Catching Katy

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Athens

This is the final post about my trip – are you relieved?! This actually combines the arrival and the end of the trip, both of which took place in Athens.

We arrived in Athens Sunday night around 6pm and met our group and tour director. We checked into the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel, then took a little walking tour to the edge of the Plaka (a neighborhood) for dinner at Plakiotissa, recommended by our tour director (they even had live music!). Being the first night, I of course had to try the local drink of choice: ouzo. I knew I didn’t like licorice flavor, but when in Greece, right?! (I couldn’t finish it.) We wandered a little that night with our new friends, another mother/daughter pair in our group, but didn’t wander too far since we had just arrived and had to get up early the next morning!

Skip ahead a week and we arrived back in Athens Sunday night to the Royal Olympic Hotel. Very swanky. We took a walk to Smile for dinner, also recommended by our first tour director, and had a feast of chicken souvlaki (a very popular local dish – basically chicken skewers but seasoned deliciously). But Monday brought the Athens adventure.

We started the day on a bus tour of the city seeing many sites. The solid marble Panathenaic Stadium was built in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games and is still used today. We saw a statue of Greece holding Lord Byron, who helped in the war of independence for Greece. We pulled off in front of the Parliament building (the Old Royal Palace) where the tomb of the unknown solider is also. It was time for the guards to change places (but not the full changing of the guards), which was fun to watch. We saw the buildings of the original university and the National Library.

The rest of the guided tour was to the Acropolis of Athens upon which is built the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena (along with other ancient buildings). It was very cool to see the actual Parthenon after visiting the replica in Nashville (yes, Tennessee). It was in the 5th century BC that the construction of these buildings took place. This was a very important place for the Greeks to worship their gods. The architecture is incredible and the views of Athens are breathtaking. After some free time on the Acropolis, Elena took us on a walking tour through the Plaka – lots of shops and beautiful streets. We found a restaurant off the busy streets and had a late lunch with our friends, then wandered over to the newly opened Acropolis Museum. The museum is built on top of ruins of the ancient neighborhoods at the foot of the Acropolis and there are glass walkways and openings to see into these ruins – very cool. And of course there are amazing artifacts in the museum – the coolest of which are the Caryatids of Erechtheum – the statue columns holding up the porch of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis. They have actually pieced together most of them in full. One is housed at the British Museum, the others at the Acropolis Museum.

We wandered back to the hotel, doing a little shopping along the way, did some repacking, wandered around a little (getting lost) and have a late dinner, then getting ready for our 3am wake-up call. Yes, 3am.

I’ve attempted to describe this wonderful country in words and pictures, but you really just have to see Greece in person. Move it to the top of your list (it was top on mine) and just go! If you’ve read this far, I’m very impressed and hope you weren’t bored. But maybe you can refer back here when you plan your own trip!


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Delphi

We woke up to a beautiful, yet very chilly, morning in Delphi. Built on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, Delphi was known as the home of the oracle, who told fortunes for people who traveled hundreds of miles. We started at the archaeological museum – again more amazing artifacts and statues. Many statues lined The Sacred Way – the path that led to the oracle. The Sphinx of Naxos and the Twin Kouros Statues are two of these. But the most beautiful, by far, is the bronze Charioteer. This young man had just won the Pythian Games (which took place in Delphi), you can see the sweat on his face and every detail of his body down to the eyelashes. Very beautiful.

We made our way outside to the archaeological site, walking up the winding Sacred Way as ancient Greeks used to. We reached the Treasury of the Athenians, beautifully reconstructed, then the polygonal wall – a retaining wall built in 548 BC and still completely intact as it was built. We reached the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle saw her guests, and kept climbing to the theater. The theater was built for music competitions honoring Apollo (the god of music) and is one of the best preserved in Greece (though we weren’t able to walk into it).

Back down to the bus, another delicious lunch at a family-owned restaurant in modern Delphi (I had couscous salad), then onward back toward Athens. Not without more stops though. We had a little time for coffee and wandering in Arachova, a popular winter/ski town for the Greeks. It’s a beautiful and cozy little town. Then another few hours on the bus back to Athens! Which reminds me, we had to get a picture with our very attractive bus driver, Finoures (sp?), who was a master at the sometimes sharp and dark curves of the mountains (I didn’t know Greece was so mountainous)!


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Olympia

Around the block from the hotel we come to the archaeological site at Olympia, where the Olympic Games were first held in the 8th century BC as a tribute to Zeus. They were held every four years and it was the only purpose of the town. It was a pilgrimage for athletes (just men….in the nude…) to both compete and worship Zeus and Hera. It was fairly easy to imagine the layout while walking the grounds: the Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Temple of Zeus (one full corner column was reconstructed in honor of the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece and the statue of Zeus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Temple of Hera, and of course the Stadium. The stadium’s only seats were for the judges, while everyone else got comfy on the grassy banks. And it was not an oval race track, but a straight one. We of course had to run the ancient stadium. The Altar of Hera was the other cool site as it is still used today to light the torch for the Olympic Games every four years – which is interesting since women were not allowed even as spectators. They did eventually have their own Heraean Games.

We then walked to the archaeological museum on the site. They found an incredible number of artifacts and were able to put together a lot of pieces. The east and west pediments from the Temple of Zeus are there and our guide, Elena, explained in exciting detail the stories the pediments are depicting. The West Pediment depicts the battle of the Lapiths and centaurs, with Apollo in the middle looking on. The East Pediment depicts men preparing to race King Oenomaus in a chariot race in order to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. The King has cheated to win every race due to a prophecy that his son-in-law would kill him, but Pelops outsmarts the King, wins, and eventually creates the Olympic Games. Another beautiful statue that was originally in the Temple of Hera: Hermes carries his orphaned little brother, Dionysus, who is reaching for a bunch of grapes as they travel past some vineyards. If you know your mythology, you know the Dionysus is also Bacchus, the God of wine. I definitely did not find mythology so interesting in high school, but now I need to find a book!

We had another delicious Greek lunch then stopped for an olive oil and wine tasting (and time for shopping) before heading North towards Delphi. To reach Delphi, we had to cross from the Peloponnese Peninsula to the mainland of Greece over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, a very impressive bridge opened in 2004 in time for the Olympic Games. One last stop at a rest stop at sunset on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth before finishing the drive to the Amalia Hotel.


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Epidavros & Mycenae

We awoke back in Athens bright and early, disembarked and hopped on the bus! We got to know our new tour director, Elena, as we drove out of Athens. She studied archaeology and we could tell right away she would be a fantastic director for the rest of the trip.

Our ultimate destination by the end of the day was Olympia. But there was plenty to see along the way. To get to the peninsula, we crossed over the Corinth Canal and stopped for pictures. It was beautiful, albeit small, and is not very useful today with the size of modern ships.

Our first full stop of the day was at Epidavros. The ancient small town was known for its sanctuary and theater. The theater is still in use today – we climbed to the top and took in the beautiful view. Then we visited the museum where there are artifacts from the sanctuary and temple. Again, the detail in these pieces in incredible. I cannot imagine how long it took for a sculptor to create these pieces, let alone put them all together to form life-size statues and whole buildings. Definitely worth the stop.

After a delicious lunch, our afternoon stop was in the ancient city of Mycenae. We first visited an ancient beehive tomb, just outside the walls of the ancient city. Some think was the tomb of Agamemnon (commander of the Greek front against Troy). Beehive tombs are really cool and most did not survive tomb thieves as they collapse in on themselves once the keystone is removed from the top. This one, though, was dug out from the side to the actual entrance.

We continued to the city, where we entered through the Lion Gate. The walls are still very intact and it is a hike to the top. But the view is amazing. I would build my kingdom there too. The palace was built around 1600 BC, but there were tombs discovered next to the palace wall that are at least 400 years older. Crazy!

We continued our drive into the night to the beautiful Europa Hotel in Olympia, where dinner was waiting at the hotel and we were exhausted! So many great things to see and experience!


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Santorini

Our last island stop was what everyone had been waiting for: Santorini. When you picture Greece, this is where most of the pictures come from. White-washed buildings, blue domes, amazing sunsets. We were in a race against the setting sun, but we made it to Oia (pronounced ee-ah), on the end of the island as the sun was setting. We had some free time to shop and grab a glass of wine, but enough with the talk, this post is all about the pictures.


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Crete

The next day was another double-duty day. We woke up in Crete, the largest island of Greece. At least from the port, it looks very different than the other islands. It’s much more modernized, but that is not to say there is a lack of history.

We decided to see the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, built around 2000 BC during the ancient Minoan civilization. It is considered to be the oldest civilization in Europe. We had an amazing tour guide who told us about the advanced design of the palace: an early A/C system, sewer system, and that doesn’t even begin to describe the architecture.

The myth of King Minos is incredible (even in shortened form): King Minos’ son was murdered after winning the Panathenaeic Games in Athens. To take revenge, the king asked Zeus to punish the city and an oracle told the Athenians to do anything King Minos wanted in order to avoid the plague of Zeus. So King Minos made Athens send seven boys and seven girls to the palace every year. They were sent into the labyrinth to try and defeat the minotaur (which none ever did). That is the myth, but as our guide taught us, no myth is ever completely fictional. The labyrinth? Is the palace. You can see it even in the ruins: thousands of small rooms, multiple doors in every room. Definitely a maze. The minotaur? King Minos.

After pictures on the oldest road in Europe, we grabbed some coffee and baklava from the cafe and headed back to the ship by lunch! Crete was cool and I think I would enjoy it more if I spent more time there (and I hear the beaches on the other side of the island are beautiful).


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Rhodes

This day was a more relaxing one with only one stop: Rhodes, the “island of roses.” And it lived up to its name! We started with a drive up Mount Filermos to the town of Ialysos to the monastery, built by the Knights of Saint John in the 15th century. The grounds are inhabited by peacocks and in the monastery is the icon of the Virgin Mary, thought to be brought from Jerusalem by the Knights.

We drove back down to the Old Town which in within the fortification walls built by the Knights of Saint John starting in 1309. Most of it is still completely intact and used, including the moat around the walls (which was never and has never been filled with water). The stone is absolutely beautiful: towers, arches, walls. We walked through town to the archaeological museum, which was originally the hospital built by the Knights. They have beautiful headstones of some of the knights and ancient Rhodes inhabitants, as well other statues and artifacts found on the island. My favorite was an Aphrodite sculpture – she is washing her hair when the sculpture startles her from behind – and that is what he sculpted.

Our guided tour was over at that point, but Granville took us on a little extra trip to the oldest synagogue in Greece: the Kahal Shalom Synagogue. It is now a museum of the Jewish community in Rhodes, which was shattered in WWII. Granville had made many trips to the synagogue and eventually met a man who had grown up on Rhodes and was deported to a concentration camp with the other Jews when he was 11 (or maybe 13?) years old. Granville told us his incredible story (he survived and wrote a book, but it’s only in French) then we looked around the museum.

We then had the whole afternoon free on the island. We got a late lunch with our travel friends then set out to shop. There is plenty of shopping in Rhodes, so mom and I wandered looking for some gifts. It was warmer that day and we had planned to hang out a little on the beach, but it started raining so we made our way back to ship (huddled under one tiny umbrella) and lounged around.

After a fun dinner with our friends, we had a fun night of drinks with our tour director and our tour group in the bar at the very top of the ship! I would definitely recommend a stop in Rhodes and probably spending some time (as in 2-3 days at least) there, especially because the beaches are beautiful!