“unique sunset view” near akrotírion

Wednesday, September 5: After deciding I don’t have the energy to stay in Oia for sunset, I drive south on the island and go back to Villa Galinia, where I take a short nap.  I  shower because I’m all hot and sweaty, and then I head up the island again to look for a good sunset view near my hotel in the south.

the “Unique View Sunset”

…becomes more and more “unique” by the second!

I come across a place called “Unique Sunset View.”  This is a place set up expressly for the purpose of viewing the sunset.  All the chairs face out toward the sea.  I happen to sit beside a British couple from Northampton, southeast of London, who are at the end of their week-long holiday.  They tell me about some of the things they have done here in Santorini;  one of them is taking a traditional boat tour to the volcano.  They say I should do that.  They also tell me about Perissa and some of the nice beaches on the outer side of the island.

I think this must be the “UNIQUE VIEW” ~ through the white arch 🙂

or maybe this is the “unique view” ~ over the balcony…

or maybe the “unique view” is through the umbrellas and other people’s heads!

I order a glass of red wine and a vegetable crepe, which is mediocre.  However, it’s great to have the companionship of this friendly couple as we watch the sun glide slowly from the sky.  It’s quite a lovely view and I enjoy the evening, despite the poor quality of the food.

me at the “Unique Sunset View”

other folks in the audience

Soon after the sunset, the British couple leaves to go eat a real dinner, but the crepe is enough for me since I had that bruschetta so late in the afternoon.  I return to Villa Galinia, where I open my window to the sea breeze, read a book, and drop off into a sweet sleep.

going, going….

…gone.

 

a sleepy afternoon in oia. {chapter three.}

Wednesday, September 5:   I spend the rest of the afternoon in Oia wandering around, popping in and out of shops, taking pictures, and trying to keep myself awake so I can make it till sunset.  It’s 4:00 in the afternoon, still 3 hours to wait.  The sun is beating down on me and I am fading fast.  If my hotel was in Oia, I could go take a nap and then come back out, but if I give up now, I will have to drive all the way back to the south of the island and I’ll miss Oia’s famous sunset.

Click on any image in the gallery to get a full-sized slideshow.

I stop in at a little internet cafe, just so I can sit for a bit.  The young exuberant Greek shopkeeper, when he finds out I’m American, tells me he is going to America to work.  Feeling a little jaded about the U.S. economy, I ask him what he will do there.  He says, “Make a lot of money!”  Hmmm.   Does he know the situation in the USA right now?  He tells me there is a large Greek community in Astoria, New York, so he will go for six months, make big bucks, and come back.  He doesn’t say what kind of work he will do.  I’m a little skeptical but I don’t want to burst his bubble.

I realize I am just too tired to walk around for 3 more hours.  The big bruschetta lunch, along with the beer, did me in.  I decide to leave and drive back to Villa Galinia.   Oh well, maybe I will see the sunset tonight in Akrotírion, after taking a nap, and I’ll just come back to Oia another night.

bruschetta & beer in oia. {chapter two}

Wednesday, September 5:  As the afternoon stretches on and heats up in Oia, I decide I better get something to eat before I keel over.  It hits me that I have been up since 5:00 a.m. for my travel from Crete, so I stop at a beautiful cafe overlooking the pristine village spilling down the caldera wall.  I want to eat, drink, and inhale the fresh air and the atmosphere that is Santorini.

time for a late lunch…so enticing in the afternoon heat…

the view from my table. 🙂

my lunchtime view

The cafe is quiet except for two British couples who are having a feast nearby.  I order a Greek beer and some bruschetta, smothered with tomatoes, olives and feta cheese, and drizzled with olive oil.

bruschetta in Oia

food with a view. what could be better?

I want a light snack because I am still hoping to have dinner at a restaurant here in Oia during sunset.  However, this plate of bruschetta, smothered in olive oil, turns out to be quite filling.  Plus, I should know better than to have a beer in the afternoon.  As the heat of the afternoon wraps around me, and the delicious bruschetta fills my stomach, the beer adds its soothing effect.  Pretty soon, I am feeling quite drowsy.

watching the ships roll in, and I’ll watch them roll away again…

the sunlight glimmers on the water below…

getting sleepy…

I’m interrupted from my drowsiness by the sight of the donkey-riding garbage collector.

the garbage collector rides a donkey!

I’m feeling very relaxed after this amazing lunch.  How will I make it here in Oia until sunset?

the picturesque village of oia, santorini. {chapter one}.

Wednesday, September 5:  Even though I’m at the southernmost end of Santorini, I decide I will start my exploration at the northwestern-most tip, with Oia (pronounced ee-ah), and then work my way down.  I also decide I want to see the sun set at each point (north, center and south) in the three nights I am here.  I’ll start with sunset in Oia tonight; Thursday, I’ll watch sunset in Fira, and Friday night I’ll see the view from Akrotírion.  This is my plan, anyway.

looks like some kind of official building

stairway to heaven

I love the multitudes of wrought iron doors… 🙂

So, I leave the hotel in my little car, and zip up the island.  I come to the crowded town of Fira, where I have to make my way slowly through throngs of young sun-bronzed European couples, hand in hand.  Numerous times on the road, I pass couples riding together on Quads/ATVs, motor scooters, mopeds, and motorbikes, their hair dancing in the wind.  After I see people riding on these ATVs, I wish I had known about them. I would have rented one of these myself!  Of course I would have had a hard time hauling my suitcase on one, but if I had made it to the hotel with my suitcase, an ATV would have been the perfect mode of transportation. If I ever go back to Santorini, I will rent one of these four-wheeled vehicles.  I don’t care how old I am!

Churches and blue domes are abundant here…

flowers and white & blue buildings everywhere!

stairways to the sea

church bells and blue & white: the color of the day

In Oia, I have no destination, but I will just wander through the town and see what there is to see.  Hopefully, I can kill time until the 7:00 or 7:30 sunset, where I can eat at an outdoor cafe, wine in hand, and watch the sun fall into the water.  Well, that’s not quite how it works, but I will talk about that later.

stairways to windmills

church bells, windmills, blue & white in Oia. {Santorini}

near and far

white buildings cascading down the caldera

In the town, I stroll and admire the beautiful views, snapping photos along the way.  The views that people see in most photographs from Santorini are taken in Oia; it’s the most picturesque of the whole island.

looking down the slopes of the caldera to a boat in the Aegean Sea

windmills in Oia

cobblestone lanes leading to white windmills

umbrellas and the sea

In 1956 a major earthquake near Amorgos island resulted in the demolishing of many buildings in the north of Santorini, leading people to desert its villages.  Oia reflects the rebirth of Santorini following this earthquake.  Between the restoration of the buildings and the focus on upscale tourism, Oia is now one of the most beautiful villages in the Cyclades.

looking down on the sea from Oia

Oia

The village is built on a steep slope of the caldera, and many dwellings sit in niches cut into the porous volcanic rock.  The town is noted for its picturesque architecture: its medieval Venetian houses, a throwback to Venetian rule over the island, and small in-cave village homes.  There is a large Catholic population here, as well as medieval fortifications to protect from pirates.

lanes of Oia

I stroll about in Oia until I decide I’m hungry and I stop to eat a very late lunch….

villa galinia in akrotírion, santorini

Wednesday, September 5:  I arrive at my hotel, Villa Galinia, in Akrotírion within a half hour after I get my rental car.  I’m anxious to deposit my stuff and start exploring Santorini.  Akrotírion, as I said in an earlier post, is at the far southern end of Santorini, away from the bustle and crowds of Fira and the picturesque beauty of Oia.  Akrotírion has a different kind of beauty altogether, not like the whitewashed villages up north, but more like the earth-toned buildings and landscape of Crete.  I like the area’s windswept beauty, its southern view of the sea and the caldera, and its relative seclusion from the crowds.  This place becomes my peaceful little oasis while in Santorini.

the entrance to Villa Galinia

the outdoor “lobby” at Villa Galinia

cool wind chimes outside reception

the pool at Villa Galinia

the outdoor dining area

stairs leading to my room

The owners are a married Greek couple.  The wife is sweet and welcoming, despite the fact that she neither speaks nor understands much English.  She takes good care of me, and I know she has a gentle heart.

my room

another view of my room

the view from my balcony

a “room” with a view

the lovely pool

the view of the caldera from Villa Galinia

This hotel is only 35 euros a night, the cheapest place I stay in Greece, and it includes breakfast.  Though the location is on the outskirts of the action, with a car, I find it is no problem at all.   This is my little home away from home in Santorini.

a cretan sunrise, a fond farewell to crete, & taking the “sea jets” ferry to santorini

Wednesday, September 5:   I wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready and leave Barbara Studios by 5:45.  I roll my suitcase for 15 minutes in darkness along uneven sidewalks interspersed with patches of cobblestones.  I reach my car beneath Rethymno Fort and begin my drive in the darkness to Heraklion.

sunrise over the Sea of Crete

As I’m driving, I see the most beautiful sunrise in front of me in the eastern sky over the Sea of Crete.  I keep pulling off the highway to take pictures.  A couple of times I fear for my life as big trucks pass me by, blaring their horns.  Maybe I am taking too many risks in my choice of parking spots on the shoulder of a big highway.  But, I do get some lovely sunrise shots!

another sunrise shot

a village along the coastal road toward Heraklion at sunrise

the village in a different light

I have arranged with the rental car company to drop my car at the port, rather than the airport.  I was told to leave the car with a quarter tank of gas and to park it in the parking lot of the port, unlocked, with the key under the mat.  I don’t like this.  What if someone comes and absconds with the car?  Will I be held responsible?  I guess it all ends up okay as I don’t see any additional charges from the car rental company on my credit card.

at the port at Heraklion ~ not my ferry, but possibly a cruise ship??

The Sea Jets ferry leaves at 8:20 a.m. with me on board.  The ferry I pictured and the ferry I’m on are two different things.  I pictured the kind of ferry I’m used to with open decks and sea spraying over the railings.  This ferry has car parking on the bottom level, all enclosed, and two upper decks with cushioned seats, again all enclosed.  You can walk through a door in the rear of the ferry to go outside, but there is only one bench along the inside edge of the deck and the rest is standing room only.  Mostly smokers are standing outside.

the seats on the enclosed upper deck of the ferry

I find a seat inside on the upper deck and, after eating a ridiculously large and sugary glazed doughnut and a sweet cappuccino, I take an hour nap. When I wake up, I pull out my booking.com hotel reservation for Hotel Galinia.  Surprise, surprise!  No wonder my hotel was only 35 euros a night.  The location is near the southern tip of the caldera;  Fira, the island’s most popular town lies in the middle and Oia, supposed to be the most beautiful, is at the northern tip.  Once again I have booked a hotel without giving the location much thought.  I did fine in Athens, with a great location at the Acropolis View Hotel, and it turned out that Rethymno and Barbara Studios in Crete was gorgeous, so I have no regrets about that either.  But now I’ve picked the spot furthest away from all the action and logistically, it will be a hassle.  Obviously, I’m not a very good trip planner!

Inside the Sea Jets ferry looking out to the back deck

The ferry trip is supposed to be slightly over 2 hours, from 8:20 to 10:25, but we don’t actually arrive in Santorini until 11:30.  Since I think we will arrive at 10:25, I go to the outside deck to stand at 10:00, so I can see the caldera of Santorini from the deck.  Needless to say, I have a long wait.  But because I arrive so early, I am able to stake out a good vantage point before the rest of the crowds come out.

on the deck of the ferry

the active volcano on the left and Oia, Santorini at the northern tip of the caldera, to the right

the view of Fira, Santorini perched atop the caldera

traditional ships sailing inside the rim of the caldera

the steep sides of the caldera

the ferry lowering its ramp as it approaches the new port in Santorini

the view of the port as we come in for a landing

making my way off the ferry with the masses

When we finally arrive at the port in Santorini, I make my way down to the lower-level cargo hold, retrieve my bag, and move with the masses off of the ferry.  I roll my suitcase along the port landing, looking for some way to get to Akrothirion, home of Hotel Galinia.

the crowds disembarking from the ferry at Santorini’s port

I come across a driver who tells me he will charge 20 euros to get there!! Twenty euros on an island the size of Santorini?? I wave him off, because directly in front of me, I see Kronos Rent a Car.  I ask the Kronos guy how much to rent a car, and he tells me 25 euros a day, or 35 euros if I want insurance.  I go for it, with insurance.  My gosh, if it costs 20 euros to get to Akrothirion, and then who knows how much to get to Fira and to Oia, then I could be spending much more than that on transportation.

my rental car from Kronos Rent a Car

I take the car, toss in my suitcase, and off I go, climbing the curvy switchbacks up the caldera from the port to the cliff edge, then south to Akrothirion, only about 20 minutes.  I have arrived in Santorini!  And what I have seen from the ferry decks and from my car looks fabulous!

last night in rethymno, a protest, & dinner at the lemon tree garden

Tuesday, September 4:  I return to Rethymno for my last evening in Crete. 😦  After having a Mythos beer at Cafe Galano, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the stylish Europeans stroll past, I use the internet upstairs.  I return to Barbara Studios to take a shower and a little nap, and then head back into the streets again to wander and have some dinner.

the streets of Rethymno at night

I pass a cute little church with some Orthodox priests talking outside.  I take a picture of the church but I feel taking a picture of the priests is an intrusion, so I don’t.

a Greek Orthodox church in the center of Rethymno

I am walking around when suddenly a group of people carrying a big banner and shouting things marches down the middle of the street.  Their banner says something about Neo-Nazis;  the word “STOP” is also on the banner, so I assume they are protesting AGAINST Neo-Nazis. But I could be wrong.  I ask several people on the street, but no one can speak English well enough to give me an answer.

a protest in Rethymno ~ I THINK it’s AGAINST the Neo-Nazis, but I’m not sure

After that bit of excitement, I go for dinner to the Lemon Tree Garden.  This old-town taverna has a lovely courtyard full of lemon trees that cast a green glow over everyone’s faces.

The Lemon Tree Garden restaurant

pretty display at the entrance to Lemon Tree Garden

I try to take a picture of myself by propping my camera on an ashtray.  An elderly gentleman sitting catty-corner to me laughs gently, amused by my sad attempts.  Yet he doesn’t offer to take a picture.  He seems friendly, but possibly he doesn’t speak English.  He has white hair, a white goatee and mustache, and is dressed in all white.  His wife is similarly white-haired and dressed in all white.  They both look very elegant, but I hardly hear them speak a word to each other during the entire meal.

me looking like a green alien at Lemon Tree Garden

Beautiful music sets a romantic mood, so I order a glass of red wine (I’m so predictable, aren’t I?) and a Greek omelet.

a Greek omelet with French Fries

Everyone around me seems quietly content.  They are not boisterous, not laughing infectiously.  I wonder if it would be better to be sitting across from someone special  in quiet companionship than to be sitting alone.  Sometimes when with another person, I feel more alone than when I’m by myself.  Sometimes it’s just too difficult to share the yearnings of my heart with the person I love.  Sometimes I want to talk about a me that doesn’t include him, and I’m afraid I will hurt him.  When I’m alone, I don’t feel that quiet desperation I sometimes feel with someone I love, when communication is failing us.  There is no pressure, no huge chasm staring me in the face.

inside the Lemon Tree Garden with its green lighting

I know so many people who are unhappy in their marriages.  And other people who are deliriously happy.  Or just quietly content.  I know people who see-saw between happiness, boredom and unhappiness.  We all do this, I think, in our relationships.  Nothing is perfect, being alone or being with someone.  It’s all ups and downs, highs and lows, or bland sameness.   I think happiness is just momentary, fleeting, and I must enjoy it when it flits by, lighting up my life like a firefly.  It is now, it is this moment.

Goodbye to the streets of Rethymno… 😦

And tomorrow, I must leave it behind and toss myself once again into the great unknown.

moni preveli, preveli beach, & triopetra

Tuesday, September 4:  After lunch, I drive 14km east to Moni Preveli, a monastery that sits high above the Libyan Sea in peaceful isolation.  It seems that the first core of the Monastery was organized on the area of the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist during the II Byzantine period of Crete, around the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century, when many monasteries were established on the south coast of Crete.  The oldest date related to the monastery is 1594, and it is engraved on a bell of the monastery. The monastery was probably founded during the Venetian occupation by a feudal lord known as Prevelis. When in 1649 the Turks occupied Crete, they destroyed numerous church establishments, among them the monastery of Preveli.

on the drive from Plakias to Moni Preveli

Moni Preveli

the monastery, from the outside looking in…

After the battle of Crete in 1941, the Germans plundered the monastery after many Allied soldiers were sheltered here before being evacuated to Egypt. Even after some were evacuated, a large number of English, New Zealand and Australian soldiers remained on the island because they had no means of getting away. Although the occupying forces ordered very harsh reprisals against the local population if they provided shelter to these remaining Allied troops, the Monastery of Preveli and the neighbouring villages became for many of them a place of safe shelter and a point from which they could escape. The monks and the local people organized themselves into groups to guard the area, to care for and protect the Allied soldiers who were dispersed in various hideouts known only to the locals.

Moni Preveli

Eventually, German Officers came to the Monastery and put the monks through a terrible interrogation. The monks were arrested and sent to Firka prison, where they were charged with “illegal possession of guns and a radio, the provision of care to British fugitives and to Greeks, persecuted by the occupying forces”. After the powerful intervention by the Bishop of Kydonias and Apokoronou Agathangelos Xirouhakis with the German authorities, the monks were released in a short time and returned to their Monastery. They found it almost wholly devastated and so had to begin again on the work of reconstruction, strengthened by the sympathy and help of the local population and of other monasteries of Crete.

the monastery through the trees

Today, a number of people are here to visit the monastery, but sadly, it’s closed for several hours for an afternoon rest.  All we can do is stand outside the gates and take some pictures.   I’m not about to wait for 2 more hours for it to open, so I head off to explore other beaches on the south coast.

the cliff above Preveli Beach

First stop, Preveli Beach, a lovely stretch of sand below the monastery.  Also called Palm Beach (Paralia Finikodasous), it’s at the mouth of the Kourtaliotis Gorge.  I stand at the top of a cliff and admire the beach, but as I have another destination in mind, I choose not to walk down the steep path to the beach.

Preveli Beach

I want to go to Triopetra, which means “three rocks.”  Panos at Barbara Studios recommended it to me this morning, so I have decided I want to see it.  I drive inland to get to it, through the town of Spili, because I’ve been told by the locals that it’s a rather difficult road along the coast.

the drive to Spili and on to Triopetra

more views of a drive through southern Crete

At Triopetra, the cove stretches west to the three rocks rising from the sea.  From my viewpoint, I can only see two.  It’s quite secluded and apparently a destination for yoga-practitioners because of its peaceful setting.   A set of domatia and two tavernas sit above its quiet sandy beach.  Domatia in Greece are as cheap and as safe as hotels, and allow you to stay in a Greek home and absorb some local culture.

Triopetra

Triopetra

thatched umbrellas along Triopetra Beach

my lounging spot

view of the Libyan Sea and the coast to the west

I pay for yet another lounge chair, and I sit and swim until I get nipped at by something in the water and then get out.  I love the sea here!  It’s so cool and delectable.  After enjoying this secluded spot for quite some time, I get in my car and head back to Rethymno.  this is my last night in Crete, and tomorrow I have to get up at the crack of dawn to take the ferry to Santorini.  I’m excited about Santorini, but I’m really not ready to leave Crete!  😦

view to the east

plakias in southern crete

Tuesday, September 4:  This morning, I  head out at 8:20 a.m. into the old town to search for breakfast.  I’m surprised to find the whole town is practically shut down, except the dependable Cafe Galero.  I order a Continental breakfast: a boiled egg, orange juice, coffee, toast and marmalade, and coffee; after, I check my emails at the internet cafe upstairs.  I head straightaway for my car near the Fort, and drive the southern route to Plakias.

on my way to Crete ~ golden rolling hills

the gorge leading to Plakias

the view on the drive to Plakias

I drive a curvaceous & hilly route south to Plakias, a quiet resort on the south coast of Crete.  The beach is set between two huge wind tunnels, the gorges of Selia and Kourtaliotis.  I drive through the Selia gorge and experience the wind tunnel effect; I feel like I’ll be blown over the edge of the road into the depths of the canyon.  I pass by a beautiful white church and graveyard and when I stop to take some photos, the wild wind whips my hair into a frenzy and nearly knocks me off-balance.

a church inside the gorge

little white church

cemetery and church on the way to Plakias

I arrive in the beautiful seaside town and see the beach chairs and umbrellas lined up like candy on a shelf.  I want to get a feel for the town, so I drive through to the other side where I can see the shining Mediterranean, glowing like a mirror of sunlight.

I love this view of the Mediterranean from a point west of Plakias

the glowing sea south of Crete

looking back toward Plakias

another view of terraced gardens and the Mediterranean

After my little drive, where, believe it or not, I get lost and head up and up into the mountains and then get pointed right back down again by a local lady, I go to lounge on the beach and swim in the sea.  I relax here for quite a while, reading and just soaking up the sun.  I don’t know why, but the Mediterranean Sea feels as blue and cool as it looks.  Not too salty,  it’s like floating in a liquid sky.  I could float here the whole afternoon.

the beach from my lounge chair

blue beach chairs at Plakias

A lumbering Greek man comes by to collect a fee for use of his chair & umbrella.  It’s about 2 euros, but all I have is a 20.  He disappears with my 20, telling me he will bring change.  He doesn’t come and doesn’t come and I begin to believe I’ve been ripped off.  Finally, I see him collecting and giving change to other sunbathers and I go to track him down for my change.  He looks startled that I am confronting him.  Does he think I will forget 18 euros?  Finally, he goes off again and comes back with my change.

the beach with the town of Plakias at the far end

i love the color of these umbrellas

After lounging and swimming, floating and reading, I wander down the street looking for a restaurant that appeals to me.  I find the Kri-Kri Taverna, with a pine awning-type roof, potted tropical plants, and lively Greek music circling the room like a Cretan folk dance.  I order “mineral water with gas” and aubergines saganaki, a piping hot dish of aubergines, tomato, and melted feta cheese.  I eat slowly, savoring every bite, and think about this love affair I am having with Greek food.  I wonder why everything tastes so good here.  Is it the dry, cool and breezy air?  Is it just the simple act of sitting at an outdoor cafe in Greece?  Is it because of the idea of being on a Greek island and tasting food that comes fresh off the land?  Is it the romantic reputation of Greece?  Whatever it is, I have yet to taste a bad meal.  With each bite, I soak up ambiance, ancient history, and whimsy.

the Kri-Kri Taverna where I have lunch

outdoor dining with a view of the sea

aubergines saganaki and “mineral water with gas”

After my delicious lunch, I hop back into my car and head east toward Moni Preveli and Preveli Beach…

back to rethymno & musings over mousaka

Monday, September 3:   I drive back to Rethymno from Hania and on the way in, I pass by an adorable little church right along the sea.

a little Greek Orthodox church next to the sea in Rethymno

the view of Rethymno Fort from the little church by the sea

another view of the church

Across the street I find some colorful graffiti on a wall.  Obviously the street artists are not confined to Athens.

colorful street art in Rethymno

more street art

After stopping at this place to take some photos, I park my car again by the Fort and meander back through the town.

a lovely cafe covered in ivy

a very old part of the old town

I head directly to Cafe Galero, where I order my first Mythos beer in Greece.  Cafe Galero is a huge cafe in the center of the old town of Rethymno.  Large groups seem to congregate here.  The cafe also has an internet cafe upstairs, which I use after I relax and enjoy people-watching.  I catch up on my emails and Facebook.

relaxing at Cafe Galero

After this little respite, I head back to Barbara Studios to take a shower and lie down a bit before going out to dinner at Erofili Restaurant.  Their menu describes the restaurant as such: “Traditional Cretan and Mediterranean cuisine, a great selection of the finest Greek wines in a beautiful outdoor garden in the old town.”

Erofili by day

Erofili by night

The hostess at the restaurant seats me perfunctorily, as if I’m somebody to be shaken off.  As I sit waiting for service, listening to the beautiful music of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I begin to wonder if maybe I died and only my soul is wandering around in the world.  Maybe I died so seamlessly that I don’t even know that I died, perhaps in my sleep or so suddenly that I never even realized it.  For as little as I’m noticed sometimes, as a middle-aged single woman, I feel I am invisible.

a blurry (almost invisible?) me at Erofili

I muse about this and think that even if I am invisible, it does not ruin my time here.  I have no one, no one to love me or to share these moments, yet I am still enjoying them.  It’s as if I’m having a romance with the place, with Greece, with Rethymno, with Erofili, with the food, with the music, with this moment.  I think of a quote I recently came across: “Collect moments, not things.”  And I think to myself this is exactly what I am doing.  I’m adding to my own personal collective experience of happy moments, even if I am all alone.

I order red wine, as always my drink of choice, and “mousakas ~ fresh Cretan, mince, eggplant, potatoes and cream made of fresh milk.”  It is piping hot and rich and delicious.

“mousakas”

While eating, I look around at my fellow diners, fellow adventurers or locals, who are sharing this place with me.  There is the woman with bulging eyes who looks like Hugh Grant’s sister in the movie Notting Hill.  There are two large & sturdy women, not fat and flabby, but solid and strong, like Amazons.  Then there is the group of four possibly British or Australian men.  They seem to be having a grand time together.  Other couples are quietly sharing a meal as if they’ve exhausted every possible topic of conversation in all their years together.  I wonder if all these people are happy.  Are they simply content?  Are they passionate about their lives and this moment?  Are they bored and just going through the motions?  Are they having insurmountable problems yet still trying to make the best of things?  Are they quietly going crazy with loneliness?  Or with sadness?  I don’t know.  But I wonder.  I would love to know the stories of these people.  But of course, I’m outside of their lives, just an observer.  Never to know the truth.

another view of Erofili

In the end, I wonder if I would enjoy this place more if I were with someone?  I wonder who it would be?  Who?

the venetian quarter of hania

Monday, September 3:  After lunch in Rethymno, I drive west 60km (about 50 minutes) to Hania (also spelled Chania).  Panos at Barbara Studios was raving about it this morning and suggested I should go see the town while in Crete.  Of course, since I only have 2 days here, I figure I may as well go today, so I can explore other parts of the island tomorrow.

alongside the old town of Hania

I love driving my zippy little rental car, and I cruise along with the windows open.  More rolling hills and the happy blue Mediterranean lie to my right as I drive westward.  I find what I think is the old Venetian quarter and nab a parking spot right on the coastal road along the Sea of Crete.  I don’t have any particular sights to see here; I figure I will just wander and see whatever there is to see.

my little car parked by the Sea of Crete in Hania

I walk along the harbor, passing by some colorful waterfront cafes.  I have already decided that when I return to Rethymno, I will go to a particular cafe for a Mythos beer, after which I will shower, relax and go out for a late dinner.  So I don’t stop at these cute cafes.

a cafe run by a dog 🙂

I wander into the harbor with its marina.  I adore marinas, and I especially love old fishing boats with character.

a boat in the harbor at Hania

a fishing boat with character

I come across the Church of Agios Nikolaos, which was built as part of the Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas in 1320. During the Turkish occupation (1665-1898) it was used as barracks for Turkish troops before it was turned into a mosque. The unusual two-floor minaret, with two balconies, was added to the northwest corner. The mosque, known as the Hioughar Tzamissi or the Sovereign’s Mosque, was the most important in the city. Hania was the first area to be taken by the Ottomans and the sword of Turk Darvish, who was first to enter the city, was kept there. A 1944 earthquake threatened the minaret.

Church of Agios Nikolaos with its Turkish minaret

the Church of Agios Nikolaos

I wander through narrow little lanes with Venetian and Turkish architecture and fairly nice open air cafes.  I walk through quiet residential lanes with beautiful doors and potted plants and old-fashioned bicycles in front.

a solitary woman on a motorbike sending text messages in Hania

I walk a circuit around the town and make a stop at a little cafe in front of the Church of Agios Nikolaos, where I have a cool fresh-squeezed orange juice.

a little cafe for refreshment

fresh-squeezed orange juice

I’m thinking as I’m walking about that the town really looks a little shabby, not nearly as nice as Rethymno.  I start to think I should have just stayed in my little town.  It is only later, after I’ve left Hania and returned to Rethymno, that I realize it’s no wonder I found the town shabby.  I was in the wrong area of the old town.

I said in an earlier post that I have a Type A personality. Obviously that is failing me miserably here in Crete.  The problem is that I didn’t do my homework.  If I had simply looked at the map of Hania in my Lonely Planet Greece, I would have easily figured out that the right place to be is on the west side of the Venetian port and the marina, not directly south, as I am.

a little kitten in a basket

I still enjoy myself, despite the heat and being a little disappointed.  I’m not overly impressed with the commercial area.  The nicest part is strolling through the residential streets in quiet and solitude.  Once I escape the commercial area, I find the neighborhoods charming and peaceful.  There is no point in dwelling on how I missed Firkas Fortress or the truly atmospheric part of town.  I missed it and that is that.

charming little home in Hania

My philosophy of travel is changing all the time.  I used to create a checklist and would beat myself up trying to see everything on that list.  I have loosened up a lot as the years have gone by.  Now, I figure I see what I see, and then forget the rest.  What else can I do with limited time and resources?

a beautiful little home in Hania

Here, in a slideshow, is what I DO see.

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rethymno fortress & lunch at symposium

Monday, September 3:  After walking along the Mediterranean, where I see a lone fisherman standing on a rock and an older lady swimming off another set of rocks, I climb the steep hill to Rethymno Fortress.

the Rethymno Fortress from the seaside road

The Fortezza is the 16th century Venetian fortress, almost in the center of the old town. The giant Fortezza is visible from every corner of the town and offers panoramic views of Rethymno and the coast to the west, according to Explore Crete.

From the top of the Fortress to the sea and the town below

Rethymno became a city because the Venetians, who were a marine power, created it as an intermediate station between Heraklion and Hania.  At that time, the city needed protection from the Turks, so they organized Crete’s military and built a fort. The foundation stone was laid on 8 April 1540 but the walls were only completed just before 1570.

the town of Rethymno from the Fortress

These walls were not strong enough to withstand an attack by the Pasha of Algiers in 1571, so the people of Rethymno and the Venetian Senate decided to build a fortress which could shelter all the houses in the town.  The hill of Paleokastro was chosen and work began on the Fortezza.

the walls of Rethymno Fortress

The Fortezza was built according to the bastion fortification system, with bastions joined by straight sections of thick curtain wall, inclined outwards to make enemy missiles bounce off without damaging the fortress.

the view from the Fort to the port

The foundation stone of the Fortezza was laid in 1573.  Work on the walls and the public buildings within them was completed by 1580.  During the years it was being built, 107,142 Cretans took part in compulsory labour and 40,205 pack animals were requisitioned to work on the Fortezza.

me on the grounds of Rethymno Fort with a gunpowder magazine behind

As it turned out, the Fortezza of Rethymno was not used for the defense of the island but simply to cover the needs of the Venetian garrison and administration.  In case of danger – in other words the Turkish invasion – the inhabitants used it as a refuge.

Rethymno fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1646. The layout of the Fortezza does not appear to have changed significantly during the Turkish occupation, although there is insufficient information on the subject.

the bastion walls of the Fort

Fairly early on, the Turns converted the Venetian cathedral of San Niccol into the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim Han. More houses were also built, mainly on the south and east sides of the fortress, for the Turkish garrison and administration.

the Ottoman Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han

an art exhibition inside the mosque

At the turn of the 20th century almost the whole of the interior of the Fortezza was full of residential buildings. Immediately after the Second World War, however, the inhabitants of the Fortezza began to move out to other parts of Rethymno.

looking over the walls to the sea and town below

more walls of the fort

I spend quite a long time walking around the grounds and the perimeter of the huge fort, admiring the amazing view of the Mediterranean, the port, the red-roofed houses of Rethymno, and the more modern town inland.  It’s quite hot up here and I eventually make my way back down from the fort and into the old town, where I stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe called Symposium, where I have a delicious omelet and a lemon Fanta.

Symposium Cafe

my tasty omelet

After lunch, I head to my car back near the fort.  This morning Panos from Barbara Studios suggested I might want to explore the town of Hania this afternoon.  Apparently, it’s about a 45 minute drive west from Rethymno.  So off I go…

For more views of Rethymno Fort, check out the slideshow below.

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the venetian-turkish lanes of beautiful rethymno

Monday, September 3:  The sleeping at Barbara Studios is lovely, with a breeze billowing the curtains into the room and the chirping of birds in the courtyard.  I want to sleep in, but since I only have two days in Crete, I make myself get up and take a shower.  There is a little kitchenette in the hotel, a coffee-maker and toaster, bread and jam and orange juice in the refrigerator.  I shower, prepare the little breakfast, and think about what I will do with the day ahead.

I head out into the streets of the old Venetian-Turkish quarter of Rethymno.  The town, which used to be inhabited by the Minoans as early as the 4th century BC, began a period of growth when the Venetian conquerors of the island (who ruled from 1210-1645) decided to put a commercial stop between Heraklion and Hania (also spelled Chania).  Today’s old town, one of the best preserved in Crete, is almost entirely built by the Venetians.

A small church I pop into in my wanderings

my table from last night at Alana ~ in the light of day

The town has an aristocratic demeanor, with its narrow streets of wood-balconied houses dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, and Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains.  The Ottomans, who ruled from the end of Venetian rule until 1897, put their own flourishes on the town by adding such architectural elements as minarets.

the curvy lanes of the old quarter

a funky shop and its owner

happy in Rethymno

Today the city’s main income is from tourism. Agriculture also plays a strong role in the local economy, especially olive oil and other Mediterranean products. The town is also the base of the Philosophical School and the University Library of the University of Crete as well as the School of  Social and Political Sciences.

balconies and bicycles

I simply stroll through the streets this sunny morning, popping in and out of shops to check out the beautiful things for sale.  I’ve decided to ramble the streets of the town, taking pictures and enjoying the sights and sounds as I make my way slowly to the 16th-century Rethymno Fortress.  I stop in to buy some colorful earrings in a shop where I chat awhile with the young Greek shopkeeper, who wants to add me to Facebook after I take a photo of her and her shop.

the cute shop where I buy some earrings and have a chat with the owner

Later I also buy a couple of necklaces, which are lightweight craft pieces and not expensive at all.  Artists on the street sell beautiful watercolors and pen & ink drawings of the Greek islands, which I would love to buy but I don’t want to deal with carrying them around Greece for the next couple of weeks.  I love these kinds of wandering moments while traveling, where I pop in and out of places with no time constraints, chatting with the local shopkeepers.

I come upon an outdoor movie theater with an outdoor cafe.  It looks so inviting, but it also looks possibly like the season is over.  The movie posters stuck on the walls look torn and faded, a little worse for wear.

movie posters at the outdoor theater

the little outdoor cafe outside of the movie theater

the movie poster for Mama Mia! ~ one of my inspirations for Greece

After enjoying my stroll, I head toward the Rethymno Fortress, a remnant from Venetian days…. I pass the blue Mediterranean along the way.

the view of the Mediterranean from the road leading to Rethymno Fortress

See the slideshow below for more photos of the streets of Rethymno.

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journey to crete: travel dilemmas and the search for the elusive barbara studios

Sunday, September 2:  In this post, you will find out just how lazy and impatient I am.  You’ll also see what a poor planner I can be and you’ll wonder how on earth I manage to travel alone.  In an earlier post, I wrote about how when I first arrive in a new city, I usually opt for the hotel pickup, no matter what the price, just because I don’t feel like negotiating unfamiliar metro or bus systems.  I also am hesitant to take a taxi right off the street because I have no idea what the price should be and I fear I will be ripped off or taken someplace where con-men will try to swindle me.  In India, especially, my friend and I were warned about this, and we ended up standing at a rat-infested train station at midnight in Jodhpur, waiting for a hotel pickup that never showed up but feeling too afraid to take a taxi off the street.

I also mentioned in an earlier post that I successfully navigated the Athens metro several times over the last few days and found it to be quite clean and easy to use.

ATHENS

Coming back from Kerameikos, I first take the Hop On Hop Off Bus back to my hotel; since I only bought the ticket yesterday, it is still good through today.  So I arrive back at my hotel in plenty of time to take the metro to the airport for my flight to Crete.

back on the Hop On Hop Off bus in Athens

This morning at breakfast, I also spoke at some length with a woman from Wisconsin whose husband is Greek-American.  She and her husband have come to Greece every year for over 10 years.  She told me in great detail what I needed to do to take the metro to the airport and then, even though I already knew where the metro stop was, they both insisted on walking with me to show me the way.  It all seemed so simple, although it was quite a long walk over cobblestone sidewalks.  Feeling totally confident, I had decided to take the metro to the airport and I left plenty of time to do just that.

However, once I get back to the hotel this afternoon, I am tired and sweaty.  I see my big fat suitcase sitting there, bulging with all the new stuff I bought.  I think of lugging it the 6 blocks or so, then carrying it through the metro, changing trains, and then walking some small distance from the metro to the airport.  It seems too overwhelming when I actually think of doing it.  I ask the hotel clerk how much it will be to take a taxi, knowing of course that the pickup FROM the airport was 55 euros.  He tells me it’s 40 euros TO the airport.

more Athens street scenes

I know I shouldn’t do it.  For about 8 euros, and just a little hassle, I can get to the airport and I have time to do just that.  I hesitate.  And then I find myself telling the clerk to call the taxi.

IN TRANSIT

I am so lazy sometimes!! It’s so ridiculous.  Sometimes the act of traveling, the logistics of getting from one place to another, can be too much to deal with.  The thing I always try to remind myself when I have to get from one place to another over seemingly insurmountable odds, is that travel is simply putting one foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.  Sometimes you just can’t let yourself think of the whole journey and how many hardships you might encounter along the way.

views from the Hop On Hop Off bus in Athens

In this moment, I am thinking of the whole journey.  If I had just put one foot in front of the other, I would have eventually made it there and I would have saved 32 euros. I would have also felt proud of myself for doing it.  But I opt out. I take the lazy man’s route.  And to be honest, it feels so good.  Sitting in the back of the taxi, mindlessly watching the city go by.  Yes.  That’s what I’m talking about.

So, I get dropped off curbside at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  In fact the drive is so short, I wonder how on earth the taxi drivers can justify charging 40 euros!! And this in a country on the verge of bankruptcy, where things should, logically speaking, be cheap.  I know, yes, I know.  It WOULD have been cheap if I had taken the metro.

a big open square filled with pigeons in Athens

Anyway, because I get to the airport so early, it’s quite a long wait for my 1 hour flight to Crete.  The flight, which cost me $137, was also not the cheapest route to Crete, but the 12-hour boat ride that cost around 7o euros did not seem like a good option comparatively speaking.  The flight I don’t regret.  Not one bit.

Now.  While I’m sitting on the plane, I pull out my Booking.com ticket for Barbara Studios, the charming hotel where I will be staying. I knew the hotel was in a place called Rethymno.  But the plane was flying to the airport at Heraklion, otherwise known as Iraklio.  (I’ll call it Heraklion).  As I study the map of Crete for the first time (you’d think I would have figured this out earlier than NOW!), I see that Crete is quite a huge island.  And I see that Heraklion is quite some distance from Rethymno.  I ask someone on the plane about how long it will take me to get from Heraklion to Rethymno and they say about 1 1/2 hours by bus.

Hmmm.  Well, that wasn’t very good planning, was it?  We fly over Santorini, which looks quite small from the air, and I think, oh good, at least Santorini should be easy.  But as we approach Crete, I am shocked to see it is like coming onto a mainland.  This is not an island.  This looks like a continent!!  I’m thinking, what have I done?  I feel kind of sick.  Why didn’t I plan this better?  Here I’m coming into this big island and I don’t even know how I’m going to get from place to place.  And then I start to calculate.  I’m arriving on Crete around 6 p.m., I will arrive in Rethymno no earlier than 8:00 this Sunday evening and then I stay three nights  total.  I will need to leave Rethymno at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5 to get back to Heraklion for the 8:20 a.m. Sea Jets boat to Santorini, which I booked in the USA before leaving home.

taxis like the one I end up taking to the airport 🙂

What was I thinking?? I have boxed myself in and have only allotted myself two days (but 3 nights) in Crete.  I can see by the large section on Crete in the Lonely Planet, which I haven’t even read yet, and by the size of the island from the airplane, two days is NOT enough.

Even now, writing about this and reliving the angst of this ridiculous discovery, I can still feel the disappointment.  But what can I do?  I’m the kind of person who books things ahead of time, so I am stuck.  After Santorini, I haven’t booked a thing, but up through the 8th, I’m locked in to a schedule.  I begin to curse my Type A personality.  Not for the first time in my life, mind you.

CRETE

When I disembark from the airplane, everyone seems to disburse as if they know where they’re going.  This is a very small airport.  There seems to be no information anywhere.  I ask some uniformed men out front where to catch the bus to Rethymno.  They tell me I have to walk somewhere (they wave randomly in the air) and catch a taxi to the bus terminal, and then take the bus from there.  What?

I walk back inside the airport.  There is a Budget Car office.  Out of curiosity, I ask the price of a rental car for my time in Crete.  He tells me 110 euros.  I think that’s not a bad price at all for total freedom.  I sign on and am out of there in a half hour.

my rental car from Budget Car in Crete ~ in the light of day in Rethymno

The road from Heraklion to Rethymno is a good straight, but hilly, road and it’s impossible to get lost.  I feel free, my windows open, my hair blowing in the wind.  I feel like Easy Rider, or Jack Kerouac On the Road.  The scenery is beautiful with the golden glow from the sunset and the darkening blue Mediterranean on my right.

It’s when I get to Rethymno that the trouble begins.  The owners of Barbara Studios told me by email that they were a short walk from the port.  I figure all I have to do is find the port and I will find Barbara Studios.  Ha!  Little do I know.  I keep driving in the direction of the port, but I come to dead-end streets, one-way streets, police directing traffic away from the waterfront road.  Pretty soon, I’m driving around in circles totally confused.  At this point I still have not purchased a Greek SIM card for my phone, so I have no way to call the hotel.

the unassuming door of Barbara Studios ~ photo taken the morning after

I had also printed out a map which showed how to walk from the bus terminal.  It takes me forever to find the bus terminal, but when I do and I try to drive following the map, I cannot do it.  This is because the streets which I was told to walk on are one-way streets which don’t allow me to drive in the direction I need to go!  Finally, over an hour after I arrive in Rethymno, I park in a parking lot as close to the port I can get.  I leave my suitcase in the car and go in search of Barbara Studios on foot.

the alley in front of the hotel: this is the only sign for Barbara Studios ~ the next morning

I come to a lovely little restaurant and I ask someone there if they know of Barbara Studios.  Luckily, I am close!! They show me an alley and tell me to turn left on the next alley I encounter.  I walk back and forth not seeing anything.  I finally see a nondescript door that says “Rooms to Let ~ Barbara Dokimaki”  I see a buzzer and I push it.  Barbara answers the door and invites me into a compact but beautiful courtyard abloom with flowers and surrounded by three stories of rooms.  She is kind and welcoming and shows me my room, but she doesn’t speak much English.  She brings her husband Panos, who does.  I tell him I’ve been lost driving around Rethymno for over an hour.  He asks me why I didn’t call.  I tell him I have no phone.  I’ve never been so happy to find a place in my life.  I’ve arrived at my home away from home.

the courtyard inside the unobtrusive door of Barbara Studios ~ again, the next morning

my room off the first floor courtyard ~ photo taken the following morning

It turns out, as this charming hotel is on an alley where no one can drive, I would have never found it had I stayed in the car.  There is also no parking on the streets near the hotel and Panos advises me not to leave my car in the port parking lot as there is free parking about a 10 minute walk away.  On his advice, I move the car to the free parking near the Rethymno Fort and trek down a straight street in the dark back to the hotel.

my room at Barbara Studios when I arrive that evening

After taking care of all of this, it is almost 10:00.  I ask Panos where I can eat, and he highly recommends Alana, whose back door is across the alley from Barbara’s front door.  It’s a most lovely end to a stressful day.  Alana: Mediterranean-Cretan Cuisine.  I have a glass of red wine, accompanied by Ioli sparkling water, in an outdoor cafe filled with leafy plants.

Alana: Mediterranean-Cretan Cuisine on a leafy patio

red wine and sparkling water

I order Minoan Olive Leaf pasta with tomato, oregano, onion, green pepper, rocket, wild mushroom pesto, crumbled feta and mint leaves for 8.60 euros.  Each bite is a taste of heaven.

Minoan Olive Leaf Pasta

Since it is late, the restaurant isn’t too busy, and the hostess has time to chat. She tells me she is studying medical ethics at the university in Rethymno.  This topic is interesting to me as I worked for a brief time at a small think tank in Washington called Center for Ethical Solutions.  I did research for the founder on the ethics of kidney transplant tourism.  This young lady is studying whether embryos should be harvested for the purpose of curing diseases.  We talk about this ethical dilemma for awhile.  Then a nice handsome Greek-Australian waiter comes by and asks me where I’m from and since he’s spent time in America, we talk about his time there and what I’m doing in Greece and in Oman.

A slice of happiness.  Perfect.

arrival in paradise 🙂

kerameikos: an ancient cemetery

Sunday, September 2:  After my lunch and making my way through the markets, I head to Kerameikos, the potters’ quarter of the city, from which the English word “ceramic” is derived.  This was also the site of an important cemetery from the 12th century BC to Roman times, as well as numerous funerary sculptures erected along the road out of the city towards Eleusis.

It is quite a long walk in the sun along a pedestrian walkway, and I am struck by all the graffiti on the walls along the path (See my earlier post: graffiti in athens: youth crying out to be heard in the midst of economic crisis?).  When I go inside, I am happy to escape into the air-conditioned Kerameikos Museum, a small neoclassical building that houses an extensive collection of burial-related artifacts, varying from large-scale marble sculpture to funerary urns, jewelry, toys, etc. The original burial monument sculptures are displayed within the museum, having been replaced by plaster replicas on the original grounds. The museum incorporates inner and outer courtyards, where the larger sculptures are kept.

sculptures inside the museum

interesting urns??

I like these little bowls with the horses on top

Outside on the grounds, the shade provides some relief from the heat.  I don’t study what’s what because at this point, I’m simply hot and exhausted.  I just wander about aimlessly taking pictures of random interesting things.  I should be more of a historian, and I often wonder why I don’t take more interest in these things.  Yet.  I do them because they are the “should do” things in a place.  So here are my random pictures of the grounds of this ancient cemetery.

on the grounds of Kerameikos

Kerameikos

other interesting markers at Kerameikos

Kerameikos

Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) Church

The Sacred Gate was one of the gates of the city wall built by Themistocles in 478 B.C.   It allowed the passage of the river Eridanos and of the Sacred Way, the processional way that led to Eleusis. It was protected by two square towers and had a courtyard divided into two parts, one of which was occupied by the bank of the river.

the Sacred Gate

At this point I have to confess that I’m not really paying attention to ancient history.  It is now getting close to the time I need to make my way back to the hotel and then make my way to the airport for my flight to Crete.  I am tired of ancient things and am looking forward to exploring and relaxing in the Greek islands.

graffiti in athens: youth crying out to be heard in the midst of economic crisis?

Sunday, September 2:  The first thing that strikes me about the streets of modern-day Athens is that there is hardly a surface that isn’t covered by graffiti.  It doesn’t surprise me that googling “graffiti in athens” brings up much discussion on the subject.  In Matt Barrett’s Athens Survival Guide: Graffiti and Wall Art in Athens, the author notes that the word “graffiti” comes from the Greek graphi, which means “to write.”  He says that nowadays the graffiti is a cry from disaffected kids who want to be noticed, to have a voice.  He adds that nothing is sacred, including restored Neoclassical buildings, ancient stones in the Agora, or even previous graffiti art.

a typical street scene in Athens with graffiti-covered walls in the background

Street art in Monastiraki

more graffiti in Monastiraki

According to Nick Jardine and Adam Taylor in The Dark And Beautiful Graffiti Of Athens’ Disaffected Youth, the wall art, brought on by austerity measures in Greece, affects even buildings such as the 2004 Olympic Stadium, as well as churches and monuments.

this graffiti is found outside the 12th century BC cemetery of Keramikos

Graffiti outside Keramikos

According to Time Magazine Photos: Protest Graffiti Art in Athens, the Greek economic crisis and recession has become a major inspiration for street artists in the capital.

more street art outside of Keramikos

If the economic crisis and austerity measures are responsible for what is called “Protest Art” by many publications, then it appears it’s been going on since at least 2008, four years after Athens hosted the Olympic Games.  I can find online references to Athens street art going back to at least that date.  It’s very possible it goes back further than that, even to ancient times, as Matt Barrett claims in his article.

Along a random street I pass on the Hop On Hop Off bus

I’m heartbroken to see Greece going through this terrible economic crisis.  It’s too bad for the Greek people, who work hard and normally try to enjoy life to the fullest.  I talked to many Greeks during my travels, and I found, without exception, they are quite worried.  You can see it in the lines on their faces, in the way they click their strings of worry beads, and in their fascinating street art.

modern and ancient markets: monastiraki flea market & the ancient agora

Sunday, September 2:  I start this morning by repacking my newly arrived bag, trying to squeeze in all the extra stuff I bought.  I have to check out of the Acropolis View Hotel because I’m flying to Crete this evening at 5:00, so I will leave my bag in the hotel all day as I explore more of Athens.   Because it’s so difficult to squeeze in all the new stuff, I take everything out and reorganize.  I decide then and there that I will go back to Ermou Street on my way to the Ancient Agora and return some of the stuff, if I can.  Of course I cannot read the receipts to find if the things are returnable, but I figure it’s on my way, so I’ll try.

Church of Kapnikarea on Ermou shopping street

Today I take the metro for the first time, so I can prepare myself for taking it later this afternoon to the airport.  The Athens metro is nice and clean; I’ll tell you more about it in a later post.  It’s simple to negotiate though, so I easily make my way from the Acropolis station to Syntagma Square, only one stop.  Syntagma is where I should switch lines to go directly to the airport later this afternoon.

mosaic in Church of Kapnikarea

I stroll down Ermou Street wondering why there is hardly anyone about.  Though it is after 10 a.m., it’s practically deserted.  I notice quickly that all the shops are closed.  And then it dawns on me that today is Sunday.  How many of us lose track of the days while we are traveling?  I am totally messed up on my days, as every day seems like Sunday to me!!

Finally, I come across one open shop and I ask if all the other stores are closed today. The shopkeeper says yes, it’s Sunday, all shops are closed.  Except hers, of course.  Bummer.  Now I can’t return the stuff I bought and I will be stuck hauling it all around Greece with me for nearly 2 weeks. 😦

Oh well, what can I do?  I continue on down the street until I come to a tiny church in the middle of a square.  It looks like someone plopped it down in the middle of the modern shopping street, but I know it was here long before the shopping street appeared.  This 11th century Greek Orthodox Church of Kapnikarea is beautiful, but so out-of-place here!  I stop in for a brief visit.  This church was built around 1050 over a pagan temple originally built for the worship of a goddess, possibly Athena or Demeter.

Church of Kapnikarea

I continue down the road until I come to Monastiraki Square, bustling with its Sunday Flea Market.  There has been a church and monastery on this site since at least the 10th century, with the current church being built in 1678.  The monastery once owned many of the surrounding buildings, which were later destroyed, but the area’s name Monastiraki means “little monastery.”

part of the old monastery at Monastiraki Square

fresh fruit for sale at Monastiraki Square

signs protesting racism in the square

the Museum of Greek Folk Art at Monastiraki Square

Finally, I come upon the entrance to the Ancient Agora, which was once the heart of ancient Athens, first developed in the 6th century BC.  The Persians destroyed it in 480 BC, but a new Agora was built to replace it right away.  It flourished by Pericles’ time and did so until AD 267, when the Herulians, a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia, finally destroyed it.  The Agora in its day was the center of commercial, political, administrative and social activity.  Socrates expounded on his philosophy here  and St. Paul converted people to Christianity here in AD 49, according to Lonely Planet Greece.

the map of the Ancient Agora

remains of the Altar of the Twelve Gods?

and the Temple of Ares??

Up on a hill in front of me is a very nice temple, the Temple of Hephaestus, the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece.  Dedicated to Hephaestus, patron god of metal working and craftsmanship, it was surrounded in its day by foundries and metalwork shops.

The Temple of Hephaestus

One of the architects for the Parthenon, Iktinos, built this in 449 BC and it remains standing today largely as built.  It has 34 columns and a frieze on the eastern side showing nine of the twelve Labors of Heracles.  From the 7th century until 1834, it served as the Greek Orthodox church of St. George Akamates.

Temple of Hephaestus

In 1834, the first King of Greece, Otto I, was officially welcomed at this church. Otto ordered the building to be used as a museum, in which capacity it remained until 1934, when it reverted to its status of an ancient monument and  archaeological research was allowed.

Temple of Hephaestus

Temple of Hephaestus

me at the Ancient Agora

I run into a solitary guy and ask him if he would like me to take his picture in return for him taking mine.  He says he is Russian but has been living in California for seven years.  We take pictures of each other and I comment that it’s always difficult when traveling alone to get pictures of oneself.  He says, “I don’t mind at all.  You’re cute, so it’s no problem!”  Funny.

At the south end of the Agora, I come upon the Church of the Holy Apostles.  This is particularly significant as the only monument in the Agora, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation, and for its architecture: it was the first significant church of the middle Byzantine period in Athens, and marks the beginning of the so-called “Athenian type”, successfully combining the simple four-pier with the cross-in-square forms, according to Wikipedia.

Church of the Holy Apostles

The Agora Museum has a model of the Agora as well as artifacts assembled from the site.  This was the world’s first shopping arcade, built from 159-138 BC by King Attalos II of Pergamum.  It is two stories high and in its day had two aisles with expensive shops.   It was reconstructed from 1953-1956 by the American School of Archeology, but its facade was left in natural Pentelic marble (originally painted red and blue).

The Agora Museum

Under cover at the Agora Museum

After my long and hot walk through the Agora, I am ready to sit and have a light lunch and something to drink.  I find an inviting little cafe where I order orange Fanta, water, and some delicious lemon chicken soup.   Yum!

lunchtime!

studying the map for further adventures

having lunch after exploring the Agora

lemon chicken soup 🙂

After lunch, I head back toward the Monastiraki Flea Market on my way to Keramikos, the city’s cemetery from the 12th century BC until Roman times.  There is so much bustle on the streets around Monastiraki Square that it’s a photographer’s dream.  Some shots of the vibrant streets of the Sunday Flea Market follow.

Flea Market Sunday at Monastiraki

Stuff for sale at the Flea Market

sewing machines for sale

inviting streets in Monastiraki near the Agora

a busy street corner in the Monastiraki area

I only have a little time left before I must head to the airport, so I walk down the street to Keramikos to explore one of Athens’ old cemeteries.

street scenes of Athens, a shopping spree and the belated return of the prodigal suitcase

Saturday, September 1:  I continue on the Athens Open Tour after I finish walking all around the Acropolis and its slopes.  We pass the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Parliament and the National Gardens, Syntagma Square, the Bernaki Museum, the Presidential Residence, the Panathenaic Stadium, the National Library, Omonia Square, the National Archeological Museum, and Karaiskaki Square. I’m intrigued by the street scenes I see along the way.  As we drive past all these places, I take pictures, not really knowing always what is what.  Here are a few scenes from the open air top of the bus.

a Greek Orthodox church

the Greek Parliament

the National Library

the Presidential Residence

the Panathenaic Stadium

continuing on the Athens Open Tour

street scenes

beautiful colored building

Finally at Thession, I disembark so I can walk down the main central shopping street: Ermou.  I intend to buy some clothes just in case my suitcase doesn’t arrive, since I am leaving for Crete tomorrow.   I have continued to check my phone in case I’ve missed a call from Egypt Air, but there is nothing.  I start at the traditional Monastiraki Flea Market, a festive place with permanent antiques, furniture, collectibles, jewelry, handicrafts and bric-a-brac.

Flea market finds

More bric-a-brac

colorful chairs for sale

After passing through the flea market area, I walk along the pedestrian section of Ermou with its eclectic mix of stores and shopping strips.  Here I come across some modern-day clothing stores.  Here, I pop in and out and start a buying spree.  First stop, I buy two tank tops and two pairs of shorts.  As I continue in and out of stores, I end up buying a number of tops, two pairs of pants, three pairs of shorts, underwear, and pajamas.  After all is said and done, I have spent 262 euros (or $341)!!!  Each time before I make a purchase, I check my phone to see if Egypt Air has called about my bag, but there is never any missed call or any message.  I figure as soon as they let me know they have found my bag, I will stop purchasing stuff and head back to the hotel.

My bag of stuff is quite heavy, and by now I am hot, tired and irritable, so I stop at a little cafe to grab a drink and a bite to eat.  I’m disappointed because not only have I had to spend a lot of money that I hadn’t budgeted, but I don’t even really like the stuff I bought.  I just bought something, anything to wear, period.  Not my style, but at least they are clean clothes!  At the cafe,  I end up getting a spinach pie and a lemonade.

a little respite from all my shopping

spinach pie and a lemonade

After eating the delicious spinach pie and being refreshed by the lemonade, I walk the rest of the way to Syntagma Square, where I catch the Hop On Hop Off bus again.  This particular stop is the end/beginning of the line, so the bus sits here for some time.  As I sit at the top, I check my phone again.  Still not a word about my bag. 😦

Then I notice a lot of police activity down below, with police blocking off one of the streets.  Word is from some people on the bus that a neo-Nazi demonstration is due to occur in an hour or so.  Later I read in an online publication called Contra Info that the demonstration was more AGAINST neo-Nazis.  According to Contra Info‘s story, Athens: Brief summary of the antifascist demo on September 1st:  Around 2,500 people attended an antifascist demo in Athens last Saturday, September 1st. The meeting point for the demonstration was Monastiraki square at 5pm, from where the demonstrators marched onto the Athinas Street just before 6pm on their way across the main arteries of the city to Syntagma square. The idea of the demo was to arrive at the square to confront a group of ‘autonomous’ fascists, a Strasserist faction of the local nationalist circles, who practice the political strategy of entryism to lead dissident groups towards the neo-Nazi ways.

It is crazy that I almost end up in the middle of this demonstration!!  The bus leaves its spot at Syntagma Square, and in two more stops, in front of the Acropolis Museum, I hop off at the same spot where I had hopped on this morning.  I walk the several blocks back to my hotel, and there, lo and behold (!), right in front of me in the hotel lobby, is my red suitcase!!   A wave of happiness, relief, even ecstasy, washes over me.  Thank goodness!! I ask the desk clerk when the bag appeared and they said it arrived a couple of hours ago.   The only regret of course is that Egypt Air never called to let me know they found the bag, which would have 1) eased my worries and 2) saved me from spending 262 euros on new clothes that I DID NOT NEED!!!

I haul my suitcase immediately up to my room, take a shower and change into one of the cute knit dresses I had packed.  I am so happy to have clean clothes and all my belongings!!  I have to figure now that the clothes I bought are a sunk cost, never to be recovered except in wearing the clothes over time…..

I head out almost immediately to walk to the cafes along Plaka where I find God’s Restaurant. Someone lures me in and since  the menu looks good and the sign out front says it’s recommended by Rick Steves, I take a seat.  Later I look in my Rick Steves book but I find no mention of this restaurant.  False advertising!!  However, it’s quite pleasant as I sip on a glass of wine and watch the hip young Europeans strolling by.

me in a sundress (clean clothes!!) at God’s Restaurant in Plaka

I enjoy a dinner of mussels and bread and bubbly water and Greek wine.

steamed mussels at God’s Restaurant

The proprietor of God’s Restaurant

I finish my meal and take a little stroll in Plaka and then wander back to my hotel.  A few nighttime shots show a colorful area.

ice cream for sale

I love the sign on this business….

🙂

motorbikes parked along the entrance to the pedestrian street at Plaka

Back at the hotel, I get another glass of wine from the lobby and carry it up to the terrace to enjoy the nighttime view of the Acropolis.  This time I have the terrace to myself.  There is a full moon, or close to it, and the lights of Athens fan out all around me.  Life is good.  Very very good.

the Acropolis and the Odeon of Herodus Atticus from the terrace at the Athens View Hotel

I go to sleep in my own pajamas and I charge the battery on my camera and on my phone.  Happy reunion with all my belongings.  I go to sleep, totally relaxed, knowing now that everything should fall in place for the rest of my adventure in Greece.

the slopes of the acropolis

Saturday, September 1:   I descend from the Acropolis and make my way along the circular path called the Peripatos that goes around its slopes and intersects the Panathenaic Way at the western approach.  These slopes were home to many sanctuaries that played important roles in the religious lives of the ancient Athenians.   It’s likely that most of the north slope was part of the sacred area at the foot of the Acropolis known as the Palargikon.

At this point in the day, it’s starting to get hot, and my clothes are starting to get quite soggy and smelly.  I have checked my phone all through the morning for word from Egypt Air, but not a soul has called.  I feel a little bedraggled and even a little defeated.

the view of the Agora and Athens from the path on the northwest slope of the Acropolis

I head first to the north slope, which holds the more simple shrines, the ones that are sometimes called “rustic.”  These were places where divinities of nature, fertility and healing were worshiped on a more personal level.  Some shrines are nestled along the steep cliffs and pathways.   I come across a group of shallow caves at the northwest corner of the north slope where Apollo, Pan, and (probably) the Nymphs were worshiped.

One of the shallow caves where Pan and other deities were worshiped

another shallow cave where deities were worshiped

the view from the path along the east slope of the Acropolis

The cult places on the south slope received monumental, architectural embellishments, such as the Theatre of Dionysos.  The first theatre here was built during the 6th century BC and during the golden age in the 5th century, politicians sponsored dramas by writers such as Sophocles and Euripides, with some light relief provided by the comedies of Aristophanes.  The theatre was reconstructed in stone and marble by Lycurgus between 342 BC and 326 BC, with the capacity to seat 17,000 spread over 64 tiers.  Today only 20 tiers remain.   Sixty-seven thrones in the front row were reserved for festival officials and priests.  Reliefs at the back of the stage depict the exploits of Dionysos and date from the 2nd century BC.

Theatre of Dionysos

the front of the Theatre of Dionysos

After finishing my walk along the slopes of the Acropolis, I run into a Canadian couple from Alberta who I chat with for a while as I drink a fresh squeezed orange juice.  Then I head back to the Hop on Hop off bus, where I continue on the tour of the city…

the acropolis

Saturday, September 1:  This morning I put on my same old clothes and head to the lobby, hoping to find some word of my bag.  Sadly, there has been no word at the front desk, nor has Egypt Air called me directly.  I eat breakfast, included in the price of my room,  in the lobby cafe.  They have quite a spread of hard-boiled eggs, toast, bread, cakes, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and olives, among other things.

I wander out in the street to make my way to the Acropolis, considered the most important ancient site in the Western world. The weather is beautiful, so cheery that it’s difficult to dwell on my worries.  As I’m walking down the street, I come across the bus stop for the Athens Open Tour,a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  I know some people may think it’s hokey, but I like to take these open-air tours for my first time in a city just to get the lay of the land.

the Athens Open Tour bus

I hop on for the price of 18 euros, which covers two days of hopping on and off the bus.  The bus makes multiple stops through the city every half hour, so it’s an easy way to get around.  I sit on the top open-air deck so I can get a good view of the sights.

Surprise, surprise, the first stop, just about 2 blocks from where I get on, is the stop for the Acropolis.  I hop off and follow the path upwards, the Acropolis before me, beckoning.

the path up the hill toward the Acropolis

The Acropolis’s first temples were built in honor of the goddess Athena during the Mycenaean era. People lived on the Acropolis until the 6th century BC, but in 510 BC the Delphic oracle determined it should be the province of the gods.

In the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the Persians reduced the buildings to ashes.  Pericles then began to rebuild, transforming the Acropolis into a city of temples.  The Acropolis has been ravaged over the centuries by foreign occupiers, foreign archeologists, visitors’ footsteps, earthquakes and, recently, pollution and acid rain.  In 1687, the Venetians fired on the Turks, who had stored gunpowder in the Parthenon, and a destructive explosion occurred.   Major restoration still continues to this day, with many original sculptures moved to the Acropolis Museum.  In 1987, the Acropolis became a World Heritage-listed site.

Shortly after the main entrance, I veer to the right where I come upon the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in AD 161 by wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife.   Uncovered in the mid-19th century and completely restored between 1950-1961, it is now the venue for performances of drama, music and dance during the Athens Festival, part of the Hellenic Festival from late May to October.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

the remaining walls of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus

I then head up the hill, up a slippery marble walkway, to the Propylaia, the grand entrance to the Acropolis. It was built by Mnesicles between 437 BC and 432 BC and consists of a central hall with two wings.  Of the 5 ancient gates, the middle and largest gate opened on to the Panathenaic Way.  The Propylaia is aligned with the Parthenon, the world’s first example of one building designed in relation to another.

resting on the steps of the Propylaia

I walk past hordes of people resting in the shade on the steps of the Propylaia and make my way up.  It appears everything is under renovation, as there is scaffolding everywhere.

the Propylaia

There, right before me is the Parthenon, which means “virgin’s apartment,” dedicated to Athena Parthenos.  Its double purpose was to house the great statue of Athena commissioned by Pericles and to serve as a new treasury.  It was the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece and the only one built completely of white Pentelic marble (except for its wooden roof which was painted blue and gilded with stars).  It has 8 columns on the ends and 17 on the sides.   It took 15 years to complete, just in time for the Great Panathenaic Festival of 438 BC.

the Parthenon, in restoration mode

one corner of the Parthenon

the east end of the Parthenon

me wearing my same clothes for my second day in Athens, with the Parthenon behind….

Athens and Lykavittos Hill

All the upper parts of the temple were decorated.  Outside on the perimeter, the metopes were carved with the battle of the gods and Giants on the east side, of the Lapiths and Centaurs on the south, of the Athenians and Amazons on the west, and of the Trojan War on the north.  The two pediments had scenes from myths surrounding Athena: the birth of the goddess in the presence of other gods on the east pediment, and her contest with Poseidon for Athens on the west.  The statue of Athena Polias stood inside the temple and was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.  It was gold-plated over an inner wooden frame;  the face, hands and feet were made of ivory and the eyes were jewels.   The statue was taken to Constantinople in AD 426 and disappeared.

Just to the north of the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, built where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, and where Athena produced the olive tree.  It was named for mythical king of Athens Erichthonius and housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erichthonius.  Built about 420 BC, it is an Ionic temple.  On the east side is a porch with six Ionic columns.   On the north is a monumental propylon. 

the Erechtheion

the west side view of the Erechtheion

the north side of the Erechtheion

The northern porch of the Erechtheion, with six Ionic columns; on the floor are fissures said to be left by a thunderbolt sent by Zeus to kill King Erechtheus.

On the south a is porch, the roof of which is supported by six figures of maidens, the famous Caryatids.  The ones here are plaster copies; 5 of the originals are inside the Acropolis Museum.

The six larger than life maiden columns, the Caryatids, that support the southern portico of the Erechtheion. The ones on this are plaster casts, and 5 of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum.

the east end of the Parthenon

the west end of the Parthenon, covered in scaffolding for renovation

I wander around here for quite some time, trying to imagine what life must have been like thousands of years ago.  Though the Acropolis is in ruins, it still stands majestically over Athena’s city, a commanding presence and reminder of the great accomplishments of ancient Greece.  This reminder possibly represents a kind of hope for the Greek people, who are on the verge of bankruptcy.  Or possibly it reflects the impending doom that Greek citizens certainly feel right now as they teeter on the edge of financial insolvency.

For me personally, it feels like a mix of hope and sadness.  On this, my second day in Greece, I have a lot of exploring to look forward to.  I will be able to enjoy this country from the outside looking in, without the unease that the Greeks feel about their economy.  But it also reminds me of ruin, how a simple thing like not having my suitcase could have the potential to ruin the vacation that I have saved up for and planned over the last six months. I determine that after I finish with the Acropolis, I will go shopping to get a couple of shirts, some pants and shorts, some pajamas and underwear.  I will be prepared in case my things never show up.  I guess that might be how the Greeks feel, they will do what they can to survive, taking one day at a time.

mussels saganaki at the acropolis restaurant

Friday, August 31:  After enjoying my wine on the terrace of the Acropolis View Hotel, I wander a few blocks down the street to a place recommended by the hotel: The Acropolis Restaurant.  I go inside on the first floor and find I am the only patron in the restaurant.   I have heard the Greeks usually eat quite late, but as an American, I’m used to eating at an early hour.  It’s about 8:00.  For me that’s late, and I’m tired from my busy day of travel and my luggage debacle.

The outside of the Acropolis Restaurant

inside the Acropolis Restaurant

I have no idea what to sample, but I have two weeks ahead and should have ample time to try a wide variety of Greek foods.  I order another glass of wine and then order something called mussels saganaki, which is listed under “starters.”  I have no idea what I will get, as I’ve never heard of saganaki before, but I look forward to eating whatever it is.

mussels saganaki, bread, olives and wine

I find later on Wikipedia that saganaki literally means “little frying pan,” and is named after the single-serving frying pan in which it is cooked.  In Greek cuisine, the cheese used in saganaki is usually sheep’s milk feta.  The cheese is melted in a small frying pan until it is bubbling and is generally served with lemon juice and pepper and eaten with bread.

mussels, peppers, tomatoes, onions and feta cheese ~ mussels saganaki

Other dishes that are traditionally cooked in the pan include shrimp saganaki and mussels saganaki , which are typically feta-based and include a spicy tomato sauce.  This particular version of mussels saganaki is steaming hot and delicious, and a much bigger portion than what I would normally call a starter!

Just after the dish is presented at my table, I see some people going up a steep staircase in a corner of the restaurant.  Curious, I sneak away from my table and follow them upstairs to find a lovely terrace.  I feel like I have gone through a secret passageway to a magical land.  Immediately I run back downstairs, grab my plate and wine and ask one of the waiters to bring my bread and olives upstairs.  Outdoors it is lovely, with a cool breeze and pinpoints of stars overhead.  Sure, there is the sound of cars going past on the road below and the chatter of Greeks and tourists walking past, but it is much more atmospheric than inside.

on the terrace of the Acropolis Restaurant

the terrace taverna ~ the ultimate Greek experience

As I savor my meal and drink my wine, two ladies sitting at a nearby table strike up a conversation.  They are a mother and daughter from the USA.  The daughter, Angela, is in Athens performing in a theater production called The Wanderings of Odysseus.  Her mother, Shirley, has accompanied her after recently having lost her husband.  Angela, 28, has been married for 5 years and is working on her Ph.D. in Performing Arts at Stanford University.   We talk for quite some time across an empty table and they eventually ask me to join them.  Shirley is surprised and impressed that I am traveling through Greece alone and says she admires my confidence.  I tell her if she comes to Santorini, which she desperately wants to do but probably won’t because Angela is busy with her play every day, she should give me a call and we can explore the island together.  I enjoy their companionship and our evening together as Americans in a foreign land.

Shirley and Angela from California

Though there is no view of the Acropolis from this restaurant, the atmosphere is so chill that I want to linger here all night.  I adore the cafe culture of Europe, the laid-back mindset, the importance that Europeans place on enjoying life to the fullest.  I think I must have a European heart.

Angela, me and Shirley

When I return to my room, I am again hit by the realization that I have no luggage.  It seems I had temporarily forgotten my little misfortune.  During the day, I had bought a toothbrush and toothpaste and a round hairbrush.  I take off the only clothes I have, wash the only underwear I have, and try to sleep, tossing and turning with visions of Plaka, the Acropolis, colorful mussels saganaki, and my capricious vagabond bag.

wine, a little meltdown, and a saving view of the acropolis from the acropolis view

Friday, August 31:  After asking the hotel clerk for a glass of wine, I use the phone at the bar to call the Egypt Air numbers the woman from the airport gave me.   There is no answer at either of the numbers.  This is the first and only time I lose it.  I hate being a crybaby, but here I am, crying in frustration that I can’t get any information about my luggage.  There has been no word from the airline all afternoon.

Greek wine and the Acropolis 🙂

Finally, the clerk, seeing I am upset, dials the number for me and he gets through!  I give someone my claim number, and the kind woman tells me that they won’t know anything until tomorrow afternoon.  She tells me not to worry, everything will be fine.  Then the hotel clerk reassures me that the incidents of lost luggage happen ALL THE TIME!!  He says I wouldn’t believe how often this happens, practically every day!  Usually the airline drops off the luggage that same evening or the next morning.  Since Egypt Air has assured me that the next flight from Cairo will not arrive in Athens until tomorrow, I know I have no choice but to wait.  Being a very impatient person, this will be a challenge.

the Acropolis from the rooftop of the Acropolis View Hotel

I take my glass of wine up to the 5th floor terrace of the hotel and sit on a wrought-iron chair and soak up the Acropolis view.  It’s amazing, with the sun setting and the golden light washing over it. Several other hotel guests are up there as well.  A nice couple from Wisconsin has some bread and cheese and fruit from the market, and they ask if I’d like to share in their dinner.  I speak to them for a while, but I don’t want to intrude on their meal.  Besides, I am determined to go out and eat some good Greek food at a restaurant.

closer….

the view to the street below

closest…

This is such a pleasant spot, with a cool breeze and amazing ancient history right in front of me.  Athens spreads out in every direction all around.   It’s lovely and I adore basking in it.  I linger.  I sit.  I absorb.  I’m already in love with Greece, and I haven’t even been here a full day.

yours truly, finally in Athens, with just the clothes on my back!

the acropolis museum

Friday, August 31:  After wandering around Plaka, I venture into the new 130-million-euro Acropolis Museum, opened with much fanfare in 2009.   Passing outdoor cafes and a peanut vendor, I walk along the southern foothills of the Acropolis itself, to the entrance at Dionysiou Areopagitou Street.  Outside the door is something I will see numerous times in Greece: a glassed-over excavation, showcasing an archeological dig.  I pay the entrance fee of 5 euros, still feeling unsettled about my lost luggage.

The new museum is apparently ten times larger than the former on-site museum.  This huge modernist building collects the surviving treasures of the Acropolis, including items held at other museums or in storage, along with pieces returned from foreign museums — a total of over 4,000 artifacts.  The museum’s collections focus on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, generally agreed to be the height of Greece’s artistic achievement.

the entrance to the Acropolis Museum

In the first gallery past the turnstiles, the glass floor slopes upwards in sync with the finds displayed from the slopes of the Acropolis.  This ascending floor alludes to the climb up the sacred hill, while allowing glimpses of the ruins below.  Not understanding that no photography is allowed in this gallery, I snap a picture of the painted vases below.  A guard walks over to reprimand me… Oops!  Other artifacts include votive offerings from the sanctuaries where the gods were worshiped.   Many finds from the excavated settlements are featured, including everyday household items used by Athenians of all historical periods as well as two clay statues of Nike at the entrance. (The Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis).  In ancient times, the slopes of the Sacred Rock constituted the transition zone between the city and its most famous sanctuary.  Here official and popular cults, as well as large and small sanctuaries, existed alongside private homes.

two vases found on the slopes of the real Acropolis, displayed on the sloping glass floor of the Museum

The first floor Archaic Gallery is surrounded by glass, allowing the exhibits to be seen in natural light.  Archaic is the period throughout the 7th century BC, until the end of the Persian Wars (480/79 BC). This period is characterized by the development of the city-state and the transition from aristocracy to tyranny and, eventually, democracy. It is also characterized by great achievements in the economy, art and intellectual life.  Sadly, no photography is allowed on this floor.  Most statues are 6th century kore  (maiden) statues in draped gowns and elaborate braids, carrying a bird, pomegranate or wreath.

In this gallery is also a 570 BC youth bearing a calf, one of the rare male statues here.

the view of the Parthenon from the Parthenon Gallery of the Acropolis Museum

The top floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium built in alignment with the temple, is the museum’s highlight.  According to the Museum’s website: “The installation of the frieze of the Parthenon on the rectangular cement core that has exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon enables a comprehensive viewing of the details of the frieze, as one takes the perimetric walk of the Gallery. The narrative of the story of the Panathenaic Procession is pieced together with a combination of the original blocks of the frieze and cast copies of the pieces in museums abroad, such as the British Museum and the Louvre.”  The British Museum bought the original Parthenon Marbles after Lord Elgin absconded with them in 1801; currently more than half the frieze is in Britain.

one side of the Parthenon’s 160 meter frieze, which for the first time in 200 years is shown in sequence as one narrative about the Panathenaic procession

Sculptures from the Parthenon

one of the original panels of the frieze from the Parthenon

 

The museum was designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi, with Greek architect Michael Photiadis, and stunningly showcases layers of history, hovering above the ruins and with the Acropolis visible above, allowing us to see the masterpieces in context.  I love the design of the museum and how it is interwoven with the Acropolis itself; I also love all the natural light and especially the layout of the Parthenon Gallery, which is the closest thing to being able to experience the Acropolis as a whole.

a lion’s head, looking out through the windows of the museum over Athens

Between being upset about my lost luggage and the sheer exhaustion from my flight two days earlier from the USA to Oman and then from Oman to Greece, I am ready to relax for the evening.  I head straight back to my hotel, where I go directly to the lobby and order a glass of Greek wine….

Acropolis Museum: President’s Welcome

Tuesday to Sunday: 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.
Last admission: 7.30 p.m.
Galleries cleared at 7.45 p.m.
The Museum is open every Friday until 10 p.m.
Monday: Closed.
Closed: 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 December and 26 December.

arrival in athens and the case of the missing luggage

Friday, August 31:   I have a 6 a.m. flight to Athens this morning on Egypt Air.  I am anxious about it because I know I have to drive from Nizwa beginning at 2:30 a.m. to get to the airport by 4 a.m., two hours prior.  I debate about going to Muscat to spend the night, but even the cheapest hotels in Muscat cost over $50 and I know I am going to be spending a lot already in Greece.  As it is, I take a nap from about 10 p.m. Thursday night until about 12:30 a.m. Friday, get up and shower, make sure I have all my documents in order, and drive early to the airport to make certain I don’t miss my flight.   I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time and I am determined I WILL BE ON THAT PLANE!

traveling to Greece on Egypt Air

The flights are fine: 4 hours from Muscat to Cairo, a 2 hour layover, and another 2 hour flight to Athens.  However, after standing at the baggage claim for a long time, as every other passenger departs with their bags, I realize my luggage has gone on a trip of its own to some unknown destination.  It certainly isn’t in Athens!  This is a highly unpleasant surprise because in all of my MANY travels, I have never lost luggage!!  I guess I’ve been lucky.  Once I met a girl traveling in Istanbul who had been waiting 5 days for her luggage ( I don’t know if she ever got it)!  One of my closest friends says Delta Airlines knows the route to her house by heart because they’ve lost her luggage so many times.

one of many colorful mansions in Plaka

I used to pack a carry-on bag with pajamas, toiletries, and a change of clothes, JUST IN CASE.  But because I’ve been so lucky, I didn’t have a carry-on bag at all this time!  As a matter of fact, I prided myself on fitting all my stuff into one medium-sized suitcase that I checked. All I have are the clothes on my back, a small backpack with my camera (but no charger for my battery), my phone (but no charger), money, credit cards and my passport.

a VW beetle in front of an old building in Plaka

The Egypt Air staff takes all my information and tells me they will let me know whenever they find it.  I tell the woman I am heading to Crete on Sunday, so I hope it will be back in my possession by then!!  She says she imagines it is still in Cairo and will likely arrive via tomorrow’s flight.  I tell her to please call me as soon as she hears something.

a door to a private world in Plaka

I’m sure most intrepid travelers are a lot braver than I am about diving into a new city.  I am always overwhelmed at first, being all alone and faced with a confusing transport system.  I worry I might have to go through a bad area of town, that the metro or buses will be bewildering or scary, or that I might be traipsing the streets lugging my suitcase looking in vain for a hard-to-locate hotel.  Possibly most people arrive in a new town and just grab the first hotel they see, but I usually plan ahead by reading reviews on Trip Advisor, looking for prices in my range (I budgeted around 35-50 euros a night for this trip), and booking the hotel.  There were too many times when I lived in Korea, where it was next-to-impossible to make hotel reservations, that I walked up and down streets looking for a reasonably priced and decent accommodation.   I find that too frustrating.  I don’t have the patience for it, nor do I have the courage.  I admire travelers that do, certainly.

For me, one of my priorities in travel is to have a clean and comfortable place that is a bit charming and has something special to offer.  In the case of the Acropolis View Hotel, it has a rooftop terrace with a perfect view of the Acropolis, the staff is friendly and helpful, and they let you buy a drink at any hour of the day in the lobby and take it directly up to the terrace.  The price is right at 52 euros a night.

The Acropolis View Hotel

So, I confess I usually take the easy, and EXPENSIVE, way into to a city on my first arrival.  In this case, I arranged a hotel pick-up at 55 euros!!   That’s about 72 freakin’ US dollars!!  I know it’s crazy, but for me it is the most comfortable way to approach a city for the first time.  Most hotel pickups are not that expensive, but I am still willing to pay for the convenience and peace of mind.

Outdoor cafes along the street beside the Acropolis Museum in Plaka

Since my luggage is nowhere in sight, I could have probably taken the metro easily; however, the hotel pick-up has already been arranged and I feel too dejected to do anything but sit quietly in the back of the taxi trying to figure out what on earth I am going to do for 2 weeks if they never find my suitcase.  Here I must admit I can be a pessimist; it usually works for me to be this way as it avoids disappointment.  As long as I believe the worst will happen, I am always prepared for disaster and am pleasantly surprised if everything turns out fine.

more cafes on the pedestrian street in Plaka

At the hotel, I check in, although I really have nothing to check-in!  I glance quickly around the room,  sizing it up.  It is fine but nothing fancy.  I head out to explore the streets of Plaka, intending to go to the Acropolis Museum as my introduction to the Acropolis itself, which I plan to see tomorrow.

the Acropolis Museum, right beneath the Acropolis in Plaka

I take my camera along, taking shots of the Plaka neighborhood, where my hotel is located.  All the time, of course, I am worried about taking too many pictures in case my battery runs out of charge.  Plaka is the old Turkish quarter which used to be the whole of Athens when it was declared capital of Greece.  Its paved narrow streets run along the base of the northeastern slope of the Acropolis and pass right by the Acropolis Museum.  This area reminds me a bit of the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul; it’s a tourist-friendly and charming neighborhood with leafy trees, outdoor cafes and shops selling artsy jewelry, Grecian urns, T-shirts, paintings of the Greek islands, souvenirs and trinkets.  I love its ambiance, despite its tourist focus.  On the periphery of the cafe-lined streets are quiet neighborhoods with restored neoclassical mansions.

nuts for sale!

After strolling around Plaka and checking out fashionable young Europeans sitting at cafes and walking hand-in-hand down the street, I feel a little envious of their youth and exuberance, the romance they have so obviously found.  I feel a little downhearted and worried about my suitcase.  I make up my mind that no matter what, this is not going to ruin my vacation.  I head to the Acropolis Museum…..

the nut man’s cart

corelli’s mandolin by louis de bernières

Sunday, August 12: Tonight I finish the amazing 1994 novel, Corelli’s Mandolin.  I love the world created by British author Louis de Bernières so much that I will probably linger in it for quite some time, despite the fact that this world was filled with unimaginable hardships and horrors.  The book’s characters, though imaginary, are full of depth and life.  The setting is historical, and thus factual for the most part, set on the Greek island of Cephallonia before, during and after World War II.  The Italian army occupies the once tranquil island, and sets in motion a chain of events that is both heartwarming and utterly devastating.

From Goodreads (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin): Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of WWII, before Mussolini invades Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephallonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he teaches much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad–at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn’t long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair–despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

What makes the novel so amazing are the characters.  Dr. Iannis is the local doctor who spends much of his spare time writing about the history of Cephallonia and nurturing his beloved only daughter Pelagia. Pelagia is not like other women on the island in that she is highly respected, educated and loved by her father.  She even has dreams to become a doctor, unheard of in those days for any woman. Pelagia first falls in love with Mandras, a young, handsome local fisherman. He also falls in love with her, only to destroy their relationship by going to fight in the war, and ultimately becoming a cruel and inhumane man obsessed by Communism.  Antonio Corelli is an Italian captain with a love for music and life. He despises the war, and falls in love with Pelagia; but the war inevitably tears them apart again. Corelli is one of those energetic and charming men with a great sense of humor, the kind of man all women love to love.  The interactions of Corelli and Pelagia are entertaining and endearing, and, as a woman, I can see why she falls for him.  She is equally charming and smart; I can easily understand why he falls in love with her.

A major player in the story is Carlo Guercio, a good-natured, but closeted, homosexual Italian soldier who falls in love with a straight Francisco, only to lose him to the war. He later falls in love with Corelli and sacrifices his life to save the Captain’s.  This homosexual, and unrequited, love is never acted upon by Carlo, except in ways that are self-sacrificing and honorable.  He’s an amazing character.

The theme of love is explored heavily in this novel, starting with the lust-love of Pelagia and Mandras. Love is described by Dr. Iannis as “what is left when the passion has gone”, and it certainly appears that this criterion is fulfilled by the love of Corelli and Pelagia. The paternal love of Iannis for Pelagia is also strong and never-ending.

Music is a major theme, offering a direct contrast to the horror and destruction that the war brings, showing how something beautiful can arise from something horrible.

The war is described in graphic detail, particularly the death of Francisco, Carlo’s unrequited love. It is responsible for the fall of Mandras and the German Weber, the deaths of Carlo and Francisco, and the separation of Pelagia and Corelli.  It is the source of much suffering and devastation, much like in the book I read earlier, Eleni by Nicolas Gage.  The war demonstrates the horrors that people are capable of inflicting on one another in the name of ideologies such as Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

As horrible as this world was, the characters made the world somehow palatable, even romantic.  The love between Pelagia and Corelli is one of those timeless and enduring love stories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Louis de Bernières (Louis de Bernières) published his first novel in 1990 and was selected by Granta magazine as one of the twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Novel.

As well as writing, he plays the flute, mandolin, clarinet and guitar. He was born in London in 1954.

little infamies

Friday, July 27Little Infamies is a book of short stories published in 2002 by Panos Karnezis; it is set in a nameless Greek village in some unknown time.   These are stories of mythical realism; in each story I’m taken aback by the magical, and often dark and sinister, feel to them.  In the stories we meet the villagers, including the priest (ubiquitous in every Greek village), a doctor, a seamstress, a mayor, and a coffee-shop proprietor called Whale because of his immense size.  Animals also make appearances, including a horse named History, a centaur, and a parrot that recites Homer.

In the story, “A Funeral of Stones,” we find a man who keeps his twin daughters tied up in the basement like animals because he blames them for his wife’s death in childbirth.  The twins eventually escape and take off with a bird-fancier woman.  The village priest, who believes the girls died many years ago, finds out otherwise when, after an earthquake, he discovers their graves filled with stones.  He goes in search of the story only to find they escaped many years earlier.  Their escape had been covered up by the villagers, making them parties to the father’s crimes against his daughters.

The stories involve neighbors complicit in each others’ wrongdoings, or, alternatively, neighbors turn too easily on neighbors.  From the book’s inside cover: “Their lives intersect and they know each other’s secrets: the hidden crimes, the mysteries, the little infamies that all of us commit.”

I enjoyed the stories, but I’m not a big fan of magical realism, so for me that detracted from my pleasure.  After reading Eleni, which showed the Greeks at their worst, and this story, which certainly doesn’t make them attractive, I’m now a little leery about what kinds of characters I will encounter in Greece!

Panagiotis (Panos) Karnezis is a Greek writer.  Born in Greece in 1967, he moved to England in 1992 to study engineering. He was later awarded a M.A. in Creative Writing by the University of East Anglia.  He now lives in London.  In 2004 he published The Maze, a novel set during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. He also published a novel called The Convent in 2010.

cafe tempest: adventures on a small greek island

Thursday, July 26:  This morning I finish reading Cafe Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island, a “fictional memoir” by Barbara Bonfigli.  I have to say I am relieved to reach the end.

In the story, Sarah, the main character, and her friend Alex travel to the Greek island of Pharos.  Sarah is a thirty-something American theatrical producer who lives in London and who just broke up with her boyfriend.  Sarah also practices yoga and is writing a magazine article about mantras.  Her friend Alex, a girl, happens to be another of Sarah’s ex-lovers.  While in Pharos, the local doctor Theo asks Sarah if she will help produce the island’s summer play.  Sarah impetuously agrees and chooses Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  She proceeds to line up characters from the island’s inhabitants: including a taxi driver Caliban and a postmaster Prospero.

I’m on a quest to read as many books about Greece as possible to get a feel for the country before I visit there in September.  Though I do get a great feel for the small island of Pharos, where the novel takes place, and for the characters that inhabit this island, I don’t enjoy Bonfigli’s writing style.  It seems disjointed; the action and conversations seem to bounce around like a misshapen rubber ball. Also, the author tosses in so many Greek phrases and words that I find the story hard to follow.  Maybe if I hadn’t been reading the Kindle version, I would have realized there is a glossary at the back.  I come to it too late for it to have been any help.

Often the story seems like an inside joke from which I am excluded.  Half the time, I have to reread parts to figure out what is going on.  There seems a forced cleverness to every conversation; the main character Sarah is too busy trying to be witty to establish real connections with people. I find this annoying.

I find I like Sarah best when she is being reflective and meditative.  Some of her words of wisdom are “If your ex-lovers don’t become your friends, you’re dancing on a dark stage.”  I like this idea that love has a capacity to expand and reinvent itself.

She says another time: “Life on Pharos is intoxicating in its simplicity.”  I like the idea of travel as a way to escape into an intoxicating and simple parallel reality.  I don’t want to be the same person I always am when I am traveling.  I want to escape, to just be.  Sarah’s meditations and mantras appeal to me for this reason. “Ham Sa” or “I am That,” suggest an interconnectedness with the universe. I am drawn to this feeling.

Finally, Sarah falls in love with Monika, who has only ever been involved with men.  She tells Monika: “You love who you love. My heart doesn’t notice anything else.  It only knows that it’s happy.”  Monika, who is not sure yet about getting involved with a woman, replies, “And your brain doesn’t interfere?”  Shortly after that, Monika disappears for a few days as she tries to process her feelings for another woman.   Sarah is much more open and sees men as only “fifty percent of [her] hunting grounds.” The book explores labels that freeze people’s imaginations and inhibit their ability to discover who they are.

There are definitely interesting and thought-provoking ideas in this book; the problem is that when the characters light on these ideas, they too quickly skitter off in every direction, like fiddler crabs on a sandy beach.

eleni

Thursday, June 21:  Today I finished reading Eleni, a book that tells the story of Eleni Gatzoyiannis, 41, who defied intimidation by communist insurgents during the Greek Civil War following WWII and arranged for the escape of her three daughters and her son, Nicola, from their village of Lia.  In 1948, children were being abducted and sent to communist “camps” inside the Iron Curtain.  Because Eleni arranged for her children’s escape, she was imprisoned, tortured, and executed in cold blood.

Her son Nicola, who later took the American name of Nicholas Gage, joined his father in Massachusetts at the age of 9, after having lived his entire life in wartime Greece.   He became a top New York Times investigative reporter, sharpening his skills with one goal in mind: to return to Greece and uncover the details of, and avenge, his mother’s death.

Once I got into this book, I could hardly put it down.  I was caught up, along with the poor villagers of Lia, in the communist insurgency, as the guerrillas occupied their village and made their lives a living hell.  Whenever I have read books about war told from the civilian side, I have always been appalled by the behaviors that human beings are capable of toward one another.  All in the name of “ideals.”  The paranoia that exists under these kinds of situations, from everything I’ve read, is insidious and unbelievable. Neighbors use any small grudge or jealousy to turn on their neighbors, to save their own skin or simply to get revenge on people for their own petty insecurities or perceived slights.

Here is a quote from the book describing the setting for this story: “In the decade of war from 1939 to 1949, one out of every ten Greeks was killed — 450,000 during World War II and 150,000 during the civil war.  Of the survivors, nearly 100,000 had been exiled behind the Iron Curtain, some by choice, many by force.  Families were rent apart, not to be reunited for many years, often forever. The children taken in the pedomasoma from the Mourgana villages were went to Rumania, while their parents found themselves in Hungary or Poland; the girls conscripted as andartinas (girl soldiers) wound up in Russia or Czechoslovakia.”

This story of wartime Greece is personalized in the character of Nicola’s mother, Eleni.

In the end, Nicola spent years tracking down his mother’s killers, finally coming face-to-face with the only living person who was most culpable, a man called Katis.  He wanted to kill the man, especially as he was cold, arrogant and indifferent and continued to deny his culpability for Eleni’s death, despite the overwhelming evidence Gage had collected against him. In the end, Gage couldn’t do it because of “the understanding of my mother that I had gained in my examination of her life.”  He realized that Eleni “did not spend the last of her strength cursing her tormenters,” but “she found the courage to face death because she had done her duty to those she loved.”  He realized he would have had to uproot the love in himself and sink to the level of Katis, void of all humanity or compassion.  He knew by killing Katis, he would abandon his own children, something Eleni would have never done.

In 1985, Eleni was made into a feature film starring John Malkovich as Gage. In 1987, Eleni was cited by Ronald Reagan as an inspiration for his summit meetings to end the arms race with the Soviet Union.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will try to see it when I return to the USA this August.  This was a great book that gave me a great history lesson on Greece told from a personal point of view.  Astounding book!

eurydice street

Wednesday, May 30:  Today I finished reading Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff.   The writer tells of her experience accompanying her husband Vassilis on a posting back to Athens in 2001; he returning to his fatherland and she returning to her first love.  She embraces it, yet sees it unflinchingly as an outsider.  Their Athenian friends had warned: “Greece is good for holidays but not for living.” So.  She arrives in Athens with some trepidation.

She depicts Athens as full of rowdy tavernas, political demonstrations, and polluted chaos.  At one point she says, “Athens may be an ancient city, but it is also uncompromisingly modern.  And there’s hardly anything else between the two extremes.  It’s almost as though the Athenians went straight from carved marble to reinforced concrete, skipping the intervening centuries.”

I love her blatant honesty and humor as she looks squarely at a culture that has been marked by years of foreign occupation, terrorism, war, internal strife and poverty. She speaks of the “inherent contradictions” of Greece: its love of excess as opposed to its desire for purification. She talks about the “practical, everyday quality” of Greek Orthodoxy: “its influence is everywhere, but it is fitted into ordinary life.”  She strips bare the glamor of the city, then paints on an aura of magic.  It seems a city of huge contradictions.

Since I went to Turkey two summers ago, I found especially interesting her story of “the Catastrophe of 1922,” when around 900,000 Orthodox refugees from Asia Minor had arrived in Greece, driven away violently during the Greco-Turkish War.  In 1923, the “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations”  was signed in Switzerland by the governments of Greece and Turkey.  It involved around 2 million people (around 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks and 500,000 Muslims in Greece), most of whom were forcibly made refugees, based on their religious identity, and de jure denaturalized from their homelands.

When I was in Turkey in 2010, I heard about this population exchange from the Turkish side.  Now it is interesting to read about it from the Greek side.  It sounds like it was an horrific exchange, with thousands upon thousands of people massacred.

This was an excellent book and I’m glad I read it before my upcoming trip to Greece.  The account brings the city down to earth.  It’s funny how you imagine the glamorous things about a place before traveling there, and sometimes your imaginings lead to disappointment.  Now I feel I’m ready to see and appreciate modern-day Athens for what it really is.

my life in ruins

Saturday, May 19:   Tonight, to get in the mindset for my upcoming trip to Greece, I watch a pretty bad movie, My Life in Ruins.  This is a 2009 romantic comedy set among the ruins of ancient Greece. Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) stars as Georgia, a laid-off American professor of classical Greek history who is now working as a tour guide.  She fashions her tours in the form of a university classroom, trying to teach her group of vagabonds about the history of Greece she finds so fascinating.  However, this uneducated bunch of misfits has no interest in learning anything.  It seems they just want to eat ice cream, shop for tacky souvenirs, get their picture taken in hokey poses, and buy T-shirts.

According to Wikipedia, the film is set on location in Greece and Alicante, in Spain, as well as Guadalest and Javea. This was the first time that an American film studio was allowed to film on location at the Acropolis;  the Greek government gave the studio its approval after Vardalos sought permission to film several scenes there.Other Greek filming locations include Olympia, Delphi and Epidaurus.

The scenery of Greece and its classical architecture is frankly the only reason I find this movie at all appealing.

The cast of characters, though meant to be misfits, are so obnoxious I can hardly stand them.  Vardalos as Georgia is endearing, but the other characters are mainly one-dimensional bad stereotypes of Americans, Australians, and Brits.

In a clash of personalities and cultures, everything seems to go wrong until the day when older traveler Irv Gideon, played by Richard Dreyfuss, shows Georgia how to have fun, and to take a good look at the last person she would ever expect to find love with, her Greek bus driver Prokopi Kakas, played by Alexis Georgoulis.

The characters in this movie get on my nerves big time.  The saving grace is that I get to see some of the beautiful places in Greece I hope to see in person this September… 🙂