Before it gets lost amongst the new memories and experiences that are going to keep accumulating by the day like the snow did this winter, I’ve got to capture all of the amazing from the last two weeks in Greece with Mom. First off, in case anyone reading this doesn’t already know (which is unlikely), I got DAMN lucky by being born to the most inspiring, driven, caring, fun, age defying mom out there. So when she asked if she could maybe join me in my travels, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Then she proceeded to dive into research and with only having traveled internationally once before, proceeded to develop an incredible itinerary that perfectly balanced ancient history with active time in nature, city time with serene escapes, tourism with culture immersion. First we spent a day amongst the awe-inspiring monuments of ancient Athens, making our way through the Acropolis, which was essentially the city’s royal temple and celebratory grounds. From there we saw the ancient Agora, the first ever “market place” that all future western civilizations would come to be based on. We saw the first Olympic stadium and buzzed through the Acropolis museum. In all we walked about 12 miles on Day 1 and capped it in one of the adorable streets full of cafes with tables spilling out to the streets with local Grecians drinking & dining all night long.
Aside on history and Athens – A couple years ago I experienced my first “history high” when visiting Naples & Rome, yet the lavish city of Athens was buzzing millennia before Rome was even established, resetting the bar that would be pushed ever higher as the trip progressed. The more I learn and spend time in the remains of ancient civilizations, the more I appreciate them and recognize that 2000, 4000, even 9000 years ago we were not so different than we are today. Not only at our human core, but even when it comes to daily life. Sure, technology has evolved, but the elements of our daily lives are essentially the same. We work, gather and prepare food, clean, raise families, teach our children, socialize with friends and family, celebrate, have sex, imbibe, travel and play. Rather than look at the advancement of civilization as a straight line ever increasing, it seems to me that we have periods throughout human history where we rapidly advance and grow but then experience setbacks and a halt or even decline in progress and quality of life due to war, religion, over population, decline in health, or as is the case now, commercialism. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though, who knows what development and flourishing cultures the next millennia or two will bring?
Day 2 in Athens brought a walking tour with a local volunteer guide who accompanied us for a couple hour stroll through some lesser traveled streets and her favorite neighborhoods; a more intimate view of Athenian life. Later that evening Mom had the genius idea of reserving a dinner table on one of the many rooftops with a view of the Acropolis lit up at night, so I’d called for a table at GH Attikos, steps from our hotel, and the night that ensued was nothing less than “θεσπέσια” (pronounced “thespecio”, the word for “delightfully great” that our waiter taught us. The food: moussaka (one of my top 5 favorite foods in the world) and the local bolognagse were decadent. We became fast friends with our aforementioned waiter Yannis (who actually pouted us some wine leftover from a table that had departed). We capped the evening watching the full moon raise of the Athenian hillsides.
The next day we made our way to the island of Naxos and after our 3 hr ferry ride were greeted by the perfect white village spilling over the shore, a scene captured on every grecian postcard and a million instagram shares. It really does look that storybook. That color blue really does exist without a filter! We made our way through the Labyrinth of the walled capital city, and after a handful or two of wrong turns eventually came across our rental which we soon discovered had the best rooftop patio in town. We got lost a little more, walked along the waterfront, and spent the necessary time understanding the cryptic bus schedule for our next days journey…
So after getting up at slightly past the crack of dawn, the next day we made our way back to the bus station, and after we were joined by the local kids headed to school, ascended the windy narrow inland roads to arrive at the Mt. Zeus trailhead. Mom and I climbed past natural springs and caves, scrambling the lesser traveled trail to the summit, encountering only goats on our ascent. After spending a few windy minutes and taking an obligatory selfie, we made our way back to the base via the standard route and realized that’s where all the people were! We walked back to the nearest town, and to the next town, where we found a perfect cafe nestled in the old city’s main square to split a roasted pepper “pie” (wrapped in phyllo”. We then hopped the bus for our next stop, the ruins of Demeter, stunning white pillars set against the island countryside. Then we hopped back on the bus, and after watching the sun go down from our balconyhad a fairly mellow evening back in Hora. The next day we took out a pair of bikes for a cruise down the coastline and past numerous white sandy beaches before it was time to hope the ferry to our next destination: Amorgos!
The ride over was stunning – especially the Anakoufonisi island group, A newfound tourist destination looking across to an uninhabited island with cliffs that rose directly out of the water. We cruised into the sleepy port of Katapola on Amorgos to see our AirBnB host’s father, Constantinos, leaning up aside a post with a handwritten 8″ x 11″ sign reading “VALEDA”. He grabbed our bags and delivered us to our oh-so-perfect abode with a veranda overlooking the harbor complete with hammock and padded benches, and we knew we would be quite all right calling this home for a few nights, even before leaving us with a bottle of his homemade Raki. After spending sufficient time taking it all in and watching a spectacular sunset, we made our way down the few steps to the restaurants on the water for a while grilled fresh fish and couscous with loca fruits and goat meat.
The next morning we got back to putting miles under our feet. We were dropped off at the outskirts of the old city and made our way down to Hozoviotissa Monastery, a church built into the hillside about 2000 years ago hanging over the turquoise Aegean. We stopped by the timy beach at the base of the cliff, then started our trek following the path over the ridgelines down the island, a route that has been utilized for millennia. We passed numerous white washed churches perched on hilltops, cabes providing shade for herds of goats, ruins from towns long ago, and a multitude of view points straight out of instagram. Hours later we arrived in the port town of Aegiali and had ourselves a leisurely seaside snack before hailing a cab back to our seaside home.
Before I forget, we got pretty good at rudimentary greek, thanks to the cheat sheet Mom prepared. So far in Bulgaria I slip and habitually use the vocab after using it regularly for two weeks! That night we took advantage of the kitchen in our apartment and had mom’s leftovers & Constantino’s Raki for dinner. Having quiet nights in a comfortable home are underrated when you’re on the road all the time!
Amorfos – Beautiful
Thespecious – Incredible
Neh – Yes
Ya – Hi
Ya Sou – Hello, Cheers
Efhoristo – Thanks
Signome – Sorry, Excuse me
Kali Mera – Good Morning, Good Day
Kali Spera – Good Afternoon
Kali Nichte – Good Night
The next day we took a “leisurely” stroll up the hillside the explore the old city, another network of seemingly even more maze-like passageways, and apparently intentionally so to protect its inhabitants. After a lunch including the educational experience of peeling whole cooked shrimp, we decided we hadn’t had enough hiking yet that day so we walked up to the ancient Minoa settlement, inhabited from 1000 to 400 BC, and instead of going back down the trail we’d ascended, we took a “shortcut” and bushwacked our way down from the peak through bushes and brambles on an approximately 40 degree slope. Have I mentioned how much I appreciated that my mom and travel partner is equally as up for adventure and exploration? I can’t imagine travelling with the average almost-64 year old American!
We were on the ferry before daybreak the next day and watched the sunrise from the boat. It was another beautiful trip, but the entrance into Santorini was a rude awakening from the serenity of Amorgos. Apparently Greece is experiencing the same social unrest common the world over, and the lower and middle class workers are protesting for better wages and benefits. No better opportunity to make their voices heard than when a ferry full of hundreds (maybe thousands) of tourists is exiting a ferry. The protestors on motorbikes, pickup trucks and 4-wheelers al laid on their horns and obstructed the only road leading from the port to the expanse of hotels, restaurants and shops above. This was a fairly appropriate tone to set for our stay on Santorini. The landscape of the island is stunning (its the remains of a volcanic crater, cliffs plunging to the sea at its interior and gentle slopes becoming sandy beaches on the outer perimeter. There must be a building code for all grecian islands because every structure is bone white; from afar the cliffs and hillsides appear to be snow-capped. But that’s also telling of the density of development. Over the course of our 4 nights, moments of incredible beauty and awe were interspersed with times of frustration, waiting on busses that didn’t come, constantly fighting through the hoards of other tourists in the tight streets of Fira & Oia, and annoyed attitudes from service people used to the entitled antics many visitors exude. But there are perks to the developments tourism brings, such as watching a stunning sunset over the Aegean while tasting local vintages at Santo wines. We also found that tourist dollars (or the promise thereof) enable communities to research, preserve and present archeological finds like ancient Akotiri, Greece’s Pompeii, a city deserted and buried under a volcanic eruption in 1627 BC, now uncovered and and available to visit. Perfect frescoes from the residence walls 4000 years old. Like on Amorgos, we trekked from the capital of Fira across Santorini’s cliffsides and ridgelines to the high-end tourist destination of Oia. There were others on the route but the crowds quickly dissipated just outside of city limits. We spent an afternoon kayaking the beaches of Santorini’s outer coastline, with impressive cliffs bookending the beaches. we were constantly reminded of the volcanic nature of the island, traversing from red sand beach to black sand beach, passing through an area where the rockfall exposed layers telling the tale of millennia of eruptions. We picked our own fish out of the case and ate them whole at a seaside cafe, and followed dinner(after climbing the 200+ stairs back to town) with craft cocktails and a killer live DJ. The night before our (successful) attempt to go dancing found us in Anywhere, Earth with US pop music and spring-break-esque clientele feeling anything but Grecian. (We managed to have fun nonetheless :)). I’d be a horrible human to complain about spending 5 days in Santorini. But I’m entitled tosay that Amorgos is rivledged to have its beauty yet unspoilt by crowds of tourists and stores of 4000 Euro handbags.
We caught a flight back to the mainland, said farewell to the greek isles (I never did learn how to say goodbye in greek) and spent out last night in a quaint beachside town close to the airport, more of a locals vacation spot. We ate some delicious meat, drank some too-sweet wine, and exhaled at how lucky we’d been to spend such a magical two weeks in Greece. And yes, in total we’d walked 126 miles according to Mom’s fitbit, which doesn’t account for the miles biked or kayaled, nor does it give extra credit for stairs ascended or mountains climbed. We also managed to sample the whole spectrum of grecian cuisine: moussaka, whole fish, squid, gyros, bisteca, cheeses, meats, salads, ice creams, baklava (in all its many forms), yogurt, honey, nuts, and of course wines, appertif and digestif liquors of all varieties (they’re complimentary, how could you not?) Raki, Ouzo, Mastica (my personal favorite) and all the forms of coffee beverages; mom finding an afternoon Nescafe frappe on an almost daily basis. We did good Mom! She headed back to the states and I ventured on to continue my explorations!