Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015-05 Athens

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

We toured Athens today using the Hop On, Hop Off bus to take us around.  We caught our bus right outside the hotel, so it was very convenient.
We got off at Plaka and walked up towards the Acropolis.  Since we hadn’t eaten yet, stopped to get a quick bite, which included a ham and cheese roll that was slit open the middle and a chocolate croissant.

We then walked to the base of the Acropolis, got our tickets and headed up to the top.  There are many stops along the way to see the ruins in various stages of completeness or repair.  The size of the hill, the theaters along the way and the Parthenon at the top are staggering.  It was nice to be able to walk around and get very near all the monuments.  Areas were roped off and people respected that.  There were employees who would remind people not to do things if they happened to do something they weren’t supposed to.  

The view from the Acropolis was also spectacular and gave us a good feel for the size of the city and the local landscape.  There are a lot more trees in Athens than we had seen on Mykonos or Santorini.

After visiting the site, we went to the museum of the Acropolis.  It is built over an archaeological dig area and provides shelter to the dig site and allows people to see into the dig site through the use of glass panels on the floor.  There were many great artifacts and historical information in the museum.  It is incredible how they built the giant buildings from large chunks of marble and other materials without the modern construction equipment.


We headed down the street and went to the temple of Olympian Zeus, and saw more large columns and headers built from stone.  Again the size of the structures was incredible.

We then hopped back on bus and toured the north side of Athens by bus before getting off at Monastiraki, a large shopping district full of small shops selling clothing, souvenirs, local food and about anything you could want.  There is even a flea market/second hand area.  We picked up an olive wood backgammon game and an olive wood spatula to take back to help remember out trip by.

We headed up to grab a bite to eat and went to place one of my friends from the neighborhood in  Burnsville where we grew up had recommended (he had been in Athens a couple of weeks before).  It was a little off the beaten path, which was nice, and yet very busy in the late afternoon.  Everything from groups just enjoying a fancy coffee to sitting down for dinner.  It stretched in 3 directions along the road from its door.

After dinner we wandered around exploring the streets of Athens before heading back to the hotel for another good night of sleep.

Monday, May 11th, 2015

More touring of Athens.  The hop on, hop off bus tours were good for 2 days, so we hopped back on and went down to Plaka for breakfast.  Ray had an omelet, which is much like a thin quiche, LeAnn had Greek yogurt, nuts and honey, and we both had chocolate filled crescent rolls.
We then walked over to the Olympic Stadium, which is an ancient stadium site and was rebuilt for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.  It has been used in each of the 3 Olympic Games held in Athens.  The stadium is much more long and narrow than modern stadiums, and the turns on the track are complete semicircles, not quarter turns like today’s tracks.  No football field would fit inside of this track.

The whole stadium is open for tours.  You can get an audio device for a walking tour, or you could just explore on your own.  We took the audio tour and did some of our own wondering.  You can go out on the track, climb the stands (over 100 steps to the top), or just walk along the pedestrian area.  Running and just being on the same track used by Olympic athletes was very awe-inspiring.  A podium is set up on the north end for pictures and celebrating victories.  Very much worth the visit

We went across the street the National Garden and walked through there enjoying the shade and all the different vegetation.  There was a pond that was enclosed and had hundreds of turtles in it, most of them sunning themselves on the rocks

After the National Garden, we went to the National Archaeological Museum.  It was filled with historical findings from all over Greece, including some of the original wall art from Akrotiri.  Items ranged from tiny ½” carvings to massive 15’ sculptures.  There was a large area that showcased some of the gold items which have been found, and they are all in such good shape, they look like they were made very recently.

We headed back to the Plaka area and wandered through the shops, around the base of the Acropolis, stopping to climb on one of the large rock outcroppings, this one being named Areios Pagos. We found a very nice place for our last dinner in Athens called Daphne’s. It was tucked back off the street and you walked through the alleyway with tables and chairs for another restaurant to get to Daphne’s.

We waited to dark and then look for a good location to take some night time photos of the Parthenon. It is nicely lit up at night, and is visible from a lot of locations.

Having walked so much, we decided to take a cab home. This was our first and only really bad experience. The cabby took the hotel card and knew where it was, headed out, chatted us up about his upcoming trip to the states, told us there were 14,000 cabs in Athens, dropped us at the corner our hotel was on (rather than at the hotel entrance), and showed us the meter read 2015 (€20.15), which was high for a 10 minute cab ride. Figuring it out later, he never started the meter and then showed us the year set in his meter for the total due rather than a true Euro value. Dropping us at the corner kept us from being able to question the fare with the help of the hotel staff. Checking later, the fare should have been around €5. A sad experience, but not enough to forget all the wonderful memories of the trip.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Time to head out and leave Greece behind after a wonderful 10 days exploring Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens.  Our driver picked us up as scheduled at the hotel and we got to the airport in plenty of time.  The first 15 minutes of driving through Athens was slow and gave us some new views of the time.  One of the things that stood out about Athens was the amount of graffiti throughout the city.  Every pull down door and so many walls were filled with various forms of graffiti.  Even some of the kiosk shops were filled with graffiti.  

Our plane was only half full, so we got lots of room to spread out.  Ray had a whole center row of 4 seats to himself, making either a nice working space, or a lay flat bed.  

Good fun and great memories of our 25th anniversary.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

2015-05 Santorini

Wednesday May 6, 2015

Today is the transfer day between Mykonos and Santorini.  Our ferry doesn't leave until 1:00 from the new port.  We got up and went down to told port for one last visit and went back to Taste Diaries for breakfast.  We took our last pictures and then Zoe’s father took us down to the port.  Our MasterJet ferry arrived and we boarded for the 2-1/2 hour trip to Santorini.

We stopped at the ports of Noxas, Ios and Milos along the way.  Each of those looked like they also would be beautiful islands to stay at, each with its own charm.

When we got to Santorini, we had a driver waiting to pick us up, along with a couple other couples staying on the island.  We got dropped off at Imerovigli Square where the manager for Hara’s House was waiting.  He guided us down the labyrinth of steps down to the villa.  Fortunately, he had arranged for one of his helpers to carry our luggage down to the villa.  There must have been a back way to get there, because we left before him, but he beat us down there and did not pass us along the way.
The villa overlooked the caldera of an ancient volcano.  We took a stroll down to the next village, Firostefani, and admired the sunset along the way.  We found a nice open air restaurant called Vanilia for dinner.  It seems like every restaurant offers open air dining and we took advantage of it for almost every meal.
Firostefani is about a 10 minute walk from our villa.  They were working on part of the path to put some new electrical cables underground, and it was all being dug by hand.  The soil was very powdery.  We headed back to the villa ready to experience our first full day in Santorini tomorrow.

Thursday May 7th 2015

Ray got up and walked out to Skaros, a point that had a guard station and a protective castle.  Some of the ruins from an earthquake that destroyed the settlement are still there, and there is a small church that is still in use.  The path is almost all steps, and over ¼ mile long.  A good morning workout for sure.

We planned a boating excursion around the caldera, stopping at the active volcano on Nea Kameni, the hot springs at Palea Kameni, then lunch at Thirasia before sailing along the inner coast of Santorini.

We were scheduled to meet the bus in nearby Fira at 10:10.  We left about 9:30 and stopped at a small bakery and picked up a couple of great stuffed breads, a spinach for LeAnn and a ham and cheese for Ray.  Still warm, we ate these near the bus stop in Fira.

We went to the bus stop to wait for a Blue Line bus or one with our tour listed in the window.  A few buses and large vans went by, but not ours.  About 10:20, a big bus came by, but it had the name of a wedding party and was different bus line.  A few people got on and then the driver came out and looked at everybody’s voucher.  He told us to get on.  We figured we were in the right bus, but not sure until we pulled into the port and got on the boat.

There were a couple of boats leaving at the same time and they split people up by language.  Our boat had English, Spanish and German.  The boats are called caiques, but look like what we call pirate ships.

Our first stop was the island of Nea Kameni, which basically didn't exist 3500 years ago.  It was formed by lava from a giant eruption that whipped out an entire population on Santorini, sunk an existing island and created a new one.  It was about a 1 hour walk to the top, where there are still vents spewing sulfur around the new rim.  The walk down was only about 25 minutes, then we got back on our boat and waited for everyone to come down.

The next stop was at Palea Kameni, home of the hot springs.  These empty right into the sea and raise the water temperature.  What we didn't realize was that we had to swim from the boat to the warm waters.  It was a little chilly getting in (about 18C/64F).  Not sure what it was close to the springs, but the water was probably upper 70’s where the spring water had mixed.  The water was very brown in the mixed area.

After getting back to the boat, we headed to Thirasia, where we had time to eat and relax.  We ate at Captain Johns, which was a cafeteria style restaurant on the shore.  They had pork, chicken, and seafood on skewers, along with pastas and bread.  We then walked along shore before heading back to the boat.

As we headed to port, we sailed along the western edge of Santorini.  We could pick out the house we are staying at because it is maroon, while almost every other house is white.  We sailed by the Super Yacht we had seen in Mykonos, and watched them as they were jet skiing around their boat.

We got back to port and had to figure out which bus to get on.  People were shouting and pointing every which way.  When we said we were going to Fira, they pointed to a bus to get on, unfortunately, they pointed in the general direction of all the buses.  We finally confirmed out bus and made it back to Fira.

Friday, May 8th, 2015

We had another tour planned on Friday, this time by bus to see all over the island.  We walked down to Firostefani to catch the bus and stopped for a breakfast pie like we had the day before.  They were filled with various fillings, and LeAnn had a spinach pie and Ray had a ham and cheese.  Definitely a good way to prepare for sightseeing.

We got to the bus stop 10 minutes early, and again the bus was about 15 minutes late.  We had to switch to larger bus at the next stop, but then we were off and running.  

Our first stop was the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, which was buried in ash and debris during a volcanic eruption around 3500 years ago.  Much like Pompeii, the civilization was buried in time.  So far only about 3% of the town has been excavated.  No bodies have been found so far, indicating that there may have been some warning and people had left.  It is estimated 10,000 lived on the island at the time.  Some of the buildings were 3 stories tall and they had water and sewage systems throughout the village.

Next we visited Perissa beach, which is on the east side of the island and is the first of a string of black sand beaches.  The beaches are created from the black volcanic rock.  We ate lunch beach-side and then strolled the beach for about an hour before heading back to the bus and our next stop.

Megalochori is a large (mega), traditional village in the center of the island.  It has a public church in the middle of the village, and many other private churches throughout the rest of the villages.  Almost all churches have blue domes and bell towers, making them easy to spot.  Most homes are kept up, but some of the older homes are in decay, but very few are for sale as most are passed through the family (including the tax obligations).

We then drove to the top of the island, and the home of the former Profitis IIias monastery, which is now closed.  The island has over 500 churches on it, but there are not enough priests to support all the churches.  The view from up top allowed us to see the entire island in one location.

We headed down the hill and stopped at Santo Winery for some wine tasting and photography.  We had a dry white, a dry aged red, and a sweet raisin dessert wine.  The wine made from raisins was naturally sweet, but too sweet for out liking.  The winery was near the port and overlooked the caldera with great views of the volcano and bay.

It was a little after 6:00 and we headed up to the north end of the island to the town of Oia for a look at the sunset, claimed to be the most beautiful sunset in the world.  Getting there, however, was half the fun.  We were in a full size coach bus and had to make the switchbacks on the road up to the town, but then the fun began.  With many large buses headed up there, and some coming back, the narrow 2 lane roads made passing quite a game.  Vehicles had to pull over for each other, sometimes back up, or wait for openings.  At one point in town, with cars and ATV’s parked along the side, we took about 10 minutes to maneuver past a tight point, and had a few vehicles readjust themselves.  We we finally passed, we were within 2 inches of the adjacent bus.  The drivers are amazing with vehicle awareness and figuring out what they can squeeze through.

The sunset itself was not unique, as it sets over the ocean.  There were very few clouds in the sky so it was not colorful.  What was unique and interesting was the number of people there and how they filled every nook and cranny along the pathways.  Some people must have staked out their spot more than an hour in advance.  We found a nice quiet overlook with just a few people on it, and clicked away recording the moment with everyone else.

We made it back to the bus, and headed for home.  We found our stop to get off, picked up a bottle of wine and finished out cheese, crackers and sausage from the night before.  Another great day on the Greek Islands.

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Ray and LeAnn got up early and walked to Skaros rock formation which juts out from the area near our villa.  It is about a 20 minute walk from the walkway to the rock formation.  The trail has been built with actual steps, which makes it a little easier to walk out to the rock.  It is the quantity of steps that is the challenge.  On the caldera side of the rock formation, a church has been built.  We can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to bring all the building materials out to the building site.

We checked out of the villa in Imerovigli about 11:30.  Since our ferry did not leave to until 6:00, we had time to head out to Firostefani and Fira for an afternoon of sightseeing.  The manager kept our luggage and had set up a driver and van to pick up the bags and then pick us up on the south side of town.

We found a restaurant called Zafora (Greek for Saffron) for lunch, and had a corner table overlooking the old port.  The meals were good, and like all the meals we have had in Greece, more than enough to fill you up.  

Our next stop was the archaeological museum just up the street from Zafora.  It was more of the findings from the Akrotiri dig site on the south end of Santorini.  It is amazing how they can piece together the various pots or statues from the various pieces and parts they find.  Just like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle.

Since we were close to the old port, we took the cable car down from the stop just below the restaurant.  This is where the cruise ships bring their passengers in to.  The ships anchor out in the deep water of the caldera and then use their lifeboats to bring passengers back and forth.   There are a few souvenir shops along the pier, tour boats, and some fishing boats that tie up each day.  Going back up the hill, Ray decided to take the donkey ride.  You can go back up by cable car, donkey or walk.  I wouldn't suggest walking back as the steps for walking are the same ones used by the donkeys, and there are plenty of donkey droppings along the way.

Back at the top, we picked up some postcards of the island, but had to go to another shop for the stamps.  We found a couple of gelato shops just across the street from each other, and chose one of them to get some gelato.  It wasn't as good as the gelato we had in Mykonos.

We then walked down to the Carrefour, which was our pickup point.  Our driver and bags showed up as planned and we headed down to the port.  We had a beer along the pier while we waited for the ferry.   It was running about 15 minutes late, and the bartender told us it was always late.  Only 15 minutes late was not too bad.

We got on the ferry and went upstairs to our seats.  We had gotten club level seats, and there were only 2 other people up there, and they got off on the second stop.  For the last 2 hours we were the only ones upstairs.  The downstairs was only about 50% full, but it was much more comfortable upstairs.  We arrived in Athens about 11:00 and was met on the pier by a driver.  We got to the hotel and found out they did not have our reservations on file.  Fortunately, they had a room available for our stay.  We went upstairs, unpacked and relaxed.