is Hellas Cool (but it's a shame about Athens..)

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December 9th 2012
Published: December 9th 2012
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Lindos - RhodesLindos - RhodesLindos - Rhodes

Our first taste of a Greek Island beach!
Souvlaki, tzatziki, moussaka and ouzo are all obvious reasons to spend time in Greece. The other main drawcard to Greece (in favour of the close runner-up, Italy) were the "Crisis Prices" - a term not coined by us, but by an inordinate amount of souvenir shops in all of Greece's tourist meccas, normally to advertise their sales. Along with the amazing food, we were also excited to explore the pristine beaches and ancient ruins - all on a remarkably small budget. We also managed to time our trip during the perfect overlap of "end of tourist season" (i.e. reduced crowds and even further reduced accommodation prices) with unseasonably warm weather. Most locals we spoke to commented that the weather wasn't normally this sunny and warm at this time of year (October) so we were very lucky indeed!

Our first stop was the island of Rhodes, a part of the Dodecanese Islands over near Turkey. Along with our first taste of magical Greek Island beaches in Lindos, Rhodes City is home to one of Europe's largest remaining medieval walled cities. Although now the old town is chock-full of tourist shops selling all manner of items (including our much loved
My new BFFMy new BFFMy new BFF

Tour with the Temple Dog!
EUR 4.50 'Ray Bans'😉, if you got off the main thoroughfares and into the backstreets, it was like stepping back in time. Rhodes also offered Abe his first taste of his other true love, the Gyros Pita Plate. An amazing plate full of meat (normally pork, but occasionally chicken), salad, tzatziki and pita bread. We consumed countless plates during our month in Greece and they are probably responsible for our 3kg weight gain.

Our ferry ride from Rhodes to Crete was something I would not like to repeat. I think we were on Greece's oldest running ferry, a monstrous beast that in it's hey-day would have been a luxurious cruise liner (complete with dance floor and pool) but I don't think any kind of maintenance was completed on it since its maiden voyage 30 years ago. For starters, it was sloooooooow. Our journey was a whopping 13 hours, made worse by the 2am departure time. And the ferry shuddered and shook every inch of the way. Our assigned seats were ancient, and the padding on the arm-rests had long since disappeared so I was left resting my arm on bare metal edges. The two seats in from of us were broken, and fell back haphazardly into our leg room. After a few unsuccessful hours trying to get some sleep in these seats, we made like the locals and found a spare spot on the floor and curled up there.

Crete is Greece's biggest Island, and an absolutely fascinating place. The 4 nights we spent there were not enough time to do it justice and one day we'd love to go back there one day. One of Crete's major port towns, Iraklion, is home to the oldest remaining ruins of the Minoan Civilisation, circa1600 BC. We caught the bus there early to beat the crowds and spent the whole tour of the ruins in the company of a very cute guide - affectionately known as the Temple Dog. Wherever we went, Temple Dog came too. The whole time we were at the ruins (over an hour), Temple Dog wasn't more than 3 paces behind us. It was very sad to say goodbye, and I was a bit surprised that he didn't jump back on the bus with us too. Our next stop in Crete was Hania, another gorgeous town with a stunning medieval port. During
Ahoy down there!Ahoy down there!Ahoy down there!

At the top of Mt Zeus on Naxos.
our wanderings through the old port we stumbled across a film set. Further investigation revealed that Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen were presently filming in Crete - unfortunately no sign of the stars though! Hania was also an excellent base for our hike through the Samaria Gorge, Europe's biggest gorge. We boarded a very early bus up to the top of the mountain range where we commenced our 16km hike down through the gorge to a tiny, isolated port town, inaccessible by road. The hike was spectacular, at one point the gorge was hundreds of metres high with the two walls only 2m apart. As there was no road access to the town at the mouth of the gorge, we had to catch another ferry to the nearest town with road access and a bus station to get back to Hania. Another gorgeous part of Crete was Elafonisi beach with its famous pink sand. We enjoyed another gorgeous day lazing around Elafonisi on banana lounges before catching our next ferry off to Santorini.

Santorini is a breathtaking volcanic island, blown apart by an eruption hundreds of years ago. The sheer cliff-faces and stunning volcanic rock make Santorini
Thanks Jean!Thanks Jean!Thanks Jean!

My amazing birthday dinner on Mykonos - all organised from afar by my gorgeous BFF.
a spectacular place. We enjoyed 5 nights there in the company of our lovely friend Bob, who had flown over to join us for a week before a business trip to China. Team Tripod enjoyed 5 days of amazing seafood (Bob and I enjoyed the seafood, Abe enjoyed the Gyros Plates), exploring the beaches on quad-bikes, and even a boat ride out to the active centre of the volcano, which was a bit like what you would imagine the face of the moon to be like! Santorini was a great place to relax and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime views.

After saying goodbye to Bob, we set sail for Naxos. Naxos is the most fertile of the Greek Isands, and one of the few whose economy could probably survive without tourism. After getting a taste for Quadbiking with Bob, we had no hesitation hiring another bike to explore the villages away from the coast. We also went on another hike up Mt Zeus, past the fabled cave where Zeus is said to have been born. The views at the top of Mt Zeus provided a gorgeous panorama of the surrounding islands. We were lucky enough to have reached the

A wonderful escape from Athens!
summit at the same time as another Aussie, who had been running yacht cruises for the whole of the summer and could point out which island was which from the top!

The ferry ride from Naxos to Mykonos was another one I'd never want to repeat, for the opposite reasons! Our boat was named the "Superfast" which really should have raised the alarm bells at the time of booking. Combined with the huge winds that were sweeping in from the ocean, it made for a very hair-raising ride. The boat was a small and fully enclosed and looked somewhat like a catamaran. The name "Superfast" was very true to life and it was much like being on a giant jet-ski as it jetted over the massive waves that we were experiencing. On a number of occasions we hit waves at such a speed that the ferry was actually airborne. There were crew wandering around with vomit-bags which somewhat reassured me that this wasn't abnormal. This didn't reassure Abe though, who quickly took one of the vomit-bags and spent the remainder of the trip looking decidedly green.

Mykonos is another island with a very gorgeous old town. All the buildings are whitewashed and the winding lane ways throughout the city (designed to confuse marauding pirates, I'm told) were simply gorgeous. Mykonos has a famous beach party scene, that we unfortunately did not catch a glimpse of. We biked over to the renowned "Super Paradise Beach" to find it practically deserted and all of the banana chairs stacked up and the bars and restaurants boarded up. During high season the place is so crowded that you can't even get a patch of sand to sit on unless you arrive early in the day, so to see it all packed up was a bit reminiscent of a ghost town!

We took a ferry out to Delos, another nearby island that the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The whole island is basically an archaeological site, with the excavated ruins of a complete town. Amazing stuff!

Next we headed back to mainland Greece for our final week in Europe. We arrived in Athens and our first impressions were not good, to say the least. We booked our accommodation for our 2 night in the capital before we'd had a thorough read of the Lonely Planet's guide to hotels in Athens. It seemed that we'd booked our hotel in the seediest area of Athens, and we were to expect "junkies, prostitutes and pickpockets". Well, Athens did not disappoint! There were junkies shooting up on the footpath just around the corner from our hotel (en route from the metro station to our hotel). Night two we saw the prostitutes, and on day three Abe was pick pocketed on the Metro and lost his iPhone. Athens is a shit-hole! We did enjoy visiting the Acropolis and Athen's other heritage sights, but it was a total relief to escape for the countryside. We headed up to Delphi, the home of of the ruins of another ancient civilisation. Delphi was a major site for the worship of Apollo and also the home of the Oracle of Delphi. Combined with the spectacular mountain views, Delphi was a lovely escape from Athens! We then headed for Meteora, another breathtaking place famous for the monasteries perched upon rocky outcrops. A totally magical place.

All in all, Greece is a stunning place that we thoroughly enjoyed. The food, the people, the beaches and the history were second-to-none. It's just a shame that Athens is a total dump.


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