Greece - Greek No More!

Tripoto

They say - "You don't need magic to disappear, all you need is a destination". And Greece is magic. It is a place where I can easily lose myself in the crowds, spend endless hours walking around the city, sit on the benches at the squares and listen to music as the world passes by. Earlier when we were deciding on our holiday destination, I was somewhat indifferent to the idea of visiting Greece. My only connection to the country was, that it was where the Olympics began and that it was home to the ancient wonder of the world- the Temple of Zeus ! I was not very excited and did not even bother to do my 'home-work' or go through the itinerary ! Looking back, I only wish I had! Greece has now topped my list of places to re-visit!

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! 1/1 by Leaving Harbour

ATHENS

The trip began with touchdown at Athens, and check-in at the Hilton which is very well located with a metro station close by. Step out of the hotel and the first thing you see at the crossing is the spectacular thirty feet high Runner Man glass sculpture. Syntagma Square one of the main squares of the city is at a walking distance from the hotel. The word Syntagma means Constitution and almost all major historical events have taken place at or around this square. You can see the Parliament building at the top of the square and at the bottom is Ermou Street which is closed to traffic since it is a shopper's delight! The ceremonial changing of the guards outside the Parliament building ( earlier the King's Palace) is a unique spectacle. The guards - Evzones- guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in addition to the Parliament.

Changing of the Guards

Photo of Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece by Leaving Harbour

Just off Ermou is Monastiraki, the flea market of Athens, and THAT is the place to be. There is a permanent festive atmosphere here with the locals competing to lure you into their colourful stalls and restaurants. You can feel a lift in your spirits as you enter the area with live impromptu music which crowds gather to watch. We also witnessed a couple performing a dance routine with fire ! If you're looking for souvenirs - here is where you should pick them up ! Just off the main square is an open food market which sells almost EVERYTHING. You name it and it's there - olives, feta cheese, meats, fish , spices, herbs, vegetables !

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Photo of Monastiraki Flea Market, Ifestou, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Leaving Harbour

A walk through the National Gardens, passing the Olympic Stadium, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus gives you a sneak peek into the history and culture of this ancient city. The construction of the temple began in the 6th Century by Peisistratos. It is believed to have been stalled because his son Hippias was overthrown in 510 BC and was finally completed in 131 AD 700 years later! It had 104 Corinthian columns out of which only 15 have stood the test of time.

Temple of Zeus

Photo of Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Leaving Harbour

The Olympic Stadium

Photo of Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Leaving Harbour

We ascended the Acropolis Hill ( acro - meaning edge and polis - meaning city) which is also known as the sacred rock of the city.The complex initially had four main buildings with the Proplaia being the entrance to the temple and Parthenon being the main attraction. The others being the Temple of Athena Nike and Erechtheion. The construction of the Acropolis of Athens began far into the 5th Century under the guidance of Pericles. The planning of Parthenon itself took two years and the construction began in July 447 BCE during the Panatheniac Festival.

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

There is so much history in this space of 7 hectares that one could spend hours imbibing details and capturing images. For people with knee problems- beware - there is a decent bit of climbing involved ( make sure you have comfortable footwear). But the view is worth it, for you can see the entire city, and watching the sunset from up there is just beautiful !

Photo of Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Leaving Harbour

An interesting thing you would notice in Greece are the streets that are lined with fruit laden trees- fruit that looks and smells exactly like oranges but is not. In fact they are bitter and poisonous even ( if I can recollect correctly ). These ornamental trees make you crave orange juice ! And that became my staple drink throughout the trip !

Coming to my favourite part - guilty pleasures ! What's better than a refreshing Greek salad with orange juice in the heat of June ( chilled Beer maybe )? There are many restaurants to eat in and around Monastiraki and Syntagma. We also had dinner at a restaurant called Oroscopo near our hotel . The food was delicious and- the icing on the cake - they threw in a LOT of complimentary dishes ! Most of the restaurants in Greece have lovely sit-outs decorated with pretty flowers which add to the gastronomic experience! They even have a lot of options for the vegetarians (Looking at us the locals recognized us as Indians and offered us vegetarian food)

SANTORINI

Our next destination was Santorini, one of the many beautiful islands. The journey with the blue seas and sparkling sun hitting the waves had me sitting with the camera throughout.

En-route Santorini

Photo of Naxos, Greece by Leaving Harbour

We had to make our way up to the hotel from the port. Santorini has the geography of a hill station with beaches surrounding it and has about 29 taxis only with tourists swarming in by the thousands every day. Transportation here is a bit of a problem. The best thing you can do is get a quad bike or car on rent for the days you're staying there. There are a few locals who operate buses to pick and drop tourists to their hotels from the port but even then you may need to wait for an hour or do to get to your destination. The same fate awaited us and by the time we got to Erato Apartments we were FAMISHED!

Erato is a quaint little boutique hotel in Firostefani with the most amazing views of the countryside and the Aegean Sea ! It is not the fancy variety with creature comforts and has just the basics - with a few rooms which are clean, comfortable and cozy ( and has a pool - which is the way to my heart)! Tonia ( Antonia) the host, is warm and gracious and was very helpful !

Waking up to this everyday? I wouldn't mind!

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour
Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

Wandering along the roads of Firostefani, we stopped at a restaurant called Pirouni which had the most breathtaking sea-view! ( and sea-food pasta - which according to me is a must try)

Photo of Villa Firostefani, Thera, Thira, Greece by Leaving Harbour

From where I ate - Pirouni

Photo of Villa Firostefani, Thera, Thira, Greece by Leaving Harbour

The visit to Santorini had me OFFFICIALLY crossing off some of my travel bucket list items since it tops the list of 25- Must-See-Places of the Times magazine !

We climbed a Volcano at the Nea Kameini National Geological Park ! We boarded a bus from our hotel to Fira Town ( which was another adventure since we got on the wrong bus at first ). From there we went to the port and took a Catamaran to the Volcano. The climb up is NOT easy.

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

Sunscreen - check. Water - check. Sports shoes- check. Cap- check. Sunglasses- check! Stamina and energy ? Well we were literally huffing and puffing our way up !

From the top!

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

Nea Kameni Geological Park

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

Then it was time to swim in the hot springs in the sea around this volcanic island! Many of the catamarans have changing rooms where you can change and jump into the sea swim up to the springs and get back !

As a part of the Volcano Tour that we had taken, they make a stop at Therasia which is an island with population of 130 people, and ate the best Moussaka for lunch ever at Capt. John's !

We finished off the day by sailing to Oia ( pronounced - Ia) which is at the other end of the Santorini Island to witness sunset. A climb up 300 steps from the port to the town of Oia leaves you breathless. Alternatively one can take a ride up on a mule.

The typical Greek Island - white houses, blue domes and purple and orange skies - yes that's Oia ! The haze from the Volcano lends a vibrant purple hue to the picturesque sunset that thousands of tourists gather to watch each evening.

'Sun-Gazers'

Photo of Nea Kameni, Santorini, Thira, Greece by Leaving Harbour

Sunset at Oia

Photo of Oia, Thira, Greece by Leaving Harbour

Looking at the shops I found the jewellery really pretty, intricate and EXPENSIVE. I was busy making mental resolves to buy these exquisite pieces -when I can afford them !

Santorini is famous for its beaches as well - and we had to take a look at that ! We rented quad bikes and were off beach hopping to Kamari, Perissa (both black beaches due to the volcano sediments) and the Red beach (which isn't much to write home about). I personally enjoyed Kamari beach and would rate it the best of the three :)

Kamari Beach

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

You can also spend an evening walking along the cobbled streets of Fira Town where the souvenirs will call out to you like nothing else. However you're better off buying them in Athens since the islands are slightly more expensive !

Fira

Photo of Fira, Greece by Leaving Harbour
Photo of Fira, Greece by Leaving Harbour

MYKONOS

Mykonos (pronounced Meekonas) like Santorini is another island of Greece and has the same problem with transportation. Buses are few and far between! Mykonos is what I would call "Greece's Goa" - to describe it best to the Indians reading this, except that the blue waters are way cleaner ! It's got the hippest bars at the beaches and welcomes diverse crowds!

The Mykonian Mare - which is the BEST hotel we've stayed at so far, is close to the port and has a marvelous sea view. The sea is just at your doorstep- literally - it's a five minute walk !

Photo of Mykonian Mare Resort, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour

We had a room with a small private pool and a Jacuzzi which was all I could have ever dreamt of! Talk about being in the lap of luxury ! *dreamy eyes*. The only issue with the rooms - some of the bathrooms don't have doors in the shower area which can be a problem!

Such luxury, much wow!

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

They also have a pick and drop service on request at a decent price and depending on the availability of their drivers which is a blessing when there is trouble going around the place!

Breakfast ,anyone?

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour

One can go down to the town to enjoy the "Catch of the Day" at one of the fish taverns. We went to 'Kounelas' which had a variety of fresh fish. Truly a seafood lover's paradise! One can also try out another local dish -'Gyros'.

Walk around the part of town called "Little Venice'' up to the point where you can see the six windmills. Watching the sunset with a backdrop of windmills adds another dimension. If you'd like to enhance the experience further - eat a gelato !

Photo of Greece - Greek No More! by Leaving Harbour
Photo of Little Venice, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour
Photo of Little Venice, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour

Another tour one can do from Mykonos is to an uninhabited island called Delos half an hour sail away. Delos is the birthplace of Goddess Athena's twins - the two most important and ancient Greek gods -Apollo (the sun god) and Artemis (the moon goddess).

On reaching the island you can tour the ruins of the entire city - the ancient homes, guest quarters, public places, markets and temples- all very well planned. Even more amazing is their water harvesting system which would work even in the present day and age! There is also a museum which can be visited to see the exhibits from all the historical periods represented on the island. The excavations are still in progress and it is a UNESCO heritage site .

Delos Island Ruins

Photo of Little Venice, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour
Photo of Little Venice, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour

One can tour, explore, travel all over the various islands and cities of Greece, but my favourite thing to do will always be swimming in the sea (the water baby in me speaks)!! I would made my way to the beach for a dip in the sea, first thing every morning ! I had to be pulled away for meals !

With that, a beautiful vacation came to an end. The shades of the sea would be permanently etched in my mind . Not to forget the wonderful food. I'm not much of a 'history and culture' person - but Greece is fascinating a place which transforms you into one of those. the country thrives on its tourism and the people here really look after their guests.

Photo of Delos, Mikonos, Greece by Leaving Harbour

As we hit the tarmac at New Delhi, it's 3 am in the morning - Kalimera to you all ! ( Good Morning in Greek )

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