Last month, I flew to Greece. This country has been on the top of my bucket list for a very long time. My visit there turn out to be one of the best vacations of my life. The flight was long, exactly twelve hours from Atlanta, Georgia, but I didn’t mind. I was excited. It was my first time travelling alone to a foreign country and I was quite anxious about the unknown adventure ahead. I flew on Turkish Airlines and I have to say the customer service was superb. I had plenty of leg room, the Wi-Fi was free and the food wasn’t bad either. There was an hour lay-over in Istanbul, Turkey. The airport sits on the beautiful blue Aegean Sea. I promised myself the next time I come this way, I will spend a couple of days in the city of Istanbul.
My plane arrived in Athens at 8:45 Wednesday evening. The time difference between Atlanta and Athens was seven hours and I was extremely exhausted. I breeze through customs and then collected my suitcase at baggage claim. It was impossible to get lost. Most of the signs and directions were written in English. A complete surprise to me. I later learn from various cab drivers in the city English is the universal language throughout Europe.
I arranged my lodging through Airbnb and my host Katia had her trusty friend, Pasos, a cab driver to pick me up from the airport. He was there waiting for me with all smiles and he was quite handsome too. He grabbed my suitcase and usher me to his cab. I learned Katia’s studio apartment was forty-five minutes away and on the way there we had a lively conversation. He gave me a brief history of his city, including the city’s current politics and he was pleased to learn Santorini was on my list as one of the places to visit. He was quite the gentleman. He gave me a brief tour of the Athens City Center free of charge. He showed me the Acropolis, The Temple of Zeus and the Amalia Hotel ( where I was schedule to meet a tour group for sight seeing and dinner the next day).
Katia’s studio apartment was not only a ten minute walk from each site but her apartment was close by several cafes and eateries within walking distance. Her apartment building was quite tricky to get inside however. There was a key to unlock the door to enter the lobby and a key to get into the apartment itself which was located on the fifth floor. I didn’t mind that, but the elevator was weird. Pasos gave me strict instructions on operating the elevator. Once the button is pressed, you open the door yourself and go in. It doesn’t open by itself like elevators in the states. The same procedure applied when getting off. By the third day, I finally got the hang of it. Oh well! Pasos got me settled in the apartment and I didn’t see him again until he came and took me to the airport three days later.
The apartment was small for a studio, but clean and it had an amazing balcony view of the Acropolis. At night, the Acropolis would light up , a beautiful site to behold. Every evening I would sit out there on the balcony, sipping white wine with the warm Mediterranean breeze blowing through my hair gazing at this magnificent lighted structure. I was in heaven.
The next morning, I showered and dressed and walked a half block to a café around the corner from Katia’s apartment to have breakfast. She left me a list of her favorite eateries for me to check out and Mythos was one of them. I sat outside enjoying the warm breeze and watching the people walk by while I ate my breakfast. The service was superb and the omelet I ordered was to die for. After breakfast, I begin exploring the city. First I went to the Acropolis site. The cost to enter was twenty euros. The Acropolis temple was built during the Archaic Period around the end of the seventh century BC. It has undergone various natural and man-made disasters through out the ages causing devastating ruin to its marble stone structure. Today it is undergoing intense restoration and meticulous renovation.
Getting to the top of this great structure was definitely a challenge. Part of the path was etched in cobble stone and the other part had marble stone slabs. The path was slick and treacherous in some areas. Good walking shoes is a must to navigate this path. Once at the top, the remnants of a ruin city stretches out miles in front of you and the heavy wind howling and blowing sand everywhere offers no mercy. Despite the rough weatherly conditions, I manage to take plenty photos before I made my way back down the rugged terrain of the Acropolis.
Across from the Acropolis Temple is a huge big rock where the disciple Paul often preach on his many visits to the city of Athens. Climbing up on this rock was also treacherous but worth the trip. It was rocky and steep. Requiring careful navigation and once you arrive there, one had the view of the entire city of Athens. Imagine millions of Christian Believers centuries ago gather around this huge rock miles around just to hear the great disciple Paul preach a sermon. I sat there in awe for thirty minutes, just thinking about it. Viewing the city and taking photos. Even today most Greeks still follow the Christian religion.
From there I went to the Temple of Zeus a five minute walk away. The building of the Temple of Olympian Zeus was erected initially in the sixth century. Seven hundred years and several emperors later it was finally finish. It was dedicated to the Greek god named Olympian Zeus and Emperor Hadrian erected a giant gold and ivory statue of the god inside the temple. He also had one made of himself which sat right next to it. It’s not known when the temple and the statues were destroyed, but history alludes to a great earthquake completely destroying the statues as well as part of the temple during the mediaeval period.
To enter the ruins, the cost was six euros. The temple has sixteen surviving marble stone columns with one lying on the ground. Still intact after many centuries. Across the way sits the Arch of Hadrian or Hadrian’s Gate. A monumental gateway resembling a roman triumphal arch. It is said the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian for his many visits to the city of Athens. Needless to say, the area holds a lot history and interesting tales of old.
Later in the evening, I don a lovely Greek white flowing dress and met the Viator Tour Group at the Amalia Hotel for a night of sight-seeing by bus ending with dinner in the Plaka District of Athens. On the way to dinner, the tour guide took us by the first Olympian Stadium, the Acropolis, the Dromeas also called the “Runner.” The “Runner” is a thirty foot tall glass and iron sculpture near the Hilton Athens Hotel on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. It was created by Athens artist Costas Varotsos in 1994. I was able to get some awesome photos of this impressive sculpture.
At the conclusion of our sight-seeing tour, we arrived at the Tavern Kalokerinos for dinner, the oldest traditional Greek tavern in the city of Athens. The tavern was very authentic and quite entertaining. The Mediterranean style food was very delicious and the live Greek show with folk dancing was delightful. The dancers were interactive with the crowd and soon everyone was on stage dancing in a circle Greek style. The evening ended with the traditional custom of breaking plates, an expression of emotion and joy. I smashed my plate with the best of them while I giggled hysterically. I hated to see the evening end. It was most enjoyable.
The next day I took a taxi to Syntagma and Monastiraki Square to do some shopping. Greece is known in the European region for its stylish sandal wear and I was determined to purchase me a pair. The taxi driver dropped me off at the Athens Flea Market in Monastiraki Square after he gave me a brief lecture on current Greek politics. Before leaving me on the corner, he pointed me in the direction of the sandal shops so I can purchase my sandals. I thanked him and waved good-bye as he rode off in his taxi. I then headed to sandal shop row.
Monastiraki Square is named after a monastery of assumption from the virgin Mary. There were many sandal shops to choose from and I chose Pandrossou 97 to purchase my sandals. I settle on two pairs of well made, inexpensive leather sandals and paid sixty euros. Then I went on my way. Two blocks over from the sandal shop was the church of Pantanassa known as the great monastery. It sits in the middle of the square between Pandrossou and Adrianou streets. Both squares housed sidewalk cafes. Even McDonald’s and Starbucks had a location there. The apparel shops were high fashion but reasonably priced. I bought two pairs of unique stylish looking sunglasses to add to my already vast collection. I spent the whole day walking in and out shops basking in Greek culture as well as taking in the beautiful architecture around me. At the end of the day, I decided to brave taking the city bus back to Katia’s studio apartment. To my great surprise, I arrive there with no problem.
On my third day, I visited the Acropolis again, this time stopping by the museum. It was built between the years of 2005-2007. It open in 2009 and it houses many of Greece’s ancient artifacts. I found the Caryatids in the north section of the museum most fascinating. The Caryatids are stone carvings of a draped female figure used as a pillar to support the entablature of a Greek style building in this case the Acropolis. They were created in the fifth century on the south porch of the Acropolis. The carvings have deteriorated over time but one can still make out how they must have looked so many centuries ago. The cost to enter the Acropolis Museum was twenty euros. It’s well worth the visit. A great way to learn Greek History.
After leaving the museum, I decided to stop at God’s Restaurant for a late lunch. I ordered a full course meal complete with a glass of wine and Blavka for dessert. The restaurant was extremely busy so it took a while to receive my order but I didn’t complain. I was tired and my poor feet were cursing me out from all of the nonstop walking. The waiter who was most appreciative of my patience awarded me by not charging me for the delicious meal. After resting for a long bit I continue on my way.
As my time in Athens came to a close, I begin thinking about my trip to Santorini. Another adventure I couldn’t wait to partake in. A few hours later I was back at the apartment. I packed my things and settled in for the evening. I was fortunate to get a good night sleep and the next morning bright and early around five, Pasos transported me to the airport.
I made my airline reservation through Rynair Airlines. My round trip ticket only cost me one hundred US dollars, a real steal. During check in, I discover I had to pay thirty-one euros to check in my bag. While waiting in line to pay the fee, the Rynair Representative and a man with a large family commenced into a full-blown argument. They spoke in Greek so I had no idea what the problem was, but I knew if I didn’t interrupt somehow, I was going to miss my flight. So I politely intervene and the representative took my fee and I went on my way. I had only twenty minutes to get to the gate. The boarding time was set at six thirty with the flight leaving for Santorini at seven. To make matters worse, the gate was located on the other side of the airport. With God’s good mercy and being in good physical shape, I made it there on time. Thank Goodness!
One hour later I was in Santorini. My host, George arranged a taxi to transport me to his place, the Rhapsody Apartments fifteen minutes from the Village of Fira. Santorini is absolutely beautiful with its deep blue skies, white washed cave like homes decorated with a blue dome roof top. The homes were strategically located off the Aegean Sea. My apartment a few miles away from the Sea itself was gorgeous. It had a balcony view of the sea as well as the village of Fira. Pleased with the accommodations, I quickly settled in and begin my adventurous stay.
I spent my first day in Fira. I had breakfast at the Ladokolla Greek Tavern and then I did a little shopping. I stopped by the Pika Bar later in the afternoon to rest my poor feet. The bar sits on a cliff over looking the Aegean Sea. Directly across from the bar in the middle of the sea is the Paliakameni Volcano. I had a good view of the volcano so I took several pictures. The waiter offer me a complimentary glass of wine while I marvel at the exquisite view and he even agreed to photograph me several times so I can have pictures to show my family and friends back home. I still can’t get over how pristine blue the water and sky were. The scenery all around was picture perfect and simply beautiful. As the day wind down, I return to the Ladokolla Tavern for dinner. Again, I was given a complimentary glass of white wine. The hospitality here at Santorini is so delightful and I was very appreciative. It wasn’t long before the deep blue skies faded into night and it was time to return to my rented apartment. I paid ten euros for a taxi back and I called it a night.
Sunday, the next day, I booked a bus tour to Oia Village, thirty minutes from where I was staying. The tour bus picked me up around eleven thirty in the morning in front of the apartments. Our first stop was a neighborhood made up of cave houses of old. The streets were cobble stone and narrow and there were no street lights. Residents driving cars stopped and honked when they wanted you out of the way and grape vines were growing everywhere. The guide inform the group, Santorini was known for making “good” white wine and Santos Winery was on the agenda later in the day.
The guide explained the homes were painted white to deflect the sun’s heat. The island relied on solar energy and applying a fresh coat of white paint every year help kept their homes cool. The dome top roofs were painted blue to celebrate the deep blue sky the guide explained. The government there built a brand new hospital two years ago but it’s not operating. The government has been unsuccessful in luring doctors and nurses to the island to practice there. If a resident there became ill and is in need of medical attention, he or she would have to either fly an hour or take a six hour ferry ride to Athens to obtain medical care. An added stressor in the life of a Santorini resident.
Our next stop was the Museum of the Prehistoric Thera. The museum covers the island’s history starting from the late Neolithic period to the late Cycladic I period. It hosts a large number of ancient artifacts from various excavations on Santorini. It is believed the Spartan Colony settled there in the ninth century BC. Viewing the ruins of an ancient underground city was quite fascinating.
From there, we travel to the Black Beach, a name given because of its charcoal gray sand. The water was crystal clear blue and warm enough for sun bathing. We stop for lunch at the Akros Restaurant there. An inexpensive sidewalk cafe on the beach with a variety of food selections on the menu. I ordered a small pizza which was tasty, filling and pure divine. After lunch we boarded the bus and went to Santos Winery.
Santorini is known as the oldest wine region in the world. The Santos Winery is located high on a cliff in Pygros and it has an amazing terrace with a view of the caldera. The Santorini Assyrtiko is the most common grape for wine making. Wines made from this grape are generally dry and crisp just like the island’s climate. The guide arranged a wine tasting for our tour group and we enjoy tasting four different wines before the afternoon was over. Before leaving the winery, I bought two small bottles to bring home with me.
Our final stop was the Oia Shopping Village. Oia is known for its beautiful sunsets. You have to find the perfect spot and fend off hundreds of fellow sunset gazers to see this amazing phenomenon. The sun begins to set around seven in the evening and hundreds of people line the narrow cobble stone streets looking for the perfect spot. I kept walking until I found one close by a little café away from much of the crowd. The sunset with its different color hues of bright deep orange against the back drop of a shaded blue sky is one of God’s most beautiful creations. I basked in the beauty of it as I took plenty of post card ready pictures.
The sunset came to a close by the time eight o’ clock rolled around. So I made my way back to the tour bus. It was pitched dark by the time I arrived there. Thirty minutes later, the bus dropped me off in front of the apartment and my exciting day had come to a close. I had one more day in Greece before heading home. The next day I was returning to Athens. It was a jammed pack week and I enjoyed every minute. My stay was too short. This country is filled with so much beauty and ancient history. One would need to stay at least a month to learn a quarter of it. I decided I would return next year. And next time I will stay a little longer.