Finally, our blog on Greece is ready! We spent a day in Athens enjoying the ancient sights and several days on the island of Thira enjoying some amazing sunsets. We ate wonderful food, met up with family, and enjoyed a great wedding.
19.05.2012 - 26.05.2012 23 °C
The city of Athens, center stage for a nation enduring major change once again. It is a gritty combination of iconic ruins and lively streets scenes of all types. Greece is making headlines across the globe as it struggles to break out of a recession and it is taking its toll on the popular tourist industry. With many travelers being scared off by news of riots in the street, we were pleasantly surprised to find Athens more traveled areas bustling with people. While it may not be the banner year they need to help push through the tough times, the people are still hard at work to make tourist feel safe and comfortable. There is so much history to offer and the city is full of people who are dedicated to sharing their culture, any worries should be put to rest. This city will survive like it has for centuries and whether it leaves the Euro zone or stays, it should remain at the top of cities you must visit lists.
We arrived into Athens in the afternoon and we were ready for what ever we would encounter. We had a day and a half to explore the sights of this storied city before we would escape to the islands for a family reunion of sorts and a wedding! With little time in Athens we dove right in.
Our first night in the amazing old city of Athens was wonderful. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the markets of the winding pedestrian streets. We dined on delicious greek vegetables and lamb before discovering the best part of Athens, the rooftop restaurants. The tables at these establishments lift you above the chattering streets and give you 360 degree views of the sprawling metropolis. We spent the evening listening to live music rise up from the alley below while sipping red wine and letting the day turn to night. Once it went dark the Acropolis lit up the hill top and Athens was rocking the night away.
The next morning we started out with the hotel buffet breakfast, greek yogurt and honey, and a spread of baked goods. Scott dove right into the greek yogurt and we both enjoyed some coffee and croissants before heeding out for one full day of sight seeing. The first stop on the mad dash through ancient Greece was the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel that sits high above Athens on the rocky hill top. The main attraction of The Acropolis is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Athena, but there are also theaters, smaller temples, and tombs that make this sight something to marvel at.
We hiked around this incredible ruin, and were in aww of the phenomenal marble structures that had been built long ago. As we climbed the hill to the top we had a great view of one of the ancient theaters and view out into Athens. We continued the climb up through ancient pillars and through a gate way to the citadel. The first ruin we stopped at was the Erechtheum, a shrine dedicated to the Greek hero Erichthonius. This shrine housed some of the holiest objects of Athens and was a supposed burial place for mythical kings. The South facing porch of this temple is known as the Porch of the Caryatids, also known as the Porch of the Maidens. The columns take on the shape of Maidens instead of the usual cylindrical shape in most major structures in the Acropolis. The slenderest pat of the sculptures are the necks of the Maidens and are capable of supporting the heavy roof while allowing the columns to feel feminine.
The Parthenon sits adjacent to the Erechtheum, and while it has been repeatedly battered by history, it still holds its presence as the center piece of this mountain top ruin. The Parthenon was constructed between 447 BC and 438 BC and is the most important structure in classic greek history. It was built as a replacement for an older temple of Athena and like most greek temples it is aligned to Hyades. This structure is massive and undergoing a serious renovation. The marble columns remain but the sculptures and reliefs that once decorated the ruin have been destroyed, pillaged, or removed for safe keeping. What surrounded the top of the Parthenon once, were a series of relief sculptures depicting the Greeks ride to the Acropolis culminating at each end with sculptures of two main scenes from Athens mythological past. The West pediment depicted the birth of Athena, after a terrible headache Zeus summoned Hephaestus to strike his head, it split open and Athena popped out. The East pediment depicted contest between Athena and Poseidon during their competition to be the city’s patron. Poseidon struck the rock to spring water, but it was salt water, and Athena brought forth the olive tree and of course victory. Each scene was once an amazing piece of art work with great detail, but now only pieces remain and they are kept in the Acropolis Museum.
After the Acropolis we headed south down the hill into the Ancient Agora. An agora was a central gathering place in ancient Greece, and this particular agora was where Socrates spent his days discussing the serious issues of the times. There were several homes, temples and even a Byzantine church that had been constructed after the fall of the greeks. From the Ancient Agora we headed through the Roman Forum and on to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction began in the 6th century BC on this massive temple dedicated to the God of all Gods, Zeus. The columns that remain are massive compared to all other ruins in Athens, it was quite a sight.
After a long day of touring the ruins around town we settled in for some lunch back along the Roman Forum. After lunch McKenna took a rest and Scott headed to the Acropolis Museum that displays the original marbles and sculptural pieces from the Acropolis. It also contains several media exhibits expelling the building and reasons behind this grand citadel. If their was one thing we should have changed about this day it would be to start here before going to the Acropolis. It gave more background than expected and that helped to understand the development of new sculpture techniques and styles that evolved while these temples were built as well as explaining the history of all the temples from construction to present day.
After the museum we headed back to our favorite area of Athens, the roof top restaurants. Again we were treated to great views of the city, the beautiful sunset, and some delicious house wine. We spent the evening relaxing in the cool summer breeze and getting excited to travel to the islands.
The next day we caught the plane to Thira to begin our relaxing stay in the greek isles. The island of Thira sits in the Aegean Sea and is the largest island in an archipelago that formed after an enormous volcanic explosion. The violent eruption effectively destroyed the small settlement on the single island, creating the caldera that exist today. One side of the island has exquisite views of the caldera from high above the cliff top edges while the other side is lined with black sand beaches. The white walled architecture and blue domed roofs are exactly what we pictured this greek isle paradise would be. This would be our last island of the trip and we were excited to be here.
A van picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to Firastafini, a small town north of the main city, Fira. Our hotel was small and colorful with traditional cave rooms and amazing caldera views. We were greeted by a friendly receptionist who gave a room upgrade that had a beautiful view of the caldera and the town of Fira sitting along the rocky hill side. We spent the day exploring the cobbled walkway that connected to the two towns.
The next morning we awoke to exciting times, the day we would finally be reunited with family. McKenna’s mom met us at the hotel, fresh from a long day of travel all the way from Portland. It was a joyful reunion between mother and daughter, it had been almost 7 months since we had last seen Jan. We spent the rest of the day catching up with her, walking the cobbled streets, dinning at a great restaurant called Mama Thira’s, and enjoying the beautiful suset on the island.
The next day we set out to meet up with more family, Mckenna’s aunt and her fiancé. The main reason we came to this island was to see Kristie and Mike tie the knot. We all met up just outside of Fira and headed into town to do some shop browsing and eat lunch. We found a lovely rooftop place to gather for lunch, this time the view was of the other side of the island and just as gorgeous. That evening Kristie and Mike ventured off on a dinner cruise (which is a hilarious story and you should ask them about it if you see them), while we ducked into a quite Santorini spot to escape the blistering winds and tried the traditional moussaka. It is an eggplant dish with potato, beef, and cheese, all baked in a clay pot with some sweet and savory spices. It was delicious!
The next was the day of the wedding, and while the sky was blue and the sun was shinning, the wind had picked up with tremendous force. The wedding was set for the evening so we had a full day to explore the island. We rented a car and headed out to the small town of Oia to do some sight seeing. This beautiful town sits on the northern tip of the island and is home to several of the most photographed churches in greece. With the white and blue color scheme and the view of the caldera it was easy to see what draws people to this amazing place. After a few hours of shopping and lunch we headed north on the island up to the ruins of an old castle. It took awhile to find, but we eventually made it. It was just in time to get rained on, so we hurried back down the hill to the car and headed back to the hotels get ready for the big event.
The wedding went on as scheduled, the rain had cleared and the sun was setting up for the perfect badkdrop. The wind, however, failed to get the message. It kept right on blowing with force. The wedding was moved indoors and the bride and groom exchanged their vows with a beautiful sunset in the background, so not all was lost. After the ceremony we spent a few minutes braving the wind to snap some photos on the back porch over looking th caldera. These photographs turned out to be a mess of hair and great smiles. No wedding photos ever had such genuine smiles before this. What could have been a downer of situation, evolved into a memorable moment with family and friends laughing and enjoying everything the wind could throw at us, which was mostly our hair back in our faces.
That evening we ventured into Fira to celebrate the new couples nuptials at a wonderful greek restaurant hand picked by the event planner. Everything was perfect, the bride and groom were met with a traditional throwing of rice, we drank lots house white wine and the food was great. It was a fitting evening to wonderful day and we wish Kristie and Mike all the best!
The next morning we still had the car for one last day and decided to seek out the black sand beach, the red sand beach, and a winery, of course! First stop were the black sand beaches of Kamari. The beach was full of sun bathers enjoying a break from the wind and soaking up the hot sun. We enjoyed one of our best lunches on this beach. Before heading to the other side of the island to see the red sand we drove up the windiest road on the island to the oldest settlement on the island. An ancient city rests on top of the mountain here and when we finally reached the top, we discovered it had closed about 30 minutes prior to our arrival.
Not to be deterred on this day we set out to find the red sand beach. The red sand beach sits just down form the ruins of Akrotri and wouldn’t you know our luck? The tide had rolled in and we were unable to fully experience the red sands. Strike 2 on the day, but again we pushed through. On our way back we were determined to find a winery with a veranda and picturesque view of the caldera. After passing up several wineries along the way we finally found the one we all were hoping for. We sipped some tasty white wine while viewing the caldera from high above. It was a great cap to a day of a few hits and a few misses.
After a long day we still had wedding duty. The wind had died down considerably so we returned to the same wedding spot to snap some more photos without our hair in our faces. It was a great photo shoot and the couple finally had their Greek Wedding moment captured the way they had dreamed of. After the photography session we stopped in next door to the local cantina and dined on some delicious mexican food. We couldn’t resist a comfort meal, after all mexican food is the one treat we have missed the most on this trip.
The next day we began the strangest part of this entire trip, separate destinations. Scott would be heading off to Spain to meet his brother and McKenna and Jan would be heading to Italy. As we separated for the first time in nearly 7 months it felt strange and sad. We have experienced so much together and to now be venturing off on our own was a little surreal.
McKenna & Scott