My Greek Sojourn

My Greek Sojourn

I am yearning to tell someone that I had been to Greece. What? Have I not earned even bragging rights after spending so much?

No, I am not an expert, and yes this is my first blog, I hope you do welcome me.

I promise to tell you a factual account, no exaggerations and I won't play down anything either. My use of superlatives would reflect my own experience and assessment.

Would you find it interesting? Would you find it useful? Hopefully, you do. But frankly, that is not of paramount importance. It was a pleasure going on holiday and it is a pleasure writing about it. Surely this little blog is not going to overload the net and break the proverbial camel's back.

Island of Santorini, Greece. 

Disclosure: This is not a "how-to", "what to/where to" and "tips" guide. Also, I am not a pretty girl displaying my photos or selfies you will have to find that elsewhere.

Yes, I clicked the photo. Liked it?

Before 11th September 2019: Planning.

“Why don’t you make another stopover in the UK en-route to the US visiting your children?” my friend from Oxford texted me.

From our university days, we are steadfast friends and -more importantly-, our spouses too became friends after our marriages. It was tempting to say yes. He visits India often and we had been to the UK to meet him, but a lot of world remains yet to be visited before we go broke or get sick.

"Let’s meet in a third country", I suggested. He always hosts friends and relatives and shows them around in the UK and other nearby countries.

“Is there any country left on that continent where you have not been yet?”, I asked.

Surprise! there were a few. Russia, Turkey, Ukraine... but Greece seemed to be peaceful and inviting enough.

I had often fancied going on an escorted tour arranged by local operators. So many of my friends recommended it. No planning worries, they say. "It is like throwing a party at a restaurant instead of inviting people to your house. You just enjoy. If something goes wrong, all that you have to do is scream and blame the restaurant".

Well, there are some other advantages too, I thought. I don’t have to run helter-skelter to find Indian vegetarian food, at least once a day, that is essential to keeps my wife in a good mood. Besides, going on a tour with just my wife is not the most appealing idea. What can you talk about that is not going to result in a disagreement? On the other hand, on a tour, the chances of my wife making friends with other ladies from our town who share her language, culture, and favorite serials are very high.

Sounds great!

However, as I dug deeper into the subject, my enthusiasm started waning. I found some negatives too. Flights at uncomfortably odd hours, hectic schedules – well! people want more bang for their bucks - and an itinerary that may not be to our taste. For example, pray what a group of four 60 plus or minus people will do on Mykonos island? It is primarily an all-night party island. Can we find another, less crowded, more historical and peaceful?

So we got down to self-planning. That is half the fun - I agreed with my friend. The freedom of where to go, when to get up, where to linger, when to cut short, or switch to something else at the last moment.

I value flexible, refundable (.. with a reasonable penalty) bookings to grabbing a bargain. I learned that the hard way over the years. You never know what will come up at the last moment. Tour operators charge heavy penalties.

Planning took a month of frantic email exchanges, but finally, we conquered our enemies: time & budget, sacrificing comfort and some items of our bucket list. Let the good not be the enemy of good enough.

After planning, it is execution. finding flights, hotels, rental cars, insurance, getting equipped with International Driving Permit (Yes, Greece needs that from non-Europeans) Visa (Greece consulate in India accepts only cash, no plastic or e-payments). Such hectic activity, before you know, gets you emotionally invested in this holiday. It becomes your baby.

11th September: Athens.

The flight from Mumbai to Athens via Dubai was comfortable (flew Emirates, good airline, lot of leg space, modern aircraft, the best inflight entertainment). At Dubai stopover, we called up our friend traveling from the UK. He was expected to reach a few hours before us.

There was a mishap! He took the metro from the airport and the pickpockets relieved him of his wallet (Cash, credit card, driving license) and helped themselves to a GPS car tracking device that he had carried with him in his backpack. The excitement of travel had begun even before we landed in Athens.

For the rest of the trip, my friend was humiliated. Had to beg his wife to pay, every time he wished to buy a packet of cigarettes or enjoy a cup of coffee.

I thought it may be a put-off, but my friend is a hard-boiled egg. He did not say "who took my cheese away", but after making a few phone calls to block his cards he decided to cast away regret and repentance - if he had any in the first place - and proceeded to make most of the situation, spending the next few hours of the evening visiting Lycabettus hill, Athens, that offers excellent day and night time views of the city. Here is a photo that he clicked.

Athens City view from Lycabettus hill after dark

In the meantime, yours truly, with his better half, landed at the Athens airport rather late in the evening. Look at the long queues for immigration clearance! About 12 booths were in place, perhaps courtesy of the EU loans. Only 3 were manned ('womenned' is not a word, is it?). Could be the austerity measures imposed by the EU resulting in the firing of some staff, so that they can get back some of their loans. 70 odd minutes in a queue do not make visitors feel welcome. The immigration officer did his best to help us as much as he can. Just a glance at our face, then at the passport, and he banged the stamp on our passports.

We dodged the thieves of Athens, we did not take the metro at all. A young man from was standing holding a name board with our names, just outside the immigration, and we zipped to the hotel in the city in 40 mins. Our friends were exhausted with day's disquieting events, and we just said goodnight.

12th September: Athens.

The crowd in the breakfast room vouches for the popularity of Iniohos hotel, an unassuming place in downtown Athens. By 8:30 am, the tourist buses are at the entrance, blocking most of the road. Everybody jumps in and leaves, and you may find that you have almost the entire dining room to yourselves.

The Metro station was just a short walk, through crowded, busy, narrow streets. Athens does not intimidate the visitors with the opulence of New York or London, it made me feel very much at home, not much different than Mumbai or Chennai, except that the signboards gave me a headache. Reading something like “Ἀθήνα” brings back my college nightmares and I wake up sweating, - it's my maths examination tomorrow!

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Fortunately knowing just English is not too much of a handicap in Greece. One can get by. We Indians, I suspect, harbour self-doubt when in New York or London. If someone does not understand us, it is our fault! If we try to mimic the local accent, we get into a deeper mess. Not so in Greece (or France or Korea). There we can carry a superiority complex with us. These guys know even less English than us. That is a great equalizer when you don't have a Gold Master card or Rolex to show off.

We spent the day visiting the area in and around the Acropolis. The place was teeming with the tourists.

The tourists crowd at Acropolis 

The weather was warm, even hot. It was late September. Looking back, half pants and not too thick T-shirts is all that I should have carried. (except possibly at the Meteora monasteries). I wondered why I carried so much luggage. You notice tourists traveling with just a rucksack. Surely they are not washing their clothes that often! Perhaps that’s why most tourists passing me by were reeking of such strong perfumes.

Visiting the acropolis and other ruins in the surroundings is a close encounter with history. I had not come with great expectations.  After all, one ruin looks like another. Once there, I was impressed with the size and the architecture of the place. The grandiose of the place is a testimony to the prosperity of the culture at that time.  Such art can only flourish in a peaceful and stable society. 

My curiosity got piqued. Now I want to know the stories, beliefs, names of the Kings, and dates when they built these monuments. History is a subject that needs to be made more visual, more touchy-feely. I should have been here before I passed out the high school. 

With 4 people trying to figure out in which direction to walk, along with 4 different versions (ok - interpretations) of the google maps, you experience the full fun of a self-planned tour. Suddenly a wrong turn takes you to a charming lane with shops selling cute souvenirs and little cafes in the patio or sidewalks offering drinks and snacks.

Skip the morning walk when in Athens. Sightseeing is an uphill struggle. If Acropolis does not tire you out there is always the Lycabettus hill, where you can skip the train save the money and get more exercise too. I last just about 8km a day when there are steep slopes and hundreds of steps. So I skipped the hill.

Odeon of Herodes entry gate. 

We, however, had an errand to run, reporting a stolen wallet. The hotel pointed us to the police station, which was right next door. The police station, in turn, pointed us to some other place, a tourist police office, located elsewhere in the town - but not too far.

It is comforting to find out that you are not the only sucker in the town. There were others, some with a greater misfortune. The policeman nonchalantly handed over a form to us to fill in the details of the robbery. There was a nice couch to sit, water fountain and free Wi-Fi too. A receipt of the complaint was given to us - which was mostly a photocopy of complaint form with stamps and signature of the policeman.

Back to the hotel room, but not before acquiring some liquid assets and eatables. After a heavy Indian lunch, we were not too hungry to justify an elaborate dinner. So we caught up with each other, talked our heads off until it was time to pass out.

Why did I not delve upon what to see, when, how much is the ticket, how to go there, etc.? My friend if you are reading this blog then you are at the right place to get all the information you need. The internet!

That was my source too. There are postings by amateurs, experts and everything in between. The moment you google something about Greece or Athens you will be bombarded with web pages that are trying to sell you something, openly or in the guise of helping. Well, that information is valuable but once you wade through that, look for blogs by individuals and separate out the wheat from the chaff.

But I do have a tip to add. Study the short history of places which you are going to visit, especially if you are seeing the places without a guide. My friend had bought a book, but who has the energy left after a full day of walk and climb, not to mention partying in the evening?

That was the first day, about 9 more to go. If you have come this far then chances are you may stick with me.

13th September: Santorini.

If you wish to take a ferry from Athens to Santorini, you must wake up early. The last boat leaves by 7:30, and you have to stand in lines for buying tickets – unless you do that in advance.

The early bird gets a nice seat, or a good sofa if you are on Blue Star Delos. Whosoever calls Blue Star Delos a ferry really mocks this first cousin of a cruise liner. Bars, Cafes, spacious decks with tables and chairs. Some sofa sets too are up for the grab, but you need to go early and queue up before the boarding opens. If your luggage is small enough to drag with you on the boat, don’t waste your time depositing it in the cargo hold, just rush and push your way and find an unoccupied table or couch.

My friend’s wife had the presence of mind to ask for a packed breakfast at the hotel as we were leaving before the breakfast room was open for patrons. You can buy eatables on board the ferry, but it saves money if you carry your own food & water. The seven-hour ride was comfortable, enjoyable. We walked in open areas where one can feel the sea breeze in the hair, even though I have none. Passengers were eating, drinking, playing cards, reading books or taking selfies on the turquoise blue sea background.

View as our boat approached the Santorini port.

Magnificent cliffs and imposing rocks greet you as the boat approaches Santorini. They look striking. The car rental guy greeted us. We explained that my friend, in whose name the car was reserved, has lost his wallet and driving license with it, half expecting that our reservation will be refused.

He took a quick look at the theft report filed with the police and an image of the license on the mobile phone. Without much ado, he handed over the keys to a small Peugeot 107. Talk about welcoming tourists!

All four of us were crammed in that little car with our luggage. How? We carried mostly soft luggage bags that could be shaped in any form to fill the nooks and corners of boot space. Planning, Planning!

The road from the ferry port of Santorini to the town will give the famous crooked street of San Francisco a run for its money. It is steep, narrow, with hairpin bends looking down to unforgiving deep ditches. The entire economy of the island rides on it. Buses full of visitors, trucks loaded with goods and some unfortunate tourists like us who opted for self-driving on (what was for us) the wrong side of the road. The Santorini port web site has great pictures of this road and port area.

The drive to the village at the top of vertical stone cliffs gives you a glimpse of what to expect in Greece. The country is replete with roads of this type everywhere. If you reach safely consider yourself qualified to drive here.

Why would anyone build a ferry port at this location? Beets me. Perhaps the water is not deep enough on the other side of the island where there are nice beaches.

Practically every house in the town is a hotel, B&B, shop, restaurant or a little market. Not surprising when the annual number of tourists here is 100 times the local population. The sanitation plants at this place and many other places in Greece are so overwhelmed by the tourist traffic that at most places, they appeal you not to throw the toilet paper in the toilet bowl, but drop it in a trash can provided for that.

View from the southeastern coastline of Santorini.

That evening, we drove along the west coast of the island on roads perched high on rock cliffs. There are so many spectacular viewing points everywhere. From the dozens of vantage points in Santorini, one sees so many different facets of the island, one could not help but feel a bit spiritual, only a divine nature can create such pristine beauty.

Sunset South Santorini 

Will the tourist influx destroy this place? How much did we add to global warming by flying to this place? Why am I inducing more people to visit this place by writing this blog? Has Greta Thunberg bug finally bitten me?

We watched the sunset from the southmost point, the views from the northmost point of island are even more spectacular, but that part is always crowded at the sunset time.

We were put up at Gardenia Hotel at Perissa which is on the east coast of the island 10 km from the main town. With a rental car, it makes sense to live away from the city area as the accommodation is cheaper and parking is more easily available. The rooms have patios and are spacious.

We got supplies from a minimarket, short walk away, and retired to the room for a chat and drinks. Later on, we had dinner at one of the several beachfront restaurants which are within 5 to 10 mins walk.

14th September: Santorini.

The next day we started with a visit to the red beach. Look at the red stone of the hill in the picture below. The water is clear, one can have an enjoyable swim here. Santorini has a white beach and a black beach too, named after the colour of coarse sands of the beach.

The Red Beach, Santorini, Greece. 

The Akrotiri lighthouse is on the southern tip of the island and provides great views of volcanic islands.

An intense windstorm was brewing in the Aegean Sea on the 14th of September and we were informed that all the ferries will be docked until further notice. Our plans to take a boat tour to the volcanic island were shelved. Not looking forward to paying for getting our stomachs churned. Our departure on the 15th to Naxos looked uncertain. It may throw our further plans Topsy-turvy. We mentally prepared ourselves for being grounded for a while.

We spent noon looking up the Fira village – parking is very hard to find and once we found one we did not want to give that up so we just walked around everywhere.

Oia Village Santorini.

2 nights of stay is perhaps enough if you are flying into Santorini. With the ferry, 3 nights may be more satisfying.

The next day we checked out of the hotel in the morning with a hope and a prayer and reported to the ferry port where we were to return the car. We were asked to just leave the car in the parking lot with keys, and send an email to the rental company. Simple, right? Not until you can actually find a parking spot that will not block other vehicles. After some effort, we did that and lugged our luggage to the platform dodging buses and trucks.

The queues were serpentine. It was utter chaos and confusion at the port. No announcements, no official available to answer any questions and no one knew which line is for boarding which boat. Then one ferry appeared – not going to Naxos where we were headed – and there was a mad rush and scramble to get on it. People defending their position in the line for 3 hours were beaten to the boat by others, making them very frustrated. Unusual day perhaps.

Finally the boat we were waiting for actually appeared on the horizon and boarded very quickly. Unlike the Blue Star Delos, this boat had reserved seats so we slumped into the chairs for a short ride of about 75 minutes.

15th September: Naxos.

We had traded Mykonos island for Naxos influenced by, among other things, these blogs.

Naxos ferry port is more spacious than that of Santorini. One of the tourist attractions of Naxos, the Apollo temple ruins are visible even as the Ferry docs at the port. You may as well spare a few minutes, just walk over to inspect the place for a few minutes before heading to your hotel.

We started searching the address of the car rental agency which was supposed to be a short walk from the port. It took some searching for the place in the narrow alleys around Naxos port and a longer walk than we anticipated. Like the car renter at Santorini, the lost driving license was not a show stopper. “We are not allowed to deliver the cars at the port” the man at the desk informed us. A google search after the end of our trip revealed ads of rental agencies that do provide the car at the port parking.

No car we hired in Greece was with a full fuel tank. “The tank is half full – and you have to return it half full”, declared the renter. That is difficult as you have to figure out how many liters you need to fill in without overspending.
Wading through the narrow alleys and one-way streets we finally found ourselves on the road to our hotel which was about 12 km away.
Finding the general area of Agia Anna beach is not hard and google will take you there. Once you are withing say 300 meters of exact place you are searching within the old area of the village and it gets hard. Google took us to a place and insisted that we had arrived. There was no sign. A knock on the door nearby revealed that this is the exact place but a back entrance.

The Hotel was charming and spacious. The girl at reception spoke excellent English and gave us a number of useful tips. The hotel did not have a laundry but there are a few laundry service providers and they hang out plastic bags around to put your laundry in & leave it at reception. At the end of the day, they deliver to the hotel reception. That was a great help.

The reception directed us to a spacious restaurant on the beach overlooking the waters. Ordering food required help and explanation, somehow three of us selected something to order and it was my wife's turn. She was trying to understand which dishes are “Vegetarian”, and what exactly are the ingredients, it was not going well!

A lady – looking like a Maître D - presented herself and invited my wife to take a look at the prepared dishes. All of us accompanied her and to our surprise, found that the dishes were on a display arranged buffet style – though there was no buffet on offer. After looking at the food we changed our orders, cancelled what was previously ordered and settled at the table with a drink waiting for the arrival of food.

When food was served we were taken aback. A communication gap had resulted in only the addition of dishes, not cancellation of what was previously ordered. Here is a photo of our table.


Gorgona Greek Tavern Agia Anna Beach, Naxos Greece. 

16th September: Naxos.

Naxos is a big island. You need a car to explore. Filoti is a charming village in Naxos. Like all other old towns, you need to climb high up the hills to see the village, hundreds of steps! How do people live here with no access to motorized transport? That is, I suppose, the culture. Historically there may not be any need for road wider than that required for two donkeys to pass. Perhaps building everything high up in the mountains may be out of need to defend from attackers. The impossible maze of walkways and lanes with houses left, right, up and down would be very convenient to ambush invaders with a surprise.

                                   Filoti Village. 

View of Filoti village from the Area Springs road. 

We climbed down to the foot of the Filoti village on the main road, which is lined up with restaurants and shops, what hit us was the serenity of the village. Everything was clean and calm. A few owners were sitting in the outdoor area of the shop, sipping their cup of coffee, sometimes enjoying their cigarette, with a very contented and relaxed demeanor. In this slow-paced down, nobody seemed to be in a hurry or showing signs of any worry.

Duetto Restaurant, Filoti

As we were making up our mind where to go for a cup, We set our eyes on a pleasantly smiling girl standing in the outdoor sitting area of a restaurant, almost inviting us. That settled the matter we entered a restaurant named Duetto. Beautiful lovebirds were chirping in a cage, perhaps happy that we walked in. The waitress lady paid a lot of attention to our specific needs (very hot tea please, and coffee with warm milk). Such a large place and hardly any customers there. Perhaps not the time for tourists buses to hit this village yet. In the smaller towns of Greece the restaurants are generally very spacious, perhaps to accommodate a full busload of dinners.

A short drive up the hill from the restaurant took us to Aria Spring. Water is pristine and drinkable and we enjoyed a natural untreated drink after a long time.

On the way to the Cave of Zas.

Further up the spring, Cave of Zas is 20 mins uphill walk, and if you have the time and energy you can trek further 1 hour, about 500 meters high to reach Summit of Zas, the highest point on the island. We had neither the time nor the fitness to walk up to the summit.

We had lunch at the most recommended restaurant, Rotonda. It lived up to its fame. Amazing views, good food and the homemade liqueur they served after the lunch (on the house!) had great taste and flavor. It was on sale and we grabbed a couple of bottles. Don’t miss this.

We drove further on to the town of Apeiranthos. Another typical Greek village on the top of a hill it was worth walking about.

Apeiranthos, a typical Greek Village

Back to Filoti and then the next stop was Chalkio (or Halki) town, this was, for a change, on flat land. Using google, finding our way to Panagia Drosiani church was an experience. It took us to back alleys and footpaths some of them were defecated upon and the foul smell lingered everywhere. We did not encounter any other street like this anywhere else in Greece.

Did some window shopping in the art shops and moved on to head to Melanes to watch the statue of Kouros.

We had lost track of the time. We reached the destination when it was almost dark. Not a soul was around, we found the parking lot and few signs pointing us to this direction and that but we were not really able to locate the statue. Disappointed we headed back to the town.

Perhaps the incidence highlights one benefit of going with escorted tours. They know where to go, how to go, when to go and how long to linger. Often driving we lost the way, even google gave wrong directions at some places. The maps are not often fully updated and may point to a wrong exit around a roundabout. When alternate paths are available you may find yourself on a difficult road with impossible climbs rather than a longer but much better road which we may prefer.

That night we had a nice dinner on Agia Anna beachfront, walked around the seashore (video above in twilight) and retired.

17th September: Journey back to Athens.

View as our ferry entered the Piraeus port.

The next day we started early to catch a boat that will take us to Athens in the afternoon rather than in the evening. This time the ferry was large and spacious. Being able to walk around making the journey easier.

The rest of the evening of 17th September, we just enjoyed walking about Athens city. 

18th September: Peloponnese.

After a refreshing evening and a full night’s rest, we proceeded to our land tour starting with the Peloponnese area. The first port of call was Corinth Canal, a man-made canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth to Saronic Gulf effectively making Peloponnese, once a part of the mainland, an island.

The wide highways, leading to the Canal from Athens, was a pleasing change from the narrow streets of the islands. Filling up the tank fully (petrol gets costlier as you go away from Athens), and grabbing some change for tolls, we proceeded to the relaxed drive and reached the canal in about 80 minutes.

Corinth Canal was built in 1893, it is less than 4 nautical miles in length and it saved a journey of over 150 nautical miles that that was needed to encircle Peloponnese land. It was sufficiently wide for the boats of that time, these days it is mostly used for joy rides in small boats ferrying the tourists around.

The Corinth Canal. 

Mycenae ruins was the next place we visited. The treasury of Atreus is the first part of ruins. It is not very large. When we were asked to shell out 12 Euros each, we even wondered whether it is worth paying that much to see this old temple-like place from inside. We bought tickets anyway.

Without the benefit of understanding the historical significance and construction techniques, this place did not impress me much, until I looked up the internet after returning home from the tour.
When we started the tour we did not have that much curiosity about ancient Greece. Once you see it you are curious, but unless the information is available at that very point, you won’t enjoy it or remember it that well. Perhaps we should have carried links to internet-based videos explaining the details which we could view right on the spot.

You can do better than us, visit this link and see it or bookmark it on your mobile so that you can see it before you go there.

Treasury of Atreus.

At Mycenaean ruins, like most of the archaeological sites in Greece, there is a climb up the hill, but this is not too daunting, even for the elders. The views all round get only better as you climb up.

Mycenaean ruins.

An Exhibit in Mycenae Ruins Museum.

The link mentioned above can be navigated to get an overview of the entire Mycenaean ruins.

On our way to the theatre of Epidaurus, we took a little detour via the town of Argos, where there is another smaller theatre. It was however closed for tourists and we could only see parts of the ruins from the street. It was not that impressive, can be skipped.

We then proceeded to the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. Most sites in Greece bear the dates of constructions ending with a “B.C.” Acropolis was constructed 450 BC, Epidaurus Theatre was constructed in 340 BC. It is magnificent in size sits 13 thousand people.

Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus.

 Even a match struck at the speaker’s place can be heard at every seat, try clapping at the center of the circular base and hear it reverberate! What a smart design for the days without a microphone and loudspeaker.
This was not too hard for us to climb up and see the view.

How many people were living in the ancient Peloponnese within commutable distance surrounding this theatre? 100k? A place to accommodate 13% of that? Even in modern times, with modern means of transport, the largest stadium in the world (Melbourne Cricket Ground, capacity 100K) caters to only 2% of the population of greater Melbourne.

Ancient Surgical Instruments Mycenae museum.

The museum near the theatre of Epidaurus is good. Many artifacts in well-preserved condition, such as ancient surgical instruments. Surgery? That time??

It was already evening, time to go home – or hotel for night’s rest. We headed to the town of Tolo. We had booked our hotel lured by the images on the booking site, and for once we did not have to discount our expectations.

View from our room Nelly's Apartments Tolo Greece.

Great sea views from every room, short walk to shops & restaurants, clean rooms, friendly owners, well-equipped kitchen and at a price that is a steal. Look at this picture taken from the balcony of our room:
Do Visit Nelly's web site.

19th September: Olympia.

Archaeological sites of Olympia were about 3 hours drive from our hotel in Tolo, the road is good.

The site itself is sprawling, takes a while to look at everything, especially for a connoisseur of archaeology. It was bright and hot, a sunblock may be handy.

I overheard a tourist telling his friends. “If my father is to be believed, all this was not built by our ancestors. Some aliens invaded earth long back and created this, they have left since then for another planet”

The aliens must have visited Egypt, South America, and India too in those days! Here is a picture of what little remains of the Philippeion.

Ruins of the Philippeion, Olympia Greece. 

Ancient Greeks, like Hindus, had many gods. Both cultures were not confined to a single perfect person – or messengers of God, - like Jesus or Mohamad - and our mythology too has a lot of commonalities. Hindu gods are not always perfect they have flaws like human beings, similar mythology surrounds many of the deities of ancient Greece.

The museum of Olympia is probably one of the grandest.

Olympia Museum Exhibits. 

It is unbelievable that the Olympic games were held a thousand years before Christ for international participants. Women were not allowed initially and the participants were not allowed to wear any clothes!

Look closely, names of Ancient Olympic games participants carved in stone; year something B.C.

After spending a good part of the day at Olympia, we had a long 4-hour drive ahead of us to reach Arachova, the town near Delphi, where we were going to spend the night.

The highway is excellent and the bridge joining Peloponnese to mainland Greece, named Rion-Antirion Bridge, is simply spectacular. It is among the longest bridges in the world - about 3 km. The toll of about 14 euros is justified. Take a look. The photo is from free download site and credit is due to Christian Hardi.

Rion-Antirion Bridge, Patra, Greece.

On our way to Delphi, we started feeling a bit peckish. We were looking for a rest area/facilities along the freeway to eat a bit.

Three times we noticed the signs of rest area that had a fork and knife picture too on it. However, when we stopped there we found the places closed. Bad economic times I suppose. Hopefully, Greece will soon recover from this recession.

We then decided to spot the next town off the freeway and take an exit there. After crossing the Rion-Antirion bridge we noticed a village down there and took the next exit hoping it will lead us there.

It did, and what a pleasant surprise! It was a picturesque nice little village at the seashore, Paralia Sergoulas. It has a few restaurants with beach sit-outs. This is the picture of the restaurant where we had nice refreshments.

Paralia Sergoulas. 

There must be hundreds of such little towns in Greece, tranquil, friendly places. Blessed country. Check this restaurant out - Café Nikola on Facebook.

20th September: Delphi.

We had reached here on the night of 19th. We were booked at Lykovrisi Guest House, Arachova, near Mount Parnassos where Delphi archaeological site is situated. It is a family-run place. May be about 4 rooms. But the place was interesting. Check them out

Google can take you just 100 meters or so away from this place correctly, right on the main road of the village – which appeared busy with tourists eating in restaurants lining up both sides of the road even in late evening. Finding the exact location of the hotel thereafter is a job!

There are little roads – if you can call them that, climbing up and down steep hills which form a rats maze. Some of them are one-way streets. We gave up and called the hotel number.

A guy answered asking us our exact location. It took a while to figure out the name of the street.
“Wait, stay there, my mother is heading where you are and she will guide you.”

We did. After a few minutes a charming lady, looking more like someone’s younger sister than mother, presented herself and got into the car with us. She then guided us on the narrow streets and -miraculously- found a spot for us where we could actually park our small car – barely! We had to carry our luggage a few steps up the slope and a few steps down the stairs, in a kind of basement, and we were at the door of the rooms.

The lady showed us the rooms which were very well equipped and supplied. The breakfast for the morning was in the fridge. Tea, coffee, sugar, juice, fruits, kitchen utensils everything was there. “If you need anything just give me a call I stay upstairs” assured the owner lady.

We settled with our drinks while my friend’s wife cooked something light. The ambiance of the place was wonderful even though this place was tucked into a little nook of the very crowded village where houses seem almost piling up on each other.

We slept fitfully. In the morning we wanted to move early. A knock on the hotel entrance to let the owners know that we have vacated. Just a goodbye, no other formalities were necessary.

Taking out the car to the main road took some doing on the impossibly narrow roads where at one hairpin bend leading steeply down, our car was about to fall in a ditch. Now we know why the location of a place matters! Having said that if you go to this place on a bus and do not mind porting your luggage on a hilly road, then this is a nice place.

Delphi Archaeological site is just about 15 minutes drive from Arachova, here is a photo:

A view from Delphi hill.

It is a long climb up the hill at Delphi. Depending upon how fit you are, just the climbing may take 30+ minutes. Pausing to soak up the scenery, taking pictures, and resting a bit here and there and one needs to budget one and a half to two hours to see the archaeological site itself.

         Above: Ancient Stadium at Delphi.

There is no toilet facility or drinking water available when you are climbing up, and it can get hot there during the season, so go prepared.

Delphi Museum, seen in the picture above, is good. You need an hour or so – depends upon your interest - to watch the museum displays.

Toilets and drinking water are available at the museum but there is no signboard showing where the water drinking fountains are. We, like many other tourists, inquired at the gift shop and were pointed to a vending machine that dispenses water and soft drinks. There was a long queue in front of the machines and one of the two machines had broken down, and the other ran out of the water.

As we exited the museum we spotted a free water fountain near the exit door.
There are many videos on the net that offer a preview of what you can expect to see :

Greece is dotted with ruins, all over the country and some ancient Greek ruins are in Turkey too. We visited just about half a dozen places which are on the main recommended tourist circuits. 

Does one ruin looks like another? Does it get boring to watch them all?

It depends upon your expectations. Are they beautiful? Well, how beautiful a few boulders and broken pillars, strewn around a ground or hilltop are expected to look? What little still remains standing and what little is being restored gives you an idea of the grand scale of sites, grand by the standards of those times. The drawings and models there give you an idea of the skeletal framework.

It is the museums which will give you a lot of interesting insights in the culture of that time. Dismembered ugly statues, with a little bit of imagination can let you see their beauty. The skills and efforts of the craftsmen are evident. 
Even for a person with an average interest in ancient culture, history, and archeology, I did find it interesting. Will I go again and again to see these things? Perhaps not. Did I enjoy, certainly! 

We left Delphi relatively early. We had gone early, with an intention to beat the tourist buses coming from Athens. We had a long 4-hour drive to Kalambaka, the town near rocks of the Meteora.

The road to Kalambaka winds down the mount Parnassus before it hits highway E65. This part of our drive was simply magical. It was cool, cloudy, and foggy weather. It rained but not too much. The clouds simply settled down on the road time and again. The visibility, at times, was barely 50-100 meters. We drove cautiously until we hit the highway. After a pit stop near the town of Lamia, we reached Kalabaka by the evening.

21st September: Meteora.

We were put up at Thalia Rooms at Kastraki, a little village just out of Kalambaka at the base of the Meteora mountains. The lady owner of the place is very communicative, spoke fluent English and kept on monitoring where exactly have we reached on the way, the 20th evening.

Running a guest house or a B&Bs is a cottage industry in Greece. I suppose every other house has one. The owners may or may not stay there so they need to rendezvous to meet the guests at the exact time when the guests reach, to be able to hand over the place.

The web site of Thalia rooms is very inviting and the place lived up to the invitation. It is a three-bedroom apartment with a shared kitchen, most well equipped. Though the sunlight was dimming, we made a dash to see whatever we can before it gets dark. It was windy high up and even in the reduced light, the place looked very beautiful. I can’t help showing my video captured in fading lights from a vantage point, with the wind shaking me up when I was trying to avoid trees on rough hill slopes to capture a 360 degrees video.

Our host was helpful and gave us tips on how to approach the sightseeing. After a good dinner at a nearby restaurant (there are many within a short walk) and buying provisions for the next day’s breakfast (the guest house does not offer one) we retired for the night.

We started rather early but still could not beat the tourist buses. There is so much to see, we were limited by our ability to walk and climb. On the net you will find information about the difficulty of visiting each monastery, we started with the easiest and continued up to the lunch hour. We had to head back to Athens, in good time. To see all the monasteries a full day – or perhaps two – need be budgeted for.

Monastries of Varlaam (closer) and Holy Trinity can be seen in the picture below. For some fabulous pictures and information about the monasteries go to this site.

Monastries of Varlaam and Holy Trinity.

Meteora is like a hill station with monasteries which are like temples perched high on impossible to climb ( considering they were built in mid 14th  to 16th century) cliffs. By Greek standards, these are not ancient. One of the few things in Greek landscape which are not in ruins, in fact, they are very much in use, with monks and nuns residing there and prayers are held every day.

For someone who grew up in Australia or the USA, 14th-century constructs are not something one sees every day.

Today it is tourist attractions, so all modern-day facilities like good roads are available. 

Ladies need to understand the dress code when visiting the monasteries. My wife was wearing an Indian Panjabi dress that was considered all right. My friends' wife was wearing full-length jeans and full sleeve tops, but she was required to wrap a loose shapeless skirt-like thing that they provide at the entrance. Ladies can always wear a good long skirt or fashionable Sarong so that their pictures look good.   

The hiking enthusiasts will have a great time here if they budget for the time it takes.

From the monasteries to Athens city center is about a 5-hour drive, not counting the breaks you take on the way. We reached there in daylight. Early enough to visit the national garden and watch the change of guard at the Syntagma Square in Athens.

We had dinner at Indian restaurant - Tarka-Athens just a short walk from Syntagma square. Nice place, great quality food.

Syntagma square, Athens, Greece.

22nd September: Goodbye!

Took an Uber to the airport – it works in Athens, albeit a regular yellow taxi shows up. It gives you the confidence of the route taken and the fare charged.

The queue at the emigration counter was even longer than what we had encountered at the time of entering Greece. My wife finally decided to sit on the floor in the queue.

It was a memorable holiday for us. Waiting to board, I could not help but contemplate the fate of great civilizations and cultures that declined, wiping out the wealth of knowledge and skills that they had. Egypt, Greece, Inca, Mohenjdaro in India and many more. Is there a life cycle of every culture? When will ours be ending?

I googled the topic and found this interesting reading, you too may enjoy it.

Thanks for being with me till the end.