Adventures in Greece: Part 3

These Greece posts are reminding me of my grandpa’s old slide shows – which were everything from their recent travels to Hawaii to our birthday parties from years passed. He’d load the round tray of slides just right, set up the screen, turn off all the lights, and narrate as we laughed or ooohhhed and aaahhhhed. He called them “cartoons.”  That was his trick for getting us interested in his show…”Want to watch some cartoons?”

Agia Roumeli, Crete – More on this below!

So, thanks for watching my cartoons, guys. Pretty sure I inherited the show-and-tell gene from my Poppy, and it’s been fun to share these adventures with you.

(Pretty sure I inherited the adventure gene from him, too.)

We stayed three floors up from where this photo was taken. Though you can’t see it, that paved walkway leads right to the sea.

Our last three days in Greece may have been my favorite? Hard to say. Definitely different and definitely more of a true adventure.

Probably THE best breakfast I’ve ever tasted. Something about the flavor/spice/ingredient combinations made it so delicious.

To our great disappointment, we lost a whole day in Crete due to missing our early morning flight there from Athens. We waited standby for an afternoon flight, but did not get on. Then we waited standby for a 10pm flight, but figured we’d probably be sleeping in the airport, because it was also a full flight and all passengers had checked in. We were booked on a 5am flight the following morning, hence the plan to sleep in the airport. There aren’t really any hotels near the Athens airport, and it didn’t seem worth it to Uber ($) back to the city, pay more $$ for a hotel, sleep there for 3-4 hours, and then Uber ($) back to the airport at 3am to catch a 5am flight.

We prayed for mercy, especially when a construction crew pulled out nail guns and jack hammers to begin overnight construction in our terminal. Sitting right next to the gate agent desk, we watched the passengers walk out and board the bus that would take them to the plane. After a while the gate agents started paging two passengers who had not yet boarded. More paging. More paging…

Then we started to get winks and nods from those gate agents. Then they told us we could board! I had been corresponding with our Airbnb hosts the whole time, so I sent one last message that we had boarded and would be there around 11:30pm. They left us a key, and we were never so thankful for a bed.We spent our first day in Crete walking around Old Town Chania (built under Venetian rule), sitting on the nearby beach with iced cappuccinos, swimming, and going for a glass bottom boat tour that included more swimming along the way. Swimming and a boat trip were two things I really wanted to do while we were in Greece, but we were glad we only did the 1.5 hour boat trip with one swimming stop rather than the 3 hour boat trip with three swimming stops. No octopodes, though. Those were on the 3 hour trip.

Oh well.

Greece is one of the world’s main exporters of sea sponges
Even Chania, Crete has a Starbucks. All we did there was take this photo.


After the beach and boat, we spent the evening shopping for a few last souvenirs as well as snacks for our next adventure, and then ate dinner overlooking the harbor.We set our alarms for 4:15am that night in order to catch an early morning bus for the Samaria Gorge National Park. The 1.5 hour bus ride was pretty amazing, and I wondered if I ought to awaken the German students across the aisle from us so they wouldn’t miss the gorgeous views. (I didn’t)
Most people hike the ten mile gorge (the longest one Europe) from top to bottom, which is why our bus dropped us at the top of the park’s mountainous range. This is what the first several miles of the trail looked like.
Thyme grows wild all along the gorge, and it is the main plant used by honeybees for pollen and nectar. (The honey is delicious!) Oregano grows in wild abundance in Greece as well.

The hike took us just over 6 hours, and midway through we were in desperate need of more fuel. It was nearly 100 degrees that day. Fortunately there are clean mountain spring water stops along the way.(Rustic, squatty-potty toilets, too.) The nectarines and rice cakes are missing from this photo, but here’s our semi-Greek trail lunch: grapes, olives, trail mix, dried/cured camel meat, and cheese – all from Chania’s Agora Marketplace. 

Blooming where it was planted

It was a fairly challenging hike and we kept being surprised by the footwear some people chose for the 10+ mile journey – Tom’s, flip flops, sparkly sandals. We wore our running shoes, and were still very sore three days later.

When we finally made it to the 13k (10 mile) mark, there were vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice. We passed up the first one, ready to get to our final destination – the beach and rural village we’d be staying in that night – but we stopped at the second one, as it sounded so refreshing. And it was! Oranges also grow in abundance there, and our two glasses of juice took about 10 oranges to make. Such a nice treat as we walked the last few kilometers to the sea.
The beach at Agia Roumeli is every Samaria Gorge hiker’s reward. The trail leads right to this spot, and it is just what your sweaty, sunburned, and sore self needs at that moment. We found two vacant lounge chairs under umbrellas, put on our bathing suits in the nearby changing booth, and dipped ourselves immediately into that clear and refreshing water.As we did a little research online about the hike, we read several recommendations regarding staying overnight in Agia Roumeli, rather that taking the ferry back to the bus station that same day. Agia Roumeli is not accessible by car, and the thought of staying there after all the hikers/tourists left sounded so wonderful.

And it was wonderful. We even got to see a full moon rise over the gorge as we walked the abandoned beach all alone (unlike the sunset on Mars Hill!) that evening and went for a moonlight swim.

How will I ever settle for a restaurant that doesn’t serve iced cappuccinos and include a Mediterranean view from now on?

Our Airbnb hosts suggested that, since we were staying the night in Agia Roumeli, we should take the 11:30am ferry and get off at the village of Loutro, the stop before the village where we would catch our bus back to the city. We really had no idea the incredibly beautiful and historical sites we were about to see.

Goodbye, Samaria Gorge and Agia Roumeli.
Loutro, just beside Ancient Phoenix

Turns out Loutro is also ancient Phoenix where Paul hoped “somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.” (Acts 27:12) We had no real recollection of this until we pulled up the Bible App and searched “Crete.” Paul never quite made it to Phoenix, because “a moderate south wind came up, (and) supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.” (v. 13) This is how he ended up shipwrecked on Malta. 

Anyway, we knew Paul had been in Crete and left Titus there to pastor the church, but we didn’t realize we were sailing along the same course he eventually sailed. We could see both the new village of Loutro and the ruins of ancient Phoenix as we sat on this hillside cafe. And the views from the ferry we took to get there were just unbelievable.

And someone was dreaming out loud about what it would take to stay here three months for a sabbatical someday as we sailed along.

Robert was also Snapchatting all along the way……though I’m not sure his Snapchat friends (mostly our children) were as super-impressed as we were!

Watching the ferry leave

Okay ~ end of show-and-tell. End of slide show cartoons. Thanks for indulging me.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and we loved every minute of celebrating 25 years of marriage on this Greece Adventure!

 

Adventures In Greece (Part 2)

When is the last time you touched or stood next to something from the 6th century BC? I remember thinking several times as a little girl how much I would love to be an archaeologist some day (and a professional ice skater), literally digging up and discovering history. Well, I got to at least see the careful work and findings of archaeologists in Greece, and it was pretty exciting.

This is the Temple of Apollo in ancient Corinth, built around 540 BC. Before archaeologists started excavation on this ancient city, these columns were all that could be seen. Monolithic, they are made from single pieces of limestone. Incredible.

On our way to Corinth (which was a half day tour and about an hour from Athens), we stopped at the Corinthian Canal. After nearly 2000 years of vision and attempts, this canal (one of four like it in the world) was completed in 1893.

And here’s where I have to give a shout-out to my history geek major friend, Alena. I sent her a selfie of Robert and myself in front of the canal at about 4am her time, and asked her “Guess Where?” She didn’t even mind, and said she loved waking up to a pic of the CORINTHIAN CANAL.

I mean, doesn’t everyone discuss their spiritual lives AND the Corinthian Canal over coffee in the UMass Campus Center on a regular basis? No? Well, we are just an extra-special duo, I suppose. 😉

Corinth was fairly advanced for a city of its time – running water toilets, bath houses, and more. Here’s some evidence of those things…

We got to see the location of the Corinthian church which Paul started and wrote letters to, and we also stood on the Bema seat. This is the raised platform (for speeches/decrees) before which Paul was brought by the Jews to stand in judgment before Gallio, the proconsul, for “persuading people to worship in ways that are contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:12-17)

We spent some time in the museum there, seeing beautiful pottery and mosaics and statues before taking our bus back to Athens.

Dinner at an outdoor restaurant (of which there must be a million) in one of the shopping markets was our next stop. Greek Salad and Tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, olive oil for dipping) here…

…and “mixed grill” to go with it. Robert was pretty excited about the “mixed grill” which is a plate of piled up, grilled meats with potatoes underneath. So good. Pretty sure we had this for every subsequent dinner with just slight variations.

The next day (and our last one in Athens), we went on a Four Hour Gourmet Food Walking Tour of Athens. So much fun, and incredibly interesting. Very friendly, our guide, Eirini (“Irene” in “American”), was a young woman born and raised in Athens.  She had a lot of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, knew her culture and history so well, and was lots of fun.

After sampling some breakfast items (Robert tried all the gluten savory pies and sweet pastries for me), she took us to the local meat market, the fish market, the nut, seed, and spice market, and the fruit and vegetable market.

They eat a lot of seafood in Greece…a lot of interesting sea food. I don’t know who first saw an octopus and thought it would be a good idea to serve it for dinner, but octopus is a seafood staple in Greece. And squid of all sizes. And eel.

And no, we weren’t THAT adventurous in Greece. I know that will be a disappointment to some of you.

We did eat camel meat, though. Water buffalo, too. We’re from Texas, what can I say? Anything that resembles beef (or venison) seems appropriate to make a meal out of.

 

Eirini liked taunting the crabs with her tongs. “I’m just saying hello,” she insisted, “but they snap at me.”
Nuts, seeds, grains.

Just casually sampling the olive selection. Not staged at all.

Eirene bought tomatoes at the fruit and vegetable market, so that she could make us a Greek salad at our next stop: a local gourmet food shop.

She put up a map of Greece and pointed out various regions while she let us taste olive oils from those regions. After we chose our favorite (Spartan?), she poured it over our salad and then gave it a couple of sprays with a balsamic vinegar/truffle oil combination. Wow.  So delicious.

We also tried plain Greek yogurt with local honey – yum.

Next we visited a delicatessen. Those dark red club shaped hanging meats are pastourma – or cured camel meat. We sat down here for a while for a sample plate of pastourma, water buffalo, stuffed grape leaves, and two different kinds of cheeses. All very good. In fact, we even went to another deli for more camel meat to pack for a ten mile hike we’d go on a couple of days later.

A cafe for Greek coffee was next on the agenda. They don’t really grow coffee in Greece, but they drink a lot of it. There is a big “coffee culture” in Greece. A smoking culture, too, as you can see. Greek coffee is just like Turkish coffee with fine grounds in the bottom of the cup.  You don’t drink them, you pour them out on your saucer and read your fortune in them.

The last stop on the tour was for souvlaki – or what we call gyros here in the states. A gyro is really the contraption you see above – a “gyrating” or rotating skewer of stacked chicken or pork. It cooks from the outside in as it passes by hot grills and is periodically shaved off and put in pita bread – taco style. The meat filled pita (or sometimes a kebob) is called souvlaki. We left the pita and ate the meat and grilled veggies. Delicious.

There was absolutely no need for lunch or dinner this day! We were full, and headed straight to Mars Hill (Areopagus) for that view of the sunset our tour guide had told us about two days prior. It was jam packed with people, but beautiful still. We’d get our private sunset/moonrise viewing a couple of days later in Crete.

From this perch we could see the sunset and part of the city (the domed building is an observatory) to the west and the Acropolis to the east. Pretty amazing.

We absolutely loved our time in Athens and Corinth. Our next adventure was on the largest Greek island, Crete. Stay tuned for the biggest adventure we had on our trip – a missed flight, standby status, last flight out by the skin of our teeth, and a hiking trek through the longest gorge in Europe.

 

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.