|Subject: Greece - notes from our Dec. trip|
My husband and daughter and I enjoyed a wonderful 10 days in Greece over the holidays. The weather was often rainy and cooler than we had hoped, but this didn't dampen our spirits. Unfortunately we were not able to have a GTG with Joanna in Athens but she gave us some great advice which we really appreciated. The following are just a few notes on our trip; focusing more on some of the places that haven't already had too much coverage on TheTravelzine (but not meaning to downplay the significance and magnificence of the more popular historic sites).
Knowing that the major sites in Athens would be closed over the public holidays, we decided to spend the first few days on one of the larger islands (sadly - my daughter had her heart set on Santorini but little was open there). Arriving in Athens on the 24th, we immediately hopped over to Rhodes by Olympic Airways. It was very quiet - hard to find a restaurant open Xmas day - but we stayed in the delightful S. Nikolis hotel, an historic building, in the old town and we enjoyed wandering the narrow streets, imagining the activity on these same cobblestones centuries ago. We rented a car and spent a day driving around the island, stopping for a few hours each to wander the streets of Lindos and explore the old castles of Monolithos and Kritinia. Almost deserted at this time of year - it was difficult to imagine the crowds of visitors that descend upon this island in the warmer months. However, the blue of the sea was certainly invitiing and we wished that the air temperature was higher so that we could brave a swim.
The next 2 days in Athens we had a marvellous time walking through all of the major sites - which, especially to Canadians (where historic equates to 100 yrs old) were quiet mind-boggling. Unfortunately, our timing being just a few months before the Olympic Games - many of the museums in the country were either partially or fully closed for renovations - the National Archaeological Museum in Athens included.
We then rented a car and drove into the Peloponnese, exploring the fascinating Mycenae & Epidaurus sites before staying in a lovely little port town called Nafplio (a former capital). We had hoped to get into the historic Byron hotel which I had read about but found it full and they recommended the Ilion - another delightful boutique hotel in a 17th c building. Then down along the east coast to almost the tip of the peninsula to a fascinating place called Monemvasia - a huge rock (called the Gibraltar of Greece) which has a beautiful old castle village carved into it on the sea side of the rock. Founded in the 6th Century AD, its strategic importance caused it to change hands many times before finally being liberated by the Greeks in 1821. The Malvasia Hotel owns multiple historic dwellings within the town and we had a delightful 4 room apartment that had a well in the middle of the living/bedroom floor (which kissed at least 2 of our toes in the middle of the night!). The town has a small, but excellent, museum that gives insight into it's interesting history. Although we would have loved to have stayed longer (and we vowed to go back in warmer climes), we left the next day for Kalamata, Sparta and along to Olympia. Here we were amazed to be driving on mountain roads meandering high enough to discover snow.
Stupidly, we thought we'd have all day the next day to wander through Olympia but realized just before we arrived at 4pm that it would be closed on Jan. 1st so....we literally ran through it in just an hour. It was enough time to get a feel for how spectacular the site is - but not enough time to drink in the history of each structure. The next day we meandered north along the coast and took a ferry across the Little Dardanelles at Rio to Antirio in Central Greece (we have doubts as to whether the bridge under construction will really be ready in time for the Olympics, as we were told). After our New Year's day 'taverna lunch in the lovely port of Nafpaktos we arrived in the specular 'modern' Delphi nestled in the mountains of Parnassus overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. We spent the next morning wandering the spectacular ruins of the Sanctuary of Apollo and related sites at Delphi, then made our way back to Athens area in order to catch a very early flight the next morning. Happily we were in time to make one last stop at the optimum time to see the spectacular Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion - hauntingly beautiful at sunset.
No report on Greece would be complete without mentioning the food. In one word - fantastic!!! Every meal we started with the vow to 'not eat so much this time' but... every meal we outdid ourselves. We were also pleasantly surprised by the wonderful local wines that we had. All in all - a trip to be long remembered.
Judy in Hong Kong