A BIG FAT GREEK ADVENTURE: ATHENS & SANTORINI
All of us were eagerly anticipating a relaxing vacation on the sun-kissed beaches of Greece after our short layover in Prague. The people! What a tale! The sands! That feta cheese! I’m in love with the feta cheese.
We’ll get to that in a moment.) Check out our previous trip postings if you’re not sure what we’re doing in Greece and want to know more about what we’re seeing. You can also check out the later posts on the trip, including Florence/Rome and Budapest).
We boarded an aircraft in Prague and flew to Athens. We enjoyed a delicious supper of lamb kebabs, a beet and goat cheese salad, and the creamiest, richest tzatziki we’d ever had as soon as we’d finished checking in to our hotel.
A brief spin in Syntagma Square to walk off supper and a refreshing night’s sleep was precisely what the doctor ordered for a relaxed first night in Athens.
We awoke early the next day to prepare for a full day of sightseeing. We had precisely one day in Athens to see everything and wanted to make the most of it. We walked past the parliament and through the National Garden of Athens, a tranquil haven amid a bustling metropolis that, for some reason, reminded us a lot of Beijing. The mopeds, the buildings, and the frenetic pace reminded me of our old haunts in Chinatown.
We entered the Acropolis from the park and saw the Parthenon towering over the city. Aside from the theater and the Temple of Athena, a slew of other historical landmarks caught our eye. The Parthenon was awe-inspiring to see for the first time, and we were speechless. In the Corinthian columns, you can still clearly see how the ancient Greeks built these enormous carved pieces of marble, one on top of the other, using brute strength.
When we arrived at Acropolis Museum, we took a break in the air conditioning and wi-fi to keep cool during our summer travels.
Mint pesto and oil-cured smoked salmon with briny olive leaves were the best pasta we’ve ever tasted, at least that’s what we think they were.
Commenters from Greece may be able to help us out. (Panos & Mirella, any thoughts?) At the museum restaurant, kalamata olives were served (a cliche touristy decision that was surprisingly okay). It was scrumptious! This pasta is making me hungry just thinking about it.
Then it’s on to Athens’ legendary agora! “We just came from that large pillar over there!” we said as we wandered among the old ruins. That’s where I thought we were!”…In the twenty-first century, we had difficulty navigating through ancient Greece. Still, we eventually made it to the Plaka, where we spotted some beautiful traditional Greek houses.
When we’re on our way back to our hotel, we passed an Indian restaurant on the other side of the parliament building in a young, “cool” (as my father would say) neighborhood. A lot of people today would laugh at the idea. What do you think of when I say “Indian food”? What part of GREECE are you in?
Although something NON-Greek may sound enticing after spending the day trudging over ancient pieces of GREEK marble, admiring seemingly endless statues of GREEK gods, and threading your way between seemingly inexhaustible temple pillars, it is quite a treat after such a day. Since this was the case, we’re not going to hide it from the world.
Other news includes the discovery of tikka masala gyros. This is something you should try.
At 5 a.m. the following morning, we flew to Santorini on a bit of a plane. After four days of city sightseeing, the sight of the crystal-clear ocean and the pristine black sand beaches was a welcome relief.
We opted to spend the morning in Fira because it was only a short drive from our hotel. The city’s narrow, steep cobblestone paths welcomed us as we made our way up, and we paused for a delicious brunch overlooking the beach.
After seeing the rest of the city, we zig-zagged our way back to our hotel for some poolside leisure and a home-cooked meal! We whipped up a quick pasta dish with tomatoes, mint, and parsley that Sarah will publish about later this week when we get home. Nothing beats preparing a home-cooked supper after a long period of travel.
Kamari’s black sand beach is a sight to behold the following day. You needed a reclining beach chair and a palm frond umbrella to enjoy the clear blue ocean and dark black sand.
Our first stop after a day of sunbathing was Akrotiri, a Bronze Age Minoan settlement unearthed and maintained for visitors. Astonishing to observe the ancient building’s walls and even the old-fashioned pots and basins.
From this location, we made our way to the Red Sand Beach down the coast.
While the beach was beautiful, we had to trek up and down some rather cliffs to get there.
Fresh fish, tomato fritters, brined caper leaves (surprisingly good but, unfortunately, impossible to obtain in the US), and the required Greek salad were served as we made our way back to our bus stop. The feta cheese was the only reason we bought it.
We decided to take on the three-hour climb from Fira to Oia, a neighboring village, the next day. As Rick Steves explained it, the hike would take us from one end of the island of Santorini to the other; we decided to go for it.
The dramatic irony here is palpable if we were actors in a Greek tragedy). Sure! We agreed that a “strenuous” climb would benefit us.)
We set out on the hiking trail, and the weather deteriorated as we progressed. Clouds turned a hazy gray and drooped low over our heads as the sky darkened.
There was an onset of rain. We told ourselves that some rain isn’t a huge issue, and we were right. Onward we pushed.
After that, the wind accelerated. As the rain started to slap our faces, the drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. While we were strolling ahead of them, a middle-aged couple on vacation noticed the now dark and gloomy expanse of rain clouds that blanketed the island early, and they quickly turned around.
Since I’m constantly huddling against the low rock wall in the rain and wind, I’m beginning to regret my choice of shorts. But we’ll keep going, no matter how long it takes.
The island’s wind whips around us as we wind our way up and down alternately vast and minor roads. Hair looks worse and more unkempt as time passes.
There is a lonely donkey house at one point…
Unfortunately, we could not locate any donkeys to assist us in our ascent of the mountain. Since the views from the peaks are well worth the effort, we’ll keep going in this direction.
Fortunately, the rain eventually stops, and the clouds part as if by magic. Quite simply, this is a miracle. Cheesy tourists that we are, we erupt in applause. After just a few minutes, the rain and clouds give way to a fierce sun and oppressive humidity. As the path becomes increasingly gnarly, we climb our way up and over a series of hills on a steep, donkey-poop-covered path.
The clouds are moving so quickly over the island that it appears as if a psychotic weather forecaster is in charge of the environment. Wet and dry; hot and chilly; sunny and cloudy; damp and dry. As promised, Oia is beautiful and significantly more sophisticated and beautiful than its neighbor, Fira, which takes us four hours to get there.
There Oia, we can see why people want to settle in for a few days or perhaps a week to take it all in.
The famous Oia sunset can’t be missed, so we stake out a location on a stone wall overlooking the sea. Despite what some people might think, it was a great experience.
We take it easy on the beach the next day to ease our sore muscles. Our four-hour hike was the highlight of our trip thus far, even if we were joking about it.