Our time in London finally came to an end with a 7:40am flight to Mykonos, Greece. Hannah’s parents had been visiting us in London and decided to join us on the Greek leg of our trip, the distraction of family helped make the transition from London dweller to self employed traveller an easy one. After arriving on the island and settling into our accommodation we set out to explore the town. We could not spend the afternoon sight seeing without first sitting down to a greek lunch consisting of lamb souvlaki, pita bread and the local brew, Mythos Beer. We then went on to see the famous windmills followed by the block of streets known as Little Venice. The rest of the afternoon was filled in by exploring (getting lost in) the small winding lanes filled with shops and bars before sitting down to another delicious meal.
The next day started with a short ferry ride to Delos Island, the mythical birthplace of the greek twins Apollo and Artemis. The island dates back to 3000BC but these days there are no permanent residents. Instead hundreds of tourists descend on the island in the early morning to explore the ancient ruins and then return to the neighbouring islands in the afternoon. We choose to take a guided tour of the island and as a result we gathered a good understanding of the history of Delos and managed to see many sights such as the House of Dionysis named for it’s large mosaic floor depicting the god of wine riding a panther, a theatre dating from 300BC and the much photographed Terrace of the Lions.
Saturday morning arrived and it was time begin island hopping. We boarded a ferry at the port of Mykonos and an hour later we were on the island of Paros. The main port town of Parika was a busy place but once we had negotiated a taxi fare we made our way across to the north coast of the island to the other major settlement, Naousa. This quite fishing village was a pleasant change from the packed streets of Mykonos and our days were spent relaxing down at the beach or on our balcony with its breathtaking views of the coastline. When exploring the town during the day nearly every restaurant would have fresh octopus caught that morning drying in the sun and many would also be preparing Gouna: sun dried fish, the local speciality.
After a few days relaxing and catching up on sleep on Paros it was time for another ferry ride, this time to Santorini. As the ferry pulled into the port all four of us, like many others onboard were in awe of the 16km strip of 300m high, coloured cliffs formed by one of the biggest volcanic erruptions in history. A short drive from the port followed by a few hundred steps and we were settling into our hotel room. We had chosen to splurge a little on this part of the trip and it was well worth it! Our accommodation was a traditional cave house which was built into the cliff-face in the town of Oia, on the tip of the island. This meant that every evening when other tourists were cramming the streets of Oia trying to get a good spot for sunset we could relax on our balcony with a drink and watch from there.
Day two started off well with a sleep in, breakfast with a view and a relaxing swim, but it wasn’t long before disaster struck. A fire at the Santorini power station caused the entire island to loose electricity. At first it didn’t affect our plans as we continued our relaxing day of swimming and eating freshly made greek salad but once the sun set reality set in, we were in a beautiful apartment with no electricity and no running water, we might as well have been camping. Luckily red wine doesn’t require a fridge so we kept ourselves entertained and after a tasty meal of cheese and crackers had an early night.
Day three in Santorini started with no electricity but we had decided to take a boat trip across the Aegean Sea to the famous volcanic island of Nea Kameni so it wasn’t a problem. The volcano has not erupted since 1950 and is monitored daily by scientists to ensure the safety of the nearby islands. Although uninhabited, many toursist visit daily and make the 130m climb to the summit to walk around the crater. After our volcano visit was complete the boat took us to the nearby hot springs of Palia Kameni for a swim in the 30 degrees water. This was ideal as nobody could shower back on the island due to the lack of electricity so we needed a good bath! The boat then returned to Fira, the the main town on Santorini. The problem with the old port of Fira is the 588 steps from the water to town. To avoid this we decided to do things the traditional way and rode a donkey to the top. Some members of the group were less willing then others (Colleen…) but all enjoyed it in the end, although we did feel bad for the poor old donkeys.
After our donkey ride we decided to explore the rest of the island. This meant hiring a car and nominating a driver from the group who could handle driving on the right side of the road while negotiating the local traffic. Matt was nominated and it wasn’t long before we set off to the other side of the island. The highlight of our road trip was the coloured beaches. We arrived at Red Beach and walked around the corner expecting some slightly coloured sand and were impressed to find large red cliffs with sparkling blue water lapping the shore. The adjoining beaches of Black Beach and White Beach were just as spectacular and well worth the visit.
The relaxing part of our holiday was over and it was time to experience some Greek history. A short flight later and we were in the Greek capital, Athens. It didn’t take long to find the history we were looking for as our first stop was the amazing Acropolis. This group of buildings from around 500BC, the most famous been the Pantheon is located on a rocky outcrop high above the city of Athens. We spent the morning exploring this amazing sight and trying to take it all in.
Next we had to make our way down the hill, we did this by winding our way through the Ancient Agora, a public space used for assemblies and markets from the 7th century BC. There are many recognisable remains throughout the site such as temples, palaces and baths. We re-energised with another feast of delicious Greek cuisine before we heading to the Acropolis Museum. Many ancient relics found at the site of the Acropolis are too precious to stay outside, exposed to the elements and for this reason the Museum was built to house them. The ground floor exhibits many objects found during the excavations of the site such as pottery while the highlight of the second floor is 5 of the 6 caryatids from the Erechtheion: an ancient Greek temple built on the Acropolis site between 421 to 406BC. A caryatid is a sculpted female figure taking the architectural support in the place of a column. One of the ladies from the Erectheion is now in the British Museum while the other 5 were removed from the site in 1979 to prevent further damage caused by Athen’s pollution. The history of these structures including how one ended up in the British Museum in the first place is quite remarkable and was a real highlight of our day. The top floor of the museum is a complete reconstruction of the Pantheon including metal columns to replicate every marble column of the structure along with the original marble decorative carvings found along the outside of the roof. These have been removed from the Pantheon to protect them from the elements and keep them well preserved.
Our final day in Greece began with a visit to Hadrian’s Arch, built in 132AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Inscriptions on the structure show that it was intended as a dividing point between the ancient city of Athens and the Roman city of Hadrian.
Directly opposite Hadrian’s Arch is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in Greece begun in the 6th century but abandoned for lack of funds leaving it for Emperor Hadrian to complete in 131AD. The temple is incredibly impressive due to the 104, 17m high columns of which 15 remain. Hadrian originally placed a large statue of the Greek God Zeus in the cellar and in typical immodest fashion an equally large statue of himself next to it.
Our final stop for the day was Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, however the stadium’s history dates much further back then that. It was originally built in the 4th century BC as a venue for the Panathenaic athletics contest. After hundreds of years of disuse the stadium was completely restored to its originally form in 1895. The seats are comprised of pentelic marble and can hold 70 000 spectators. It was used once again for the archery and marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Naturally we had a run around the track and a medal presentation ceremony on the podiums, although there is still some debate over who actually won the gold medal.
As our day drew to an end it dawned upon us that it was the last time for a few months that we would all be together so we decided to finish the holiday in style. A nice little restaurant at the base of the Acropolis gave us their ‘best table’ and once again we sat down to a Greek feast consisting of stuffed vine leaves, meat balls, tzatziki, lamb, seafood and lots of wine! We finished the evening with a drink at our hotel’s roof top bar with views over the Acropolis. Greece was a great start to our holiday and we enjoyed the time with family but the following day we had to say our goodbyes at the airport as they travelled home to Australia and we went on to our next destination: Goodbye Greece, Hello Italy.