A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog on our trip to Greece. Family and friends who read it thought it did not justify the 3.5 weeks that we spent there and recommended that I split it up and dedicate one post per place that we visited. I have retained the original blog for those of you who want a fast read. With Europe slowly limping back to normal since the COVID 19 lockdown and Greece quite enthusiastic about reopening tourism, there cannot be a better time for me to reminisce about that trip and write about it. Hope you enjoy these posts!
To sum it all up in three words – Greece is GRAND!
Few things about the trip that may seem inconsequential, but will nevertheless stay with me forever are:
1) Our first taste of Ouzo and Tsipouro
2) We ran a race in the stadium at Olympia 🙂
3) A swim in the cold (super cold!) waters of the Libyan Sea in Matala, Crete.
4) Feta Feta and more Feta!
5) Catchy Rembatika music
6) A noisy strike near Syntagma Square that brought the metro train service to a halt for a few hours!
7) Traditional sand-brewed Greek coffee made in the tiny briki pot
8) The refreshing scent of orange from the trees that line the streets of Athens.
9) The old man of Iraklion
General tips, tricks and observations:
1) The mainland and all the islands put together can make it very difficult to narrow down a few places to fit into a short trip. But trust me when I say that there’s more to Greece than Santorini and Mykonos. We were in Greece for a little over three weeks and as you can see we barely managed to scratch the surface. Take for instance the island of Crete, it is as big as any country in Europe! So add Crete to your itinerary only if you will spend a few days there. Otherwise it is not worth your time or money.
2) If beach is all you want, there are pretty islands such as Naxos, Rhodes or Hydra which are not too far away from Athens. Even though Athens is a seaside city, the beaches are not clean for swimming. And remember the sea is still very cold in April/May (our Indian summer time).
3) The islands are mostly shut during winter. Ferries and other modes of transport also go into a slumber. They come alive after the Greek Orthodox Easter (which is different from the Easter as per the Gregorian Calendar).
4) The opening/closing timings for sites and museums are different for summer and winter. I can safely say that these places open as early as 8am in summer and close anywhere between 3pm-5pm. Start early. This way you can be ahead of the tourist bus crowds. When they start to arrive you won’t know what hit you!
5) You MUST see a site in conjunction with the museum associated with the site. The museums fill the gaps left by the ruins. The artefacts, reproductions and models in the museums help visualise the grandeur of a site.
6) There is a LOT of walking involved. Lots of steps (monasteries of Meteora), lots of steep slopes (Delphi), lots of ground to cover (Olympia). Museums take up a lot of time too!
7) Take an overnight ferry to/from an island to save on a night’s hotel room fee.
8) Flights and ferries are notorious and known to cancel at the last minute. If you are flying out of Athens, make sure you arrive in Athens a day or two in advance.
9) Athens is known for flash strikes that can paralyse your commute. Tune in to the news and stay informed.
10) Great highway network makes driving a pleasure, except in Crete, where the local driving style can catch you unawares 🙂
11) When you visit the archaeological sites in Greece, the exhibit panels may seem like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. So it is good to know a few ‘tech-words’ that you will commonly find across most sites and museums.
- Agora or Forum – a meeting place, a market
- Cella – inner room of a temple that contains statue of a diety
- Column types – the simplest is Doric, a plain jane column, the Ionic column has simple scrolls at the top end (capital) of the column and the Corinthian column is the most elaborate with double layer of scrolls and leaves on the capital.
- Pediment – the triangular structure typically found on the top of a set of columns of a building
- Propylon or Propylaea – a grand entrance to a building such as Acropolis
- Sanctuary – is a site of religious significance.
- Stoa – covered walkway
- Tholos – A circular temple
- Treasury – a place to hold the Votive offerings
- Votive – Thanksgiving offerings to Gods after, say, winning a war or the Olympics or when a wish was granted. Votives could be small or big or grand depending on the financial status of the person/family/city/ruler.
- Zeus and family – Zeus is the king of Gods and resides in Mount Olympus. Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Hermes are among his children (and there are many more, born of wives and divine lovers). The city of Athens is named after Athena (or is it not?).