Monday, August 20, 2012


Greece…Land of sun and sea, blue skies and gorgeous weather! We arrived in Athens in the late afternoon – met by those warm breezes, blue skies, and a driver ready to take us to our hotel. Our long, winding trip to the hotel took us past quick views of ruins and temples dotting the landscape. The hotel was fine as hotels go but…the special thing about it was the rooftop dining. Jeff had requested (probably when he booked the room) a reservation for dinner that night – complete with a view of the Acropolis (the famous hill with the Parthenon on top). We had the opportunity to dine with the setting sun, watching the lights come up on the Parthenon. There was no hurry to dine, no one waiting for the seat so we relaxed with drinks and took in the ambiance.
It was interesting to also watch the city down below. We had a view of many apartments, apartments with windows and doors wide open, curtains swishing in the breezes, kids playing on the balconies. One young mother had bathed her child and was playing and tickling the baby on the balcony. Another group was having a big dinner on the roof – lots of people climbing the stairs, carrying food and such up, others sitting around talking and eating. Everything outdoors was alive and moving.
We also had a view of the Athens new Acropolis Museum. The top floor is a recreation of the Parthenon, actual size. They have placed in it replicas of the Parthenon, the statues they’ve pieced together, the murals, the various carvings. While later on we did see it in person, that first night we had the night view through windows that surround the reconstruction, giving a hazy, golden view of the Parthenon.
The next morning our driver met us bright and early to take us to the ferry. Greece has an extensive, spectacular, and cheap (especially when you consider the cost of a cruise) ferry system that allows you to travel from island to island in pretty good style.  We roamed the boat, finding wonderful views of islands, clear skies and blue waters.

Jumping to Santorini

OK...I know that Santorini comes a bit later but...I forgot to put it in's a preview. 
View from caldera island toward Oia 
The islands of Santorini have created a very unique volcanic caldera. The crescent moon shaped islands known as Santorini, Thirasia and Aspronisi form an imaginary circle in the middle of which is the caldera of Santorini, the largest in the world. The volcano first erupted about 2.5 million years ago and is still active today. There have been 12 major eruptions, each changing the shape of the islands. Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni, two volcanoes in the center of the caldera, were formed by underwater eruptions and are the latest pieces of land in the Mediterranean. The formation of New Kameni began 440 years ago with the last pieces of volcanic lava petrified of just over 50 years. The last eruption was in 1950.
Oia churches on the hill
We spent the day roaming across the island, avoiding the hot areas and holding our noses to avoid the sulphur. It was a barren landscape but very interesting to hear about. The boat ride was an opportunity to view more of the caldera and that inner ring. It’s amazing to see how steep the sides are and how all of the cities are perched at the top of the cliffs. 

Arriving at Mykonos

Mykonos...ah a bit of heaven on earth. Once again we were met with clear skies and gorgeous weather and wondrous cities built in the hills. The homes and buildings were built, one upon the other, scaling up the hills. It was spectacular to behold.
Our driver took us weaving through tiny streets, past climbing buildings, over hills until we reached the beach. The roads there make some of the Japanese roads seem wide and spacious in comparison. We drove straight towards a the last possible moment before impact, he turned right onto a totally hidden two way street-yes, two way even though it was one car wide. We wove around the local stores lining the beach, climbed a small hill, and ended up on the other side with a view of the marina and ocean behind. Traveling further we ended at the gates to the only place left to go...our hotel.
We found ourselves up in the hills at the end of the island with small cottages dotting the hill on the left and stunning ocean views to the right. The entrance to the hotel was through a cave, lined with Greek artifacts and displays. The view from the lobby above was spectacular - you know, I definitely need to find some more descriptive words so that I'm not redundant. Our room was beautiful but the view from the balcony was what made it. I'll let the picture speak for itself. Everything in the hotel was built with the view in mind. Rooms, restaurants, pools -even the walkers in the gym - everything was based on promoting the stunning view.


Mykonos Town was the "big" town on the island (its sole purpose was to cater to tourists) so we decided to make it a day. We started off early in the morning, walking along the coast, fending off willing taxi drivers. The hills had gorgeous little flowers, though the wind that always blew tended to keep them low and tucked behind rocks and various outcrops. Our goal for the journey was, appropriately, a series of preserved windmills that we're once employed to grind the flour for the residents.
Famous Mykonos windmills
Drinking water is a big issue on the islands...rain is not plentiful. Homes were built with roofs designed to capture the water, funneling it down below the house in a cistern for storage. Supporting small populations, it was sufficient, but as island residents and visitors increased, water became a big problem. For many years they imported all of their water, brought in by water tankers. Finally, they built a desalinization tank that now provides the island with clean water. I'm noticing lots of countries using desalinization for water...what's happening to the salt? Qatar pumps it back in the ocean...if they all do, what's going to happen to our oceans? 
Enough bird walk...Mykonos Town was a fascinating web of streets and stores. We wandered thru the winding paths, checking out the stores and changing vistas. They have a section called Little Venice - an area of homes and businesses built right along the water. We ate lunch from a restaurant with a balcony hanging out over the water...they had plastic strategically placed to protect their guests from all but the largest of breakers.
One of the many streets of Mykonos Town
We did finally thrill one of the many taxi drivers...we decided to ride back the hotel...
Next stop...the beautiful island of Santorini. We did get smart with the ferry system. They have upgrades for just a few dollars to first class...large chairs, table, service and uninterrupted views. Well worth the extra $10 or so to get. 


View of Fira

My kids at school love this book character
Santorini has a really interesting approach. It is a ring island created and developed by numerous volcanic activity throughout its history. What is left is a large opening for ships to come in to tall, tall sheer cliffs. There's a tiny landing area that accommodates moderate sized boats and the ferries. It is totally packed with cars, buses, and, of course, a handful of tourist shops. We were again picked up by our driver and taken to the top, traveling in a long parade winding its way up to the top of the cliffs. We wove our way through a high plateau type area to the other side of the island where our hotel was. We didn't have the ocean view but did end up in a room with a small sitting area, fresh breezes and sunshine. We were near the beach and headed down to the ocean to walk along the boardwalk, check out e stores and dine on the water. Delicious. 
Now, if you happened to be from one of the cruise ships, there was another small landing area setup to accommodate the traveler, connected to the top of the hill via a funicular. One look at the line and I was glad we didn't have to use the top the people waiting to go down numbered in the hundreds. Of course, there was a way to walk up...

The next morning found us at the top of the hill outside our hotel, site of an ancient city, perched strategically to watch for invaders to protect itself. Despite being on top of the hill, they found ways to bring up enough water to sustain some agriculture and a population that survived for over 800 years.
We headed from there to the tourist town of Fira, site of the mandatory spendy restaurants and lots of shops to buy local goods. They did have some gorgeous pottery and beautiful jewelry. Our goal, however, was to hike from there across the mountains to the city of Oios where we could sit at the edge of the world to watch the sunset. 

Sunset at the Edge of the World

Ok, call us crazy...doesn't everyone go to Greece to hike eight miles to watch a sunset? Yes, we could have driven but where's the fun in that. We wove our way through the walkways threading their way through the whitewashed homes and hotels that are perched on the cliff side. The views were stunning. The steps steep -and uphill both ways. Even though it's a route written in the guidebook, the path is not marked. We actually only got off it once. 
Oia another picturesque city, perched at the edge of the world, filled with beautiful buildings, churches, and, of course, hundreds of shops. We wove through the streets and crowds to the far side of the island to perch ourselves for the sunset. I do have to be honest...the crowds of people in the city? Well, they came over on the tour buses, city buses, or drove. There are some sane people.  The sunset occurs over the ocean instead of land, giving you the unobstructed view of the sun going down...and everyone clapped when it went down..go figure.

The Acropolis

Greek statues on Acropolis hilltop

The Parthenon
Our time on the islands sadly came to a close with our return to Athens we did, however, still had time to hit the sites in Athens, finally getting to explore the Acropolis we were teased with our first day. It was a gorgeous, sunny, hot day so we headed up in the morning cool to traipse up the hill, passing through the remains of amphitheaters and other structures. The Parthenon, perched on top, is under deconstruction at the moment. Apparently, during the last period of preservation, stones were, put up but no necessarily where they belonged. There was also rebar used for strength and it has rusted along some of the stones. They are now taking parts of it apart and rebuilding according a new imaging system that identifies the correct placement for blocks. Let's hope it is truly more accurate and that our materials don't cause future problems. 
In the gardens
We hiked around the back of hill, through large winding gardens, past various temples, waterfalls, and finally down to a famous shopping area, an area where Socrates used to sit and talk while his wife ran their shop. Of course these days there are indeed shops there…but a bit more upscale, of course.