The trip to Greece was everything and more than we expected. The weather was perfect the whole time. Not cold at night not too warm during the day and no rain.
The trip was through EF (?). It was really designed for
educators and students, plus interested others. We joined a
group of teachers and friends from Debbie's school - Leland
High in San Jose's Almaden Valley. We joined up with another
group from Fairfield High in California, a Florida group and
other smaller groups as we went. We had two students with our
group, of the sixty or so in the entire group there were about
a dozen students. Deb's sister Peggy also joined us.
I'll try to cover it in chronological order -
We left about 5pm on
Thursday, California time. After flying for a bunch of hours
we landed in Munich. Seeing we had a
six hour layover EF (the travel company) arranged a tour of Munich for us. On our drive
into town it was pointed out that we had a perfect view of the
Alps which is very unusual. This was because they were having
a fehrn - a warm wind from Italy over the Alps which clears
the air. While there we drove past the site of the 74
Olympics. The stadiums and the weird fiberglass covers were really interesting. We
then went to Schloss Nymphenburg or Nymphenburg Palace that is a knock off of the palace of Versailles
in France. It was large and beautiful! However, because it was
Good Friday it was pretty much closed. We decided not go in
because it cost about $10 per person and we only had a few
minutes. We then went downtown and had
a strolling tour that took us past some interesting old architecture . We were to meet at
the Glockenspiel - the original
one. It was really beautiful though a bit chilly and windy. We
sat in the square and had a German beer. Unfortunately the
Glockenspiel did not ring at the time we expected (5pm).
Then back to the plane and on to Greece.
We got into our beautiful (hmmm) hotel Oscar in Athens
about 11pm - as I remember it.
One of the highlights of Greece was the toilets. At the airport they actually had a container for used toilet paper. Everyplace we went there were "low flow" toilets... rather distressing. However, everything was very clean everyplace we went. We constantly saw people cleaning. It's a national pastime.
Up the next morning at the crack of dawn for breakfast in the hotel. Turns out the Greeks don't understand breakfast. They might have a coffee but that's all. So breakfasts were pretty hit and miss. One of the staples was baloney - really. Actually the hotel Oscar probably had the best breakfasts on the whole trip.
We zipped off to the Acropolis in our bus. On the way
we stopped and saw some of those nifty guards
with the white skirts and puffs on their shoes, marching.
We trotted around in a
stadium built for the first modern Olympic games in 1896.
The traffic was interesting. Crowded and scary. But after a while you realize that they are actually pretty courteous to each other. Everyone seemed to be taking turns, very few honking horns and I didn't see any anger. But God help the driver that flinches. It seemed like mostly they were just coping with the difficult situation of narrow streets, lots of construction and too many cars.
When we got to the Acropolis a guide met us and gave a lecture about what we were going to see. While she was talking I looked over a stone railing and directly down into the theater where "Yanni At The Acropolis" was done. Pretty neat. Apparently Deb and I were the only ones that took a look.
The Acropolis was fantastic! Really big! The day was clear so the views were terrific. The Parthenon had been mostly destroyed in the 1600s when some troops stored munitions there which accidentally blew up and pretty much collapsed the temple. We could see the restoration equipment.
I guess a question for the people restoring these things is to what level do you restore things. There have been temples here on various levels for 2500 years. In fact they removed a Christian church that was over 1000 years old. I guess the goal is to restore to the Golden age which is 400-500 BC. Even at that the Acropolis was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice during those years.
We went to the Plaka
for lunch. It's the old part of town
with narrow twisty streets, teeny houses and lots of tourist
shops. There were tons of coffee shops everywhere. In fact
every place we went in Greece had coffee shops with tables on
the sidewalks. Really neat. The Greeks take the time from 2 to
5 everyday to nap or do personal business or eat lunch and
We had lunch with the tour guide at a place she suggested. Very good. Fresh bread, some tadziki dip for it, retsina wine, and the best Greek salad of all time. The tomatoes seemed just picked and the feta cheese was from heaven. I don't remember what all we ate but it was really good.
Then we hit the Plaka for a walking tour. This girl didn't want us to miss a thing. We walked and walked and walked and walked. We were pooped when we were done. But we saw it all. If I were rich enough to have them shipped home I would have bought some neat odd old beat up musical instruments I saw in a junk shop window.
We even saw preparations for the funeral of the archbishop of Greece who had just died. If we weren't wearing shorts we could have gone into the church for a viewing. TV cameras were in place and reporters were out front.
We took a taxi back to the hotel.
That night we were scheduled to see the light and sound show of the Acropolis. The city of Athens canceled it so Deb, Peg and I grabbed a taxi and went out on the town. He took us to a place in the Plaka with Greek soul music. It was rather expensive but there was a six piece Greek band that played from the time we arrived until the time we left several hours later. They had an eight person dance troupe that did about six different dances in six different costumes. And a belly dancer. It was fantastic!
Up at dawn the next morning for a bus trip
to Pireas which is the modern port for Athens, several miles
away. We got on a boat for a trip to three islands in the
Saronic Gulf. It was a big boat and took quite a long time to
get to there.
First was Hydra (pronounced hee-dra) a picture perfect Greek island. Whitewashed buildings hanging on a hill, pretty churches, neat shops, beautiful little harbor, etc. One mode of transportation was horses. We walked up some of the narrow winding streets and got a couple peeks into really quaint courtyards and houses. No cars or motor bikes allowed. We did see a garbage truck though. The island is absolutely beautiful.
We then tore over to the island of Poros which I barely remember. I think we jumped off and had a cup of Greek coffee.
We then went to Aegina (with a hard "g"). We were scheduled to take a bus trip to the top to see the ruins of the temple of Aphaia , one of the nicest places. We're lucky we're alive. That bus was flying up that hill. Hotter then hell, exhaust coming in and sheer cliffs. We all reviewed a few prayers from childhood. The temple was really neat. Then back to the bus... On the way down we stopped for a few minutes at the monestary/church or the sanctuary of St. Nectarios. They were having services so we couldn't go in but a quick trip through the grounds was really neat. Then back to the ship, which had waited for us and back to Athens. On the return trip there was a show on board with singing and Greek dancing.
That night was open but we went to bed - as I recall.
Up at dawn and load up the bus for our
journey to Delphi (pronounced Delfee) and beyond. It was about
a three hour drive with a short stop in a village
that is known for it's rugs . This trip
was through the country side and up into the mountains. The
village was hanging on the side of a mountain. They rent ski
equipment there and is oriented toward winter sports. I
had the impression that they had been catering to tourists for
a few thousand years. The mountains had quite a bit of snow on
them. On to Delphi.
Delphi was fantastic! A very religious feeling here. I told some of the people on the bus that there was a crashed spaceship under the site and the homing beacon was calling us to come there. Why else would a bus load of Americans from California be in this remote place? I also said that the way the walls around Thebes were erected in on day by a Cyclops, was that the Cyclops was a guy in a space suit using an antigravity device (Twilight Zone music here). Then during the lecture the guide said that when the Persians came to attack some people came out of the temple dressed in very odd uniforms and were able to kill people at a distance. Woo woo woo woo Woo woo woo woo. But actually it was very moving. The belly button of the world is here. They had a real neat stadium there too. Deb took a really good picture of me there.
Back on the bus and down the hill. We took a ferry boat across the straight at the mouth of the Corinthian Gulf. We then stopped for lunch at a big tourist place. At first we were disappointed. But the food was good, the wine and olives were interesting, the conversation refreshing and the view was spectacular. We hated to go. But we did.
Back on the bus and on to the Florida Beach Hotel in Patra. The beach didn't exactly match up to Florida and the hotel room wasn't exactly the Ritz. But they had porn on the TV! Oh my God what about the teenagers?! I guess they are all going to hell (I, of course, diverted my eyes).
After a nice dinner we adjourned to the bar. It was really small but pretty. The waitress spoke almost no English. This is where we tried Ouzo. Not bad, sort of licorice flavor. But I switched over to Mythos beer. A couple of girls wanted to play hearts so we had a rip roaring game of hearts. There was a chick in the bar, that I should have gotten a picture of, smoking cigarettes and adding atmosphere - whew. About the time we were reaching a crescendo the teenagers came down and added some noise. Suddenly, oh my Gawd! One of the teenage boys was dressed as a girl, makeup, dress and all. He actually looked pretty good . It was a bet, I guess. Anyway that shocked the locals, to say nothing of the Californians (he was from Florida).
Next day, packed up and got on the bus. We
went to Olympia , site of the
original Olympic games. It was fantastic. Huge! There were
more ruins here then anyplace else. Our
guide was an older woman with a pretty
heavy accent but really worth listening to. The place is so
big that we barely covered it once. The Judas trees were in full bloom - beautiful
pink/purple blossoms. In fact everyplace we went there were
wild flowers blooming. It would have been amazing to have seen
this place at it's peak. At one time
there were (can this be correct?) 3000 statues
of various athletes. This is my favorite place
after the Acropolis.
We had lunch in the local town of Olympia. It was pretty good. Deb and I ran down the hill to look for her sunglasses that she thought she had left that morning. Nope, they were in her jacket on the bus.
We then took a long drive to the town of Tolo which is an Athenian resort town on the Argolic Gulf near Nauplion (Nafplio). The rooms here left much to be desired - no tv, three beds crammed wall to wall, the sliding door didn't lock and of course those bathrooms. By the way there were never showers as we know them. It's just a shower thingy on a hose. This place didn't even have a shower curtain. We sort of sat in the tub and tried to get clean. At least everyplace we went they had soft water and everything was clean. When we took showers the water splashed all over the place. Several places had key locks from Draculas castle. You needed to schedule extra time for locking and unlocking the doors in these places and God help you if you had to get out quickly.
Dinner was pretty bad. Except the spaghetti with sauce was OK.
But we found the town of Tolo! Really a neat tourist place - discos, restaurants, bars, shops, noise, people, excitement. We looked at jewelry stores and had a couple of drinks at a local place. Everything is cheap.
Back on the bus! As we were driving the
guide pointed out houses with rebar sticking out of them. Most single
family houses are cast concrete and look like one floor is
about 1000sq ft or more. But when the first floor is built
they have rebar sticking up so another floor or house can be
built on top for the next generation. We saw some that were
four houses high. That probably means four generations are
living there. Once it had been pointed out we saw those houses
This day we started by going to Epidauros. This is the sanctuary of Asklepios. He was born after his mother died so he knew the secrets of the underworld. Because of this his symbol is the snake which lives underground. His knowledge allowed him to become a great healer. He also had great knowledge of herbal medicine. This is why there is a snake on the doctors symbol the caduceus. There is a magnificent theater here. The most outstanding of the ancient world. No kidding you can stand on the center spot and talk normally and be heard in the back row. Not much else remains here. A lot of these sites had been raided by the local population for building materials.
We then went to Mycenae. It is a fantastic ancient citadel on a hill. A very moving place. It dates to before 1200 BC ~ 3200 years ago! It was lived in for at least 1000 years. It looks sort of like a pile of rocks now but must have been fantastic at the time. It's still pretty fantastic. There is a shaft grave there which was recklessly excavated down to where they began finding gold masks and other magnificent objects that had been buried with important people including Agamemnon. The famous gold mask of Agamemnon came from here - it's really his great great great grandfathers mask.
Nearby there is a reconstructed beehive style tomb called the Tomb of Clytemenestra. It's a big room made of blocks and shaped like a beehive. There is a smaller treasure room next to it. Apparently this had been raided centuries ago so not much was found. Several of these tombs exist in this area.
On our way back we stopped and took a quick peak at the Corinthian Canal. If this canal had been there 2500 years ago it probably would have changed the course of history. Many different groups attempted to construct it during the ages. It's surprisingly narrow and short. You can easily see from one end to the other.
Back to Athens this evening and check into the Pythagorean hotel. The elevator was slow but the rooms weren't too bad. We found that they had rescheduled the light show on the Acropolis and we were scheduled to go. Unfortunately a group had arrived late and was in the hotel restaurant/cafeteria room. We sort of kicked them out and gulped our food and hit the bus for the show. I was concerned that it was going to be two hours long of translations into five languages. But the show was in English and lasted about 20 minutes. On our way out a group of French (or was it Germans) were waiting to go in. The show was OK. 20 minutes is plenty.
Our final day! We had the morning free.
Many went to the Plaka but we decided to go to the
Archeological Museum. It always gets four stars. It was
magnificent! Many famous statues and art pieces including
the Statue of Poseidon,
the mask of Agamemnon, many famous sculptures and artifacts. We went down to the
basement to see the gift shop and visit the bathrooms. There
were reproductions of a lot of things sitting around - all
full size and high quality. I was admiring the head of Poseidon thinking
it must cost $1000 when Peg came by with a price list. Damn!
It was less then $150. So I bought it. We mistakenly thought
it was of bronze sheeting but it was plaster. They packed it
up so we could take it as luggage on the plane.
Lunch was a trip. A taxi driver took us from the museum to the Pythagorean hotel to drop off Poseidon and then took us to a restaurant about a million miles out of the way for an authentic Greek lunch. I guess we didn't understand exactly what we were getting into, but we had a magnificent lunch - seafood, many appetizer dishes - everything fresh and delicious. It was expensive and we didn't have time to enjoy it as we should have. We scrambled back to the hotel for our next sojourn.
After lunch we boarded the bus to go well south of Athens to Sounion where Poseidon's temple is located. Its a very beautiful drive down the coast looking into the Saronic Gulf. The temple was beautiful, in a beautiful setting on a hill with a magnificent view of the sea. It was used as a lookout point to guard against the Persians coming around the point.
Back to Athens and get ready for our authentic Greek night out! We got dressed, jumped on the bus and ended up at the same place Deb, Peg and I had been the first night. Only this time we were wedged down a side hallway. It was bad - no view, no sound, no room, waiters stepping on us, everyone disappointed and upset. So we gobbled our food and hit the Plaka. Deb bought some jewelry and stuff and I looked at people while the shop owners closed up.
Up at 4am to catch the bus to the airport! A miserable trip home. Mostly because of the long layovers - three hours in Gatwick airport, three hours in St. Louis and one thousand hours on airplanes. On the last leg I sat next to Man Mountain Malone and was squeezed. My ankles swelled up like balloons.
It was an excellent adventure. Here are some miscellaneous comments -
- I read a college textbook on Grecian history and found it profoundly helpful in understanding what I was seeing.
- I found the Michelin guide to be the best of the ones we bought for giving historical context and layouts of the sites. Other people had good looking guides too.
- I wish I had had a good road map of the area. My maps were like global shots, not enough detail.
- I read a comic book like book on Greek mythology as well as some of Bullfinches Mythology. I found the comic book to be about right. Bullfinch is good but takes too long if your time is limited.
- I should have used the binoculars I brought along more then I did.
- Get up and walk around the plane before your ankles turn into water balloons and pop.
- If you wonder if you should take a picture - you probably should.
- I learned the Greek alphabet before I went and found it to be a worthwhile thing to do. It was fun reading the signs. Unfortunately they were still in Greek. But many of them were understandable such as apothecary and on a McDonald's it had "Birthday Party" in Greek letters.
- The Poseidon bust was broken when we got it home. Not too bad and only in the shoulder and back areas. It's so big I'm not sure what we are going to do with it. It looks great in our living room.
- I wish we would have had more time to sit, have coffee, relax and watch the scene. But we now have a reason to return.
I took over 200 slides. If I ever get them back and converted to pictures I'll put some here.