Mykonos

With Greek Orthodox Easter occurring on Sunday May 1st this year, we had a late spring break that allowed us to visit some of the islands and their beautiful beaches. We chose the island of Mykonos due to its close proximity to Athens and lively atmosphere (take that as you will). We took an early Blue Star Ferry on Monday, departing from the port of Piraeus at 7:30 in the morning. The ferry was similar in size to the one I took to Crete, but without the cabins for overnight sleeping. There was plenty of common space both indoors and out in addition to cafes and restaurants sleepy passengers could grab their morning coffee at. After about three hours of travel we made two stops at the island of Siros and Tinos, before arriving at our final destination at 12:30. Our hostel for the week had a free shuttle waiting for us at the port to drive us to Paraga Beach on the southern end of the island. Being college students, we opted for the unique experience of high end camping on Mykonos with our little cabins and communal bath. In other words, we got the cheapest possible hostel BUT it turned out to be a great decision. It was opening weekend for many of the seasonal hotels/hostels on the island including where we were staying. While this meant that we were one of the few inhabitants of that part of the island, our rooms were clean and we had the full attention of the hostel staff. We spent the rest of the day at the beach opting for a convenient dinner at our hostel.

The following day we were able to drive in and explore the town of Chora thanks to our rental ATVs, or quads. We quickly learned that there was a island upcharge on nearly all food options; however, the restaurants were overall much nicer in appearance. We had a posh lunch at one of the nicer restaurants offering a lunch special  hidden in the labyrinth of white washed streets that make up the main town of Mykonos. Afterwards, we walked off our meals and headed towards the windmills, a defining feature of the Mykonos landscape. Here dozens of tourists gathered to take photos with the five large windmills built by the Venetians in the 16th century. In the afternoon we visited the nearby Paradise Beach, where we relaxed until the sun started to set. For dinner we ventured back into the town of Mykonos to search out our go-to gyro pita (also known as the cheapest meal option anywhere in Greece) to offset our upscale luncheon. Afterwards we walked down to the Old Port of Mykonos and waited

On Wednesday we took a day trip to the island of Delos. We rode into town and grabbed a coffee and spanakopita (spinach pie) to go before walking to the Old Port where our ferry departed. Tickets were €20 for the round trip journey and you had the option to sit indoors or up on top in the sun. Known as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos offers visitors to chance to view extensive excavations of the ancient site in addition to a wonderful view of the island of Mykonos from the highest point on the island. The site was interesting to walk through as the entire town’s floor plan has essentially been excavated allowing one to see the scale of the houses, temples, and civic buildings. Mosaics from the wealthier houses can still be seen in addition to those preserved in the islands museum. We then headed back to Mykonos on our ferry in search of more gyro pita before exploring other parts of the island on our ATVs. We attempted to visit the well named Super Paradise Beach (we assumed in attempts to compete with the nearby Paradise Beach) but found that the steep downward incline to get there on the road would be impossible with our 50 CC vehicles. We opted to return to Paradise Beach before returning to our hostel for dinner.

Thursday began with a trip into town to purchase our ferry tickets back home. We also grabbed a crepe (cheese, peppers, and tomato for me) at one of the walk up stands to eat as we sat in the small side street. The day continued with exploring more beaches as we visited Kalafatis, Panormos, and Psarrou. While the first two were rather secluded, Psarrou turned out to be a high end shop/restaurant location with female servers in bikinis and men running around tending to customers’ needs. We picked out a spot further down the beach to a less luxurious area where one didn’t have to pay for a lounge chair and umbrella. We ventured back into town for a seafood dinner where I ordered an octopus pasta dish.

Friday involved returning our ATVs, packing up, and being driven to the New Port for our 2:30 ferry ride back to Athens. Unfortunately, the last time the hostel offered a shuttle to the port was 11:45 so we were stuck waiting outside for over an hour as the ferry arrived right at 2:30. The ride back was smooth and we arrived at Piraeus just before 8:00.

Overall, Mykonos was a beautiful island. There were a fair amount of tourists in the town but less to none at the more remote beaches. We came at an almost perfect time on the island where everything is open for the season, but the mobs of people from Europe and elsewhere have yet to take over the beaches and town. I would recommend renting a car/ATV/moped in order to explore the lesser known beaches as it gave us the opportunity to see the whole island which is just as beautiful as the white washed streets and buildings of the old town. We found that the Greeks were more likely to speak perfect English and were surprised when we used what little Greek we did know. I think this demonstrates how much more of a tourist attraction the islands are rather than other areas of the Greek mainland. Tourist friendly or not, Mykonos is a special island that anyone should jump at the chance to visit.

Crete (Day 3)

Our final day in Crete began with us departing for Margarites village. This village is known for the production of beautiful ceramics due to the high quality of clay that is found nearby. We visited one particular ceramics shop for a demonstration on creating works on a potter’s wheel as well as showing us some “trick pottery” that has been created for many centuries in this town. The town is filled with many ceramic shops, a dangerous thing for those of us who were supposed to be traveling light. We had time to walk around and explore many of the shops before heading to our next destination, the Arkadi Monastery.

The Askadi Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox monastery located in central Crete. I enjoyed this monastery with its Venetian baroque church that was different from the many Byzantine style churches that are scattered around Greece. This particular monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule in the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming Ottoman forces, the Cretan blew up barrels of gunpowder choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender. Due to the large amount of women and children that would have sought refuge in the monastery, this event gave us an eery feeling at the otherwise bright and sunny day at Askadi. Apparently sacrifices such as these were common throughout Crete and parts of Greece during the arrival of the Ottomans, but due to the large amount of deaths that occurred here (943) it attracted the attention of the rest of the world. We then traveled to the town of Rethymno, one of the northern port cities, for lunch where we got a gyro and walked by the water.

Our final site tour was at the WWII Allies Cemetery in Souda. The cemetery is beautifully upkept with a peaceful view of the water. About 1500 graves of British, Australian, and New Zealanders soldiers and officers exist at the site. Most notably is that of John D. Pedlebury, a British archaeologist who was the archaeological commissioner of Knossos and played an important part in counter-intelligence in WWII. We ended the day with a walk around the port town of Chania before taking the overnight ferry back to Athens.

Overall, Crete was more beautiful that I expected. There was significantly less modern architecture and a fair amount of beautiful neoclassical buildings in many of the towns we visited, compared to the polykatoikia filled Athens. I enjoyed visiting all the seaside towns on the northern part of the island as well as traveling through the mountainous interior. It was also great to check of the ancient site of Knossos off my bucket list. If we had more time I would have loved to hike some of the Cretan gorges and ravines, but perhaps that will happen at some other time in the future.

Crete (Day 2)

Our Saturday began with breakfast at the hotel, departing by bus at 8:30 for the Diktaion Andro Cave in Lasithi. After about an hour drive we hiked up to the top of the mountain where the mouth of the cave is located. Many myths surround this cave, the most popular being that this is the location Zeus grew up. Many offerings and human bones were originally found around the bottom of the cave which is covered in stalactites and stalagmites with a small lake at the very bottom. The cave cooled down in temperature as we descended the concrete steps, giving us a break from the hot Cretan sun.

Our next stop was the small town of Plaka (not to be mistaken with the Plaka neighborhood in Athens). Here we immediately got on a small boat that ferried us to Spinalonga Islet. This small island was the site of both Venetian and Ottoman fortifications until it was later turned into a Leper colony for the citizens of Crete. Serving as an almost Alcatraz of Crete, members of the Leper colony lived on the island as late as 1957 when the last patient left the island after a cure was discovered for their disease. The island was beautiful with views of the mediterranean and of Plaka in the near distance. After a tour of the island we headed back for lunch where we were able to eat fresh octopus as we sat at a restaurant right on the water. With over an hour before we were to head back to our hotel, we went to a nearby rocky beach. The water was cold but clear, I opted to view it from the warm dry shore.

Back in Heraklio, we had our souvlaki before sitting down at an outdoor cafe to watch a soccer game on television. We later walked down to the water again before heading back to our hotel for the evening. After the ancient site/museum heavy Friday, this day was a good since we were able to see much of the Cretan countryside and areas further away from the city we were staying at.

Delphi

Our second field trip with CYA was up north to the ancient site of Delphi. We left Athens on Friday morning and took a bus to the Ossios Loukas Monastery. The monastery continues to function with four monks currently in residence and its building are fine examples of Byzantine architecture. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery is extremely well kept. We ate a picnic lunch looking out at a view of mountains and farmland down below.

On our way to Delphi again, it unfortunately began to rain on us. As a result, we decided to postpone our visit to the Delphi low archaeological site until Saturday. With essentially the entire afternoon and evening free, we got to walk around the town and nearby areas. The town of Delphi is tiny but we managed to find a delicious restaurant for dinner with other students and our professors. Wild boar, zucchini balls, fried potatoes, and grilled cheese (not the sandwich…) were on the menu as we did our usual Greek style dinner of sharing each small plate.

Thankfully Saturday was full of sunshine allowing us to fully enjoy the archeological site. We started at the very bottom working our way all the way to the top of the site in order to view the stadium. Delphi is a gorgeous site with wonderful restoration work and breathtaking views. The most picturesque point of course being at the top of the theater looking down upon the Temple of Apollo where the oracle would have been located.

After touring the site we finished up at the Delphi museum where we viewed all the sculptures found on the site. Most notable to many was a bronze statue of a chariot rider that was so detailed you could see the eyelashes of the man. Overall, the Delphi trip was short and sweet providing beautiful views and a peak into the ancient Greek world.

 

Cape Sounio

With a four day weekend to my disposal, I took the opportunity to explore around Athens and complete a day trip to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio. In order to get to the southern tip of the Attica peninsula, the trip involved taking the metro and then catching a bus at Victoria Square in downtown Athens. The bus made a few other stops along the way at stops marked for “Sounio” and filled up about half way with travelers before heading on the main coastal road. After about 30 minutes into the trip a woman walked around collecting the bus fare (€6.90 one way). The ride was absolutely stunning. The road hugged the coastline the entire way providing amazing views. I saw a few brave swimmers floating in the sea and even a group of scuba divers that might have been exploring a coastal spring. At the town next to Sounio we had to switch onto a second bus before completing the rest of the drive. In total, it took about two hours to make it down the coast.

After arriving we opted to hike around for a bit before going to the temple. Snacks were eaten and we enjoyed the view of the temple off in the distance. It was cloudy and windy with the threat of rain always present, but I never ended up having to take out my umbrella. There was one other large tour group of high school aged students, but we were able to avoid them for the most part. After visiting so many sites with our program’s trip through the Peloponnese, it was enjoyable to simply hike around the site and enjoy the sea views rather sit and listen to a talk about the of the temple and ancient site. We ended the day having a coffee at the cafe next to the site hoping for a sunset but unfortunately it was too cloudy. We took the last bus at 6:00 pm back to Athens and were able to get off at Syntagma which is about a ten minute walk back to my apartment.

This weekend we have an overnight program trip to Delphi to visit the sanctuary and site of the oracle. Even though chilly weather is predicted, it should be a beautiful location and an interesting place to learn about.

The Peloponnese

Our program trip to the Peloponnese was a five day excursion to multiple ancient sites, delightful cities, and beautiful scenery. We were split into two different buses and then placed with a specific teacher with students studying similar subjects. Every night we got to stay in lovely hotels with the best breakfasts and spend the days outside thanks to the wonderful weather we had all week. Saying that this field trip beat our usual class attending weekdays would certainly be an understatement, but again I think we all appreciated returning home to Athena after such a long journey across this section of Greece.

Here is a list of sites that we visited:

  • Corinth-Isthmos canal that separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece
  • Mycenae home of Agamemnon and the Lions Gate (probably my favorite places we visited)
  • Tiryns another Mycenaean period fortification near Mycenae
  • Nauplio this is the seaside town we spent two evenings at, extremely beautiful with delicious gelato and THE BEST seafood dinner I ever had (squid stuffed with tomato and mozzarella, grilled octopus…yummm)
  • Nemea Sanctuary and Stadium we got to learn about the ancient games and run the 100 meter sprint which I managed to win (GO WELLESLEY BLUE!)
  • Epidaurus one of the most amazing sanctuary sites with an enormous theater, beautifully tucked into the mountains of the Peloponnese providing lush vegetation that I hadn’t yet seen in Greece
  • Pallamidi Castle this is the Venetian castle that overlooks Nauplio
  • Mystras Byzantine site located near Ancient Sparta, this hillside location was filled with multiple Byzantine churches
  • Sparta we had our lunch at this ancient city (probably not the actual location)
  • Kalamata another seaside town, though not as quaint or pretty as Nauplio (it was devastated by an earthquake that destroyed the older architecture) it was a treat to have a rooftop breakfast with a view of the Mediterranean
  • Ancient Messene another amazing sanctuary whose theater included a trap door (however, I did prefer Epidaurus)
  • Olympia Site & Museum the site of the ancient olympics with its impressive stadium and Temple of Zeus which is a wonder of the ancient world. The museum also impressed with many statues including Hermes Bearing the Infant Dionysus and sculptures from the pediment of the Temple of Zeus
  • Kaiafa Forest and Lake another seaside trip that allowed us to walk barefoot on the beach as we learned about Greece’s ecology and current efforts made to protect its natural resources and coastlines