European Vacation

part 2 - Greece   

There's nothing more satisfying that the sense of progress you feel when you check something off on a list.  And there's no list more important than the bucket list.  So when you get the chance to add something to the bucket list and check it off because you're already there... it ranks up there with a getting a Nobel Peace Prize.  And Greece let us do that.  Twice.

Athens was the first stop on the itinerary, and after the shoulder to shoulder crowding in Lovely Taormina, we decided to change from the guided tour to one where they just drive you to the foot of the Acropolis and drop you off.  Of course, that comes at a cost... that is, the unguided tour is more expensive than the guided tour.  Really.  But it was worth it, because we had the option to go at our own speed, linger over what we wanted and move on by what we didn't care about.

The drive through Athens to the Acropolis was a little depressing; it seemed like one out of every three stores was abandoned, and I don't mean "closed," I mean broken windows and broken shelves and garbage inside after what looked like a ransacking.  Graffiti was scrawled across almost every vertical surface, and it wasn't the artistic "look at me" kind of Graffiti you see in LA... it was angry, hastily scrawled, and ugly. 

But by the time we reached the general area of the Acropolis, things looked better.

We started on a pedestrian walkway that winds its way past a couple of museums to the entrance to the Acropolis.  There we started the long uphill climb, with the first stop the theater of Herod Atticus, built by the Romans in 161 AD (and  still used today for classical concerts, ballet, and other performances; they were setting up for something when we walked by and it was closed off, so you couldn't actually enter the amphitheater).

Kate on the stairs to the Theater of Atticus

The Theater was interesting, but glimpses of the Parthenon overhead overwhelmed any interest in trying to hear the tour guides we had paid not to have, and we walked by pretty quickly to join the throngs heading up the rest of the stairs. 

We are started to get better views of the buildings on the Acropolis about half way up... it was a beautiful day to see the Acropolis

And this is Theater of Atticus from the back; you can see the music stands and the like for the upcoming performance

Despite not going up with a tour, we were going up with a tour.  Many tours.  The stairway to the Acropolis leads to the Propylaea, which was completed in 432 BC just before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian wars. It's a natural chokepoint, designed to keep the rabble (communists, people with body odor, tourists, etc) out of the temple area.  Now, tourists are let in (after a BO check), but it gets crowded.

The crowded approach to the Prophlaea... Kate is in front of me with the straw hat and white shirt

But here's where the second "I'm glad I paid extra money not to have a tour guide" came in.  Once inside, the tours tended to cluster in the center of the Acropolis so the tour guide could point in turn to each building and make up a bunch of stuff.  If you walked around the sides, it was like you were there alone.  And, let me just say that, no matter how many pictures you've seen of the Acropolis, actually standing there is a completely different experience.  The Parthenon is simply magnificent, and knowing it was built 500 years before Christ was born... it's just stunning. 

Looks like we're alone...

And have the Parthenon to ourselves

The view from the top is amazing, and Athens doesn't look so desolate from up here

 The Theater of Dionysious, home to Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes
So that was bucket list item number one.  We climbed down and looped around the backside of the Acropolis, getting some great views of the Acropolis from a rock hill that has been walked on by so many people it's been polished smooth and is so slippery it's easy to take a spill.  One funny thing that was another recurring theme was the number of people that had dogs with them; the dogs where off the leash, and whenever their owner took a break, they would just flop down and take a nap. 
On far side, we walked around the old Agora, or meeting place, had lunch at an outdoor restaurant where Kate won by ordering an absolutely wonderful stuffed tomato with rice, pine nuts, and mint, then wandered back through the Plaka, a shopping district under the Acropolis that was actually quite tasteful.  We caught our bus with about five minutes to spare and headed back to the ship.

The ancient Agora, a center of trade and politics

Kate enjoying her stuffed tomato

Walking along the shops of the Plaka

On the 14th deck of the Equinox, waiting to pull away from Athens

Athens from the Equinox as we head for Turkey

You can see the rest of the Athens pictures here.

We'll cover Turkey, our next port of call, in the third and final installment and jump ahead to the three Greek Islands we visited, Rhodes, Santorini, and Mykonos (we actually spent most of the day we were in port at Mykonos on a neighboring island, Delos, the site of more incredibly ancient ruins).  There were no options to pay extra to skip the tour guides, so in all three cases, we had someone explain the history of each island to us.  Kind of a "net net" history is that the Greek Islands were invaded by everyone on an ongoing basis since the dawn of recorded history.  At one time or another the islands were occupied by the Myceans, the Egyptians, the Romans, The Persians, the Sacaern, the Germans, The Smurfs, and others.  The Italians came back after capturing them as the Romans, left, then came back a third time:

Guissepi:  "Hey, Antonello, what do you say we go conquer the Greek Islands?"
Antonello:  "What, like that hasn't happened before?  Isn't there something on TV?"
Guissepi:  "Just re-runs."
Antonello:  "Hmmmphf.  OK, fine, but I want to be back by dinner time."
Guissepi:  "Done."

Rhodes was reasonably interesting.  Everyone's heard of the Rhodes Scholarship, so it should come as no surprise that it has absolutely nothing to do with the island.  The most interesting things about Rhodes were (a) the medieval town behind the medieval wall, reasonably cool but 14th century, which by that point hardly counted as historic, and (b) "Mythos beer," which just seemed so appropriate.  If you're one of those history buffs that knows his stuff, you're probably going to ask about the Colossus, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, a 50 foot tall bronze statue that ships would literally sail under when entering the old harbor.  Our guide mentioned that it definitely existed, but maybe it was on top of one of the mountains instead of standing over the harbor, or maybe it was in the town center.  All they know is the whole thing was sold to a Turkish scrap metal salesman who carried off every last piece in exchange for a flying carpet and three silver pennies. Seeing the site that might have been the location of the statue a few thousand years ago... well, not really awe inspiring. 

The Medieval Wall, built by the Knights Templar, surrounding the Medieval City
You can see the other Rhodes pictures here.

That brings us to Santorini, which is bucket list item number two, probably the most beautiful place we've ever been.  Santorini is actually a set of Islands around a massive crater called the Caldera that use to be the center of one big island. The crater is what remains of a large volcanic eruption that blew out the entire center of the island, which subsequently filled with water.  It's believed  to be the source of the "Atlantis" legend. The Caldera is surrounded by 1000 foot tall, vertical cliffs with fantastic views, and towns and villages have sprouted up, building themselves into the crater wall. The volcano is still active and they have tremors all the time...and yet build their houses into the cliff side. It's that gorgeous.   Below is a picture of Oia, one of the more spectacular towns, with the Caldara wall in the background. 


View off the Equinox, which was moored in the Caldara.

One of the famous blue domes that are a trademark of Santorini (left over from the great Papa Smurf invasion in 1702)

I could go on and on, but really, the pictures speak for themselves, and can be found here.

Next stop, Mykonos, famed for it's beaches.  Which we probably should have visited.  Instead, we went to Delos, a neighboring island, with another set of very ancient ruins.  The island was abandoned despite having a respectable population of 100,000, running water, sewers, theaters, and other trappings of civilization, the only clue left behind this conversation chiseled into the marble:

Adelphos:  "Oidipous, would you like to come up to my fine Villa for lunch?"
Oidipous:  "Ahhh, thanks for the offer, but I'm actually getting on a boat for Mykonos."
Adelphos:  "But, Oidipous, I have a fine courtyard, wine, servants!  What can Mykonos offer that Delos doesn't?"
Oidipous:  "Well, frankly, the island hasn't been invaded in months.  Real estate prices are plummeting!"
Adelphos:  "But we were ravaged by the Sacearns just a few months ago!"
Oidipous:  "Ravaged, ya, but not invaded.  Mykonos was invaded six times in as many weeks!"
Adelphos:  "But my entire fortune is invested in Delos!"
Oidipous:  "I hear Mykonos has nude beaches."
Adelphos: "I'll start packing."

By which you can really read the fact that we were pretty ruined out.

Me and my sweetie in front of Delos

The ruins of Delos
Bringing us to the end of part 2 of the vacation write-up.  You can see the other Delos pictures here

Part three covers the ship, Turkey, and Capri and can be found here.