Steve (my bf at the time), Alice (Steve's sister) and I (Michelle) took a fabulous 25 day trip to Greece ! We planned the trip so that we would split our time between an islands vacation and time to spend with Steve and Alice’s family who live in Greece .
Our flight landed in Athens and we spent 2 days there, took a ferry to Ios for 4 days and took another ferry to Santorini for 4 days. We then flew from Santorini to Salonika in the north of Greece and rented a car to drive to the village of Mikrokastro , where Steve and Alice’s maternal relatives live. We also spent 3 days in the beach resort area of Pefkochori where Steve and Alice’s cousin Stedios works in the summer.
We got to see a lot of Greece ! We drove to Grevena, Kozani, Dion, Mt Olympos, Katerini, Florina, Edessa , Meteora, Delphi and Athens on the mainland just to name a few places. We logged 2,600 kilometers on our rental car in just 12 days!! We went to amazing archaeological sites and saw beautiful Grecian vistas. The islands were breathtakingly gorgeous and so much fun. The mainland had rugged mountains with tortuous roads and flat wide plains with silvery olive groves.
We visited lots of Alice and Steve’s family both maternal and paternal and everyone was really friendly and welcoming. So many good times were had! We already are dreaming of going back!!
We booked the portion of our trip from Athens through Santorini through Fantasy Travel of Athens. I'll say it now and get it out of the way, we're so happy we went through a Greek travel agency! All the arrangements they made went like clockwork.
Arrived in Athens at 4:00pm. We're met at the airport by the Fantasy Travel Agency rep Nellie, who's super nice, but they sent 1 car to pick up 3 people and our 6 pieces of luggage! No worries though, Nellie called for an additional car and we set off for the Hotel Attalos. We checked in to the hotel and went out to explore. The hotel is small, but clean and it's near the Plaka, Psirri, Monastiraki Square and Metro, really a fabulous bargain for the price! The hotel also has free internet and a fantastic view of the Acropolis from the roof garden area.
We rested and showered then decided to walk around the Plaka area. We walked by the archaeological site of Hadrian’s Library and went all the way up to the bottom of the Acropolis. From there we took a right and walked all the way around the Ancient Agora of Athens (outside the fence, it was closed but we could see the Temple of Hephaestus in the distance), by Kerameikos and back to the Plaka. We went a ways down Ermou Street and just looked at all the shops. We had dinner at a little restaurant outdoors just off Monastiraki Square . We had our first real Greek meal of the trip J consisting of village salad (horiatiki), tzatziki, pork souvlaki (really salty), and homemade french fries (patates tiganites) that were fabulous!
After this we met up with Ana, Steve and Alice’s cousin who lives in Athens, and her friend (bad with names - can't remember hers!). We all walked around the corner from the hotel and about 100 yards away was Psirri which is a section of the city that has great nightlife. We went to a really cool bar/club that is right across the street from the Smart Bar. We hung out there talking for a few hours and then called it a night around 1 or 2am as we were beat from traveling.
We decided that the first thing we should do is go to the Acropolis. We walked back through the Plaka the way we went the night before only to find out that we were on the back side of the Acropolis and need to go around to the other side to the entrance. Well I think that we actually had a pretty intimate tour of Anafoitika, which is the cluster of small houses built on the slopes of the Acropolis above the Plaka.
We paid 2 Euros each and went into the archaeological site of Hadrian’s Library on Areos Street just past Monastiraki Square . The site overall was interesting, but for sure the columns by the street were the most impressive thing. The marble is very beautiful and it’s amazing to think that we were standing on steps that have been there for almost 2,000 years. We got scolded several times by the attendants for being too close to the artifacts.
We finally made our way around the base of the Acropolis to the entrance. We went up the walkway and steps to the Acropolis stopping to check out the Theater of Dionysos, which used to have seating for 17,000 people and is amazing in my opinion. Finally we neared the top of the Acropolis; the walk up was really steep. We entered through the Propylaia and up more steps with the Temple of Athena Nike on our right and the Agrippa Monument on our left. The marble that makes up the steps is super slippery; I wouldn’t want to try to walk up them in the rain. There’s lots of scaffolding and construction going on around the Acropolis including the Parthenon as they are trying to reconstruct some of the damaged sections. We walked all around the Parthenon (which is roped off) taking pictures of it and of Athens .
We sat on the wall for a while and walked over to the Belvedere and took some more pictures. Then we went into the museum which is right at the top of the Acropolis. On the way out we went by the Erechtheion and the Caryatids. It was unusually humid for Athens and even though it was a little cloudy we were sweltering!
We probably spent only 2 hours or so on the Acropolis, but we had tons more places to go and see and only 2 days to do it!
We walked down from the Acropolis and stopped to buy some post cards and souvenirs. Steve bought some naughty Greek sex playing cards as a souvenir for Nick. We walked straight down the street and came out right at Hadrian’s Arch. We walked around the corner from Hadrian’s Arch to the entrance to the Temple of Olympian Zeus . The columns are absolutely massive. It’s hard to get an idea of the size when you see photos of the columns, but when you are standing next to them you have to tip your head all the way back to see the tops. We only spent about 15 or 20 minutes here as it was really hot and humid. We took a quick biological break here and I was confounded by the sink for a moment, then I realized that you have to step on a rubber dome thing on the floor to make the water come on, actually a pretty good idea so you don’t have to touch the handles.
As we left the Temple of Olympian Zeus we crossed the street into what we believe is part of the National Gardens , but not sure. We then came to the Zappion, which I guess is an exhibition hall. It looked like there was some sort of formal reception going on there so we just peeked in and took some pictures of the courtyard, which was rather cool. Behind the Zappion is the rest of the National Garden . We pretty much just cut straight through the middle of it and only branched off to see the (dry) big pond and the zoo area. The zoo only had a few goats, peacocks and I think an antelope or two. There were a few cats hanging around the zoo and a couple sleeping in with the goats. Also we did see the turtle pond with a whole bunch of turtles piled up on each other. It looked like there was some big koi fish (maybe goldfish?) in the pond also. I read about a duck over population problem in the Garden, but I don’t think I saw any except maybe at the zoo in cages; maybe we just didn’t go to that part of the Garden. The whole garden smelled kind of funky to me and I didn’t really want to spend much time there.
We came out the other side of the National Garden on Irodou Atikou Street right near the camp of the Evzones, who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and what was once the King's Palace across the street and is now the home of the Prime Minister. I got a couple of quick pictures of the Evzone who was on duty and was marching up the street. I think we were near Parliament also, but I’m not sure.
We crossed the street and walked down to Syntagma (Constitution) Square and sat down to rest for a minute in front of the Grand Bretagne. At this point we had been walking around for about 8 hours straight and were kind of confused as to how to get back to the hotel. Alice and Steve disagreed with my idea to take the metro and wanted to walk. I wish I had realized that the Syntagma metro station is the one I really wanted to see as it is like a museum in itself, but since I forgot all my printouts and notes at home I didn’t remember.
We found a metro map and decided to walk back to the Plaka via Ermou Street if we could find it. We realized also that we were close to Fantasy Travel’s office and decided to stop by and say hello to Marcos if he was there. We found Fantasy Travel no problem, but of course Marcos wasn’t working that day. I noticed a Hard Rock Café on Filellinon Street and since we were hungry we decided to go in and get some lunch. From here I wanted to go by the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (Mitropoli). We ended up asking some people outside of a store if we were headed in the right direction. The guy was really nice and walked with us almost all the way to the Cathedral. We stopped by a tiny little chapel named Ayia Dynamis that was literally in the sidewalk under the overhang of the building housing the Ministry of Education, it was very cool. The chapel was on the corner of Pendelis and Mitropoleos and is about 3 feet below street level. We asked if we could enter (we were wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts) and if we could take a few pictures, the caretaker was nice and said we could.
Mitropoli is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece . Of course there was renovation underway and scaffolding on the cathedral. I did the best I could to get a picture anyway, it was tough as the sun was getting low in the sky and there was too much backlight. Right next to the Cathedral is the Byzantine Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos.
Went up to the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Attalos and took some photos of the Acropolis. Napped until about 10:45pm. We headed back to Psirri in the same area we went the night before and ended up at the Smart Bar. The host guy was really persistent; as a matter of fact they were all persistent trying to lure people into their bar. We only stayed for one drink and when we asked for the bill (in Greece you have to get a bill, it’s the law), the server just blurted out 28 Euros. Steve paid her, but I had looked at the prices on the menu when we were ordering and I thought it sounded too high. It was, when confronted and a bill was demanded, the server admitted ‘her error’ and gave us back 4 Euro. I know it’s not much, but if she does that to all her customers she’s making out pretty good! We stopped off at another bar on the way back to the hotel that was not as fancy, but had much nicer staff. We got some sausages from a street vendor and some really awesome ham and cheese in flaky pastry things at a little shop on the way to the hotel also. In bed by 4AM!!
Unsurprisingly we all slept in until about 11am this morning! We raced upstairs to get breakfast before they finished serving. Alice had a huge headache and wasn’t feeling all that great today and decided to stay in bed for a while and rest. Not sure how we ended up with so much dirty laundry already, but it was really hot and humid and we were changing clothes often. Someone told us that the high humidity was really unusual. So anyway Steve and I took our laundry to a drop off laundry in the Plaka. Then we walked all the way up Ermou Street to Syntagma Square . There were some kids trying to do tricks on the stairs, handrails and other structures around the square, but they weren’t all that good. We sat on a bench and relaxed for a while and people watched and then headed back down Ermou Street to window shop for a while. Along Ermou Street, and in most other places that people are shopping, are street vendors with knock off purses, shoes, sunglasses, CDs, DVD’s and more. They are pains in the ass. We headed back to the hotel to check on Alice . Alice got up and came with us to go get the laundry and we all had yummy gyros on the way back to the hotel.
We were invited to dinner at Steve and Alice’s Aunt Lena and Uncle Taki’s apartment. Their kids Ana and Steve were there also. We took the Metro to the Ano Patissia station. Uncle Theo met us at the station and we walked a few blocks to their apartment. Aunt Lena made us awesome Pastitchio for dinner. We visited for a few hours and took some family pictures.
We went back on the Metro to Monastiraki station. Steve found the archaeological site in the station which was over by the stairs that came out on the other side of the street in Monastiraki Square . Duh, after we saw the glass ceiling (which sticks up into the square) it was obvious, but we had looked for it earlier and couldn’t figure it out. Well it wasn’t the big fancy exhibit in Syntagma, but it was very, very cool anyway. They made a glass walkway over the excavation and you could see the roman foundations and ancient the sewer pipes and river also.
We walked around the Monastiraki square area for a while and down Ermou Street a ways looking for souvenirs and such. I wanted to get some frozen yogurt so we stopped at a place near the square called Ice Dog. They sell ice cream and hot dogs, which I think are a weird combination, but they had fabulous frozen yogurt so who cares! There was a street performer just down the street from Ice Dog who was a human flame thrower, he was taking a mouthful of something flammable (gasoline?) and then lighting the exhaled fumes. Yikes! He also juggled flaming batons, which was very cool.
Went back to Hotel Attalos and packed up to leave for Ios in the morning. Got to bed around 1am, I felt tired and a bit cranky and got angry out of proportion to the situation at Steve for watching some creepy movie and Alice for packing before showering.
Something I have found to be shocking is the proliferation of graffiti in Athens . It’s just amazing; people have tagged every available surface. The only places that aren’t tagged seem to have surveillance cameras or alarms or guards. It seems to me to be mostly well tolerated, which I find a bit baffling. The graffiti is widely varying too, we saw some that was political, some social, but a lot was random nonsense. Some of it was artistic and very well done, but a lot was just plain ugly and really took away from the cityscape.
Wake up call at heinous hour of 5am to get transfer to port of Piraeus to catch the 7:20am ferry (Fastboat 5) to Ios . The ferry is enormous and very modern! I took some Dramamine just in case. We stowed our luggage in the hold and headed up to find our seats. We were kind of confused on the seating concept and sat at a table at first, but eventually figured out where we were really supposed to be sitting. Had a good trip even though it was a bit rough a couple of times, but thankfully the Dramamine works wonders! Alice and I went out onto the deck on the back of the ferry to watch as we departed Piraeus . It was a little chilly, but not too bad. One of the other passengers offered to take our photo and boy do we look groggy!! We also saw a submarine heading into port as we were leaving it, pretty cool. The fast boats only take half the time of a regular ferry and the three and a half hours passed quickly.
Luckily the transfer on Ios was a van - woohoo! It was only about a 10 minute ride from the port to Hotel Dionysos at Mylopotas Beach . The road was narrow and twisty. Gorgeous views from the road as we headed down into the Mylopotas Beach area. We got to the hotel around 11am, but check in was at 12pm so we hung out at the hotel pool for about an hour. The hotel is really nice, there are flowers everywhere and it is right across the street from the beach. The people at the hotel are super nice. We drove them crazy with requests for additional stuff when we first got there and they responded immediately to each one.
We checked in and got settled into our room. We had a nice patio area with a table and chairs and the bathroom was nice also. The hotel looks pretty new or at least has been remodeled very recently. We went to the beach for a few hours and then Steve and Alice went to the gym after that. I was exhausted, so I took a nap and felt almost human again!
We went into town on the bus about 10:20pm and had dinner at Buca’s (Italian food) which is on the main street directly across from the big white church on the plateia. Took a long time, but was really good. After we ate, we went up to check out the club area. Most of the bars/clubs are located around the Plateia Spyridon Valetas. The Shamrock was pretty much hip hop, and wasn’t that great. The Red Bull bar was cool, we sat outside and Steve had some Red Bull vodkas. Next we went to the Blue Note because the guy outside was telling everyone about the drink specials they had. There were only a couple of people there when we got there and we talked to the bar tender for a while, she was from Canada and was glad to have some Americans there for the tipping factor. After a short time all of a sudden a huge mass of people streamed in to the bar! People were doing all kinds of crazy shots including a flaming Lamborghini, which was literally lit on fire and drunk through a long straw. Yikes! Now the bar was packed, so we decided to head out to explore more bars.
We went around the corner and found the Orange Bar, which in my opinion is the best rock bar on Ios. The Orange Bar is owned by Wendy, who bartends, and Panos, who DJ’s. Panos is a super nice guy and Steve promised to bring him a CD tomorrow night. From here we headed off to Slammer Bar, at this bar they have a shot that you take while wearing a construction helmet, they smash you on the helmet after you take the shot. Ouch. This bar was very cool inside, rock walls and I think I counted four separate bar areas. We finished up the night at Rehab Club. It was okay, but the way everyone talked about it I expected more. Maybe we just weren’t there at the right time. Walked back to the plateia and caught a taxi back to the hotel around 5am.
We decided to rent a Suzuki Jimmy which is like an open jeep with a soft top. The rental agency picked us up at the hotel and took us down to the port to sign the papers and pick up the car.
The receptionist at the hotel told us that the best beach on the island is Manganari Beach . On the map, it looked like it wasn’t too far, about half the island away lengthwise. However, because of the mountains and the way the roads went, we had to drive way up to the top of the island and then all the way back down the other side to get there. The road was tortuous and it took forever, I had to kind of take it easy as Steve felt hung-over and car sick. It was only 33 kilometers away, but it took about an hour and a half. It was really windy and the twisty, hilly roads had sheer cliffs and no guardrails whatsoever! Scary!!
When we finally got to the beach, which again was supposed to be the most beautiful on the island, there were only a couple of people on it and it was extremely windy. We walked down the beach and checked out some of the shoreline which was kind of interesting, but when we lay down to get some sun the wind was whipping and we felt like we were getting sandblasted. Overall we found the beach to be nice, but it sure didn’t seem to be the most beautiful. We stuck it out for a couple of hours and then gave up about 4:30 and headed back to the hotel and our nice calm, populous beach.
Shortly after we left Manganari, we came across a herd of goats trotting down the middle of the road. Was very cool, they looked like they were on a mission (probably back to their farm to be milked!), Steve took some awesome pictures of them. When we got closer to town we drove by the Skarkos site which is an archaeological site, special permission is needed to visit the site, so we just took some pictures from the road above. We all went to the hotel gym when we got back and then swam some laps in the hotel pool. Steve noticed that the power lines ran directly over our pool and that made us slightly nervous to say the least.
We showered and then drove (Yay, our own wheels!) into town for the evening. We ate at the Calypso in Chora. The food was good and the atmosphere was very cool. The restaurant was on one of the tiny streets (alleys) part of the restaurant was on one side and the other part was in an alcove on the other side. It was all open air (with a roof, but no sides) and vines growing on the lattice work overhead. We then went back to the Orange Bar and gave DJ Panos there a Disorder By Design CD and he put up a DBD sticker! He actually played Poisoned on the club sound system, was very cool. DBD got play at a club on a Greek island!! Called it an early night and headed back to the hotel around 1am.
We decided to drive out to what is allegedly Homer’s Tomb in Plakotos in the Northern part of the island today. The road was partly paved (oil and gravel) and part dirt; weird. Homer’s Tomb is on a point of land surrounded by hundreds, maybe even thousands of bee hives. When we got out of the car the buzzing was really loud.
You walk out a long trail from the parking area to Homer’s Tomb. There’s an ancient stone engraved with writing, but really no other information there, basically just a stone tomb overlooking the sea.
We probably only stayed about 30 minutes or so, the view was spectacular but there really wasn’t much else there. Steve built a little stone structure because he wanted to and I got a picture of it. We headed back stopping at Agia Theodaki on the way. Not much at all there, just a small beach and a couple of tavernas. Agia Theodaki is reached by a crazy twisty, steep road.
We stopped for lunch at Fiesta for some pizza on the main road between the port and Mylopotas Beach . Fiesta was recommended to us by the transfer driver as having the best pizza on the island. They have a wood fired pizza oven but it is only on after 5pm. Anyway the pizza was still really good. The owner’s of Fiesta served us and are super nice. We went to Mylopotas Beach for the rest of the afternoon then we grabbed all of our dirty laundry and dropped it off in town at the Sweet Irish Dream Laundry.
Headed back to the hotel to shower and headed out for the night. We first went to the Red Bull as they had 2 for 1 drink specials inside the bar. Ended up talking to the bartender and found out he was from Scotland , really nice guy even though he was wearing a headband. :-) We met a couple from the U.S. who were on their honeymoon, they were very cool and were also headed to Santorini. We danced and partied like crazy and ended up drinking an ass load of drinks and shots! The owner of our hotel and the bartender from our hotel came into the Red Bull and kept buying us rounds of shots, so of course we had to reciprocate and kept buying them rounds of shots. Eek!!
After this we went over to the Orange Bar. We were all pretty banged up so we had only one drink at the Orange Bar and left. Steve didn't want to go back to the hotel! He tried really hard to persuade us to stay out. On the way back to the car we stopped for gyros at Georgies. Got back to the hotel round 3am and Alice immediately got wretchedly sick to her stomach. :-(
Ios is known as the party island of Greece and so far we’ve mostly seen the town at night, but today we planned to explore the town during the daylight. Chora, Ios’s main town is a typical of the Cyclades with whitewashed buildings and is full of steps and small alleys, curtained doorways and small courtyards. On the main thoroughfares there are the jewelers, souvenir shops and, of course, the clubs.
Ios has lots of churches; as a matter of fact it claims to have 365 churches, one for each day of the year. In Chora in a plateia just off the main road is the modern Orthodox Cathedral of Ios named Evangelismos (Annunciation). It’s an large whitewashed building with the traditional blue domes, very beautiful. Nearby is the church of Agia Ekaterini.
First we picked up the laundry and dropped it off at the hotel as we had to return the rental car by 12:30. Raced down to the port and dropped the Jimmy off at exactly 12:30, whew! The guy from the rental car agency dropped us off in Chora. We stopped at the internet café in the travel agency and Steve and I finished before Alice so we walked up to the plateia where the clubs are. We decided to get something to eat at one of the places in the plateia while we waited for Alice . I got an omelet, yum, and Steve got an egg and ham sandwich. Alice met up with us there and then we walked around and took a bunch of pictures. We walked up the main street and came out at the plateia with the windmills. Along the way we passed by a couple more churches and I took some pictures of the resident cats. Also got some pictures of the funky evergreen tree that looks like the old fake Christmas trees you stick the wire branches into.
Took the bus back to the hotel and went to the beach until 5:30ish. Steve decided to try out the banana boat ride thing. This is a big yellow float that looks like 3 lengthwise bananas held together by a crosswise banana on the front of the 3. This contraption is towed by a motorboat until the banana thing becomes airborne and the rider hangs on for dear life. The driver of the boat decelerates until the banana hits the water with terrific force and then he accelerates again until the banana is once again airborne. This is repeated for about 10 minutes for the price of 25 Euros. Alice rode in the boat with the driver and took pictures and a short video with her camera and acted as the spotter as well. I wanted to watch from the beach as the driver mostly accelerates away from the beach so you get a good view of the rider. Steve said it was a blast, but his arms ached the next day from hanging on. After Steve rode the thing, the driver asked him to ride in the boat with him a few more times to act as spotter. I did some topless sunbathing as well! J
After the beach Steve went to the gym and I started sorting through stuff to pack. We went in to Chora on the bus for dinner and to look for souvenirs. The bus driver (a bus the size of a tour bus) was on his cell phone while he was driving and was all over the road, which is narrow and twisty anyway. Scary!!
Ate dinner at Vesuvius Pizzeria and Spaghetteria tonight, was really good, but way too much food to finish. Went by the Orange Bar and Alice and I bought T-shirts and said farewell to Panos and Wendy. They were such nice people. Next we went by the Red Bull Bar and Steve got a free T-shirt because we bought so many shots (you get a free t-shirt with the purchase of 7 shots at most of the bars) there the night before. Bought some random souvenirs for people and headed back to the hotel by taxi (bus finishes at 11pm).
We packed while we watched Harold and Kumar in English with Greek subtitles, too funny! Got to bed around 2am and set a wake up call for 8:30am to get the transfer down to the port to get the ferry to Santorini.
Up and ready to go at 9am and the transfer driver was early which is kind of unusual for anyone in Greece ! Once again we are traveling on the Highspeed 5 fast boat ferry, but it is only a short 30-45 minute trip from Ios to Santorini. We arrived at Athinos (the new Fira port) port in Santorini around 11am. The port was crazy busy! We lost Alice in the pandemonium of disembarking the ferry. We found our driver and eventually met up with Alice . To leave the port you drive up an incredibly steep road with hairpin turns and tight switchbacks all the way to the top. The buses barely fit and some cars had to back down the road when they met a bus at a tight corner.
We got to our hotel, the Caldera’s Lilium Villa after about a 10 minute drive from the port. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous! Our room is enormous and consists of a living room with a dining area and kitchenette, a separate bedroom (Yay!) and a palatial bathroom with a Jacuzzi. Our suite is down 2 flights of stairs but so what! We have a private deck and the view is fabulous. I can’t actually find enough superlatives to describe this hotel and our room!!
We made arrangements to get a rental car right away while we were checking in. We picked out a Citroen cabriolet. Within an hour they brought us a baby blue Citroen Pluriel which has a roof that has rigid pillars, but a soft sliding roof. The roof slides almost all the way down in the back, but unfortunately that completely blocks the rear window. The guy from the rental company showed how to operate the roof and warned us not to put the top the rest of the way down and stored in the boot area as he said it was difficult to put the roof back up. He also warned that we shouldn’t leave the top down at night due to the dampness. We didn’t believe him of course (about the difficulty) and put the roof all the way down as soon as he left and we had no idea why it would be so damp that we would need the roof up as we had left the top off the Jimmy all night on Ios with no problems.
We immediately set off for the supermarket on the edge of Fira town to buy some food to cook in the room with a warning from the hotel desk that the most we should cook in the room is some pasta as one guest had caused a fire by frying something. This is the first real supermarket I’ve been into in Greece . Even though they are called supermarkets, they are tiny by American standards, but they do pack a lot of variety into the space. I’ve discovered that Greece has the best cherry juice and cherry flavored yogurt. I don’t know if it’s because cherries grow abundantly in Greece or if they just process stuff differently, but the cherry flavored foods and drinks are heavenly. We bought some fresh bread and pita at a bakery near the hotel on the way back. Oh, Diet Coke is called Coke Light in Greece , I think they should change the name in the U.S. to Coke Light, it makes more sense!
We unpacked, got settled in and Alice and I went to the hotel pool and Steve went to sleep. Alice and I came back to the room to nap after swimming also. I got up around 7:30pm to make sure I wouldn’t miss the sunset. I showered and sat on our deck wearing one of the robes the hotel provided feeling all pampered and luxurious! I woke Steve up around 8:40pm to catch the end of the sunset, it was just beautiful. I think I took about 50 pictures trying to get just the right shot. Thank god for the delete button on the camera!
We headed up to the car (which was parked in the parking area in front of the hotel on the street) from the room and discovered exactly what the rental car guy had been talking about as far as dampness goes. We had left the roof down and the inside of the car was dripping wet, as a matter of fact it resembled a cave! Alice ran down to get a towel to mop up the car with, while Steve and I put the top up on the car. Okay here is where we found out just how difficult it is to put the top up on the silly car. We struggled with the stupid thing for about 20 minutes and were ready to just give up and leave it open, when we tried one more time and it seemed to go together properly. Steve says I wasn’t operating the knob in the car properly, but I still think the pieces in the back weren’t lined up correctly the first 10 times we tried it. Anyway we just left the top up and just slid the soft top back (kind of like a soft sunroof panel) for the rest of our stay on Santorini!We had asked at the hotel what the best clubs were and they told us the Koo Club, so that’s the first place we went. The club had a smallish inside area and a large outside area. We decided to sit outside even though it was a more than a bit damp and fog was literally streaming by us! The honeymoon couple we met on Ios walked in shortly after we got there and came over and sat with us for a while. It was kind of slow and boring at the Koo Club and it turns out we were there on a Latin music night, ick - not our kind of music at all. There was also this really creepy dude there that Steve nicknamed ‘the vulture’ as he kept silently circling his prey (chicks), but never spoke to anyone; just kept staring. After the honeymoon couple left, we went down the street to Murphy’s which was busy, but the bartender or DJ kept blasting this annoying air horn! After a while we couldn’t take it anymore and went for a walk to see what other clubs were around. We ended up back in the same area and went to the Box Club because they had drink specials. There was ‘trance boy’ dancing away all by himself on the dance floor at the Box Club. Eventually trance boy lured the hostess girls out on to the floor and was grinding them something fierce, which reminded us of the Dane Cook skit, which amused us immensely! It was almost completely dead in the club at this point, so we left. We stopped at the gyro place on the corner of the street, Steve and Alice got gyros and I got a tost, which is ham, cheese, bacon, eggs, tomatoes and spread on toast. Yum! We got back to the hotel around 2 or 3am.
Woke up just in the nick of time to leap up and get breakfast at the hotel buffet. It was well worth it though, the hotel put on a huge, impressive spread of food; scrambled eggs with ham, bacon, meats, cheeses, little hot dog things, breads, apple turnovers, mini pitas, chocolate filled croissants (Steve say’s they were extra yum!), fruits, super sweet fruit juices, cereals and yogurts. Whew, I’m sure I forgot something but that was basically it, the only downside was you had to eat in the dining area, if you took the food back to your room or deck there was a 3 Euro per person charge.
We planned to go shopping in Fira and decided to go to the Hondos Center , so we parked at the entrance to Fira. We ended up stopping along the way at a tiny little store with beautiful sarongs made of silks and batik fabric. I bought some and so did Alice . Steve bought some hair clippers as his U.S. ones didn’t work even with the converter or adapter (for that matter neither did my hair dryer or Alice ’s curling iron).
We walked a lot! We went along the edge of the caldera for the entire length of Fira. We walked by the cable car and were going to take a ride down to the old port, but the line was ridiculously long. We had already decided that there was no way we were going to do the donkey ride down to the old port, it’s pretty much just a novelty anyway and we didn’t actually need to go down to the old port for anything in particular. We continued walking in a generally uphill direction and came across a convention center with an exhibition of Akrotiri wall paintings. We went in to check it out since the actual site of Akrotiri was still closed to the public. The paintings on display were actually reproductions, but were very cool anyway. The caretaker told us no pictures, but I did take some anyway when we were out of his line of site.
We went in the Catholic Cathedral to light some candles and take some pictures. We also walked by the Dominican Convent. Farther down the same street was an arts center where a live rock band was practicing. They were playing a cover song and they were absolutely horrible and Steve wanted to go take the drummers sticks away and show him how to do it. We continued on our way, stopped and bought some embroidered zippered purse things with Santorini on them for souvenirs. At this point we decided we needed to get something to eat, we saw a sign for a restaurant that had gyros for a couple Euros and decided to go in. The restaurant was on the 2nd floor and had a great view of the island away from the caldera. The food was fairly inexpensive and Steve and I thought the food was good for the price, but Alice didn’t like hers.
After we ate we decided to go to Perissa Beach. , it didn’t take long to get there, but we were a little disappointed as the beach was really rocky. I knew that the beach would have black sand and be super hot, but the water area didn’t have a sandy bottom, it had really slippery and sharp rocks. We did go in a little, but without water shoes, it was pretty much impossible to get too far. The bottom almost looked like concrete, but was really uneven and rough and slimy with algae. We stayed about an hour since we had to pay 5 Euros to use the chairs and umbrella. Steve and I tried to take a walk down the beach to see if it was any better, but we only got about a hundred feet before we gave up and turned around, it was just too hard to walk. Oh well, we knew the beaches weren’t going to be as nice as the beaches on Ios.
After we drove back to the hotel, we decided that we should drive to Oia tonight to see the sunset since that was where the best world famous Santorini sunsets happened, allegedly. We were cutting it close, so we raced through showers and got ready in record time (and I do mean record time for this trip) and drove like maniacs out to Oia. Okay, first of all, let me say that although we knew we wanted to see the sunset in Oia, we really had no specific location in mind to view it from (nor did we bother to ask anyone). We had to try 3 public parking areas before we found one (that was just below the bus station) with an open spot. As luck would have we ended up in one of the famous viewpoints by accident and because we kept walking toward the caldera and were trying to get away from some of the clouds. We collapsed in exhaustion from our mad dash to the sunset and sat down below the windmill to await the sunset. It was imminent for sure, we were only about 15 minutes away from the magic moment and all of a sudden the clouds rolled in. We took a bunch of pictures anyway and hung around on the slight chance that the clouds might break at the right moment. But alas, no such luck. We got lots of pictures of what I’m calling the ‘nonset’ and they actually aren’t too bad, especially the ones with the ferries heading out of the caldera and the ‘nonset’ behind them.
Since we were already in Oia and had no plans to return, we decided to walk around and look at stuff and grab a bite to eat somewhere. We ended up eating at Lotza Restaurant, which looked good and had a very nice view of the caldera and the town. However the place sucked, first off the server didn’t feel the need to tell me and Alice that we had ordered dessert wines instead of the local white wine we were asking about. Then we ordered 3 meals, but ended up with 4 because the server didn’t understand when we changed our order from 2 pasta and 1 seafood dinners to 1 pasta, 1 chicken and 1 seafood dinners. So they served us 2 pasta, 1 chicken and 1 seafood dinner and they insisted we pay for all 4 meals although it was their mistake. Also Alice ’s shrimp came whole in the shell with the heads and all. It was a huge fiasco to de-shell the shrimp. Cost us 81 Euros for a meal that was absolutely terrible. Did I also mention it took them forever to come over to our table in the first place and the meals also took the longest time to serve?
We walked around Oia and went the whole length of Caldera Avenue which is a pedestrian street. Saw some adorable dogs and cute cats along the way. We decided to walk along the main road back to the car and that was dark and scary, the cars flew down the street and you had to find a driveway or alcove to duck into to avoid being run over. After all that disappointment, we wanted some ice cream and decided to head back to Fira for it. We sat on the pedestrian street along the caldera to eat it. We headed back to the hotel room around 1am – No drinking tonight as the boat tour of the volcano is tomorrow!!
Yikes! We woke up at 9:50am and the hotel reception desk had told us to call before 10am to check on availability and make reservations for the volcano tour. Called reception to see if we were too late, they checked and found out we could get on the tour. We would be picked up from the hotel at 10:45am and returned around 5:30pm. We raced through getting ready and went up and ate another fabulous breakfast with eggs over easy today. The bus came around 11am and took us to Athinos port, but the boat wasn’t there. The tour director came over and told us that the boat we were supposed to be on had a problem and that we would be taking another boat which wasn’t there yet. We were told to go wait in the shade outside the covered area where people were waiting for the ferries. Then the port police yelled at us to go inside the area and wait. When we tried to go inside the covered area, we were told we couldn’t enter without a ferry ticket! Arghhhh!
Finally the boat showed up about a half hour later and everyone raced over to get on it nearly shoving the tour guide into the harbor. The boat ties up at a small dock area on the volcano, Nea Kameni (which translates to ‘new burnt island’, which started to form about 425 years ago). We got to the volcano at about 12:30pm, so it was blisteringly hot! The tour guide told us it was a 1.4 kilometer walk to get to the top of the volcano, just picture black volcanic rock everywhere and steep, steep trails with loose gravelly sand! We took lots of pictures on the way up and at the top. It definitely smelled like sulfur around the vents of the volcano. The rock was discolored a whitish green around them too. Our tour guides name was Lena and she was really knowledgeable about the volcano, she also spoke fluent English and Spanish as well as Greek.
We headed back down to the boat, which although it was much easier it was still scorching hot. Our boat (the one we were supposed to be on) was there waiting for us at the port. It was a dark green sailboat with green masts, very cool! Finally we all boarded and headed off to the hot springs at Paleo Kameni. The hot springs are more warm than hot and the water is kind of brown and yucky. So Steve and I jumped into the water off the boat, but we didn’t swim over to the hot springs which were about 100 meters from the boat. The water was cold, but not too bad compared to New England ocean water. We only spent about a half hour at the hot springs .
We then sailed over to Thirassia to have lunch and relax. We decided to eat at the taverna with the windmill all the way at the end of the harbor. While we were walking there, I was looking up at the village on the cliff above us and managed to smash my toes on a rock and tear off a chunk of skin, ouch! The food was good and it was cafeteria style service. We sat on the corner by the harbor and had an awesome view. Steve and I fed one of the kitties, a scruffy tiger. There was another one-eyed black cat when we first got there, but it must have gone off to beg at another table.
After we ate, we walked the length of the port area, through all the little tavernas to a deserted taverna of which the only thing left was a cement pad. We lay in the sun for a little while and then walked back to our boat. At 4:30 we left Thirassia for a tour of the caldera on the way back to Athinas port. We stopped to let some people off in Oia for the sunset excursion and then stopped at the old port in Fira to let some other people off to do the donkey ride or take the cable car to Fira.
Once again we watched the sunset from the deck outside our hotel room. I was really colorful and much better than the ‘nonset’ we saw in Oia and best of all we didn’t have to drive there to see it! Steve and I finally figured out what settings to use on the camera, so I think we got some good shots.
We rested up for a while and drove into Fira around midnight. We started out at the Box Club because the drinks were cheap. We paid 13 Euro for two sex on the beaches and a Red Bull vodka, but it was really boring there and kind of empty. So we decided to go check out Murphy’s and paid 30 Euros for the same drinks there and the sex on the beach drinks were super sugary and tasted terrible. We stayed for a couple of drinks, but it was really slow there too.
Next we went to the Koo Club, which was kind of busy. We ran into a guy from Mikrokastro and he gave us some tips on things to do. We only stayed for one drink as they were 10 Euros each. Alice wanted to go to Enigma Club because she heard them playing Reggae. Of course as soon as we got there they switched to Greek music! We ran into one of the servers from our hotel on the way in to Enigma. This place was packed; apparently this is where all of the Greeks go to party. We stayed there until about 4am and then went back to the hotel stopping for gyros at Mythos on the way to the car.
I woke up around 10am because Steve got up to get some Dupon (pain reliever) for his crashing hangover headache. We all went up and had breakfast together. We had planned to have a quiet day, mostly hanging around the hotel. Steve went back to bed immediately after breakfast and Alice and I went to the pool. We stayed at the pool until about 1pm, when it dawned on me that we had to pick up the laundry in Fira before they closed at 2pm and the rental car had to be returned by 4pm! By this time Steve thought he was probably going to live through his hangover and got up to go with me. The laundry cost 45 Euros for 5 loads, but it was worth it to get it back all clean and folded. We walked across the street to Mythos for some chicken gyros and village salad to take back to the hotel for lunch.
During lunch we all decided that we should go somewhere in the car before we had to return it since we had paid a small fortune to rent it. Maria at the reception desk suggested either Monolithos beach or Firostefani. We decided to drive to Firostefani so I could try to get some photos of the famous blue domed churches.
Found a parking area in Firostefani and then walked about a kilometer along the caldera and I have to say that Firostefani is not as nice as Fira. But we did get some nice photos of Imerovigli from some point of land we ended up on near the Agios Nikolas Monastery with a sheer drop off to the Aegean and no fences or anything!! Filled the car with gas on the way back to the hotel and dropped the keys off at the reception desk at 4pm on the dot.
We all hung out at the pool, playing Frisbee in the pool and flinging it out onto the deck and almost hitting people. Kind of surprised we didn’t get kicked out of the pool area! We stayed there until about 7:30pm as it was still sunny and warm then. Steve cooked the rest of the ziti and we tried to finish up as much of the remaining food as possible.
We took the hotel shuttle into Fira to shop for souvenirs. We wandered around and bought stuff in a bunch of small shops and finally found a book store and bought a bunch of postcards, some paper and a whole bunch of random small gifts. Ironically one of the women working there also worked at our hotel at the reception desk. We hadn’t used the internet since we got to Santorini as our hotel didn’t have internet and although the Volcano View Villas next door did, they were always in use, so we really wanted to check e-mails and such. We went up a really narrow flight of stairs to the internet café, which was right next to the paper store. The guy working there said they were closing in 10 minutes, but said he would stay open so we could get 30 minutes of internet use. The guy working at the internet café brought us some homemade wine! He said he was a actually a restaurateur and was just minding the internet café for a friend. Very nice guy, but the wine was really strong!
Decided we wanted pizza for dinner at about 10:30pm and stopped at a little restaurant near the parking area across the street from Mythos that had brick oven pizza called El Grecos. We sat upstairs near the balcony overlooking the street. Nice place and the wait staff were prompt and attentive. We got village salad, tzatziki, pan fried potatoes (which were fabulous!) and El Greco pizza, yum!! We headed back out for a few more souvenirs. We walked by Murphy’s and Enigma and right across the street from them we noticed a pastry shop. They had cheesecakes, Greek donuts, pastries, crepes and ice cream. I got cherry frozen yogurt, Steve got caramel walnut ice cream on a cinnamon sugar crepe and Alice got strawberry ice cream. The cherry frozen yogurt was awesome! We then headed back to the hotel to finish packing and got to bed around 2 or 2:30am and set the alarm for 9:45am.
I woke up just before the alarm went off and decided to get up and finish packing the last minute stuff and have some breakfast. Steve and I went up to breakfast while Alice finished getting ready. I’m really going to miss the breakfasts at the Lilium! By the time we ate and went back to the room to make a final check it was pretty much time to drag the luggage up 2 flights of stairs (SteveJ) to the pool area and go check out. We got to the Santorini airport about an hour and 15 minutes before boarding. Security seemed more than a little relaxed (to say the least!) than in the States or even Athens . We boarded a bus from the gate that took us to the 737 out on the tarmac, everyone boarded in about 5-10 minutes and we taxied right out on to the runway and took off. I think ours was the only commercial plane at the whole airport! It was a short flight to Athens , about 25 minutes or so flying time, another bus to the terminal at the Athens airport. I think we walked the entire length of the terminal to get to our gate for the flight to Salonika . We only had to wait about 30 minutes to our boarding time, another bus to our plane, which was an RJ100, with a 3 and 2 seat configuration. Somehow even we had been assured by the ticket agent in Santorini that we were all seated together, we weren’t. L
When we arrived in Salonika , Alice and Steve’s cousin Christos and their mom Magda were waiting for us at the gate. After lots of hugging and back slapping between the cousins, we got our luggage and went to the Europcar rental desk to pick up our car. We got a Toyota Yaris, which was fairly new (only 6,000 km) and pretty roomy. For some inexplicable reason Christos and Magda came in Christos’ small car instead of the Suzuki Vitara (SUV) that Magda was using, so we had to jam almost all of the luggage into the rental Yaris, plus Christos still had to stop in Salonika to pick up his wife and 2 kids! Yikes!! The cars were stuffed to the gills! When we stopped to pick up Christos' wife and kids, we double parked and all went up to Christos’ sister’s apartment to say hello to everyone. Finally we got on the road to the village of Mikrokastro ! I think it took about an hour and a half to 2 hours to get there. The highways are new, and the speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour, but Christos drove like a maniac topping 150kph as often as possible. The Motorway Egnatia (E-90) goes across a big flat plain, but then heads into the mountains. They cut tunnels through the mountains when they made the new highway, so that cut several hours off the journey on the old road. The only problem was the Yaris only made about 92 hp, so we had a little trouble keeping up with Christos on the steep uphill grades, but just kept my foot to the floor and tried my best!
We arrived in Mikrokastro around 6 or 7pm and met Steve’s Pappous (Grandfather) and Gigia (Grandmother) whose house we were staying at upstairs. There was no running water in the chorio (village) when we got there due to a problem with the wells. Mikrokastro has 3 wells, 1 on which they had to shut off due to contamination. So each day they fill up the cistern overnight and the running water lasts until it’s gone, which isn’t long most days since everyone seems to have a garden they need to water. Steve's cousin's house has a reserve water tank (and an actual bathtub with a shower), so we showered there. Also would be remiss in mentioning that although the house we are staying at has indoor plumbing that consists of a toilet, sink and handheld shower, but no tub or shower stall. When you shower the entire bathroom is the shower and the mop up process takes about an hour according to Alice . So we don’t plan to shower there even if there is water as it is a process. Pappous and Gigia don’t typically use the indoor toilet anyway; they still prefer to use the outhouse they have been accustomed to forever. Not a big deal, it’s actually a contoured cement pad with a hole in it, just a bit ripe when it’s sweltering out and there are some flies involved. Any port in a storm as they say!!
Christos, his wife and the girls took us all out to eat in Siatista. We went to a restaurant right in the plateia near the beginning of the town. When we got back to town, we went to Mythos (one of two local bars in Mikrokastro) for a beer. I was so tired; I think I fell asleep in my chair at the bar!
A couple of problems sleeping last night first it was really warm in the upstairs where we were staying as there were no screens so mosquitoes and flies came in if you opened the windows and also a dog barked right outside our windows off an on all night. Steve ended up getting up and chasing the dog down the street to get him to stop. So we resolved to buy some fans first thing when we went to Kozani (the closest city) to solve the heat problem and I wore wore earplugs when I slept for the rest of our stay in the village.
Magda had gone to the bakery for some ham and cheese croissants for breakfast, so we ate those and drove into Kozani to look for fans and to use the internet café. We had great success on all our errands and even had a hot dog/sausage thing grilled in a roll called a loukaniko that was really good. We drove back to Mikrokastro and had lunch with Steve’s Aunt (Magda's sister) and Uncle (who is a priest). Christos and his oldest daughter came by also. We had stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed zucchini, village salad, beets and white fish fried in beer batter. Was yummy! After lunch we had a nap and then went to Christos to shower.
We ate in the village at the souvlaki restaurant as it was around 11:30pm already. We had village salad, tzatziki and souvlaki. We were pretty much the only customers there and the owner came over and sat with us chain smoking the entire time. He works in the fur industry in Siatista and then comes over to Mikrokastro every night to open the restaurant which has been in his family for generations. He was telling us how much the fur business has declined in Greece since most companies’ ship their fur goods to China because the labor is so much cheaper. Outsourcing; sounds familiar! Went over to the Cactus Bar (the only other bar in the village beside Mythos) because Steve wanted to see if his cousin Yanni was there, but he had already left. We had a drink anyway and talked to the owner for a while as Steve and Alice know him also and then headed home to sleep in the direct path of our new fans! Found out also that the dog that barked incessantly last night belongs to the neighbors son and isn’t a stray after all. And the dog’s makeshift house is directly under Alice and Magda’s window which is why he sounds so loud! Oh boy!!
We wanted to go to Meteora today, but when I looked it up in the guidebook to find information, I noticed that the biggest monastery was closed on Tuesdays. So much for that then I guess. So we decided to go with the back up plan and go to Dion and Mt Olympos instead. But first Magda had made plans for us all to have breakfast at her friend's house around the corner. We had sausage turnovers, cheese turnovers and ham and cheese tost. Breakfast seemed to drag on forever as I was anxious to get on the road so we would have plenty of time at Dion and Mt Olympos.
Steve mentioned casually would I mind if his mom dropped off some things at a friend’s house in Katerini since we would be passing right through the city on the way to and from Dion and Mt Olympos. Me, being unsuspecting, said of course not. It took a couple of hours to drive to Dion. We got off the highway and followed the signs for Dion and ended up parking right near the Museum of Dion and the Mediterranean Center for Mosaics. We went into the Center for Mosaics and discovered that it was an art school for people who wanted to learn how to make mosaics, one of the employees/teachers ended up showing us around and answering all of our questions.
We walked from the school to the Museum of Dion which was only a hundred meters or so away. We bought a pass that included the museum and the archaeological site of Dion also. The museum was incredible! For such a small museum it had spectacular artifacts; statues, reliefs, coins, keys, tools, glass, gold jewelry, bronze carvings and more. I think Steve took pictures of almost everything in the place! There was more stuff outside, mostly reliefs and stone carvings. Oh and I also encountered my first advanced hole in the ground toilet of the trip! This is a modern (some are brand new) toilet that you stand up to use (even females) and is made of ceramic and contoured where you put your feet with a hole in the center. Accurate aim is essential to successfully using this device (that means not splashing your feet and legs). This toilet also flushes! Water comes out and swirls over the hole and foot area to clean it. Coming from the States it seems like a really strange concept to me as it would be just as easy to put a conventional toilet in wouldn’t it?
Did I mention that today it’s really, really hot out? Greece is in the midst of an extreme heat wave and the temperature today is around 38 degrees Celsius (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the sun is just blasting down. I guess when we were in the islands we didn’t notice it as much as we could swim in the sea or the pool and the constant breezes cooled us off. We drove over to the archaeological site of Dion after leaving the museum. We walked to the theatre area and about halfway Magda (who was dressed entirely in black and was wearing heels) decided to sit in the shade and wait for us. Steve climbed up on the smaller theatre so Alice and I followed. It had really cool arches in a radius around the outside of the theatre. On the other side of the theatre was a sign saying not to climb up on it, whoops! We decided to follow the shadier path back to Magda and walked by another ruin. We walked along the river for a ways and over to the Sanctuary of Demeter and then tried to walk over to the Sanctuary of Isis but the gate to cross the street was locked. We went around to the main avenue and then walked by the Odeon and through the public baths area. The mosaics in the public baths area were awesome! We went over to the private house area where they are still excavating and everything is messy. Right about now is when the batteries died in my camera and my backup AA batteries were back in the village. It figures. Anyway it was ridiculously hot to be walking around sweltering in the sun, so we decide to get going and head off to Mt Olympos.
We stopped to get some batteries and cold drinks in the village of Dion on the way out. But we saw some signs that said Mt Olympos, so we headed that way. I thought I remembered from the map that the way we should go to Mt Olympos wasn’t near Dion, but was about 20 kilometers away, but I was overruled. Unfortunately we didn’t consult the map and went up some unfinished, partially paved road. We passed by a cute little church on the roadside. Eventually we got to a point in the road where the car was physically unable to go any further because it couldn’t get any traction whatsoever. There were no guard rails and we were way, way up high on the mountain. The road was loose deep sand, but I did a multi point turn to very, very carefully turn around. Magda was freaking out a bit that we were sort of stuck. I have to note that there was a car ahead of us the whole time, and he actually only made it about 30 meters farther than we did before he got stuck and had to turn around also. In the Mt Olympos versus the Yaris war, the mountain definitely won! We made Steve get out and take some pictures with Alice ’s camera while I held my foot on the brake and put up the emergency brake also. I don’t know how steep the grade was, but I was definitely nervous. We stopped at the little church on the way back down and took some photos of the church and the waterfall behind it. I looked like people camped in the area around the church as there were picnic table and a wooden fountain thing with running water. This was definitely the wrong road, but too late now.
By now it was 5pm and Magda had told her friend we would be at her house in Katerini at 5pm so we figured we should get going. I believe this is about the point where I learned that not only were we dropping stuff off; we were actually going to have dinner there! Sometimes I felt like I had absolutely no idea what was going on (South Park Towlie reference). We ended up being only about 30 minutes late which wasn’t too bad considering that we missed the on ramp to the highway and got stuck behind a ginormous farm combine thing that took up both lanes on the road. Then when we took the turn that was allegedly the highway ramp it turned out to be a road that ran parallel to the highway, argh. Somehow through sheer luck after we took a bunch of turns and stopped at a bakery to ask directions and call Magda's friend, it turned out that we were literally around the corner from her house. That was crazy. The point of this visit was for Magda to drop off some gifts from her friend back in the states for the friend’s cousin and her daughter who was about 2 years old. We also met her husband, but he had to leave to go back to open their fur store at 6pm (he was just home for the afternoon break). She served us mackerel which was cooked with their heads on and had little plastic things for eyes, village salad, and green beans and potatoes with stewed tomatoes. Their home however, a townhouse, was really gorgeous, very sleek and contemporary. They said it cost about 400,000 Euros! I think we left about 7:30-8pm to head back to Mikrokastro.
Today we plan to go to Florina to visit Steve’s cousin who’s a nun at the monastery of St. Marcos. This cousin is another of Christos’ sisters. We actually managed to get up and get ready to leave around 9-10am, shocking! It was about an hour and a half drive to the monastery with me, Steve and Alice in the Yaris and Magda, her sister, her mother and another nun from Mikrokastro in the Vitara. The monastery is in Florina which is only about 18 kilometers from Albania and it is set way up on a mountain overlooking the entire valley with beautiful views. The monastery is fairly new and they are adding on a dining hall and kitchen wing for when they have visitors come to see the church (usually a tour bus full). It was nice and cool up at the monastery compared with the lower elevations. There was a huge concrete and wire fence around the back of the property and the nuns told us that the fence was to keep the bears out, eek!
The church is a separate building from the monastery and as is traditional it has no electricity. The main monastery building is where the five nuns live and it has all the modern amenities including electricity and absolutely gorgeous woodwork. While we were there a tour bus pulled up full of tourists from the Salonika area. The nuns had a small mass for the tourists in the church and we attended also. The head sister spoke about St. Markos and they also sang. The monastery possesses a fragment of bone said to be from the wrist of St. Markos who was Greek, but is buried in Italy . After the mass everyone goes to the monastery gift shop to buy icons and other religious items that are mostly hand made by the nuns. Steve and I spent around 90 Euros in there. When we were getting ready to leave the nuns gave us all some handmade olive oil soap, some wines, and other items. The nuns served us several sweets (no eggs or milk as it was their lent period) and then a lunch of octopus, orzo, onion pita and a village salad. The octopus was actually not bad, and kind of reminded me of shrimp in taste and consistency, but I have to admit the suckers on the tentacles weirded me out a little.
Right before we ate lunch at 1:30pm Steve’s grandfather from the States called and said that he, Steve B.(Steve and Alice’s cousin from the States), his mom were flying into Salonika from Athens (where they had just landed coming from Boston) and needed to be picked up at 6pm today in Salonika, yikes! We finished eating as fast as politeness allowed, and then we took some photos and left around 3pm. Alice and I were still wearing knee length skirts from our visit to the monastery and since we hadn’t planned on being out all day, we didn’t bring a change of clothes. Steve did however and changed into shorts as soon as we pulled out of the driveway! The plan is for Magda to take her sister, mother and the other nun back to Mikrokastro before heading to Salonika with the Vitara. We had already decided while we were driving to Florina to go by Edessa on the way home to see the waterfalls since it was relatively near Florina. This event kind of threw a monkey wrench into the works, but we decided that we should still have time to stop by Edessa on the way to Salonika if we didn’t spend too much time there. Plus the most direct route from Florina to Salonika took us right through Edessa anyway. It was going to take both cars to pick up Steve's grandfather from the States, Steve B. and his mom and all their pieces of luggage since Steve's grandfather alone brought 5 pieces of luggage.
It felt like it took forever, but we arrived in Edessa in about 45 minutes. The waterfalls were pretty cool and are not in the middle of the woods like I had pictured, but are right on the edge of the city. Actually the edge of the city is a huge cliff. As the waterfalls are a big tourist attraction now, the city has made a walkway and carved stairs into the cliff so people can walk down the waterfall. The main waterfall is called Karanos and there is a small cave behind it. We paid 50 Euro cents each to go in the cave, it’s not very deep and people have broken off all of the stalactites and there is a bunch of graffiti as well, but it was still cool (literally) to go into. We went most of the way down the stairs and over a metal bridge (catwalk really) to the other twin waterfalls. It was a bit moist from all the spray and I didn’t take many pictures as I was trying to keep the camera dry. It sucked climbing back up the stairs however as once again it was broiling hot!
We thought if we left Edessa by 5pm, we would make it to the airport by 6pm no problem. It took forever to drive on the back road to Salonika and we ended up getting there around 6:30, but we still beat Magda! Steve drove from Edessa to Salonika and it was nice to sit in the passenger seat for a while, although I was starting to feel a bit carsick from Steve’s less than smooth gear changes. I managed to get some photos while we were driving of people passing trucks with cars coming the other way. Greek drivers routinely pass slower cars even if it’s not a designated passing zone. They pass on curves and when cars are coming the other way, they pass in the city, it’s like a sport! One BMW even passed us while we were passing a truck on a 2 lane road; I guess the Yaris wasn’t making the pass fast enough for him. When we got to the airport in Salonika Steve B., his mom and grandfather were just coming out of the terminal building with their luggage. So the timing ended up being perfect. Magda pulled in about 15 minutes after we did. We piled most of the luggage in the Vitara so Steve B. could ride with us, unfortunately we were in the lead and were talking and missed the turn on to the ring road (highway) that would have taken us around Salonika city center. The traffic was terrible in the city and it ended up taking us an extra hour I think to get to Megaro.
Steve's grandfather from the States is originally from the village of Megaro which is near the city of Grevena and that is where they are staying. Steve B. and his mom are staying for 3 weeks and Pappous stays every year for 3 or 4 months. Kozani and Grevena are only about 20 to 30 minutes away from each other, but it takes another 30 to 45 minutes to drive up the mountain to Megaro from Grevena. When we finally got to Megaro after about 2 and a half hour drive from Salonika , we met a whole slew of relatives. We were starving so we went to the plateia near Thea Kula’s and went to a restaurant for some souvlaki. While it was cooking we went around the corner to a bar for a couple of beers. I decided that I was just going to drink water as I was exhausted and was going to be driving down unfamiliar mountain roads shortly.
My border police saga - As it turns out, the water was a really good idea, as we got pulled over by the border police when were driving down the mountain. I knew there was a car behind us for a while, but I thought he wanted to pass since he flew right up behind us and stayed on my bumper for kilometers. The road from Megaro to Grevena is a typical Greek mountain road, all windy, narrow and dark. Every time I would get to a straight part of the road, I would stay to the right as I had been doing all along in Greece and had seen all the other Greek drivers doing as a regular thing. The 3 border cops that got out wanted to see my identification, so I handed them my international drivers permit and my Massachusetts license since I had left my passport in my luggage in Mikrokastro that morning. The cop also kept asking me how much alcohol I had drunk, which fortunately I could honestly say none at all. Apparently the international drivers permit was sufficient to prove my right to drive on Greek roads but my Massachusetts license was insufficient as identification and the cop got irate. He demanded that I hand over my identification immediately, I was trying to explain in English that I didn’t have my passport on me and Steve was yelling at him in Greek that in the States our license is our government issued identification.
Oh boy - by now I thought we were all going to end up detained or in Turkish prison or worse! So now the cop demands that we turn the light on in the car, and give him everyone in the cars identification and the papers for the car. I dutifully turned on the light and dug out the rental agreement and any other papers I found in the glove box and handed them over. Steve had his international drivers permit and Massachusetts license but no passport either, Alice had her passport (Thank God) and Magda had nothing. When the cop looked at their identification he asked how they knew ‘George’(who had the same last name as Steve, Alice and Magda) in Greek, Steve looked confused, but Alice yelled out that he was their cousin. The border cops immediately got all smiley and friendly and handed us back all our papers and said we were all set. Huh! Evidently George (who really is their distant cousin) is another border cop who these cops know. Whew!! Thank God. I was really starting to feel panicky. Moral of this story is to always carry your passport no matter what you read on the official tourism websites or in the guidebooks. The cop told me he pulled me over because I was driving like I was drunk, and cautioned me not to drive close to the edge of the road even if someone wants to pass, he said if they want to pass then they will just go around.
Footnote for the day - By this time we have already put 1600 kilometers on the rental Yaris in just 4 days (Really only 3.3 days since we picked the car up on Sunday at 3:30pm). We are truly exhausted from all the driving today, but it is again swelteringly hot in the house and it’s hard to sleep. Also there is no water in the village once again. L
Since we were in Santorini; Steve has been talking about going to Chalkidiki to visit his cousin Stedios, who works at a restaurant in Pefkochori, a beach resort area. The original plan was to go straight to Chalkidiki from the airport in Salonika, which would have made perfect sense since the airport is actually on the peninsula of Chalkidiki . Chalkidiki is a peninsula that resembles a hand with three ‘fingers’. The ‘fingers’ are named Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos from bottom to top. Kassandra is the most developed and is where Steve’s cousin is for the summer and Athos is where Mt Athos and all the monasteries are (off limits to women and non Orthodox men). However when this was first brought up, Christos decided that we should wait until the weekend, so he and his wife could come with us. So we fell in with that plan, thinking that we could meet up with Steve B. as well and have a bunch of cousins at the beach. Well, things didn’t go as planned (shocking!) and Christos couldn’t get time off from work, so we decided to go anyway. Magda and Steve B's mom wanted to go with us as well, which meant figuring out a way to get the Vitara since we would need 2 cars. Okay this took some serious organizing as we didn’t even have a place to stay!
Today we had wanted to take it kind of easy, but Magda made plans for us to go to her Cousin's house for lunch in Siatista. Magda looked settled in for visit, so we left her there after we were there for a couple of hours and went to use the internet café at the top of their street. We searched the internet for a hotel in Pefkochori (which means pine village) for the weekend. The plan is now to stay in Pefkochori for 3 nights, Friday through Monday. We found several in the price range of 20 to 30 Euros per person per night. Not bad! We also wanted to make sure that the place we stayed had a pool and air conditioning. We ended up booking 2 rooms at the Ioli Village at a total of $210 Euros for each room for the 3 nights. We went back to get Magda and say farewell.
When we got back to Mikrokastro, we walked to a store called Manolis for cold soda and some snacks. We tried to nap, but it was way to hot. Temperatures are still averaging about 36-38 Celsius. We went to Christos' to shower (Woo hoo, Cleanliness!!) and get ready for dinner. We all drove to Grevena to have dinner with Christos, his wife and daughter at ‘The Chicken of Taki’ which was the ‘best chicken place in Grevena’. The roasted chicken was awesome! We also had village salad, tzatziki and potatoes. For desert we had halava, which are grain cakes with sugar syrup, they were really tasty.
We were up last night until about 2:30am packing for Pefkochori and once again it is positively sweltering! Between the heat and the stupid dog barking we got no sleep. We had to get up (from tossing and turning, not sleeping) at 6:30am to get to Grevena by 7:30 to meet up with Steve B. and Susie and pick up the Vitara. Steve B. can only drive the Vitara when Magda or Pappous is in the car as this is the way it works in Greece . Magda can drive the Vitara because Pappous went to the Greek Embassy in Boston to get some special permit. Otherwise only the owner can drive the car. Pappous was going to take a taxi back to Megaro. We set off for Pefkochori after grabbing some tiropitas and ham and cheese croissant things. It took about 3 hours to get to Pefkochori because of traffic and 2 lane roads, plus it was far.
We stayed at the Ioli Village and the hotel is really nice! The rooms are actually suites with a bedroom, separate kitchen area with 3 more beds and a bathroom (with running water!!!!). We got 2 rooms and the only drawback is the air conditioning is only in the bedroom. The way the rooms are configured, Steve and I took room 222 because the air conditioning wouldn’t reach the kitchen and in room 221 the air conditioning unit was in line with the bedroom door which opened right up into the kitchen area. So Alice and Steve B. decided to stay in 221 with Magda and Steve B's mom. We all settled in to our respective rooms and then went to the grocery store for water, soda, snacks and lunch stuff. Then we walked down toward the beach. We went by the restaurant where Stedios works and decided to have lunch there. I got an awesome omelet and everyone else got gyros. We also had village salad, tzatziki and fried potatoes.
After lunch we went down to the beach and laid out in the sun and swam in the ocean (The water was really warm and salty) until about 6pm. I got my nails done, sort of, at a place at the end of the beach called ‘The House of Smile’ and Steve got his head shaved (he forgot his clippers) and an ‘on the spot’ massage. He said it was wonderful. The way the girl did the fill on my nails was really weird. She didn’t do any sanding, just filled and painted with polish, no top coat. Whatever, I should have just left them until I got home, especially since it cost me 25 Euros. We met up with Alice and Steve B. at the bar just behind the House of Smile for a drink.
We went back to the hotel and took a nap at about 9:30 after showering and got up around 11:30 to meet up with Stedios to go out for the night. We had drinks in the room first and then headed out. First we went to The Cuccurruddu right across the street from the beach which was playing a lot of 50’s music and cutting the songs short, which made them extra annoying. We drank 3 rounds of shots there or maybe 4 plus beers. Then we went down the beach to the Sushi Club, there’s no sushi there and wasn’t much going on there at all. We left there (with our beers) and went to the NONO Refreshing nightclub on the main street. It looked empty inside, but when you went through a door in the back of the club, there was a disco like room with girls dancing in cages and on the bars to dance music both Greek and American. We stayed there dancing and drinking until about 5am, then with the sun coming up we headed back to the hotel to pass out. The NONO doesn’t really get busy until 2am apparently!
Amazingly, we woke up at 10:30am. Of course it could have been due to the people in the room above us making a ton of noise, it sounded like they were dragging the furniture around and their kids were crying an screaming so sleep was not happening. We had breakfast at the hotel and I had an ‘English’ Breakfast that consisted of bacon & eggs w/ bread, it was pretty good. On the breakfast specials list they also had a ‘Greek’ breakfast that consisted of cold coffee and 2 Marlboro cigarettes – I’m not sure if that was a just a joke or if you could actually get it, but pretty hilarious all the same!
We decided to walk straight down to the beach today from the hotel and turned to the left. The ocean was all big rocks that were really slippery, so we decided to walk down the beach the other way toward where we were yesterday. While Steve and I were taking some pictures of the beach area, Steve B. and Alice decided we should go to the part of the beach by the beach bars all the way at the end of the beach by the House of Smile. On the way I decided that I wanted to buy a float to use, which ended up being good decision, as Steve and/or I used the silly float the entire day! The water is nice and warm and is really salty so you have awesome buoyancy. Steve also bought some paddle ball things and some water shoes. We tried to play Frisbee, but the beach was super crowded at this end, the chairs and umbrellas filled the whole strip of sand between the walkway/bars and the water. Steve and I played paddle ball on the edge of the water and we actually didn’t suck at it too bad. Steve and I left the beach a little earlier than everyone else because he was getting a little bit sunburned. When we got back to the hotel we decided to take a dip in the hotel pool. The pool water was even warmer that the ocean, but it was still refreshing. The pool was huge and strangely the water was far down below the rim of the pool, at least 12 inches and maybe more.
After this Steve and I wanted to go use the internet café across the street from Stedios’ work. We ran into Steve B., Alice, Susie and Magda just across the street from the hotel and so we waited for Alice and Steve B. to go change and then we all went to use the internet together. When we were done, we went back to the hotel and made ham and cheese tost sandwiches in the hotel room, they were really tasty! Steve and I took a nap until about 11:30pm and were supposed to meet up with Stedios when he got out of work at 12am. But Stedios had to work late, so we went down to his restaurant and had some gyros and then went down the street to the Kahlua Bar to wait for him. Well at least Steve and I did. Alice and Steve B. decided to walk all the way back down to the end of the beach to the Akrotiri Bar by the House of Smile. I had heels on and didn’t want to walk all the way down there because I was sure the place would be desolate. And I was right, the Akrotiri Bar was empty, it’s pretty much a daytime place when there are tons of people on the beach, but at night there’s nothing down that end of the beach strip. Anyway the Kahlua Bar was packed and we were enjoying ourselves.
When Stedios joined us around 1 or 1:30am we ended up having to wait about 30 minutes for Alice and Steve B. to finish their drinks and mosey back to the Kahlua Bar to meet up with us. We had originally planned to drive up to Kalithea which is where most of the popular clubs are, but decided not to go since Stedios said the police were out in force and Stedios had to work so late. We ended up just going to the NONO club again. This night wasn’t as busy as the night before plus I had a splitting headache, but we did stay until around 5:30 or 6am though.
Oh, we saw some cats at the hotel today. One tiger kitty was really friendly and looked pretty well taken care of. But the white and brown patches kitty we saw was so skinny and looked emaciated. We bought some cat food at the grocery store today for both cats and put out some water. We couldn’t tell if the white kitty ate or not, it really didn’t look too interested. Steve thinks it was dying. Other people must have felt bad for it also because there was more food out there later. I was warned before we came to Greece that people here didn’t think of cats and dogs as pets, but as working animals. So I tried not to let the condition of some of the cats and dogs get to me, but the white kitty broke my heart. Steve B. talked about taking it home, but I think it was too late as we looked for it the day we left and couldn’t find it anywhere.
I got up around 10:45 and ran over to get breakfast at the hotel before they stopped serving at 11am. Steve stayed in bed. Steve B's mom joined me for breakfast shortly after I got there and Steve showed up about 11:15 and was denied breakfast. We had all decided the day before that we should go to the Akrotiri Bar area of the beach because they had lounge chairs with padded cushions and they were definitely the busiest. Alice and Magda had gone to the beach early as they were up early. We decided to drive down to the beach because it was easier with the floats and we wanted to bring the camera today.
Steve B. got some photos of me and Steve out on the float. JJ Steve and I walked around the corner from the Akrotiri Bar to see what was south of Pefkochori and I can honestly say not much, just more beach without people and not developed. Oh yeah, Steve took his loaner cell phone swimming in the sea today for at least 30 minutes in his pocket. It was junk after that and we were unable to resuscitate it. We rented a paddle boat (me, Steve, Alice and Steve B.) and went out for about an hour up and down the beach a ways. I didn’t think it would be fun, but it was. There were several paddle boats out at the same time we talked to the people on one of them, they had about 9 people on their boat and it looked like it was going to sink! We headed back to get the car and there was a Shetland pony in the parking area. It looked like a couple of gypsies had brought the pony to give ride and/or take pictures for money. We went over and patted it, and it wanted to kick Steve, then the gypsies started to come over so we jumped in the car and took off.
Steve B. had the worst sunburn ever! He had huge blisters all over his back and shoulders. We ended up going to the pharmacy and the pharmacist mixed up some special concoction to put on the blisters to help with the pain. Steve B. said they actually did feel better afterwards, but they still looked horrible.
We went back to the hotel, showered and all 6 of us went down to Stedios’ for dinner. No nap today L and I for one felt tired. It’s amazing how fast you get into the European lifestyle of napping in the afternoon, eating late and staying out late at night! Stedios was late for work this morning, so we decided we should have a quiet night tonight. Stedios picked us up at the hotel and we drove to Hanioti which is the village just north of Pefkochori. We parked the car in the plateia and first went to a bar called Murphy’s (seems to be a popular bar name in Greece !). We stayed there for a few drinks, Alice got the Murphy’s special drink and it came with every kind of swizzle stick you could imagine including a lit sparkler firework. I had a Gordon’s Space which is a gin based carbonated beverage with lemon and ginseng. It comes in a beer style bottle that’s all white and it’s really good which means it won’t be available in the States for sure.
There weren’t many people there so we left and walked back toward the plateia and went to another bar for a drink. Stedios was exhausted, so at about 3am we headed back to our hotel. We stood in front of the hotel saying farewell to Stedios for a few minutes and some guy started yelling at us to shut up! Oops!!
Got up early L to get on the road to Salonika , but we didn’t actually leave until around 11am I think. Steve couldn’t find his wallet when we went to check out and he went back to the room to search and found it buried in the sheets on our bed! Yikes, that would have sucked big time if he hadn’t noticed before we left. Stedios had said it was really difficult to find parking in Salonika and that the traffic was horrible, so we parked the cars at the first parking garage we saw. We took the bus to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, didn’t take long maybe 10 minutes. We got to the museum around 12:40pm and found out they open at 1pm, not too bad and could have been a lot worse. Steve and Alice went to find an ATM, while Steve B. and I took some photos and looked around the area. Across the street from the Archaeological Museum we saw a funky looking tower. It turned out to be the OTE Tower (TV tower) in the International Trade Exhibition is one of the cities modern landmarks. The Trade Exhibition is something like Boston ’s Bayside Exposition Center and has a revolving restaurant.
The museum itself was really nice and had an amazing exhibit called ‘The Gold of Macedonia’. The Exhibit featured exquisite gold work from hundreds to thousands of years ago. There were laurel wreaths made from gold, all tiny pieces formed individually. I bought a book at the museum about the exhibit. The museum just underwent major renovations and they didn’t have an overall book about the museums general exhibits, which was disappointing. We took a bunch of photos; I hope we can figure out what they are of. The museum said they should have a new book next year. Might have to go back to get one! J We grabbed a quick snack and some cold drinks at the museum café and then walked over to the Byzantine Museum , which was right behind and across the street from the Archaeological Museum .
The Museum of Byzantine Culture had a really weird exhibit in their courtyard. It was a grid of about 30 or 40 mannequins dressed as men in black suits and bowler hats; their faces were speakers. It was a little bit creepy, if you ask me. The museum’s air conditioning system was broken, so we went through the exhibits rather quickly. Mostly the exhibits were of religious items and they were beautiful and fascinating, but it was swelteringly hot in the museum, so it was hard to really enjoy it. This museum had also recently undergone extensive renovations and had no guide book. Magda discovered when we were getting ready to leave that the museum café’s air conditioning was working, yay! We decided to have some lunch at the museum café and cool off for a while. Susie and I had pasta with red sauce and it was awesome. Everyone else had caesar salads, Magda hated hers, and I guess they had a lot of anchovies in them.
On the way from the museums to the White Tower , we walked by the equestrian statue of Alexander the Great riding Bucephalus on the waterfront which is absolutely enormous. We all posed in front of the statue for some perspective of its size. The White Tower was unfortunately closed for renovations and will eventually (the sign said late 2007) house a major new permanent exhibition devoted to the city of Thessaloniki and its people, organized by the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Oh well, it would have been cool to climb up to the top for the view, which must be fabulous.
We wanted to go to the Agios Demetrios Church, there was some controversy over whether we should take a taxi or walk there (Susie isn’t up to walking far). We ended up just walking as we continued to debate until we were very close to the church. I’m glad we ended up walking because we ended finding some roman wall ruins, The Arch of Galerius and the Tomb of Galerius.
Across the street from the Arch were some more excavations of ruins that you could look down into from the street level. Right behind this excavation was a tattoo shop! We continued up the hill toward Agios Demetrios passing by several more Byzantine looking churches. At the church we met up with Steve’s cousins Naoma and Vasou. We walked through the church and saw the sarcophagus of Agios Demetrios. This part of the church was made with pieces of the really old church mixed in with new construction. Also in a separate part of the church was a silver casket containing the remains of Agios Demetrios. We took some photos and then went down to the catacombs and saw the spot were Agios Demetrios was killed according to legend. In the catacombs there were many artifacts and interesting rooms to look at.
After we left Agios Demetrius, we decided to go get some ice cream at a café. Cousins Naoma and Vasou wanted to take us back down to the waterfront area to Aristotelous Square which is named after the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and is one of the main squares in Salonika (it resembles a bottle when viewed from the air). Along the way, Steve and I searched for a CD store to find some Greek rap. We didn’t find a CD store, but at the north end of Lawcourts Square we came across the roman agora. Unfortunately they were closing when we got there because Steve B. really wanted to go inside to take some photos and look around. We did take some photos from street level anyway.
As we got down near the ocean front we could hear live rock music. There was a band doing sound check when we got there. We found a small restaurant café that served ice cream and we all got these elaborate ice cream concoctions. Then the bands started, the first one was terrible, so Steve and I went off to look some more for a CD store. Steve B. Alice, Magda, Naoma and Vasou went over to listen to the bands and Susie stayed at the café resting. While we were walking around looking for (and not finding) CD’s, we saw a huge rat running along the gutter in the street. It looked really scared and was trying to hide. Steve chased it up the street the big meanie. Unfortunately we had just put the camera away and didn’t get a photo. When we got back we met up with Susie but the others were nowhere to be found. We looked around for 15 minutes or so and finally Steve noticed they were over by the oceanfront taking photos! We walked up to the street again to find 2 taxis to take us back to the cars and ended up taking a few more group photos. The first taxi had no idea where the parking garage was, but we had better luck with the next 2. Naoma came with us and rode with Magda to show us how to get back to the highway. We dropped her off near her neighborhood and said farewell.
We Headed out from Salonika toward Grevena to meet Pappous and hand off the Vitara. I think we left Salonika around 9pm. We met up with Pappous and Uncle Charlie in Grevena about 10:30 or 11pm. We were all starving so we went to the chicken place for dinner and then back to Mikrokastro to collapse.
We actually had a decent nights sleep last night! We drove up to Siatista today to do some errands. First we dropped Magda off at the bank and parked the car. We met up with her at the blanket store and I picked out one for me and one for my mom. Steve got one for his bed too and he also bought a rug for his room that’s really cool. It’s kind of like bronze shag with chenille alternating rows in cream color. It’s gorgeous!
We also went to the post office, bakery and to Vodaphone to buy a phone to replace the one Steve took swimming. The bakery had a vast array of exquisite confections and I was overwhelmed trying to choose. I ended up picking out some Boston Crème like things and tried a pastry that looks like shredded wheat and also got some frozen yogurt. I made the mistake of asking Magda what a particular flavor of ice cream was (sign was in Greek) because it was a weird shade of green, it turns out it was fig (yuck!) and she told the guy that it was the flavor Steve wanted. He was pissed, he doesn’t like fig. We got back from Siatista just in time to head over to Magda's sisters' for lunch around 2:30. Took a nap and fell asleep from about 4-7pm! Yikes, had a quick shower and went to Megaro to visit Steve’s paternal relatives.
After we left Megaro, we followed Uncle Charlie to Grevena to go by Steve’s cousin Taki’s Bar. It was really nice and also was an internet café. We went there with Saki, Steve B. and Uncle Charlie. At the café we met cousin Taki, his wife, his brother. Steve and I ran out and got a couple of tosts as we were starving and no real dinner was in sight. We ended up staying at the bar until about 2:30 or 3am. Saki wanted to take us to a rock and roll bar, but Uncle Charlie was having none of it. He drove Saki and Steve B. there, so they all left to go back to Megaro and we headed back to Mikrokastro. Steve and I were talking on the way home and managed to drive right past the exit to the village. Had to go up to the exit for Kozani and turn around. Dumb mistake, but only really cost us about 20 minutes.
A cookout was planned at Pappous and Gigia house in Mikrokastro for everyone to come say farewell to Steve, Alice and Magda. We’re not sure whose idea this was or how it ended up being here, but Christos did at least volunteer to man the barbeque. Steve and I slept in a little and Magda went to Siatista with Christos to buy paper goods, soda, beer and meats for the cookout. She bought 17 kilos (about 40lbs!) of meats!! Holy Crap!! Steve, me and Alice drove into Kozani to get the CDs, souvenirs, luggage locks (for the bus), tape and packing materials. First we went to the liquor store and bought (to bring back to the States) a bunch of different ouzos and tsipouro. Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit containing about 45 percent alcohol by volume and is produced from the residue of the wine press. Alice bought some Ursus (vodka based and sloe berry flavored) and I bought some absinthe. Then we got some tost and Alice used the internet while we shopped.
We went back to Mikrokastro and started sorting through everything to start packing. We ended up spending quite a bit of time on organizing the blankets, the rug and all the alcohol in addition to everything else. We ended up vacuum packing the alcohol Steve and I bought inside one of the blankets and plastic wrapping and taping all the wine the nuns gave us at the monastery in Florina. Steve’s Pappous from the States gave us some cheese to bring back and Magda's sister gave us some homemade feta, figs and candied cherries. Other people gave us more tsipouro. Yikes! The luggage is heavy!!
Magda ordered ice from the bar Mythos in Mikrokastro, but due to the heat wave they could only get us 1 bag. Luckily, Steve B. and crew found an ice company in Grevena and bought 2 more bags on their way to the cookout. We had put the soda and beer in the neighbor’s freezer to try to get them cold, but at least now we had some ice to put the drinks in! We went by Christos for a short visit in the late afternoon and then Steve and Christos went into Siatista to pick up the meat. While they were gone, Alice and I drove around the village and took some pictures of the churches, some sheep and such. Alice and I went to Christos' house to shower and when we got back to the house Christos was preparing the wood fired homemade grill. Christos started a wood fire on the ground and then shoveled the coals into the bottom of the grill. At first there weren’t too many people there but after a few hours lots of people came. We think there ended up being about 40-45 people there.
The party didn’t wrap up until 2:30 or 3am and we still had to clean up before going to bed! Christos promised to come by at 7:30am to make sure we were all up so we could get on the road to Meteora, Delphi and eventually Athens .
The plan is for Magda to take the bus to Athens with all the large pieces of luggage. Steve’s Uncle Papas came by at 6am to take Magda and the 8 pieces of luggage to the bus station in Kozani. The bus left for Athens at 8:10am. Needless to say, Christos didn’t come by like he said he would and I didn’t wake up until 8am, which is the time we wanted to leave by. Oh well! We finished the last minute packing and got ready as quickly as we could. Oh, surprise, surprise, there is absolutely no water this morning not even outside. Alice cleaned up the house and we finally got in the car around 9am to head toward Grevena, which is as far as the highway goes. We stopped by the bakery by the Grevena bus station for some ham and cheese pitas, sweet cream filled pitas, a slice of pizza and a spanakopita. We went south from Grevena toward Trikala and Kalambaka and immediately missed a turn. Fortunately we only went about 10 minutes out of our way before Steve figured it out. Between Grevena and Meteora it’s mountainous with nice scenery, but slow twisty roads.
We got to Meteora and found the road up to the monasteries with only one false start. The rock formations are truly amazing. Due to our late start and the limited time available, we didn’t plan to go in any of the monasteries. We allotted about an hour to drive around and take pictures of the monasteries and the scenery. We stopped at the first monastery you come to on the road which is St. Nicholas Anapausas Monastery and were greeted at the bottom of the steps by a very friendly tiger kitty. We continued up the road and stopped at the Rousanou Monastery which is on a rock right next to the road; you have to tip your head all the way back to see it! Steve couldn’t resist climbing into the basket they use to haul stuff up the cliff in, I would have laughed my ass off if someone started pulling the basket up with him in it! The largest monastery at the very top of the road is Great Meteoron Monastery (or Megalo Meteoro). The parking situation at this monastery is crazy; there is just the road with a bus turnaround, but no parking area. The cars and the buses have to park on the edge of the road. Since there are lots of people trying to visit at once, cars and buses are parked on both sides of the narrow road. Oh and did I mention there’s no guardrails in some places! We left our car double parked near the top and were just going to quickly shoots some photos, but the police made us move, so Steve ended up parking the car literally on the edge of a cliff. Thank God I bought the extra insurance on the car! Anyway the monastery is very beautiful and for me at least, it’s impossible to imagine how they physically built the monasteries hundreds of years ago by hauling materials up in baskets!! There is an awesome view of the Varlaam Monastery from the entry area of the Great Meteoron. Actually there is a fabulous view of the valley in general from the Great Meteoron. We probably spent about an hour and a half in all in Meteora which wasn’t too bad, it’s a shame we had no time to go inside though. L
We left Meteora and headed south across the Plain of Thessaly, driving on a nice flat straight surface was certainly a welcome change. In one town, we saw a church with a giant storks nest with 2 or 3 real live storks in it. The church had a sculpture of a stork on the archway at the entrance. The nest was very cool, but we didn’t have the camera out and decided not to turn around to take a photo. L The plain eventually ended and from there we climbed back up into the mountains and took the turnoff southwest toward Delphi . This road was only 80km to Delphi , but it was loaded with hairpin turns and switchbacks. Took forever and was super steep! The poor Yaris tried it’s hardest on these steep roads, but really it could only get up to second gear on most of the steep grades before I had to downshift to make the next 180 degree turn. An Audi Avant passed us at one point and then passed the truck in front of us. By the time I passed the truck in the next minute of so, the Audi was long gone. We went up for a long time and then down the other side of the mountains which were covered with silvery olive tree orchards for as far as you could see. We also passed a ghetto or migrant worker housing, it was terrible, actually looked like people were living in shacks and cardboard structures.
We finally arrived in the village of Delphi around 4:30. We stopped to find a phone card and a pay phone to try to contact Magda to check on her progress toward Athens . We called her repeatedly, but got no answer. We then tried to call Christos, Papa Thea, and Theo Taki in Athens . Christos and Papa Thea had no information, but we reached Theo Taki and he said the bus caught fire but everything was fine and there were no serious problems but the bus was delayed. Theo Taki also told us that he had made arrangements for his friend to meet Magda at the bus station and take her and the luggage to the hotel. So at this point we chose to spend a little more time at Delphi since Magda would be several more hours in reaching Athens on the bus and we thought everything was under control. We had originally thought to spend about an hour at Delphi , but now we would have time to see the museum also. We were parched so we bought slushy’s for 3.50 Euros and walked toward the museum, but were denied entry since we had the silly slushies and didn’t want to throw them out and waste the equivalent of $15.00.
The Archaeological Site of Delphi is set at over 3000' above sea level, on a terrace overlooking an ocean of olive groves, with cliffs looming above and a view across the Peloponnese in the distance. We decided to tour the archaeological site first since the museum was open until 7:30pm. The site is on a really steep slope and it was blisteringly hot once again. The site was full of really cool artifacts but the signage wasn’t that great, it was hard to know what you were looking at and what was its purpose or significance. We should have bought a guide book before we went into the site, but I thought no big deal I’d take the photos and buy a book after to figure everything out. We walked up the Via Sacra, which is the main street, into the site. Grateful cities made dedications to Apollo, many of which lined the sacred way. We checked out the Monument of Argos , then a Spartan monument for the victory at Aegospotamoi--the battle that ended the Peloponnesian War and nearby an Athenian offering for the victory at Marathon .
The Treasury of Athens which was reconstructed by the French Archeologists was awesome, but since everyone thought so, it was really tough to get a picture of it without a bunch of pesky tourists mugging it up being in the shot also! The reconstruction process was made easier because the Athenians, as usual, carved inscriptions on the stones, thus allowing their accurate placement. We tried to figure out where the Oracle sat at Delphi , but none of the signs mentioned her. It was only after we got home and I did some research did we discover that the Oracle sat at the Temple of Apollo, the large oblong shaped ruin which is situated pretty much in the middle of the site. Duh! Apollo wasn’t the first to provide oracles at Delphi either; perhaps the earliest was an earth goddess whose oracle was associated with the rock below Apollo's temple. Just below the temple is the base for the Naxian sphinx, dedicated around the mid-6th century BCE.
Immediately above the temple lies the theater; it too had a gorgeous view of the sanctuary and the countryside. The ancient theater was fabulous and fairly well preserved; I think I read it could seat 5,000 people. You could walk on the stage area, but couldn’t climb up on any of the rows of seats. Steve was feeling a bit loopy and did a little weird dance on the stage, Alice and I made sure to get some incriminating photos! We climbed all the way up to the huge stadium at the top of the site. The stadium was enormous; at least as long as an American football field but not quite as wide. The stadium was just impressive in its sheer size, but it must have been ridiculously hard to build on the steep slope. On the way down from the stadium we all posed for some photos overlooking the valley and the mountains beyond, the view was just spectacular.
By now we were about to perish from the extreme heat, the temperature was over 40 degrees Celsius! So we headed back toward the museum and its air conditioning. I wanted to buy a guide book at the Museum shop, which is separate from the museum, but it was closed even though the museum was open for another 2 hours. I was really disappointed, that’s totally dumb that the gift shop closes so early! There were a bunch of kitties hanging around outside the museum complex, a tiger, a light brown tiger, a black and white with only half a tail and a baby black and white kitten. They were all really friendly and apparently all the tourists must feed them, especially near the museum snack bar.
We went in the museum which was guarded at the door by an anal retentive guard who took his job way too seriously and was fiercely protective of anyone who was brave enough to come within 10 meters of the entrance with a slushy. There was a moderate amount of artifacts in the museum, I was surprised that there wasn’t more, but maybe they are in other museums. One of the museum employees told Steve that more than 100,000 artifacts have been stolen from the archaeological site over the centuries. There were a bunch of huge statues, mythological figures and some crazy bronze figures. One of the items was a big silver and bronze bull that was about 8 feet long and 5 feet high. It was remarkably well preserved. Some pieces were missing but it was still amazingly intricate. There were tiny carved figures that were also fabulous and elaborate gold work. We also saw the enormous Kouros Statues and there was a colossal Sphinx of Naxos that was about 10 meters tall all from the sixth century BC. In the last room was another bronze statue of a charioteer, his chariot and horses from about 470 BC. There was almost nothing left of the chariot and the horses, but the museum painted an outline of the missing portions. However the charioteer was just extraordinary. We tried to move kind of quickly thought the museum to get going to Athens, so I pretty much ran around taking pictures of as many of the artifacts as I could including the signs. When we left the museum we stopped to take a quick peek at the Gymnasium and the Tholos on the south side of the main road.
We continued on the road to Athens , making a quick stop to get a status from Magda in Arachova which is an alpine village near the ski center of Parnassas that reminded me a lot of a German or Swiss ski town. The first phone was broken, the second phone was occupied by a big smelly dog and the third phone, which was at a gas station, was also broken. We finally found a working phone and there was still no answer on Magda’s phone and we decide that the battery must have died on her phone. We finally got through to Theo Taki in Athens again and he told us that Magda went to the hotel, but they had no reservation for us. Huh, that’s not possible and now we are really puzzled. Well since we can’t actually talk to Magda herself since she went out shopping with Thea Lena, we have no idea if she even went to the correct hotel. We next called the Holiday Inn Attica, where we have reservations, and they tell us no one has tried to check in yet. Okay, now I for one am convinced that Magda must have gone to the wrong hotel. We tell Theo Taki we’ll stop and call again in about 30 minutes
Geez, we have wasted so much time searching for a phone and making phone calls, we probably would have been at least 30 minutes closer to Athens ! We get back in the car and go on toward Athens . We check the map and see that it’s about 180km from Delphi to Athens , if the roads were straight and flat, we could probably be there in less than an hour and a half. We stop again at a payphone, which fortuitously is right in front of a bakery, so Alice and I run in and grab some pastry snacks, while Steve calls Theo Taki again. At this point he learns that Magda for some unknown reason went to the Hotel Attalos where Steve, Alice and I stayed when we first got to Greece . Good grief of course they had no reservation! And then Magda took all 8 pieces of luggage back to Theo Taki’s house and they had to bring them one by one up the elevator to their third floor apartment as the elevator is teeny. We get back into the car again and try to drive as quickly as possible toward Athens as it is now really getting late, it must have been at least 8pm by this time.
As we approach Athens , but are still about 100kms away, we see this giant white fluffy cloud that kind of looks like a poodle. The sun is setting and is shining on the top of the cloud (the poodles head) making it look very white. We made some jokes about the cloud and Alice said it looked like a reverse poop! Huh? I said something about Athens being on fire. We drove on and got closer to Athens when we see 3 low flying planes and Alice says they look like fire fighting planes. We all kind of say ‘No it can’t be’. But as we approached Athens on the E-75 we came up to the cloudy area and I rolled down the window and we could definitely smell smoke. We went a little bit farther and the air became thick with smoke and so dark we had to put the headlights on. Then we saw fire burning on both sides of the highway literally right up to the edge of the pavement! It cleared up some and as we got to about 30kms outside of Athens, we see another fire way up on a mountain overlooking Athens . Mount Parnitha is or was a national park that was known as the ‘lungs of Athens’ We can see fire right up to some power stations on the mountain. When we got down into Athens about 12kms from the airport we noticed that it was raining ash from the fire. Crazy!
Okay, so we weren’t exactly sure where the hotel was, but since it was only 6kms from the airport it shouldn’t be too hard to find right? Ha ha! We drove straight into the airport no problem only to learn that we drove right past the hotel exactly 6kms back on the highway! Oops!! So we finally find the hotel, after stopping at a gas station to ask directions one more time, and get checked in, woo hoo! The hotel is really, really nice for a Holiday Inn, very modern and luxurious. The rooms have remote control curtains and even a bidet!
We finally talked directly to Magda and found out that the bus was only stuck in 10kms of traffic from the fire and the bus wasn’t actually what was on fire. Whew! We had originally planned to head into Athens and meet up with Theo Taki and Thea Lena to go out for dinner, but it's now so late that we decide that we’ll just eat at the Goody’s next door to the hotel. Magda is going to get the taxi to bring her and the luggage over to the hotel. Steve and I shower and get Alice and go to Goody’s while we wait for Magda and the luggage. It’s really raining ash at this point as we walk over to Goody’s. News of the fire is all over the television, it’s terrible. After we finished eating at Goody’s we realized that we still had to return the damn rental car to Europcar at the Airport! When we got to the hotel the valet took the car keys and parked the car, so when we went back I asked for the car to be brought around while Steve ran upstairs to get something. The desk agent handed me the keys and said to take the elevator down to the garage and he would open the garage door to let me out. Well at least I thought that’s what he said. I went down and found the car, the garage was immaculate but was kind of creepy to be down there alone, and drove up to the door and waited and waited. Finally I beeped the horn and magically the door opened.
When we picked up the car in Salonika the agent at the rental car desk told us that the lot in Athens would be unattended but we failed to ask him what to do with the keys!! When we got to the lot and finally found a parking space (the place was jammed), we spent about 10 minutes wandering around the lot trying to figure out what to do with the keys. Steve suggested just leaving the keys in the car, but since there was no gate or attendant at the lot, I thought that would be a bad idea. Finally we saw a guy returning a car at the Hertz section of the lot. Steve literally ran over to him and asked him how the return worked. The guy said to bring the keys into the airport and find the Europcar desk and give the agent the keys. Duh! Okay, it seems perfectly reasonable, but we were so exhausted I think our brains had gone into shut down mode. We found the desk no problem and handed over the keys. It was now about 1:30am (Eek!), so we grabbed a Coke Light and head for the number 95 bus to go back to the hotel. It cost us 6.40 Euro apparently because we were on the late night bus and we had to wait about 15 minutes on the bus for it to pull out of the airport. Finally we got back to the hotel and now there is a thick layer of ash on everything!
We finally hit the pillows about 2am. They were awesome pillows by the way and the mattress was nice and firm too! We had a 4am wake up call, which sucked big time.
Alice and Magda caught the 4:30am shuttle and Steve and I went on the 5am shuttle because we had so much luggage. Was gross to be up so early with so little sleep, my eyeballs were gritty!
We checked in at the ticket counter no problem right up until the agent asks how many pieces of luggage we had. We have 9 pieces of checked luggage total with only 8 allowed between the 4 of us. The ticket agent says we have to pay for the extra piece of luggage. Alice has 2 pieces, Steve and I have 4 between us, so Magda is the culprit with 3 pieces. It’s all that dratted cheese!! We apparently can’t pay for the luggage at the ticket counter. Oh boy! It was 5:30am by this time and the ticket purchasing desk doesn’t open until 6am, so we wait, and we wait and we wait some more. The stupid woman finally shows up about 6:30am and our flight is at 7:20am, so now we’re really cutting it close. We were first in line, but of course all the pushy people with problems rush the desk and we end up third in line. It ended up costing 120 Euros to get the extra piece of luggage on the plane, which is totally obscene, but what choice do you have. Oh wait, that’s right, you could just buy the silly ass cheese in the States!!
I think I slept through most of the Athens to Madrid flight or maybe I was just so exhausted I can’t remember it. We only ended up with about 3 hours in Madrid , so we wandered around the terminal window shopping and ended up eating some pretty gross pizza. I realized after passing through customs, that I forgot to get my VAT refund thing stamped or signed. I asked at the information desk if it was too late and a super nice employee ended up walking Steve and I back down to the customs area taking a short cut through the off limits part of the terminal. Thankfully there were absolutely no passengers in customs when we got there, so we explained my forgetfulness and they did their thing with the forms and we went and got my refund. Very cool! The Madrid to Boston flight seemed like it took forever. I tried to sleep, but some annoying people were having a party in the aisle right behind our row, talking and laughing. So I finished writing some of this journal, dozed off a little, and Steve and I watched some South Park episodes on his PSP.
So we had to fill out our customs forms on the plane so we would have them ready when we got to passport control and customs in Boston . Of course we all checked off nothing to declare since we really didn’t buy a lot of stuff to bring back, but we did also check off that we didn’t have any food items. Did I mention that we had about 20 kilos (that’s about 50 pounds!) of homemade feta cheese, canned figs and other assorted goodies? All of which should have been declared, but since Magda kept telling us it was illegal to import these items, which apparently it wasn't, but the items should have been declared. Well the drug dog was on the jet way when we were deplaning and obviously we had no problem there, although I was kind of surprised to see the dog on the jet way. We headed over to passport control and it really didn’t take long at all. I went by myself in one line and Steve, Alice and Magda went together (families can fill out one form) in another line. The passport control agent put a ‘1’ on my customs declaration form and they got an ‘A’, but we had no idea what those meant. Then we went to the baggage area to retrieve our luggage before going through customs.
Madga got a porter to help with all of our luggage. The porter looks at our customs card and says that the ‘1’ on mine means I don’t have to go to customs or the x-ray machines at all. Woo hoo! However the ‘A’ means that Alice, Steve and Magda do have to go to customs and the x-ray machines. The porter wants know which suitcases to put through the x-ray. Magda is really nervous and can’t remember. Oh boy! The luggage takes a while to come out and the food sniffing beagle comes around and sniffs our carry on luggage. He seems fascinated with my rolling carryon that has only dirty laundry and my camera in it. I mentioned this to the dog’s handler and also tell her that I have cats and it might be what he smells. She says not to worry since he isn’t ‘alerting’ to the bag, just sniffing. When my luggage shows up, I take it and tell everyone I’ll go look for Nick and will see them out at the curb! Cya!! They head over to the x-ray machine and the agent says to the porter to throw 3 bags into the x-ray machine. Still Magda can’t remember which pieces of luggage have no food items and of course the 3rd bag alarms. The agent opened the bag and found the cheese. She berated them up and down and threatened them with a $300 fine. In the end though she put all the food items back and told them to make sure to declare it next time. Holy crap, never again with the inadvertent cheese smuggling!