Greece Is The Word

(Greece – 27 March 2014) – Our excitement about going to Greece had good reason to double. Not only would we be visiting some of the prettiest places on Earth, we would also be meeting up with family. Jessica’s daughter- Mallorie, her boyfriend- Brandon, and nieces- Leanne and Mickaela, scheduled a two-week vacation to coincide with the Greece and Italy portions of our year-long travel. (This post covers just the Greece portion.)

Our first visitors from the US! A concrete link to home! For so many months this was a piece of our trip we were intently looking forward to. Especially Jessica, who would be seeing Mallorie for the first time in eight months. So much anticipation and now….finally, the moment was upon us.

All Rhodes Lead to Greece

Our rendezvous with Mallorie and the crew was to take place in Athens. This meant Jessica and I would have a week to burn in Greece before their arrival. Our first landing on Greek soil was on the Island of Rhodes. Funny how the advertised 50 minute ferry from Turkey lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes, but whatever. It was yet another blue sky day and we were in no particular hurry.

We had only an afternoon and night to spend on Rhodes before boarding another ferry, so we took full advantage of our time. A short walk from our hotel we found a pebble beach. We thought the water was too cold for swimming, but those hardy Greeks did not agree. A dozen or more swimmers were frolicking in the frigid water like it was mid-August. Not willing to be outdone, I went in for a quick dip myself. Zowie! My chest felt like it was collapsing. Greeks, you win!

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That is Turkey in the distance.
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The water was cold and clear.
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From the beach we wandered inside the fortressed walls of the old city.
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The ferry from Rhodes to Santorini (our ultimate Greek island destination) was leaving at 6:00 AM the next morning. For whatever reason, the instructions on our tickets said to arrived 1 1/2 hours before departure. Are you serious?! That’s 4:30 in the painful AM! But it gets worse. That meant our wake-up time would come around 3:20 am or so. You people think traveling is all fun and games? Not always, my friends.

At least we were smart and upgraded our tickets to have a sweet cabin for this 23 hour voyage. As soon as we boarded, we went directly to our cabin and finished sleeping.
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Island Hopping in Greece

This was no Carnival Cruise so there were not too many onboard “activities.” Our biggest thrills came whenever the ferry would touch ‘n go at any of its many ports-of-call. Picturesque fishing/vacation villages growing from tidy little harbors, planted on sloped hillsides like model miniatures.

These are all different Greek Island ports.
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Almost worth framing? (Click on this, or any of the photos to enlarge)
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The TV inside our room displayed a map of the Greek Islands with a blinking arrowed marker representing our ship. This enabled us to follow our progress from island to island across the Aegean Sea. We lost track of the names belonging to each island, but that didn’t matter. They were all living postcards.

After 12 hours crossing we arrived to the island of Crete, an island so large that we made stops at two of its ports, each separated by three more hours on the water. After departing Crete, we retired to our cabins for the final stretch and slept until 4 AM when a knock on our door announced Santorini was near.

Santorini- The Quintessential Greek Island

We all know that iconic picture of Greece- the white-painted houses with blue trim, clinging to steep cliff-sides that rise out of sparkling turquoise waters. Even though nearly every building on the Greek island of Santorini is painted white, it still took us several days before we found “the iconic spot.”

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Riding around the beautiful island on a scooter was tops on our list of to-do’s. We split the 24 hour rental over two days, enabling us to explore one side of the island in an afternoon and the opposite side the next morning. It worked out perfectly. We scooted up one of the highest hills to the ancient city of Thera; only dismal ruins remain, but my-oh-my what a view!

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Of course, when the ancient Therans lived on this hilltop many centuries ago, I imagine fewer vacation homes lined the shores.
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Jessica and I walked amid the ruins of the ancient city of Thera.
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From the ruins we cruised down to the black sand beach below. The chilly breeze made sunbathing a challenge, but I enjoyed lying directly on the warmth of the black sand.
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Finding the red sand beach proved tricky. It must be at the base of this rich red cliff, right? We saw no easy way down to the water, so we settled for this photo.
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The Island of Santorini is crescent-shaped. Or more like a circular ring with some missing pieces. The Santorini islands formed after a cataclysmic volcanic eruption event some 3,600 years ago. In the center of the “ring” is the exhausted heart of the volcano. It rises above the water-line and still shows signs of a pulse; we saw (and smelled) the sulphur-laced steam that continues to escape from volcanic vents. The only excursion we did while in Santorini was to take a boat ride to this volcanic center of the caldera.
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Another world.
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Meet-up in Greece

Plans had been underway for many months. Mallorie, Brandon, Leanne and Mickaela were coming to travel with us for the next two weeks. They all flew together from LAX to Paris for a stopover, and then onward to Athens. Jessica and I flew from Santorini to Athens and were waiting at the airport for their arrival.

It was late at night when Mallorie and crew arrived, their bodies dazed and confused by the drastic time-changes. A good-sized metro ride later and we’d reached our Athens hotel for the first of two nights.

Our hotel was well-located for seeing Athens’ biggest tourist attractions- the Acropolis (that includes the Parthenon), the Forum and the National Archeological Museum. From our hotel we had just six city blocks to walk down (on Athena Street) before the downtown streets were taken over by souvenir shops and tourist-trap cafes. People from all over the world merged by the thousands at the base of the Acropolis…and it wasn’t even busy season yet.

The problem with Athens is that every part of it not in the immediate vicinity of the Acropolis doesn’t look good. There is graffiti written on top of graffiti and the interior city streets look mean and do-not-go-there scary. Thank goodness the historical sites are as awesome as they are, otherwise, I’m not sure anyone would ever visit Athens in its current state.

The acropolis is quite an imposing site from any angle.
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Gyros for everyone!
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Rebuilt building in the Forum doubles as a museum and fun house.
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Mykonos

From Athens the six of us flew to the Greek island of Mykonos. We were met at the airport by the energetic and happy woman that ran our hostel. A German ex-pat named Kristina, she told us that 30 years ago she visited Mykonos on vacation and never went back.

It is easy to see how Mykonos could have that effect on someone. It’s beautiful. Panoramic vistas abound. There were six of us traveling together now so we filled up two adjacent rooms connected by a small common area. Our balconies were side-by-side, both facing the beach below. We were situated half-way up a hill so the view stretched quite a distance out over the sparkling blue waters.

Our balconies faced west so the sunsets were particularly awesome.
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Leanne and Mickaela are lit up by the orange sunset.
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To the Beaches!

To assist our exploration of the island, we rented one scooter and a pair of four-wheeled ATVs. It was quite a nervous riot getting everyone squared-away on their horses- Brandon drove with Mallorie on the back of ATV #1 and Leanne took the helm of ATV#2 with Mickaela excitedly hanging on for dear life. None of our machines were fast and we had to favor the right shoulder to let cars, trucks, and buses pass us up, but slower was better for this group of daredevils.

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Exploring Mykonos meant visiting as many beaches as we could find. With our little map and my uncanny sense of direction, we rolled our little caravan up to one beach after another. For the most part, we had every stretch of beach to ourselves since tourist season was still a couple of weeks away. A friendly cat joined our beach party.
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Beach jumping pics are always worthy.
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Video-bomber!

Mickaela and Leanne were determined not to let the chilly blue water dissuade them from taking a dip. Not to be outdone, I took a brief turn in the surf, too. In the pic below, Leanne has already exited the water. Mickaela, who was especially fearless, swims calmly like it’s mid-summer.
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At the next beach, I talked everyone into hiking to the top of a dramatic overlook.
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Something about traveling pants?
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Athens and Mykonos took up just half of the vacation time Mallorie and the gang allotted for their trip. Still ahead was Italy. Saying goodbye to Greece was challenging. We did the rounds among the group with the question, “Do you ever think you will come to Greece again?” I think everyone said yes, but for sure Mickaela’s yes was the most emphatic.

The same happy host, Kristina, drove us back to the tiny Mykonos airport when our stay was done. Good-byes were traded and the dye was cast on Greece. Next up, Venice, Florence and Rome. Don’t go away.

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