Adventures in Greece (Part 1)

Greece was really amazing, guys. Thanks for praying for us and being excited with us.

One way to know for sure that it’s going to be a great trip is finding that the airline you’re flying (Turkish Airlines) has individual foot rests. I just can’t even tell you what a game changer this was for me. It even adjusted to various heights, and I’m pretty sure it’s the main reason I was able to sleep for much of the 10 hour flight that left Boston at 11:30pm. I can hardly ever sleep on an airplane.

And then there was the food.

A week or so before the trip I was looking up “Turkish Airlines amenities” and found that you could order special meals for special diets – gluten free in my case.  I really despise having to be “high maintenance” in the food department, and oftentimes just choose to bring my own snacks, so I don’t have to make a scene inquiring about accommodations. I’ve actually tried to request meals before with other airlines who promised, but did not deliver in the end.  Not so with these folks.

The flight attendant knew just where the “special meal” people were seated and pulled out special trays with our names on them. We did not have to ask or remind.  Amazing.

That’s fish, red potatoes, peas and carrots, fruit salad, some kind of tomato/eggplant salad with feta, green salad with chicken on top, a rice cake, a small jar of honey, and inside the packet of utensils was butter and a wedge of hard cheese. The things that were supposed to be hot, were hot, and the things that were supposed to be cold were cold. It was delicious, and about 5 hours later, they served us another meal for breakfast that was equally amazing.

But you’d probably rather read about our destination…

It’s just that I really love food, and so I won’t be able to talk about Greece without mentioning and posting photos of the food. The local and traditional Greek food is even one reason I was interested in going there. Olives, olive oil, yogurt, meats, cheeses, hummus. Though I learned that hummus is not really Greek.  Syrian, most likely. The Middle Eastern countries. That’s where hummus comes from. The word hummus is Arabic for chickpea. Though, there is a lot of crossover when it comes to foods in that general region.

The main difference between our typical food routine and the Greek one was breakfast. We eat eggs and bacon and potatoes; they eat pastries. I have to tell you, life would have been a lot easier if we could have eaten pastries. Pastries and espresso, this is the Greek breakfast.

Fortunately, there are some local restaurants that cater to big-breakfast people, and we hit the jackpot on our first day in Athens. The place was called Meliartos, and was just down the street from the Acropolis.

Espresso, Cappuccino Freddo (iced), beautiful glass bottle of ice cold water, Greek yogurt with honey, and Greek Scrambled eggs. So, so good.

And like I mentioned before, plenty of Starbucks in town – really all in view of the Acropolis, but this one was probably the one with the most direct line of sight. We only went once for iced tea, electrical outlets, and wifi.

And not to worry…PLENTY of “You Are Here” mugs to collect from your travels.

I promise, we did see some sights on that first day, but we also drank another iced cappuccino while we waited for our Athens Walking Tour group to assemble.

We also seemed to hit the tour-guide jackpot. Ours was a man who was extremely knowledgeable, and spent from 11am until 3:30pm with us, which is about an hour and a half longer than the tour is advertised. It enabled us to skip the very long line to buy a ticket and enter the Acropolis area, and provided all of the details on the major sites along the way to the top and once there. I would not recommend trying to visit the Acropolis on your own, unless you happen to be an expert on all things ancient Greece and Rome. (Which I know a couple of you probably are, but not most.) Reading Percy Jackson does not really count, but it would certainly help.

There are many sites along the way to the top and at the top of the Acropolis, which just means “high part of the city” really. Many cities had an acropolis.

akros “highest, upper”  + polis “city”

I’ll just show a few photos/sites here…

Theatre of Herodes Atticus. It is located at the south slope of the Acropolis and was added in 161 AD during Roman rule. The theatre was built by Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Roman, in memory of his wife Regilla. It has exceptional acoustic capacities and can sit up to 5,000 spectators. (Source: www.greeka.com) Sinatra, Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, and Diana Ross (and many others) have all performed here. We also saw the Theatre of Dionysus on the way up which held more like 15,000 in its day being near the bottom of the Acropolis with seating up the hillside.
Erechtheion On the north side of the Acropolis, it was erected in 421-406 BC as a replacement of an earlier temple dedicated to Athena Polias, the so-called ”Old temple.” This is where, according to the myth, Athena’s sacred snake lived. The sanctuary also contained the grave of Kekrops and the traces of the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of the city of Athens. (Source)
Parthenon It was dedicated to the patron goddess of the city, Athena, since Parthenon means also the apartment of the virgin. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war and also a virgin. The Parthenon is located on the top of the Acropolis hill. It was created between 447 and 432 B.C. (Source: www.greeka.com)
Standing on the Areopagus (Mars Hill). Acropolis in the background.

Coming down from the Acropolis, the Areopagus was next on the tour – or Mars Hill – probably from “Ares” the Roman name of the god, Mars, and “pagus” meaning rock. Ares Rock in Latin or Mars Hill in Greek, I suppose.

Our guide wasn’t planning to have us walk to the top, but he clearly didn’t know who he was working with, because not standing on Mars Hill was not an option for the Bible nerds in the group. (See Acts 17:22-34) He gladly obliged, and then gave us the insider information that people like to watch the sunset from the top. We finally did that on day three.

I’m sure that sunset viewing from Mars Hill was a top priority for the Apostle Paul, too. Or not.

The Apostle Paul’s “Men of Athens” sermon.

After Mars Hill we walked next door to the Agora – or marketplace. Every city had one of these as well, but this one is best known for it’s philosophical debates, the beginnings of democracy, and lots more. Here’s a good description of its importance in the 6th-1st centuries BC:

…the heart of the government and the judiciary, as a public place of debate, as a place of worship, and as marketplace, played a central role in the development of the Athenian ideals, and provided a healthy environment where the unique Democratic political system took its first wobbly steps on earth. During this time, the Agora’s political, cultural, and economic influence shaped some of the most important decisions undertaken in the shaping of what we commonly call today Western Civilization. (ancient-greece.org)

Temple of Hephaestus located in the Agora – He was the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes.

This is where Socrates was exposing faulty logic and weak worldviews (and corrupting the youth?!) with his incessant questions. It’s probably where Plato, his famous student, was developing his ideas of transcendent Forms known only by reason, whereas his pupil, Aristotle decided that reality was not dependent on those universal forms.

And yes, I had to look those guys up for a refresher. You’d think after many years of tutoring Classical Conversations and several grad level philosophy and theology courses I would remember those important ideas, but philosophy still feels Greek to me!

And I haven’t taken Greek yet, so it makes perfect sense.

The Stoa of Attalos Also in the Agora, the Stoa became the major commercial building or shopping center in the Agora and was used for centuries, from its construction in around 150 B.C. until its destruction at the hands of the Herulians in A.D. 267. (Source)

We were starving after this almost 5 hour tour, so we got an early dinner at a nearby restaurant and did some shopping. Leather sandals, olive oil, olive wood, olives, and honey – these were the contents of most every shop, just in various forms and brands, and we bought a little bit of each to bring home as gifts.A trip to Corinth and more food were on the agenda for the next two days in Athens, so I’ll be back soon with more pics and details.

Truly an amazing adventure.

Greece Is The Word (One More Week!)

I couldn’t help myself with that title. You guys know it refers to one of my favorite childhood movies and musicians, because even at age eight I was already a big Olivia fan. Thankfully, almost all innuendos were completely lost on me at the time. Being in second grade meant it was all purely “isn’t she so pretty?” and “isn’t her voice so beautiful?” and “aren’t they so romantic?”

Now, forty years later, I can be much more spiritual (though I can still quote the movie) and say that my title here refers to the WORD (God’s Word in the New Testament, that is) being originally written in Greek. So, Greek is the Word…or the Word is in Greek.

The point is, we’re going to Greece!

(Lord willing, of course. And there have been a few twinges of fear and apprehension that it might not be His will, but so far, so good.)

 It’s an anniversary trip, and we leave on August 1 (one week from today!) which will be our actual 25th wedding anniversary.

One afternoon in April after an out-of town trip, Robert had a freshly cleaned house these things waiting for me on the table when I arrived home.

25 years of marriage seemed to us like something to celebrate, something to commemorate in a special way, and we’ve really never done anything quite like this before – well, except for that one time we went to Switzerland almost 10 years ago. (Hi, Romy!)

My memory is fuzzy on our 5th anniversary – probably because we had a two year old (Kory) and an infant (3 month old Cooper) at the time, but I think we may have gone to a bed & breakfast in Guthrie, Oklahoma. (Not exactly a romantic destination.) Robert’s parents stayed at our house in Stillwater with Kory, and we took Cooper with us.

On our 10th anniversary, a group of college students and grads from our church here in Massachusetts were helping us move into the house we still live in.  At the end of a hot and sweaty day, they gave us a box of Reynold’s Wrap (#10 is the aluminum anniversary 😉 ) and a gift certificate to a couple of nice restaurants in nearby Northampton. I remember hearing Twila Paris’ “How Beautiful (Is the Body of Christ)” in the background that day, and thinking that though it was not an “ideal” celebration, God had given us a family in these students and young adults. He’d given us laughter, too, in that box of tin foil.

Anniversary #15 was spent at The Copley Square Hotel in Boston and doing things in Boston we had never done because of having small kiddos – a Duck Tour and The Blue Man Group. It was three days and nights, I believe. We were so happy to sit for hours in cafes just talking or quietly reading.

Sunshine!

For Anniversary #20 we went to Bustins Island off the coast of Maine. I was very leery about this due to it only being accessible by ferry (all food and water had to be carried in) and not really having any electricity, but friends offered it, the price was affordable ($0.00), and Robert agreed to shop for and cook all meals. (I was pretty skeptical about that.) It turned out to be an incredible getaway, and kayaking around the island at sunset? Well, Sandy and Danny only came close to that kind of romance in Grease. (Oh, and Robert did indeed take care of all the food and even let me beat him at Scrabble a few times.)

I’ve been dreaming of visiting Greece for several years. I think it’s a combination of missing the sun so much after nearly two decades in New England as well as becoming more and more interested in biblical history and geography. Where better to indulge in both loves?

Greece is the word.

More sunshine! (So exciting, after a very rainy summer here.)

When we began dreaming about a vacation for anniversary #25 way back in October, our first thought was Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. (Greece seemed a bit unrealistic at the time.) That way we could stop for a couple of days in Palm Springs to visit our newest niece, Taya, and then head out for a warm, beach vacation. I texted my brother for some insider info on the resort island. He agreed to send me an email with plenty of ideas, but when he found out our other idea was to go to Greece, he said, “You’re trying to decide between Catalina and Greece? Go to Greece.”

In his mind it was a no-brainer.

Still not convinced, we looked up August’s average temperatures for both places.

Athens, Greece = 85 degrees.

Catalina Island = 75 degrees.

History, archaeology, architecture, and my brother’s advice aside, I was convinced. Oh, how I love 85 degrees. I can have 75 degrees on the beach in Massachusetts or Maine anytime, shivering in my hoodie all day. I’m not even packing a hoodie for Greece. (Well, maybe for the plane.)

We still didn’t think we could swing the financial aspect of  a trip like that, but an unexpected tax return and our camp paychecks enabled us to book all flights and Airbnb lodgings. It didn’t hurt that nearly every Airbnb listing in Athens said something like this: “$37.oo a night. View of Acropolis.”

Crazy.

It was so hard to limit ourselves to visiting only one island, but after much comparison and reading up on them, the biggest one, Crete (we’ll be in Chania), was the winner.

Having already booked travel to and lodging in Athens and Chania, Crete, last week we were finally able to sit down together and create a more detailed itinerary for our trip. It was so much fun, and we can hardly wait!

Here are some things we have planned…

Thursday, August 3: Skip the Line: Walking Tour of Acropolis, Ancient Agora, and Attalos Museum

Friday, August 4: Gourmet Food Walking Tour in Athens

Saturday, August 5: Corinth Half Day Tour From Athens

Sunday we’ll fly from Athens to Chania, Crete (attend a church service?) and explore the city.

Monday, August 7: Hike the Samaria Gorge and stay overnight in Agia Roumeli

Tuesday, August 8: Return to Chania. Afternoon/evening Boat/Swimming Tour.

Wednesday, August 9: Half day trip to Monastery of Agia Triada

Thursday, August 10: Return to Massachusetts

You know, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Acropolis.

Out of curiosity, I looked to see if there are any Starbucks stores in Athens. Silly me. There are actually six, but we have agreed to not drink their coffee or tea. It will be strictly local cafes and markets for us over the next two weeks, however, I may have to purchase an Athens “You Are Here” mug.

As exciting as all of this trip dreaming and planning is, I can honestly say there is no one I’d rather experience it all with than my husband of 25 years, and I thank God for that gift. To be happily married and longing for more time together in faraway lands is a truly gift. We could never have maintained this kind of love and affection and devotion in and of ourselves.  We know it comes from God, and we can’t wait to celebrate His generosity toward us with a very exciting adventure next week.

So, now that I think of it…

Gift is the word.

And the Giver is so good.