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Trip Report With Gratitude for a Glorious Solo Month in Greece

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My month in glorious Greece was, well, glorious! :-) And my trip was infinitely better than it might have been because of the invaluable insights that so many of you generously shared with me.

My plan for this trip report is to
- provide a bit of context and outline my final itinerary;
- summarize what I liked best and least about my experiences in Greece; and then
- offer a more detailed description of what I saw and did.
Questions are welcome at any time!

Before I do any of that, I want to express my gratitude to ALL of you who helped me plan this trip. I learned a great deal from the many trip reports and planning threads I read, and I benefitted enormously from the responses that SOooo many Fodorites generously provided on my planning threads:
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/preliminary-planning-a-month-in-greece.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/initial-itinerary-1-month-in-greece.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/flight-from-heraklion-to-santorini.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/please-help-me-eat-well-in-greece.cfm
I can’t say I took full advantage of the information that any of you gave, but I am confident that my trip was far better because of your input. Fodorites ROCK!

I’m not going to try to thank all of you for each and every thing you said on these various planning threads. Instead, I’m going to try to thank each of you explicitly for just ONE way in which your input made a difference – no matter how much advice you gave (and some of you were invaluable sources of information on multiple aspects of my planning). Sometimes, several people mentioned the same thing; and in these cases, although I only note one person’s recommendation, I hope you realize that I’m thanking all of you who mentioned that thing. And please understand that my gratitude goes far beyond these limited acknowledgements!

Turning to each of you in alphabetical order….

ANUJ: for your encouragement to visit awesome Akrotiri.

artsnletters: for you enthusiastic encouragement to visit Delos – such a moving place!

billbarr: for recommending a visit to Tiryns – the Mycenaeans were truly outstanding builders, weren’t they?

brotherleelove2004: for helping me find the perfect place to stay on Santorini – “my” view was absolutely perfect for watching the sunset! :-)

cherie2125: for encouraging me to visit Vergina – I found the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai truly awe-inspiring.

clausar: among other things, for ensuring that I ate extremely well while in Greece, as I did (for example) at Athinaikon in Athens – what a wonderful recommendation!

colduphere: for recommending the Pension Dafni in Nafplio – delightful! And BTW, please come back! :-)

Crazyh: for your enthusiastic encouragement of exploring Greece’s markets, and not just it’s produce markets, but also its fascinating meat and seafood markets.

Dogeared: for recommending that I indulge in Horiatiko Psomi (country bread) if found – and I did find it! I happened upon it by chance at the Taverna Aravanes in Thronos. Delicious!

Dreamon: for your confirmation that May/June would be a good time for my trip. As you predicted, the weather was nearly perfect, and OMG, the wildflowers were glorious!

FuryFluffy: for telling me about the outdoor cinema at Thision. Unfortunately, I didn’t find time to attend a screening there, :-( but I loved knowing that it was an option. I did see it one evening from a distance and of course, thought of you.

Gertie3751: for your enthusiastic endorsement of Cretan cuisine – as you said, it was a treat!

HappyTrvlr: for your recommendation to visit the poignant Arkadi Monastery – I found it very powerful.

Heimdall: among so many other things, for the wisdom of suggesting that I begin my trip in Crete – it made my route much more reasonable, and also meant that I began with the Minoans, which made a lot of sense, even if that wasn’t your rationale!

internetwiz: for encouraging me to focus on western Crete – it is amazing, isn’t it?

isabel: for your incredibly helpful comments on the islands you visited – your insights helped me make some very difficult decisions about which ones to visit.

joannyc: for all the times I raised a glass at sunset – and OMG, I found many delightful opportunities to do that :-), including at breathtaking Meteora.

justineparis: for making sure I knew to try Naxos potatoes – I must admit that I had wondered just how “special” they could be – after all, they are potatoes. OMG, they are tasty!

margarethewitt: for your encouragement to fly from Thessaloniki to Athens – that really was the best solution for me.

mr_go: for making sure I knew to sample ouzo and raki and various homemade concoctions – life can be good! :-)

Odin: for making sure I knew how to tell people that my food had been delicious or that I thought something was wonderful, and I definitely had reason to say both “bara boli nostimo" and “bara boli oreo” many times each day! Efcharisto bara boli, Odin!

progol: for encouraging me to see both Knossos and Phaistos – both are amazing, and as you suggested, seeing the contrasts between the two gave a much better appreciation of each.

RubyTwins: for your encouragement to get off the “main drag” – whether for dining or otherwise, I did a bit of that, and while it meant getting incredibly lost on more than one occasion, it also made for some great memories.

scrb11: for your encouragement to stay in a place with a vew of the harbor while in Chania – my room looked out on the harbor and the lighthouse, and oh, how I loved that view at any time of day!

stanbr: among your many generously shared insights, for your encouragement to visit Gortyna and to walk around the area a bit – as you said, it’s quite amazing to see Roman statuary scattered throughout the area, peaking out from under ancient olive trees.

TexasAggie: for making sure I tasted some Nemean red wines – oooh, they were lovely! I kept looking for a bad one, trying one bottle after the other…. ;-)

thursdaysd: for helping me think through some very difficult decisions about what to see and what to skip – and for me, that’s the hardest part of planning a trip.

travelerjan: among so many other contributions, for making sure I knew how to manage a hike of the Imbros Gorge – as you said, park at the top and pay someone at the bottom to drive me back up. Worked like a charm!

Weadles: for your recommendations for Cape Sounio – I loved the view of the night-lit Temple of Poseidon from my balcony at the Aegeon Beach and from the Elias Fish Restaurant.

WoinParis: for encouraging a stop at the Corinthian Canal. I understand that some people might think of it as just a big ditch, but OMG, what a feat of engineering! I’m very glad I saw it.

yiassas: among so many other helpful comments, for bringing the Arcadian Gate by ancient Messina to my attention. Amazing! The road I took actually went through it, which was quite a surprise.

Efcharistó poli, one and all! (If I left any of you out, please forgive me and let me know!)

Next up: Context and trip overview

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  • Report Abuse

    Welcome aboard, one and all!

    @ Kathie: Thanks for joining me once again!

    @ trippplanner: I think you will enjoy Greece if you ever choose to go, and hope that my report either entices you to do so or provides a bit of a vicarious alternative.

    @ thursdaysd: As usual, my plans hit a few snags, but not too many. All in all, I’’m pleased to report that my planning worked extremely well.

    @ joannyc: Of course! And as you might imagine, I’m glad that I had a great time, too!

    @ brotherleelove: It was thoughtful of YOU to help me with so many aspects of my brief time in Santorini. But warning: I hit a few snags there….

  • Report Abuse

    Glad you had a great time. I'm currently finishing up my five week trip to Northern Spain and was just thinking about helpful you were in planning this trip. Yes fodorites really do help each other. So much better information than possible to get from guidebooks.

  • Report Abuse

    Welcome to more of my Fodorite friends!

    @ sundriedtopepo: You have been very patient, indeed, and I appreciate it! I hope you are not disappointed.

    @ isabel: If you have been enjoying your time in northern Spain even half as much as I enjoyed my time there, then you are having a terrific time! I hope so, and am glad to know that I was helpful as you planned your time there.

    @ lancer11: You are in for a wonderful trip! I hope my report proves useful to you.

    @ billbarr: I’m glad, too, and very glad that I included sme Mycenaen sites along the way.

    @ Heimdall: You helped immensely! It’s nice to be able to give back a bit to the Fodors community.

  • Report Abuse

    Looking forward to your report, am so glad that your queries prompted billbarr to contribute, his voice too seldom heard, and he's given me much joy over the years with his anecdotes -- I too love Tiryns and have had magic moments there. On my first visit, I spent half an hour watching a team working to restore one of those Cyclopean Boulders (size of a Volkswagen Beetle) that had fallen from the front ramparts ... there was the operator of a huge crane, a head engineer, and an archeologist. The latter 2 were arguing about correct placement, the crane guy just keeping the monster rock swinging 100 feet in the air!

  • Report Abuse

    @ Travelerjan: What a great story! Those stones at Tiryns are massive, aren’t they? And SOOOoooo precisely placed and fit!

    @ Mara: Thanks for joining in for the ride!

    ...

    Context and Trip Overview

    Before I get to what I liked most and least and some details of my experiences, I’ll repeat some information from my planning threads for context. 


    • This was a month-long trip in May/June during which I rented a car four times for a total of about 16 days.

    • I’m a reasonably experienced solo independent female traveler.

    • I had not been to any part of Greece before, although I had previously seen some wonderful Greek ruins in Sicily, Paestum, and western Turkey.

    • I planned this trip with an eye to including as many of Greece's gems as feasible while maximizing the diversity of my experiences. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but not entirely indiscriminate: I typically enjoy art, architecture, museums, ancient ruins, religious sanctuaries, parks and gardens, natural scenery, markets (for their atmosphere, not for shopping), picturesque villages, folk traditions, delicious foods and wines, and the chance to see and experience other parts of the world. Unlike many (I suspect most!) travelers to Greece, I was not looking to spend more than an hour or so on a beach. And unlike many (most?) travelers to just about anywhere, I am willing to utterly exhaust myself on my trips – and I often do! I spent many delightful moments relaxing over a meal, but I wanted to make full use of every possible moment I had to see and experience this glorious country.

    • In addition to Fodor’s wonderful community, I used the following guidebooks when planning my trip: Frommer’s, Insight Guides, Lonely Planet, the Michelin Green Guide, the National Geographic Traveler, and the Rough Guide. I found the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet particularly useful. And I used various on-line resources, too.

    • I learned a smattering of Greek – not much and not well, and with a focus on civilities, but a bit more than that. I also learned to transliterate from Greek to Roman letters (or, I should say, I learned well enough to generally manage), and that proved invaluable.

    • At the time I left for Greece, I was still recovering from a serious thigh injury that I suffered more than a year before, and I was far from confident that I would be able to visit, or enjoy, many of the places on my itinerary. (When I committed to this trip, I had assumed that I would recover more quickly than I did.) Sigh. Instead, even weeks before my trip began, I had trouble walking 3 miles a day, and I could only climb about 40 steps at a time without needing to pause to recover. How would I manage??? As well as I could, I told myself, and if I can’t do or see everything, well I’m sure I’ll do and see some amazing things nonetheless. To jump to the end on this point, I’m pleased to report that my injury did NOT restrict my travels unnecessarily -- woohoo! :-) Seeing some things may have taken longer than when I was a young mountain goat, but I made it to everything I wanted to see, and -- bonus! -- I came back much fitter than when I left.


    Because I LOVE to plan my trips, I developed a very detailed itinerary, which I viewed it as a “roadmap,” rather than a schedule. I skipped things or (less commonly) added things or switched things around as each day unfolded. Although I generally remained aware of the time, I did not let the time dictate my actions unless there was something absolutely time critical at issue: If I decided to visit something, I visited it to the extent that it met my interests.

    My final itinerary (take a breath – as already noted, I packed in a lot!) was:

    Day 0: Depart US; overnight flight
    Day 1: Arrive in Chania and begin exploring, 1st of 2 nights in Chania
    Day 2: Explore a bit of Chania; pick up rental car and hike the Imbros Gorge
    Day 3: Explore more of Chania and then move on to Rethymno; 1 night in Rethymno
    Day 4: Explore more of Rethymno, then vist the Arkadhi Monastery, Thronos, and Spili; overnight in Agia Galini
    Day 5: Visit Phaestos and Gortyna before going to Heraklion; return car; 1st of 3 nights in Heraklion
    Day 6: Explore Heraklion and visit Knossos
    Day 7: Explore Heraklion and visit Archanes
    Day 8: Morning flight to Santorini – visit a bit of Fira, Akrotiri, and other parts of the island; 1 night in Firostefani
    Day 9: Mid-day ferry to Naxos; explore Chora, 1st of 3 nights in Chora
    Day 10: Day trip to Delos and Mykonos; explore more of Chora
    Day 11: Rent a car to visit various parts of Naxos Island
    Day 12: Explore more of Naxos, flight to Athens, pick up rental car, 1 night at Cape Sounio
    Day 13: Visit the Temple of Poseidon, drive over the Corinth Canal to Acrocorinth and then Mycenae; 1st of 3 nights in Nafplio.
    Day 14: Visit a bit of Nafplio and also Tiryns and Epidaurus
    Day 15: Visit a bit of Nafplio and Nemea
    Day 16: After a stop at the House of the Tiles in Lerna, visit Mystras; 1 night in Limeni (near Areopoli)
    Day 17: Visit the Diros Cave, Areopoli, and Kalamata; 1 night in Mavromati
    Day 18: Visit ancient Messina, Karytaina, and a bit of the Lousios Gorge; 1 night in Dimitsana
    Day 19: Visit an outdoor museum in Dimitsana; then the Temple of Apollo in Bassae; drive on to Delphi for the 1st of 2 nights there
    Day 20: Explore Delphi and Archova
    Day 21: Visit Hosios Loukas and then drive to Meteora; 1st of 2 nights in Meteora
    Day 22: Explore Meteora; have a much needed massage :-)
    Day 23: Visit Veroia and Vergina en route to Thessaloniki; return car; 1st of 3 nights in Thessaloniki
    Day 24: Explore Thessaloniki
    Day 25: Explore Thessaloniki
    Day 26: Explore a bit more of Thessaloniki; flight to Athens; 1st of 5 nights in Athens
    Day 27: Explore Athens
    Day 28: Explore Athens
    Day 29: Explore Athens
    Day 30: Explore Athens
    Day 31: Fly home

    To be clear, I would not recommend my itinerary to anyone else: This was a plan very specifically tailored to my interests and travel style. It was certainly not an itinerary geared toward relaxation or leisurely exploration! That said, it certainly gave me a nice sample of different parts of Greece. I came home exhausted, but happily so.

    Next up: What I liked most.

  • Report Abuse

    Sounds like we have very similar interests and travel styles, although I do try to limit the number of 1 and 2 night stays wherever practical to do so. I was going to ask you what your recommendations would be if I thought about a 2-week trip, but perhaps your next installment covers some aspects of it.

  • Report Abuse

    Is this the Itinerary you planned, or the one you actually executed? I know on my 1st trip, of 29 days, I managed 7 islands (including 6 days in Crete) and about 4-5 mainland places ... but missed more, because along the way I couldn't bear to leave certain places and also, only had car 4 days, in Crete. I certainly look forward to the "play by play."

  • Report Abuse

    I've rarely been on this board lately, and I missed all your planning. I always enjoy your trip reports, and use then heavily when planning our trips. So many great places and ideas, even though we usually travel slower and for shorter periods of time. Can't wait to hear more about your trip!

  • Report Abuse

    @ tripplanner: Oh, I’m so glad I had more than 2 weeks! I couldn’t begin to suggest a plan for you, but maybe some of the details of what I did and experienced might help you plan a trip that works for you and your interests. BTW, changes of hotels weren’t always necessary when I made them – I have no objectiion to relocating, and instead absolutely abhor unnecessary backtracking. So, for example, one could see much of what a saw in Crete with just a single base, or perhaps two, in contrast to staying in 4 different locations, as I did. And much of the Peloponnese can be seen from a single base….

    @ Kathie: Yes, I saw a LOT – and I haven’t even begun to say what I did with each of these days! To me, it was worth every exhaustingly energizing moment. :-)

    @ travelerjan: The itinerary I just posted is the one I actually executed; it differed minimally from what I had planned. It sounds like you fit a lot into your first trip, too! I certainly understand how difficult it can be to leave some places!

    @ xyz: What I nice compliment – thank you! I’m glad that you’ve found my reports helpful, and I certainly appreciate that people travel at different paces and for different periods of time. Vive la différence!

  • Report Abuse

    Looking forward to following along. Boy, as others have note, you did pack in alot. I've been to Greece twice for 3 weeks each time and not sure I saw as much as you did.

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    @ yestravel: Welcome to this vicarious tour group! I saw a lot, but my preference is to pack a lot into my trips. I’m sure you had different experiences during your trips to Greece – and I bet they were wonderful, too.

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    How exciting to discover your trip to Greece when we are following your advice for Spain. We've done upwards of 6 trips to Greece (usually for 4-5 weeks) and have managed to visit most of the mainland and a pretty good number of the islands. Our itineraries have been pretty full too, but not quite as full as yours. You did a lot but there is so much more to do... if I can every help, please let me know! So good to share our experiences...

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    @ yeshekathy: I’m envious of you of your travels in Greece! Fitting my trip into a single month was a challenge, and the hardest part was, of course, deciding what to cut.

    @ Treesa: Mountain goats of all ages are welcome, as are non-goat travelers. ;-)

    ....

    What I liked most during my month in Greece, in no particular order:

    - The skies! -- the astonishing softness, and softening, of the colors of the sky and clouds at dusk through SOOoooo much of Greece; the not infequent drama of scudding clouds, white and grey and black, texturing the already multi-colored surface beneath with ever shifting patterns of light and shadow and saturating the colors into deeply vibrant hues; the overaching blue of sunlit days, with puffs of fluffy white clouds here and there, or banks of white clouds in the distance; the contrasts of lightning-riddled storm clouds overhead and in front of me, but with bright blue skies elsewhere. Awesome!

    - Glimpses into the splendor of past cultures! I’d had the good fortune to visit many ancient Greek ruins before, but I had never seen Minoan or Mycenaen ruins. Their extant wall paintings were a revelation to me – what extraordinary artistic achievement! And so many of those paintings show the details of exquisite textiles, which again, I found surprising. (I admit it – I imagined rough linen robes hangling in loose folds. Sooooo wrong!) And the ways Minoan architects brought light into multi-story palaces and homes, and other artifacts speaking to the elegance of these ages, and not just at the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos, but the much more work-a-day lodgings of Akrotiri… Wow! And the awesome building skills of the Mycenaens – no wonder some of those walls are called Cyclopean!

    - New insights into ancient Greek culture, too, gleaned from the remnants of glorious color on statues in the Museum of the Acropolis; the views of the interior architecture of the Temple of Hephaestus; the healing hall at Epidauraus; the runner’s starting blocks at Menea; the ceramic “seat” for toddlers shown in a video at the Museum of Cycladic Art and on display in the National Archedological Museum; and oh, so many other stunning relics of ancient Greece!

    - And not just Greek ruins, but also Roman ones, including the fascinating bath complex of the Roman Agora in Thessaloniki and the glorious mosaics of the Rotonda, also in that city, and the wall of law and fields scattered with bits of ruins at Gortyna; and Venetian castles and fortresses; and Ottoman / Turkish fountains and mosques; and, of course, the many glorious Byzantine churches with their frescoes and mosaic floors and beautiful brickwork, particularly in Mystras and Thessaloniki, but elsewhere, too….

    - Some utterly awesome museums! I encountered an astonishing diversity of collections – vases, statuary, wall paintings, gold, textiles, Cycladic figurines, costumes, Byzantine art, funereal artifacts, the implements required for life in days past (producing textiles, farming, making wine or olive oil, etc.), liturgical vestments, modern art, re-created rooms, even a museum devoted to the ways in which water power was used… And oooh, the archeological treasures! The Delos lions, the charioteer of Delphi, gold and ivories from the tomb of Phillip II, the Mycenaen armor in Nafplio, the Mask of Agamemnon, soooo many awe-inspiring pieces….

    - The variety of breathtaking scenery – Meteora’s incredible monolithic pillars and boulders; mountain-edged inlets filled with crystal clear waters, whether the mountains were barren or were, instead, home to trees and shrubs; the incredibly punished terrain of central Crete, filled with fractured rock and vast stretches of non-arable land; the transition, sometimes marked by a single switchback, between a rain shadow and the lush, wet side of a mountain; Santorini’s caldera and its striated cliffs beneath the cascades of blue-trimmed white buildings; range after range of mountains, one behind the other, vanishing into the distance wth clouds touching some, and in between others, and in front of a few, and maybe even some rain falling here or there in the distance; the flooded interior of the Diros cave, with its age-old stalactites and stalagmites; gorges carved between dramatic cliffs and narrow defiles; rounding yet another mountainous corner to an unexpected panorama of a vast plain or the sea far below; snow-capped mountains hovering above various locations in Crete and Mt. Olympus shimmering in the distance above the Thermaic Gulf; vistas from mountainous spots through a series of valleys and peaks and out to the sea; sheer rock faces dropping into deep, narrow gorges lined by lush greenery; island studded waters separating serrated mountain ridges…. I used to think that the ancient Greeks knew how to site a temple, and I haven’t stopped believing that – but I now realize that they weren’t exactly hurtin’ for options!

    - A stunning variety of wildflowers and blooming shrubs (especially during my time in Crete and the Cyclades) and cultivated plants, too (especially the roses of the Arkadhi Monastery and Nemea), and by birds – magpies and sea birds and ooh, the peacocks of Knossos and greenfinches in Athens and the birds who hit the current outside of Acrocorinth JUST right so that they seem stationary even though in flight, and another bird that swept in front of my car and led me onward, gliding to and fro across the road, as I descended a hill near Messina – and tortoises and a wild boar and the impossibly green lizards of the Imbros gorge and various goats, including one precariously poised with his hind feet on a metal road-side guardrail and his front feet positioned far out on a tree, stretching his neck as far as it would go to reach the tasty leaves at the furthest tips of twigs far out over a precipitous abyss.

    - And (speaking of goat and boar) the scrumptuous foods -- flavorful stews (I want a recipe for rabbit stifado!) and perfectly grilled meats and octopus and calamari and braised pork and so many wonderful cheeses and tasty regional breads and incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables and spinach pies and local specialties ranging from red rose or prickly pear preserves through fava beans and Naxos’s potatoes and so very, very many varieties of olive; and the tradition of serving a bite of something with a beverage, whether a bowl of chips or a small plate of freshly grilled calamari; and the delightful wines with which I paired my dinners (kudos to Nemean reds and Santorini whites and SOooooo many other very pleasant options); and tasty bits of something sweet after dinner; and the glasses or flagons of locally brewed beverages often provided in my lodging or as an after-dinner treat – raki or ouzo or mastica (OK, I didn’t actually like mastica – too sweet for me, but I still appreciated that it was offered!) or some other liqueur.

    - The extraordinary generosity and graciousness of the Greek people with whom I interacted. It wasn’t just the appreciated treats I mentioned above – it was FAR more than that. It was the pleasure that so many people seemed to take in sharing their corner of this glorious country; the patience and helpfulness of those I asked for help along the way; the kindness of two different women who decided, for no apparent reason, to give me freshly cut roses; and so many other treasured interactions. And even in the places with seemingly endless numbers of astonishingly rude tourists, just a word or two of Greek was enough to change what seemed a politely indifferent reception into one of remarkable solicitousness and grace. Without doubt, I was made to feel very welcome in Greece.

    - And so many other things – watching a performance in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; seeing wreathes of dried herbs and flowers by doorways in Crete; the red VW bug convertible, sans top, that someone had turned into a huge and vibrant planter; listening to a violin and piano concert in Naxos’s Venetian Castle; the many very well fed cats roaming around ruins (and what their health says about the kindness of the Greeks who live near them); that one can see the glorious Parthenon from so many places in Athens and glimpses of the sea from the Parthenon….


    But my trip was NOT perfect, so next up: what I liked least.

  • Report Abuse

    @ HappyTrvlr: And it is wonderful to have you traveling along! Thanks for letting me know you’ve joined in.

    @ sundriedtopepo: I don’t remember ANY place in Greece that struck me as “dry and dusty,” with the possible exception of the interior of the Arkadhi Monastery – and since the surrounding area was lush and green, I think that might have been an intentional element of its presentation. Some (not all) of the ruins I saw seemed dry (but never dusty); quite in contrast, many of the ruins I visited were delightfully “cluttered” with wildflowers. Some of the areas in rain shadows were, of course, dry – but drought-resistant shrubs seemed the norm, and I found some of the hills and mountains of central Crete and the Mani Peninsula to be awesomely barren, but again, not dusty. BUT, I suspect it varies with the season. Before being dissuaded from a trip to Greece by this particular friend’s warning, you might want to carefully consider where and when you would go. I must that I’m a bit curious about where and when your friends went…

  • Report Abuse

    kja, I find, that people who make comments like "dry & dusty" then turn out to have gone to Greece in September.... that means that there has essentially been almost NO rain for about 4 months -- some islands are dry & rocky year round, b ut even the green islands are dusty by that time. If you went 4 months without a shower, you'd be dusty too! That's why May-June is a perfect time for a Greece trip.

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    @ travelerjan &
    @ sundriedtopepo …

    Thanks for the explananation, travelerjan, and, sundriedtopepo, I hope that information helps!
    I don’t know about other times of year, but I, for one, am glad I visited in May / June (including about 3 weeks in May, extending into the first week of June).

  • Report Abuse

    kja, thanks for sharing your trip with us. Makes me want to go back again but it will have to wait a while longer. Many years ago we spent extended time in Greece and loved it for all the reasons you describe.

    Did you prebook all your accommodation? Last time we were there we didn't book anything but not sure how much that has changed and it would be helpful to know for when we do go back (probably in a couple of years).

  • Report Abuse

    @ dreamon: I’m glad that I’m reminding you of things you enjoyed!

    I did book all of my accommodations WELL in advance – but then, that’s my preference. I like deciding where to stay when I have the widest possible array of options, looking for a reasonably affordable and well-located places that meet my needs – and although my needs are, as a solo traveler, rather basic (I want a clean, safe location, preferably with free wifi and breakfast), I love finding places that go beyond those needs to be true highights of a trip. And I did that on this trip -- OMG, really and seriously, I stayed at some awesome (and incredoibly affordable) places!

    I began booking rooms for this May / June trip in early January and then tweaked my plans well into March, with final checks in late April. (If it isn’t already clear, I am obsessive in my trip planning.) I can assure you that some of the places that I booked during my earliest efforts were fully booked WELL in advance of my journey – particularly, the smaller places that seemed to me (and were!) absolute gems by MY criteria (which could easily differ from yours).

    But there were, of course, many other options – for the locations that I visited. And I want to emphasize that I didn’t visit some of the places that are most clearly on the usual tourist trail, so I can’t speak to any of them.

    I suspect that the availability of last-minute bookings is similar to what you would encounter in many popular locations – options probably exist, but with varying levels of desirability, and IME, how to balance freedom and security is a decidedly personal juggling act.

    I’m not sure that helped….


    @ sundriedtopepo: I almost made an explicit comparison to Sicily in my earlier response! I visited Sicily in May, too, and much as I loved the Valley of the Temples, it was dry and – yes – dusty! And some of the Greek ruins I visited in Turkey, in May, were dry and dusty. Timing matters!

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    Refers to our previous conversation regarding planned Swiss rail trips. I have been trying to develop a clever response. I can think clearer as it is 2 in the morning here and I cannot sleep.

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    @ Huggy: Got it, and please know that I laughed (quite genuinely) when I read your first response, because I easily recognized the context and the fond sentiment behind it!

    As Huggy suggests, we’ve enjoyed some give-and-take on a different thread about the meaning of the word “best” in the context of travel, so …

    Yes, I did my “best” to plan a trip what would “best” meet my interests, without worrying about whether any of it was seriously THE “best.” And, for me, it was the “best” trip I could have planned!

    So, Huggy, neither “bests” nor cleverness are required here or in Switzerland or anywhere else. In contrast, sleep can be a good thing anywhere! Hugs, Huggy. BEST hugs.

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    Despite all the things I treasured on this trip, there were some things that were less than perfect, so now, in no particular order, here are the things that I liked LEAST about my time in Greece.

    - Bowls of shelled nuts that hid pistachios that were still in their shells. Argh!

    - Toilets in women’s bathrooms that had no seats, only a rim.

    - The horrendous treatment I received at the Spiradakos car rental agency, which I reported on a different thread. See my post of June 25, 2017 @ 11:53 p.m. on
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/car-rental-in-santorini-port.cfm#last-comment

    - Cucumbers with seeds, but no peel – the reverse of the way I like them.

    - The fact that rental cars are clearly marked as such. I’m sure it was absolutely safe, but when I leave my luggage in a rental car while en route from place to place, I prefer to be a bit less of an identifiable target.

    - Museum shops that close long before the museums themselves close.

    - The norms for room supplies that appear to govern most lodgings in Greece – stopperless sinks, few hangers, no tissues….

    - The reduction in the speed limit around interections, maddeningly spaced in some areas so that one JUST barely reaches the otherwise prevailing speed limit before having to slow again – if, at least, one bothers to obey the law, which, it seems, most Greeks do not do.

    - Being pelted by hail.

    - Rude, drunk Americans staggering into the roads of Santorini, even in the middle of the afternoon.

    - Twisting mountain streets that are two-way, but so narrow that even a small car brushed surrounding shrubbery on BOTH sides of the road. (Yes, I did experience that, but OK, it was only once when well off the mains roads of the Lousios Gorge.)

    - Having to decide among so MANY enticing and delicious olives whenever given a choice.

    - Getting hopelessly lost … well, strike that – getting lost can (and did) lead to some wonderful unplanned moments.…

    - Listening to the same six CDs whenever I drove, day after day after day – oh, oops, I guess that one was on me, huh?

    • And, uh, well, uh … OK, that’s it.

    So, while my trip was not perfect, the imperfections were few and far between, and really, they were minor peeves, with -- at most -- just one real problem. These little niggling problems were nothing in comparison to the things I enoyed so very much on this trip!

    It was, truly, a glorious trip – so many memorably delightful elements, and so few difficulties! I feel truly and extraordinarly fortunate to have had the chance to visit some of Greece’s treasures. :-)


    Next up: A more detailed description of my trip, starting with Chania and other parts of western Crete.

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    Well, aside from the rental car and the drunken Americans that doesn't sound TOO bad.

    "no seats, only a rim"

    Isn't the rim the seat? At least it wasn't a hole in the ground - although sometimes that's preferable, provided your knees still work.

    "stopperless sinks"

    I travel with a universal sink stopper, but I agree it can get tedious.

    You are much braver than I am - I did NOT drive in Greece.

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    KJa -- we look forward to it ... Can I suggest you start a new thread with "my trip details" or some such head... and in the intro paragraph you can reference this thread for those who want to read your acknowledgements, favorite things, and minor pet peeves. would make it easier for your fan base to get to the exciting details!

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    P.S. I had just about settled on our trip next year (1st week of June through 1st week of July). A couple weeks in "our spot" - Montepulciano, and then a couple weeks in Sicily. But now... Greece is calling... although I will need to look into temperatures as we've only been in April, May and June and this trip would be the final week of June and 1st week of July. Not that Sicily is going to be cool then either, I suppose, LOL

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    @ thursdaysd: Exactly, not bad at all! A toilet with rim, but no separate seat, is, IMO, better than an eastern toilet and I, too, travel with a universal sink stopper, but golly gosh, I get to say what I didn’t like, don’t I? Even if those things are TRULY trivial (as they were)?!? Jeesh! ;-) FWIW, driving in Greece didn’t take bravery – it just took selfish greed -- I wanted to see more than I could have seen with public transportation.

    @ travelerjan: Thanks for your advice, but the information I’ve provided so far are the things that I most want to convey. Moreover, these things provide a context that I consider to be critical for the details I choose to share in subsequent posts. So no, I’m not going to start a new thread. Trip reports are searchable, and I think I’ve been pretty clear that details are coming. I could easily be wrong, but it is my choice, and at least some Fodorites who know me will probably recognize and anticipate that I would approach my report this way. Although i am rejecting your advice, I hope you continue to follow along and find some interest in what I have to say.

    @ TexasAggie: As you might understand, I, too, am glad that I had a wonderful trip! You’ve got a tough choice ahead – Sicily is spectacular, and its Greek ruins are stunning. And Sicilian wines – ooh, you’re going to have some fun testing them whenever you end up going! At least you can be sure that neither choice will be bad – just HOT.

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    Kja, the thing that appealed to me most when you were planning your trip was the well thought out itinerary, taking in parts of Greece that most tourists don't venture to go. I must confess that my sightseeing days are over, and now my trips to Greece are just to relax among friends. I will enjoy, vicariously, travelling with you through your trip report. You are off to a good start, so keep it coming!

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    @ Heimdall: Thanks for complimenting my itinerary! Much of it was firmly on the well-beaten tourist trail, but I did get to a few other places, and of course, I reaped many rewards by doing so. I’m glad that you are following along vicariously, and hope you don't get as tired at points as I did!

    @ thursdaysd: It was a really good trip – and that point deserves to be underlined!

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    Turning to a more detailed description of my experiences....

    Chania and some other parts of western Crete

    Day 0: Depart from the U.S.
    • My transatlantic flight was uneventful. Thankfully, I was able to sleep through most of it.

    Day 1:

    I had a brief layover in Vienna -- time for coffee (it wasn’t Vienna’s finest, but it wasn’t bad!) before my next flight.

    I landed in Chania (or Hania, or Xania … and from now on, for any place I visited, I’m just picking one spelling and I’m sticking to it! – at least more or less… ;-) ) and soon hailed a taxi.
    • I admired the views – OMG, there are snow-capped mountains (the White Mountains) out there! And such sparkling seas! And oooh so many other wonderful images!
    • My friendly taxi driver left me off at the edge of the pedestrian-only zone in Chania. I was very close to my lodging, and my driver had given me very clear directions to the
    Porto Antico, and my stunning view over the harbor and out to the lighthouse. I loved this little place! :-) I’m KJA3 on TripAdvisor, so you can find my review of it there, along with my reviews of the other places I stayed and most of the places where I dined.

    I took a quick walk through the area just to get oriented (I almost always do that, and generally won’t mention it) and wondered,
    • What is that strange looking tree, with what seems a perfectly straight trunk and symmetrical, upward facing, and incredibly straight branches, branches that look like they are upside down? I saw this tree in several places in Crete and in the Cyclades, and was given a different name for it each time I asked. Although they didn’t agree on the name, several people noted that it is one of the few trees that can survive the winds the sometimes batter the area. From what I can tell, it’s a type of Araucaria; I could be wrong, but I know it caught my eye.
    • After freshening up, I took a long, leisurely walk through a bit of the Old Town,
    • stopping briefly in Chania’s cathedral and the square in front of it, where various people had gathered for conversation, and
    • then walking along the eastern edge of the harbor, enjoying the sounds and sights of seabirds and moored boats, and the quickening breezes that began cooling the area, and bits of conversation or laughter from people enjoying the many harbor-side cafes or climbing around the seawall, and the calls of men selling sponges and shells.

    I eventually claimed an outdoor table at Glossistas, where
    • I had a wonderful meal to celebrate my first night in Greece – tzatziki with pita and a green salad and grilled octopus (oooh, the octopus!) and some white wine.
    • I watched the sun set over the harbor, behind the masts of fishing boats, and
    • as I was raising my last sip of wine in a toast to celebrate my good fortune in sitting at this particular place, with this particular view, on my first night in Greece,
    • My server brought a complimentary plate of two apples and an orange, a small slice of a very moist orange-flavored spongecake-like treat, and a little flask of raki.
    • Oh, I am one very lucky person! :-)

    As the waterfront tabernas of Chania came to life,
    - I walked back to the heart of the harbor, and then roamed a bit of the Old Town. (Translation: I thought I knew where I was. Wrong! But wonderful nonetheless. ;-) )
    - I soon found my way back to my B&B, where I sipped a bit of its complimentary honey-and-herb raki (nice!) while looking out over the harbor and lighthouse.

    It was a perfect opportunity to program my TomTom for the places I planned to visit the next day, so
    • I pulled it out and plugged it in and OMG, oh no oh no ooooh NOooo! – my TomTom had NO maps of Greece. Not Crete, not the mainland, not one single road! Argh! :-(
    • In my very busy last few days before departing for this trip, I had been very careful to update my TomTom maps, but I had completely forgotten that the set I purchased did not include Greece. Oops!
    • I confirmed that I could buy maps of Greece over the internet once I had access to a USB port, which I did not have. Sigh. Nothing more I could do that night!
    • I turned my attention to much needed sleep.


    Day 2: Chania +

    I started my day with a truly delicious omelet at Aroma, a harbor-side restaurant and then
    • Visited the small, but IMO excellent, Archeology Museum of Chania. I also enjoyed it’s setting – an old church, complete with a lovely little courtyard.
    • From there, I walked around the harbor to the Byzantine Museum, also housed in an old church. This is a very small museum – just a room or two –with some pieces that I thought well worth seeing.
    • Just outside: A field of blooming wildflowers -- glorious!

    With the help of several kind people, I found my way to the corner where a pre-arranged taxi was to meet me to take me to the Hertz office in Chania.
    • Having pre-arranged, and pre-paid, for my rental (thanks, gemut.com!), it didn’t take long to complete the arrangements, but
    • Because I refused CDW (which is covered by my CC), a ridiculously high hold was placed on my account.
    • To my pleasant surprise, they had a spare GPS unit, and the gentleman declined to charge me for it. How nice!
    • I took possession of the car and, as I watched the man from the office leave for the day, connected the GPS system.
    • OMG, it’s in German! For the life of me, I could NOT figure out how to change the language. :-( Finally giving up on that effort,
    • I managed – I hoped! (and in fact successfully -- but of course, it was some time before I knew for sure) -- to program it to get me the top of the Imbros Gorge, my goal for the afternoon.

    A few notes about driving in Greece:

    • There must be some law that means drastically reduced speed limits in the ½ km or so before or after an intersection with an intercity route, and roadside signage did not always indicate these changes in speed limits. This GPS system did – it had been set to ring a VERY loud bell any time my speed exceeded the limit by about 5 km. How I hated that! But it worked – I learned!

    • Another note: Many drivers ignore those reduced speed limits. Many drivers seem to ignore ALL speed limits!!! Slower drivers drive almost entirely on the road’s shoulder. Where I grew up, I was taught that shoulders were ONLY for emergencies because they don’t have sufficent structural support for sustained traffic, so I was initially quite disconcerted by these drivers, and I responded by giving them a VERY wide berth. It wasn’t long before I mastered the art of shoulder driving. ;-) (I wonder how Greek drivers manage the highways on which I learned to drive?)

    • Many drivers passed in no-passing zones, even if they were not able to do so in their lane. Argh! Median lines, no passing zones, speed limits … all apparently viewed as suggestions, no more.



    As promised, I found parking at the top of the Imbros Gorge and began my 8 km hike.
    • I had been a bit worried about this hike because of the aforementioned thigh injury; I did NOT want to jeopardize my ability to see other things on this month-long trip to Greece! But I hadn’t had particular difficulties with downward movement, and my understanding was that most of this hike would be downhill. In the end I thought I would regret not trying the hike more than I would regret any limitations I might face if I did suffer, and so, with a commitment to take it very slowly, and with just a hint of anxiety, I began my hike.
    • And oooohh, I am so glad I did! To my delight, the hike was quite manageable. It was almost all downhill, and almost always gently so.
    • I took my time, and not just to take it easy, but also because there was so much to see! There were different plants and flowers at each altitude, and different rock formations, and at least three different types of goats high on the cliffs, and an incredibly emerald-green lizard skittering under a rock…
    • Apparently, most people hike this gorge in about 2 hours. I enjoyed every bit of the 4 hours I spent from top to bottom, and OMG, I was glad, as I approached the lowest point, to see a small café!
    • There was a man at the café who would be happy to take me back to my car for a fee – just as I had been led to expect. He drove up a very, very steep, twisting gravel road (I’m so glad I didn’t have to climb that hill to get to a place from which I could get a ride!) and
    • OMG my, the sudden views of the Libyan Sea were stunning!

    And then began a seriously white-knuckled ride. :-(
    • This young man apparently had absolute confidence in his driving ability (the perception of invincibility at that age is, IME, widespread) and so he took this seemingly endless stretch of switchbacks at a FAR greater speed then seemed reasonable to me.
    • I kept reminding myself that he probably knew when a car was coming the other way, because he probably knew what to look for on the hill above.
    • I managed to cling to that belief for at least 4 or 5 switchbacks – right until he swung around a bend and
    • nearly crashed into the pair of vehicles that had, apparently, just collided with one another!!! OMG!!! Brakes squealing, he brought his truck to a stop within a yard of the wrecked vehicles.
    • He had to back up and drive VERY carefully and VERY slowly to pass the scene of the accident and navigate around injured people and shards of glass and metal debris.
    • While breathing a sigh of relief, I silently added a bit of thanks that maybe, just maybe, this near miss would make my driver a tad more cautious.
    • Not so! Quite in contrast, he seemed to want to make up for those lost moments! Omigod, OMIGOD, OMG!!!
    • If he heard me ask him to slow down (I knew enough Greek to say “Please, much too rapid") or if he saw my obvious discomfort, he showed no sign of it -- or maybe they just intensified his desire to prove his mastery.
    • I cannot tell you how extraordinarily grateful I was when he finally pulled in to the parking lot where I had left my car. I was shaking so hard when I stepped out of his vehicle that I could barely walk!

    The taberna there was still open, so I had some juice and some bread and many deep, calming breaths….
    • About an hour later, I felt sufficiently recovered to actually drive.
    • And at that point I realized that I had left my prescription sunglasses at the café at the base of the gorge. Growl. :-( Ah well, it could have been worse.

    On the way back to Chania, I appreciated the many glorious wildflowers and the views of Crete’s incredibly inhospitable mountains. The word “punished” came to mind – so stark, so broken, such a testament to millenia of earthquakes and weather.

    Once in Chania, I found street-side parking,
    • declined the kindly insistent offers of a free apple from a street-side vendor (how nice of him!), and
    • rounded the corner to the harbor and a GLORIOUS view of the White Mountains hovering above Chania. :-)
    • Too, I arrived just in time for an unexpected lowering-of-the-flag ceremony at the fortress, with a few uniformed men playing various instruments from a military band and a small group of men executing the the ritual. Perhaps not perfect, but an appreciated experience!

    After a welcome shower and a glass of wine while savoring the views of the changing light of sunset (if not the actual sunset) from my room, I walked to
    Tamam for an excellent dinner.
    • I took another short stroll (without getting lost!) before turning in for the night.



    Day 3: Chania +

    I began my day with another awesome omelet at Aroma – seriously recommended! -- and then returned to the Porto Antico,
    • Where my host, Sophia, allowed me to use her computer for more than an hour as I attempted to purchase maps of Greece for my TomTom, but without success. From what I could tell, one or more security screens established to protect me from illegitimate purchases while out of the country were preventing the transaction.
    • I decided to explore my other options (e.g., for buying a new GPS system), and so learned the location of a few electronics shops.
    • I figured out how to change the voice on the Hertz GPS from German to English (thank goodness!), set a less jarring signal for exceeding the speed limit, and programmed it for this day’s plans.

    Checking out and leaving my luggage at the Porto Antico’s desk, I stepped out the door
    • Into hoards of Russian tourists from a cruise ship, filling every inch of the back streets of otherwise charming Chania. Poor Chania!
    • Over the next few hours, I came to the conclusion that the number of cruise-ship tourists who were there that day came very, very close to Chania’s capacity for them, and maybe even exceeded it. Every table of every café in Old Town was taken; every shop was jammed; every street was packed.
    • Such a difference from the rest of my time in this delightful little city! I am SOOoooo glad I didn’t encounter this cruise earlier!

    Fortunately, few of these day-trippers seemed interested in the Cretan House Folklore Museum, with its pleasant courtyard and exquisite examples of Cretan embroidery,
    • But I had to wait in lines behind crowds to learn that neither of two electronics shop could meet my GPS needs.
    • After a brief stop at a post office to mail a few postcards (yes, I still do that once in a while!), I walked to
    • Chania’s enclosed Central Market, with its mix of bakeries and butchers (with sheeps’ heads and skinned rabbits, among other meats) and leather shops and souvenier shops and olives and ceramics and more olives and hot food stands and gelato….
    • I enjoyed a glass of fresh juice under some enormous old trees at an outdoor café before
    • Roaming a bit more of Chania’s Old Town – the area around St. Nikolas and various excavations and some lovely gardens – and then through the harbor area again to the
    Nautical Museum, which I found quite interesting.

    With a last few glimpses of the snow-capped White Mountains in the distance above Chania’s delightful harbor and Old Town, I returned to the area by the Porto Antico,
    • Savored another glass of juice at a local taberna, and then
    • Claimed my luggage and walked to my rental car. Time to move on!

    Next up: Rethymno

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    Great story about the white knuckle drive. I've driven in lots of places but I refuse to drive in Greece. Of course refusing to drive often means someone else is driving. A terrified driver or a terrifying driver. Pick my poison.

    Waiting to hear more about Pension Dafni. I passed on your comments to my identical twin c....p...e.

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    @ xcountry: Oh, you are so right about the choice of poisons! Honestly, I found the roads in Greece generally quite manageable – with patience and defensiveness. Sometimes a LOT of defensiveness. The Pension Dafni has a LOT to recommend it – and I’m VERY pleased to understand that you passed the news on to your cousin. Thanks so much for letting me know! :-)

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    You did this in May, as I remember ... and at that time the walls of Imbros Gorge are totally covered with THYME bushes ... I remember thinking as I hopped along (over those rocks, the size of soccer balls), why do I keep thinking of Roast Lamb -- then I realized I was in effect in an oven, roasting w. thyme ... Got quite hungry matter of fact.

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    @ xcountry: Cousin? Where did that come from? Of course, I meant TWIN…. Sorry.

    @ yestravel: Messages crossing in hyperspace! Yes, I was saddened to see the cruise ship in Chania. I had a brief conversation about it with my proprietor. She talked about the dilemmas they pose -- cruise ships can benefit some local businesses, but at what cost, and with what ultimate outcome? It was interesting to hear her comments on the matter, and her summary of the considerations of her fellow Old Town businessmen.

    @ tripplanner: For my needs, the Imbros Gorge made for a perfect hike. Many people make a point of hiking the Samaria Gorge, and I wish I had felt up to it, but I thought it would be too challenging with my injury. When you go to Greece, I would encourage you to look into it to see if it would meet your needs. If you like octopus, Greece should provide some glorious moments for you, too! I savored it several times during this trip, and think I’d give the nod to Glossistas, but OMG, I’d welcome the opportunity to do a further taste test or two! I can assure you that NONE of my plates of grilled octopus were bad options. :-)

    @ travelerjan: Hiking the Imbros Gorge with a pervasive scent of thyme must have been wonderful – except, of course, for the ensuing hunger! Even though I hiked it in May, I’m pretty sure I missed the thyme, and maybe that’s a good thing, as I hate feeling hungry! Nonetheless, I saw some other wonderful blooms. And BTW, thanks for hanging in with me, despite our different views of trip report structures.

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    I had similar conversations about cruise ships in Santorini. It's great for businesses, but overwhelms the town. That plus the damage it does to the seas and harbors makes it not so desirable to many residents. Oh well, it's an issue debated in many places.

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    kja you have been one of the most entertaining poster here in years. I have followed your research postings from the beginning and responded a couple of times.

    I just wanted to thank you for all those questions and now this entertaining report. I suspect you have caught the Greece bug and will soon be planning another trip to Greece.

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    @ yestravel: The impact of tourism on Santorini is truly appalling, isnt’ it? At least Chania, for now, gets cruise ships on only SOME days…. One of my friends recently decided that cruises are her preferred means of seeing the world, and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to deal with that. She is thrilled to do the things that I think are destroying some of my favorite places. Of course, she isn’t personally responsible, and there are differences between cruise lines…. Still, I haven’t yet found a way to address the gap in our perspecitves, and at this point, we haven’t discussed it, which is, of course, driving a wedge into our interactions. Sigh!

    @ stanbr: What delightful compliments – thank you so much! You did, indeed, respond to my planning threads several times – always with incredibly helpful information, and I remain in your debt, as I benefitted enormously from your wisdon! I’m glad to learn that you are finding my report entertaining – at least so far. I hope it won’t prove necessary, but I note that you are free to change your opinion as we proceed. ;-)

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    Loving your report, especially this section about your time in my beloved Chania. I feel that you really got into the heart of Chania. So glad you enjoyed Imbros, it's my favourite gorge, as well as being just as you described, there is a huge benefit over Samaria - you are usually not walking along a crocodile of hundreds of other people, so you can stop to smell the flowers without causing a pile-up. That crazy drive back up - yep, that's what they do & at least you were inside the truck, imagine the 'fun' (& terror) sitting in the open back.
    The driving on the hard shoulder thing... yeah, that's what we do here, tourists really need to learn this, so that others who are speeding can pass in a marginally safer way! You did your research well, chose good restaurants.

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    @ jwugg: Thanks so much! I can understand why you consider Chania beloved – what a thoroughly charming place! It’s nice to know that someone who knows and loves it thinks I chose my restaurants well, and more to the point, that you think I got to the heart of delightful Chania. Awesome! I certainly enjoyed it! :-)

    And thank you, too, for your description of the ways in which the Imbros and Samaria Gorges differ. Much as I loved my walk of the Imbros Gorge, I wondered whether I was skipping something special by skipping the Samaria Gorge. You have made me feel so much better about my choice! But are you saying that you were in the back of an open truck when you rode from the base of the Imbros Gorge back to its top?!? OMG!!!

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    Glad that Imbros worked out for you. As I think I told you, I hiked Samaria eleven years ago, the year before I turned 60, and even then my knees were screaming at me by the time I got to the flat. However, I did it at the end of April, when I didn't have to worry about getting cooked by the sun, and when "only" 300 people were hiking the same day. Since I was slower than everyone else, it really didn't seem crowded. I don't remember the drive back being especially scary, but I was on a nice big coach.

    Very sorry to hear about the cruise ship in Chania. Dubrovnik has been consumed by cruise ship crowds, and of course it's a problem in Venice too. Both of them talk about limiting numbers, but they can't seem to actually do anything about it. I have been reluctantly considering cruising, but it's because of health issues, and if I have a choice of staying home or getting on a 4,000 person cruise ship I'm staying home!

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    I know what you mean about difference with people who "cruise." I think I am ok with the much smaller ships, but not the apt sized one. They are dreadful and I couldn't imagine going on one with 1,000's of people. Anyway, moving along with your delightful report. Curious to read what you think of Knossos.

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    Thursdaysd, sorry to hear about your health issues. I too have been cutting back on travel for health reasons, but my solution would be to pick a place I love, get there by the most efficient means possible, then stay there and relax.

    Some of the stories I've heard about cruise ship excursions put me off completely. I'm thinking in particular about up to 2 hrs wait for the cable car down to the ship tenders on Santorini.

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    @ thursdaysd: Know that I’m rooting for you to find a way to travel that works within your whatever limitations you face, now or later. I take my hat off to you for making it through the Samaria Gorge at age 59!

    @ yestravel: Those monster ships are a blight, aren’t they? Knossos coming up in a few days, if all goes as planned…. I hope that you will then share your reactions.

    @ Heimdall: I hope you are finidng some absolutely wonderful places to relax! BTW, I don’t know if they were cruise-ship occupants or not, but I walked by the line waiting for that cable car while on Santorini, and wouldn’t be surprised if some people waited even longer than 2 hours -- that was one LONG line!

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    kja,
    Can you recommend where I can get a good map of Chania? Either a good old fashion hand map or an offline app for my phone. Unfortunately we only have one full day there. We are staying in Rethmymnon and taking the bus there and back. Thanks

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    @ someotherguy: Thanks for posting that link! And thanks for following along. :-)

    @ lancer: If you want paper, I’d opt for a Michelin map.
    https://www.amazon.com/Michelin-Map-Crete-Maps-Country/dp/2067173200/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501725645&sr=8-1&keywords=michelin+map+crete
    Believe it or not, I still don’t have a smart phone, so I have NO clues about map apps! Of course, with only one day, you don’t have much time to explore….

    . . . .

    Rethymno

    (day 3, cont.)

    With the help of my now English-speaking GPS, I enjoyed the views of mountains and coast as I made my way to Rethymno,
    • where my GPS believed that I should drive through the main gate to the fortress, or, in lieu of that, to drive down a set of stairs. Argh! Now, it might seem obvious to YOU that neither of these were reasonable options, but at least the gate seemed like an option at first (until I was partially through it), and I could only tell that the stairs were stairs after I got out of the car to consider my options.
    • To repeat: Argh!
    • It took a while, but I maneuvered the car out of the area and into the Old Town, where
    • I checked into the Fortezza Hotel, which was well located, but otherwise a bit disappointing.

    I freshened up, walked around the area by my hotel a bit, and then headed for the lighthouse, where I enjoyed some lovely views.
    • I then made my way around the Venetian Harbor, with its tightly packed tables and hawkers vying for business. Unlike in Chania, where the harbor's edge was outside the table area, in Rethymno, the tables line the water; the walkway is between the tables and the indoor parts of the restaurants. I preferred the arrangement in Chania.
    • I took a bit of a walk along Rethymno Beach, admiring the waterfront and sea and the distant mountains, including one that was still beautifully capped with snow, and then
    • headed into the town itself.

    Making my way through rIngs of shop-filled streets with wares ranging from vey high end merchandise to the tackiest of souvenirs,
    • I finally found my way to the Cathedral, and although it was closed, I appreciated its white walls and arches and separate bell tower.
    • It wasn't far to the Church of the Four Martyrs, which I could enter. As I was to learn, it was not atypical of the relatively modern churches I later saw elsewhere in Greece -- many icons, some quite precious; tall windows of circles of colored glass (no stained glass of the type I think of elsewhere in Europe – these were generally in pastel shades, and formed no particular pattern that was immediately obvious); large, wide candelabra hung above the space before the altar, often with notable ornamentation; and use of a flower-bedecked (or dried flower-bedecked) cart-like structure to place lighted offering candles.
    • A short walk through a park-like medial strip brought me to the Municipal Garden, where I had just enough time for a short stroll. Not much was in bloom, but the shady space was pleasant, and it was clearly a place that a number of older residents found worth visiting.

    I hoped to see the sunset from Rethymno, and a woman at my hotel’s desk told me that the BEST place to watch it would be from the fortress. (Yes, huggy, if you’re reading this post, we really were talking about BEST best.) I was a bit surprised, as I had thought that the fortress closed at sunset, but she seemed sure about it, and who am I to question locals? It was a bit later than I had hoped when I left the garden, so
    • I moved very quickly through a few quiet back streets and then a few streets with an increasing presence of tourism (cafes and shops and B&Bs), stopping only very briefly in the small icon-filled Mikri Panagia (Our Lady of Angels).
    • With the pre-sunset moments quickly slipping away, I huffed and puffed my way uphill to the Venetian fortress, climbing the stairs that the GPS wanted me to drive down and walking to the main gate and,
    • patting myself on the shoulder for getting to the top with time to spare and just yards to go,
    • a woman shut the gate. Growl!
    • I confirmed that there were no walking paths outside the far walls, and although there weren’t, I was at least rewarded by some stunning views down to the coast.
    • As much as I would have enjoyed a rest at one of the stair-side cafes, I moved as quickly as my tired legs would permit to reach the stretch of coast west of the city.
    • I had missed the actual sunset, but OMG, I saw some wonderful streaks of color as the day's last rays captured various clouds, with reflections glinting off the shifting sea. Nice!

    As I slowly walked back to my hotel, I thought how much I was going to enjoy a quick dip in it's pool, a rare opportunity for me, as I don't usually book lodging that has a pool.
    • I changed quickly, found my way, stepped in, and ...
    • OMG! that water was COLD!
    • My time in that pool was short. Very, very short.

    Once I warmed up, I went to Avli for dinner. On the upscale side, the food, service, and setting were all wonderfully memorable – such a perfect place to end this day, and (again) think about how fortunate I am!


    Day 4 – Rehtymno, continued

    I enjoyed a nice breakfast buffet at the Fortezza before heading out for the day, which I began by exploring more of Rethymno's Old Town.
    • I was charmed by the Remini Fountain and
    • Glad to see the outside of "the" mosque and it's minaret, and another mosque that seemed to be under renovation, and seemed even more interesting to me, as it had a bit of lawn and some burial markers.
    • I was less enamored of the extent to which this part of Rethymno has been given over to tourism and shops. JMO. At least I found cheap sunglasses to replace those I had lost.
    • I also confirmed that I couldn't buy TomTom maps or a GPS that day. Sigh.

    I thought the Historical and Folk Art Museum well with seeing, particularly for its extensive collection of exquisite textiles. Awesome!

    I then turned to the Venetian Fortress:
    • I climbed that long set of stairs once again, but this time, I treated myself to a beer near the top.
    • Before entering the fortress, I learned that Rethymno's archeology museum had moved into town. Growl! I had been so very close earlier that day!
    • The fortress itself was much more interesting than I had expected. Although largely in ruins, they were evocative ruins, and
    • The views were stunning, whether to the White Mountains or the sea or the coast!
    • And soooo many wildflowers in glorious bloom. Wow!

    I slowly walked back into town and then to my car, where, to my surprise,
    • my key did not work! What?!?
    • I tried, tried again, took a deep breath and tried again – no luck!
    • With another deep calming breath (best taken SLOWLY, by the way), I started to go to my hotel to ask for assistance in dealing with the situation.
    • Steps later, I saw another car that looked like mine – huh? Same model, same Hertz logo, same everything, except that one license plate ended with 3 and one with 8. What an odd coincidence!
    • Relieved, I unlocked my car and headed onwards.

    Next up: From Rethymno to Heraklion

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    I am so sad to near that Chania is now now a part of cruise ship itineries. We love being by the water and sad to see them so over run. Cruise ships and ugly Americans are my main memory of Santorini. Couldn't wait to leave.

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    @ HappyTrvlr: I agree! At least cruise ships didn’t seem to be visiting Chania EVERY day.


    Heads-up: Looks like I might need to take a day or two before posting my next installment. As we all know, there’s a reason they call work “work.”

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    Lets not get too carried away about cruise ships going to Chania. We are not talking about Santorini type activity where several ships arrive on the same day and 30 tour buses arrive in Oia at the same time.

    We have been in Chania when a single cruise ship has been anchored outside the breakwater. Passengers were tendered ashore about 100 people at a time. Chania easily absorbed these people and there was no noticeable influx of people. One evening a special event ( a concert) took place and the cruise ship passengers came in bunches and sat in chairs at the concert along with all the rest of us tourists.

    At this point the cruise ships are not a daily occurrence and a single cruise ship does not present a problem for Chania to absorb the influx of people. One ship is good for the local economy.

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    Bookmarked to read later (I've been back after a month of traveling too).

    I'm so glad you had a great trip, kja. From what you like most about Greece, I agree about everything, especially the generosity and graciousness of Greek people, and, of course, the scenic view. From what you like least, well cucumber with seed and no peel is the real cucumber :D
    Always a pleasure to read your trip report.

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    We were on Crete and spent our time in Chania in early-mid October and found it a wonderful time to be there. Less tourists, lower prices and still nice weather.

    However, there was still a "buzz" going on in Chania. Lots of locals from the "new" town go to the Old Town for dining, shopping and just hanging out in a wonderful Old-World atmosphere, so there'll never be a time when it's deserted or boring.

    We didn't see any cruise ships in October so can't comment on how invasive the tour ships are but in October it was simply "lively" without being over-run by pushy and demanding tourists.

    We lucked out and experienced a Raki-Making Festival with exhibits on how to make Raki, free Raki, roasted potatoes, peanuts and cheese and all you can eat/drink at no cost! There was a local band than was outstanding, local dances in traditional customs and just a wonderful, wild and "Greek" experience!

    Off-season in Greece is perfect to experience what the country is all about, less-touristy and more local atmosphere, wonderful natives who want to share their culture, history and "lust-for-life" philosophy and what it is to be Greek!

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    @ HappyTrvlr &
    @ Heimdall: LOL, I missed that completely and just snorted my wine when I read it (and read it again)!

    @ stanbr: You raise an important point, and I thank you for ensuring that we keep perspective about cruise ships in Chania. You are confirming what I already said – that cruise ships don’t currently visit on a daily basis. Thank goodness! But my experience was, apparently, unlike yours – I really believe that the number of visitors that day in early May came very close to the maximum the Old Town’s tourism infrastructure could absorb. Virtually every table was taken with loud revellers. Shops were so jammed that I saw numerous people knock merchandise over while attempting to enter or exit. And streets were so packed that I couldn’t walk without being bumped, shoved, and jostled. I am very happy to say that at other times, I thought Chania utterly charming. I found it frankly unpleasant while the cruise-ship visitors were in port. JMO. I seriously hope that your experience is more typical than mine was.

    @ FuryFluffy: Welcome back from your trip! Yes, the people and the scenery of Greece are truly among it’s most wonderful of many wonderful features, aren’t they? But you are simply wrong about cucumbers – wrong! ;-) I’m glad you are enjoying my report. :-)

    @ crazyh: Your experience of the Raki-Making Festival in Chania sounds delightful – what a treat! And except for the time that the cruise ship was in port, I found Chania much as you describe it, with a delightfully pleasant ambience and a wonderful combination of affordable restaurants, beautiful views, intriguing back streets, and low-key shops. I am very grateful to have had that experience.

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    From Rethymno to Heraklion

    (day 4, cont.)

    My first stop after leaving Rethymno was Moni Arkadi, which I found very moving. If you don’t know the tragically poignant story, you can read about it here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkadi_Monastery
    • It's many rose bushes were in glorious bloom, and every corner seemed wonderfully scented! :-)
    • I thought the small museum interesting. For example, I had always naively believed that liturgical vestments had been stitched by women – not! Apparently the monks here were known for their work with gilt thread, and some tasks were reserved for abbots.
    • I had not expected the ossuary just outside the monastery, but thought
    • the views down the valley stunning!

    I wanted to see an ages-old church in Thronos, and had read that to do so, I would need to go to the Taverna Aravanes to get the key.
    • Unfortunately, the people there did not have the key, but
    • OMG, what a treat! ;-) I sat on a very pleasant terrace offering absolutely spectacular views over the Amari Valley and still-snowcapped Mt. Ida,
    • savoring just-squeezed orange juice, served with dried figs, raisins, and some kind of delicious local treat made of grain. Honestly, another of those why-am-I-so-lucky moments!
    • And then, my hostess invited me to sample some of their freshly baked country bread and to help them load the exterior oven with another batch of newly-risen loaves. What an unexpected pleasure!

    The key to the Church of the Assumption was held by a woman at a cafe next to the church, so I eventually tore myself away to go there.
    • The very kind old woman didn't speak English, but that didn't prevent communication of appreciation for the craftsmanship of the 16th century frescoes (such expressive eyes!) and floor mosaics inside the church, or the 6th century mosaics outside this tiny gem.
    • To compensate this sweet old woman as gracefully as I could, I bought quite a few overpriced photos.
    • My brief time at this particular church was one of the moments of this trip when I truly wished I could have spoken Greek. I understood enough to know that the woman asked whether I was married or had children, and (I think!) to tell her no, and that I was traveling on my own, and that I was having a wonderful time. We managed, but I think I would have enjoyed an opportunity to engage with her more fully than I could.

    I stopped briefly in Spili, where I enjoyed its lion fountain, although I must admit that I don’t think I would have made a point of stopping just for the fountain, had I known what to expect. Honestly, I was not particularly impressed. It took time to find a parking area near the fountain, and then find the fountain, and then to figure out whether the fountain I was seeing really was the one that people come to Spili to see, and then to walk around to make sure I hadn’t missed something, and then to stop at a shop to ask whether this really was THE fountain, and then back to the car….

    And then on to Agia Galini, which I had chosen as a place near Phaistos that I could reach before dark and from which I hoped to be able to watch the sun set.
    • I admit that I found this leg of the drive -- if not the entire day's drive -- taxing. Up, around and around and around and down and around and up and around and down and around and around and…. There were times that it seemed that the entire route was a never-ending series of blind switchbacks, differing primarily is just how steep they were. And some were steep!
    • But OMG, the scenery was beautiful, and it seems that there were wildflowers and blooming shrubs everywhere!

    I was warmly greeted at the Sky Beach hotel, where I had reserved an apartment with balcony.
    • I unwound from the day with a glass of wine on my balcony, enjoying the scenery – I looked out over an inlet, with a mountain across the way and a glimpse of the sea off to my left.
    • I didn't actually see the sun dip into the sea, but I enjoyed some lovely views of the changes in light as the sky shifted from the bright blues of day through yellows and then to the deep blues of night.
    • And the sounds of the surf were so nice!

    After nightfall, I walked a short path near the water's edge into town.
    • It was a pleasant little walk, with refreshing breezes.
    • I chose to eat at the Pantheon Roof Garden. If rather mediocre, it was OK and offered a view of the town’s small square, and I appreciated the waiter's attempts to be helpful.


    Day 5 – Agia Galini, continued

    Awakening to the delightful rote of the surf,
    • I ate a delicious breakfast.
    • Upon leaving my hotel, and retracing some narrow, twisting roads,
    • I turned a corner to look out over a vast plain -- the first plain I had seen in Crete!

    Phaistos was positioned to overlook those fertile plains, and ooh, some of those views were impressive!
    • I thought the site awesome and well signed in English.
    • I particularly appreciated learning a bit about the use of light wells, and decorative elements to the flooring, and lustral basins….
    • And on a much more mundane level, I liked seeing that each table at the cafe had a resident feline, stretched on or under one of the chairs, and each seemed to be in generally good health. :-)

    Next planned stop: Gortyna. Unfortunately, my GPS had other ideas. Round and round and round I went!
    • I spent time maneuvering through several tiny villages that were clearly NOT designed for cars, and
    • Waiting for a herd of goats, and its aggressively protective dogs, to clear my path, and
    • testing various spellings of Gortyna on the GPS.
    • I finally gave up. :-(
    • I entered a new destination -- Heralkion – into my GPS and set off.

    Just a few miles later, OMG! -- a road sign for Gortyna! Finally! Minutes later, I pulled in to its parking lot. My reactions to Gortyna were mixed.
    • There wasn't much to see, or at least not a lot that was open when I got there -- just the odeon and a closed and gated arcade holding some statues,
    • BUT there was a wall behind the odeon's "stage" that had been engraved with the city's laws, and that was something that I found completely awesome!
    • And, as I had known in advance, there are numerous bits and pieces of ancient Gortyna scattered beneath ancient olive trees throughout the area,
    • and remnants of a temple in a field by a taverna.
    • If less well preserved than I anticipated, it was also delightfully scattered. I'm very glad to have seen it!

    Ready to move on to Heraklion, I faced some challenges.
    • To my frustration, I had been unable to program the GPS to the address of the Hertz agency in Heraklion to which I was to return the car.
    • Needing to fill up on gas, I went into the city and pulled into a gas station in an area near where I thought I should be.
    • Although none of the gas station’s staff were able to help, a very kind man who happened to stop for gas while I was there oferred his assistance and figured it out:
    • OMG, the street I needed to reach was recently converted to a pedestrian-only zone! (And a special growl here – that happened to me in Turkey, too. Seriously! I would think that it would be to the advantage of a rental car company to let people know if the return address changes. Argh!)
    • This helpful gentleman at last managed to enter the address into my GPS
    • With many thanks, I pulled back into traffic and

    Into a nightmare. Maneuvering Heraklion's very narrow, twisting, one-way streets would, I think, have been a challenge under the best of circumstances. These were not the best circumstances.
    • After circling around several times, I finally found the correct now-closed-to-traffic street, but I had no idea where the office was among the several now closed blocks.
    • I had seen a public parking lot not too far away, so I managed (eventually) to find my way there, and was glad that the lot was half-empty, so I didn't feel too bad about asking for a space.
    • I tried to explain my situation to the lot attendant, but wasn't sure he understood.
    • In the end, I took lots of photos of the car and set off on foot.

    Finally reaching the Hertz office, a woman on duty excused herself from a couple with whom she had been talking and came with me to the parking lot,
    • where the man apparently tried to get me/us to pay. He did so in Greek, so all I knew was that there was a ... uh ... vigorous discussion.
    • And then she told me to get into the car, and as we left, she said he tried to get us to pay -- 'as he always does.' I guess I’m not the first person to have tried this solution!
    • She parked the car a few blocks from the office, said goodbye, and started to leave.
    • Wait, my luggage!?! Oh, right. I took it from the trunk as she started to trot off again. No paperwork? No (shouted over her shoulder). Uh, don't you need to check the fuel level and look for damage? Done (called from a growing distance). Don't I get some proof that I returned it to you? Oh, uh, here, take this (the original of my rental agreement, waved at me until I caught up and took it from her). Did she want the GPS unit back. Full stop. GPS? Yes. It's not listed on your rental agreement. Right, and as I began to explain, she cut me off, thanked me very nicely, took the GPS, and trotted off to her office.
    • She had apparently been the ONLY person on duty, and had left the office unattended while she helped me. OMG! I honestly can NOT imagine that happening in the U.S. – no wonder she was in such a hurry!

    I soon hailed a taxi….

    Next up: My time in and around Heraklion

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    Quite the experience with your car. I remember leaving our rental at a huge lot near the ferry. It felt strange to just leave a car like that, but we had no trouble afterwards and it was easy. Car rental returns can be so stressful.

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    @ yestravel: You are so right -- car returns can be really stressful! Leaving a car somewhere, with no actual check-in, is something I've had to do at home a few times, and I find it so strange! While grateful for the convenience, I'm never fully comfortable that all will be OK...

    @ thursdaysd: Thanks, but again, I'm not sure I deserve kudos for driving -- as already established, I don't make a very good passenger!

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    My time in and around Heraklion

    Day 5, continued

    A short taxi ride brought me to the well-located Olive Green Hotel, where I received excellent service. After freshening up, I went out for a long walk,
    • through Platia Eliftherias and
    • A public garden where children played and couples chatted, and then
    • Outside the city walls for a few blocks, and then
    • Through the New Gate to the top of the Heraklion’s preserved city walls, now a park, complete with lanes for waking or biking and flowers and shrubs and some small trees.,
    • At the Martinengo Bastion, there is a memorial to the writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, as well as
    • Views over the city and to the sea and off to a ridge of mountains.
    • I got there just as the sun was beginning to set -- wonderful!

    Descending from the walls, I
    • admired the Venetian Bembo Fountain,
    • Walked through a stretch of closing shops, and
    • Proceeded to get well and truly lost.
    • With some help, I found my way to the lively cafes surrounding El Greco Park.
    • From there, it was only a short walk to my hotel.

    A little later, I went to Peskesi for a delightful dinner of traditional foods in a lovely setting. Who knew that rooster could be so tender and tasty!?!

    As I walked back to my hotel, I heard a very talented street musician playing flamenco guitar. Nice way to end the day!


    Day 6

    My first priority of the day was to address my GPS problem.
    • A quick stop at a nearby electronics shop was sufficient to convince me that I didn't want to pay as much as any readily available system would cost, and so
    • I returned to my hotel to try again to purchase maps of Greece for my TomTom.
    • WOW, but that proved to be difficult! I'll spare you the details, but I extend my sincere thanks to the staff and management of the Olive Green, who spent more than two hours with me before we achieved success. Whew!

    And on to Knossos! Wow and wow!
    • No matter what one thinks of the efforts at reconstruction (and honestly, I'm not sure what to think!), Knossos is, IMO, an awesome place.
    • And it is extensive! I spent hours and hours roaming around, appreciating the available signage (which I thought quite informative) and fascinated by the engineering feats and the grandeur achieved by the ancient Minoans.
    • I am very glad that I saw Knossos and Phaistos on consecutive days, when I could rather easily notice both similarities and differences.
    • As I was leaving, I finally saw what I had known were there (because I had been hearing their cries): Peacocks! One was willing to exert his energies on this very hot day to challenge the other peacocks and attract the peahens by raising his tail and strutting. Glorious!

    I welcomed a large beer before catching a bus back to Heraklion, where
    • I went straight to its excellent Archeological Museum. Among other things, seeing the extant fragments of Knossos's incredibly beautiful and detailed wall paintings conveyed the splendor of Minoan culture.
    • As it closed, I went to the Moroni Fountain, and even though a part was covered by scaffolding, I still found it lovely.
    • I visited St. Marco's, now a gallery, briefly (what elegant columns!) and
    • was surprised that the Venetian Loggia enters into a small interior semicircular courtyard.

    After a refreshing shower, I walked to Paralia, a seaside restaurant with
    • perfectly grilled calamari and,
    • after dinner, a taste of ouzo. Nice enough, but I think I'll stick to wine.
    • I strolled the harbor front -- pleasantly quiet at nighttime -- before returning to my hotel.


    Day 7

    After breakfast, I set out to explore more of Heraklion:
    • I admired the icons and elegant stone columns in St. Titus's;
    • Noted the odd juxtapositions of wares for offer in a market area; and then
    • Enjoyed visiting the collection of religious art at St. Ekaterini's.
    • I briefly visited the richly adorned cathedral and a small parish church next to it, and
    • Then walked through a relatively uninteresting (IMO) section of town to
    • Heraklion's waterfront. As in Chania and Rethymno, I was astonished by the clarity of the water and, ooh, those white-capped mountains in the distance make for a nice backdrop!
    • I began my visit to the Historical Museum of Crete with a large, fresh orange juice and view of the waterfront from its cafe, and
    • Was then pleased to discover what I thought a very good and diverse collection housed in part in a magnificent Venetian palace and in part in a well-designed modern addition.
    • Nearby, the recently restored St. Peter's also merited a brief visit, IMO.

    As I strolled along the waterfront, I checked my notes and OMG, the bus I want for Archanes leaves in 12 minutes!
    • I ran as fast as I could (which, truth be told, wasn't all that fast) and reached the bus station and found the ticket counter and watched the minutes tick by as the clerk worked with the person before me and finally bought my ticket, as the woman said I had just ONE minute.
    • And then I could NOT find the right bay!
    • I grabbed a uniformed man's arm, showed him my ticket, and as the bus pulled out, he hailed it, and I got on. Whew, relief! The next bus would have been to late for me, as I had a reservation to visit a winery in Archanes that afternoon..

    When the bus reached Archanes, I got off. But, since Archanes was the last stop of this route, shouldn't other people be getting off, too? Thankfully, what I had read in advance was true -- the town is tiny. I believe the entire town is less than a mile long.
    • I used my very limited Greek to get directions to the town's Archeological Museum, which was small, but worth seeing, and thankfully, it had excellent signage.
    • When I left it, I was given a small map of the town, which proved very helpful.
    • I found a cafe and someone there knew the location of the winery I was to visit a few hours later (the address I had was simply the name of the town).

    I had read that Archanes has a lot to offer -- olive oil tastings, a shop where one can see traditional weaving demonstrations, etc.
    • I hadn't read anything indicating that it would be closed for a very VERY long siesta.
    • No problem -- despite the heat, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the charming village, where everyone seems to have nurtured a bit of garden and where well-tended cats rested in the shade.
    • An hour later having explored nearly every nook and cranny in the town, including a small church that was open,
    • I decided that I should take advantage of the time to find the winery I was to visit.
    • I climbed various hills and thoroughly exhausted myself in failed efforts.
    • Eventually, I went back to the village, where I stopped at a taberna that offers wine tastings. With the help of the proprietor, I learned that although I thought I had a reservation, the winery thought I would confirm the day before (which I hadn't done) and so there was no one at the winery to meet me. Oops!
    • Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed a lovely wine tasting at the taberna where I had stopped, Bakaliko.

    Glad that I wasn't driving, I returned to Heraklion, showered, and dined at Herb's Garden, with lovely views over Heraklion's Venetian fortress. It was, all too soon, time to prepare for a morning flight.

    Next up: Santorini

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    kja, I am thoroughly enjoying your trip report to Greece. Sounds like an amazing trip! You covered so much territory, and I admire you for doing all that driving. When we travel, I do the planning, but my husband does all the driving! I was in Greece in 1972 when people could still walk on the Parthenon. From what I understand, the Parthenon has been roped off for quite some time now to preserve it. We did a day trip to the islands near Athens, but I have not seen the other islands, which I hope to do some day. Which island was your favorite? I apologize if you have mentioned this somewhere in your report.

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    @ KarenWoo: I’m so glad you are enjoying my report! I’m envious of you for having been able to walk within the Parthenon; but mostly, I’m just glad that I got to see it close up, even if from outside the ropes. I didn’t visit that many islands – Crete, Santorini, Naxos, a few hours on Mykonos. Each has some elements that I found delightful, but I’m not particularly fond of fighting my way through masses of other tourists, so I enjoyed Crete and Naxos more than Santorini or Mykonos. I have now finished the section of my report on Crete, and expect to cover my experiences on the other three islands in the next few days. Maybe you’ll find some information that proves of use to you….

    @ joannyc: Thanks for the encouragement! It is appreciated. :-)

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    Wow I am very impressed at your detailed tours of Heraklion. Am ashamed to admit you saw more in your stay there than I have, having lived on the island for 12 years!! Peskesi - I found that last month, what a fabulous restaurant. I don't think many of the places that try to do modernised, more upmarket versions of ancient Cretan recipes are very successful, but Peskesi proved to be an exception.

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    Am truly enjoying your report, as I'm considering a return trip to Greece in the near future. I went to there almost 20 years ago (wow time flies!) and it keeps calling me back. I feel like I 'should' try new destinations but,as corny as it sounds, I had the sense of coming home while in Greece. Hard to explain, you've most likely experienced it at some point in your travels.

    My traveling style is quite different now, much more laid back than my first visit which took me to Athens, the Pelopponese, Crete and Santorini. I agree with your Santorini assessment. I went in late September as I said 20 years ago, and there were still a substantial number of people there. I can only imagine what it's like now. Glad I saw the place, but don't need to return.

    Now I've got my eye on Naxos because it seems to have it all, IMHO, ancient sites, diverse architecture, landscapes, nature, a few good museums. Leisurely exploring/walking are my thing now. Those days of laying on a beach and partying into the wee hours are over! Glad of it really. Also, if possible I like to park it in one place and there's certainly enough on Naxos to keep me busy. The only trip off the island I'd take is, like you, to Delos. I could skip Mykonos, but from what I understand you have to do Delos AND Mykonos because of how the ferries run or something like that. Maybe you can shed some light on this.

    Really looking forward to the next installment of your report. Thanks!

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    Kja I hope you don't mind my stepping in to answer Tralfaz question.
    From Naxos there are two excursion boats that do day trips to Santorini, the little Cyclades Islands and to Delos and Mykonos. The boats are not ferries but rather large excursion boats with total capacity around 200 people.

    On the Delos trip the boats depart Naxos around 8:30 and make a stop in Paros to pick up additional passages then sail on to Delos for a three hour stop. It then continues on to Mykonos for another 3 hour stop. Then it returns to Paros and on to Naxos. Its abut a 10 hour day and costs just over 50 euros last time I took it.

    While I am no fan of all the hype about Mykonos and its high end reputation the main town is lovely and you can easily spend those three hours getting lost in the back alleys.
    Here is what it is like.
    Day trip Delos and Mykonos http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157637922138466/

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    @jwugg: Peskesi is fabulous, isn’t it? :-) Perhaps like you, I’m always surprised by what people who visit my neck of the woods manage to see when they are here – somehow, it seems hard to take advantage of the opportunities in one’s own region in the face of work and life….

    @ Tralfaz: I’m glad to know that you are enjoying my report! From what you are saying, I think a visit to Naxos is well worth considering – it really does offer a lot. I hope to post about that island in the next few days. And Delos is worth visiting, even if one must stop in Mykonos to do so from Naxos! stanbr has kindly already given you more info about that…

    @ tripplanner: I enjoyed Heraklion – I thought it had a very pleasant laid-back liveliness about it.

    @ stanbr: Thanks for stepping in to answer Tralfaz! Your description matches my experience.

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    stanbr: Beautiful photos and thanks for the transport info on Delos/Mykonos. I guess I can 'stand' Mykonons for a few hours! Do you happen to know the name of the company, or companies, who makes this trip?

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    @ Tralfaz: I don’t think you need to worry too much about the company name – the dock area in Naxos is small and your hotel will likely know your options. I got my ticket the night before the excursion at ZAS Travel on Protopapadaki near the causeway to Palatia Island.

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    Before moving on, let me say how much I appreciate the encouragement from so many of you! When I log on each day, it is a delight to find that one or more of you has commented – thank you so much for sharing my journey! I welcome vicarious traveling companions, and love hearing that you are out there. :-)


    Santorini

    Day 8

    Boarding my flight to Santorini carried an unexpected challenge: The under-clothes pouch I was using for my spare credit cards caused me to “fail” my walk through the X-ray machine.
    • It was a GOOD under-clothing pouch – which meant that I could NOT access it without displaying more of me than anyone would have wanted. :-(
    • Two women escorted me to a room that I believe was their break room, where I had to strip far enough to access that pouch.
    • With clothes back on, my pouch and I went back through the screening, my pouch in a bin, me through the X-ray machine.
    • And then back to the break room to don the pouch again and then an escort through the screening point….
    • Note to self: Do NOT put spare credit cards in an under-clothes passport pouch!!!


    My flight to Santorini was otherwise uneventful, although I must admit that
    • I'd never been on a flight that was delayed because there was no room for the airplane at its destination. Made sense, though!
    • Fortunately, the delay was brief -- just a quarter of an hour or so.
    • Upon arrival in Santorini, I found that a corner of my suitcase had been bashed in.
    • I took pictures, but quickly realized that there was nothing breakable inside, and that my best course of action would probably be to deal with it later. Time to move on!
    • (Fortunately, no damage was done and I was able to "pop" the corner out later.).

    As promised by the car rental agency -- Spiradakis -- with which I had booked well in advance, I was met at the airport.
    • My greeter was friendly and spoke English well. We soon reached Fira, and a truly nightmarish hour. See my post of June 25, 2017 @ 11:53 p.m. on
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/car-rental-in-santorini-port.cfm#last-comment
    • For now, let me note that the two things that bothered me MOST were (1) falsehoods and false promises that “cost” me about 4 hours of my very limited time on Santorini and (2) the loud raging tirade in which I was accused of being the classic example of a rude American, all because I wanted to use my credit card to cover the charge (and so avoid the need to purchase separate CDW insurance).
    • Suffice it to say that I will never recommend renting a car from Spiradakis.

    Because my luggage was in an exposed compartment (contrary to expectation), I chose to go to my apartment in Firostefani before doing anything else.
    • That proved stressful, as parking was not available at the lot I had targeted, and
    • I ended up in Imerovigli -- and beyond! -- before I found a way to turn around safely.
    • After several circuits, round and round, trying to figure out where I was and where to park,
    • I did, eventually, find a parking space and,
    • leaving my suitcase exposed, I managed to find my lodging -- the Smaro Studios -- with surprising ease.
    • I wasn't expected so early, and so it took a while to check in and for my hostess to summon a porter.
    • OMG, those porters are awesome!
    • And OMG, the views of the caldera, and white buildings cascading toward it, are truly as advertised! :-)

    Well aware that places I wanted to see would be closing, I left ASAP,
    • drove back to Fira, and eventually found parking -- not an easy matter!
    • I located the office at which I could exchange my voucher for a ferry the next day for an actual ticket – whew! I didn’t want to miss that bit of business. The woman was very particular to ensure that I knew to go to the NEW port.

    Fortunately, it was only steps to the small, but exquisite, Museum of Prehistoric Thira. What a gem!
    • With its truly stunning artifacts from Akrotiri, including some
    • absolutely breathtaking wall paintings that were in remarkably well preserved conditions.
    • I began to unwind from the stresses that had marked this day so far. :-)

    And so back into the fray!
    • I had hoped to make it to the Archeological Museum of Thera before it closed; no such luck. Instead, I encountered the things I like least about major tourist destinations:
    • throngs of slow-moving tourists who fill every bit of usable space on
    • Narrow lanes lined with shops selling souvenirs or trashy schlock or high-end, but seriously overpriced, merchandise.
    • Drunken people stumbling and lurching from person to person like balls on a pinball table and
    • Hawkers who, paying no mind to the passers by, shout loudly right into one's ear.
    • I moved as quickly as I could, and
    • after missing my turn off and beginning the path out of Fira, enjoyed some stunning views before
    • Turning back and confirming that I was (as I thought) much too late.
    • I was a bit disappointed – but just a bit. By the time I left the first museum, I couldn’t imagine reaching this one in time.

    But I believed I still had time for Akrotiri, so I
    • reclaimed my car and
    • followed signs right up until I came to an unsigned intersection, just a kilometer or so outside of Fira.
    • Of course, I had my new GPS maps on my TomTom :-) -- which was safely tucked into my overnight bag, back in Firostefani. :-( Argh!
    • But, I thought: how hard could it be? I have a map!
    • And with that map, I easily figured out what to do at that intersection.
    • Unfortunately, I was to learn that it was NOT a good map.
    • I met many very helpful people that afternoon! ;-)

    I'm happy to say that I did reach Akrotiri in plenty of time for a leisurely visit.
    • I do not usually hire guides, but had decided in advance that I did want a guide here. Unfortunately, none were available. I think a guide would have been beneficial, as the signage was informative, but limited.
    • Even so, I thought Akrotiri exceptional!
    • I particularly appreciated having a sense of what seemed to me to be the small scale of the rooms.
    • And I was intrigued by the ways they found to being light into their homes and workshops.
    • What an awesome culture! And what fascinating similarities to, and differences from, the Minoan sites (of a similar age) that I had just seen on Crete.
    • (Was Akrotiri Minoan? I’ve read that there is some controversy about that….)

    Very glad to have seen this exceptional and unusual site, I decided that I still had time to drive to Oia and walk around there just ever so briefly before returning to my apartment for sunset.
    • Driving, driving, following signs, driving...
    • When I saw a sign for Oia that directed me to the outer coast, I thought, that's odd, but hey, the main ridge drive is VERY busy – chaotically so at times. Another route could be very welcome! And IME, road signs rarely tell lies, so off I went.
    • There were, of course, plenty of challenging moments as the street wended through towns built when donkeys and ones' own feet were the predominant mode of transportation, but I kept seeing signs for Oia.
    • I remained optimistic, even when what I saw before me was a long stretch of unpaved road, seemingly awaiting pavement, but apparently connecting to a paved road ahead....
    • I paused, and at that moment, another vehicle came down the road I had been on and took that unpaved stretch with the confidence of a local!
    • So, driving slowly, I crept ahead and
    • Reached a turnoff to a beach and what otherwise seemed a cul-de-sac.
    • Argh!

    Maybe I could have gotten to Oia from there; I don't know, but I thought a direct route unlikely. What I did know was that
    • I was tired, and
    • I was tired of driving.
    • And even if I reached Oia, I was unlikely to do so with enough time to walk around and still return to my apartment before sunset.
    • Sigh.

    I returned to Firostefani, and after circling a bit more than I would have liked,
    • finally found a parking space.
    • I took the opportunity to walk around Firostefani. What a delight! It might not be Oia (I don't know -- I didn't get to Oia!), but I enjoyed what I saw:
    • A brief glimpse into a pleasantly bright little church, where a service was underway; and
    • Narrow white walkways between whitewashed buildings with windows or doors or a bit of blue paint or a plant to break the visual space; and
    • A small terrace offereing panoramic and iconic views of white buildings, some with blue trims, and many with plants or shrubs, arrayed across the ridge and down toward the awesome caldera. Soooo nice!
    • I bought a bottle of Santorini white and went to my apartment, and my private balcony.

    Oh, how I loved my balcony!
    • It was astonishingly windy that evening, but the
    • views over the caldera were stunning, with the central island and far break in the caldera walls nicely arrayed in my visual field. :-)
    • It was still some time before sunset, and although there was a heavy cloud cover, there was enough of a break in the clouds to allow the sun's rays to shine through at a glorious angle,
    • Bringing the chop of the water's surface into focus and
    • Creating dramatic contrasts in the colors of the sky and sea and
    • Emphasizing the seemingly infinite array of bands of color in the caldera walls, and
    • Illuminating the cascade of Cycladic buildings tumbling down from the caldera’s ridge.
    • Oh, what a view!!!

    I went to my apartment briefly to ready for dinner, and when I returned, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes later,
    • the hole in the clouds had closed.
    • All was overcast, and the winds were brutal.
    • I huddled in the most protected corner of my balcony and am glad I stayed out there:
    • Although the sunset itself was not visible,
    • the views, and the shifting patterns of light and dark, were fascinating nonetheless!

    It was just a short walk to Aktaion, where I ate a reasonably good dinner (although the service could have been better).
    • And then back to my balcony for some last windy glimpses of lights tumbling down the caldera walls into
    • Waters that offered just the slightest of glimmers of reflected light.
    • In the middle distance, the lights of buildings edged the far reaches of the island and marked the gap into the distant sea.
    • I am one very lucky person to see these things!


    Day 9

    After a delicious breakfast, served to me on my balcony,
    • I appreciated the help of one of Santorini's amazingly strong porters and
    • Drove to Fira, where I returned my vehicle -- as instructed -- to the Spiridakis office. After a pointedly careful inspection of the car,
    • I was driven to the port, arriving well more than two hours before my scheduled ferry.
    • As noted in my post about Spiradakis, although they told me that I absolutely HAD to be to the port at least 2 hours before my ferry, that was complete malarkey:
    • I gave up my chance to walk a bit of the ridge for an utterly unnecessary "opportunity" to spend more than 2 hours along an uninteresting row of overpriced and overcrowded cafes. Growl.

    As the time for my ferry arrived and passed, with no posted information and only rapidly spoken Greek messages,
    • I remembered the woman at the ticket office who had been so clear in stating that I must go to the NEW port.
    • OMG, have I just spent 2 boring hours at the wrong port??? As I was trying to find the answer, my late ferry arrived. Relief!

    The ferry trip was, I thought, largely uninteresting. I
    • treasured the views as we left Santorini, but didn't see much to keep me on deck after that.
    • Forewarned by other Fodorites, I knew to leave my main suitcase near the ferry's mouth. I also knew to be prepared to debark rapidly once at my destination, so I carefully skipped the first luggage rack (which I correctly assumed would end up as a heaped mass of baggage) and instead picked a back corner of the next luggage rack.
    • If any of you are thinking, "uh oh," let me say, good job, astute reader! The first rack was, as I expected, piled with luggage, but so was "my" little corner. Oh no!
    • I grabbed a young, strong steward's arm and pointed. He moved large, heavy bags aside as easily as if shuffling though papers and then politely handed my suitcase to me.
    • And so I arrived in Naxos.


    Next up: my time on Naxos

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    Surprised you had difficulty with the X-ray machine. I have learned not to wear a money belt through the TSA's strip search machines, but don't usually have trouble with X-ray machines.

    I feel a little breathless after reading your Santorino visit, but glad you had such a good hotel viewpoint.

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    The caldera views you describe sound amazing and well worth the visit to Santorini to experience it, although the crowds do not seem appealing at all. When I visit Greece, I hope to include Santorini, although perhaps in the off season when it isn't as crowded.

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    You did and you didn't miss something in not seeing Oia. It has the iconic views, but as well as being miserably stuffed with tourists, especially cruisers during the day, it's very sleek and polished (once upon a time it was rustic and charming). It also doesn't seem like anyone really lives there any more - it's all hotels, restaurants and shops. I took a lot of photos, which I'm glad to have, but I won't be returning.

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    Following along...I must admit as I read your account that perhaps the reason we are so brave to drive everywhere we go in Europe, it's probably because there are two of us to deal with the maps, wrong turns, poor signage etc.

    On my own, I don't think I would find the experience so pleasant. So, I have to agree with thursdaysd you ARE brave indeed.

    Thanks for the lovely descriptions of the views. I really cherish those moments too.

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    @ thursdaysd: I was surprised by the X-ray machine response, too – obviously, or I wouldn’t have tried it! I wondered if the problem was the number of cards with new chip technology, or just the number of cards, or the sensitivity of the machine and judgment of the human scanner…. Despite the challenges of my time on Santorini, my balcony was perfect! And I thank our fellow Fodorite, brotherleelove, for helping me nail down a place with such a great view – it was awesome!

    @ tripplanner: Santorini was both wonderful and awful! I can’t imagine having planned a month-long trip to Greece that did NOT include it, and I would do so again! But there are some decided downsides, IMO. I would encourage you (and others) to plan accordingly!

    @ artsnletters: Thanks for the reassurance about Oia! I would (I think) have liked to see it and its iconic views, but in the end, I think I came close enough, given the choices I faced. Ultimately, I’m just glad I saw what I did see! BTW, I thought of you while on Delos (coming up), and I can’t think of you without thinking of the Scruffman, and of your entertaining chronicles of his journey, which ALWAYS brought a smile to my face. :-)

    @ sundriedtopepo: I’m very glad to hear that you are enjoying my descriptions of the views, but honestly, you are too kind! Quite unlike the pre-GPS days (when driving solo really was a challenge!), driving with a GPS is, IME, not generally a problem. I bought my TomTom specifically so I could drive when abroad on solo trips, and despite an occasional quirk, it has served me well and given me the option to visit some places that I would not have been able to easily see without a car. The biggest problem that I’ve encountered is that there are sometimes crazies on the road – and that could happen no matter how many people are in the car! I admit that driving has a lot of disadvantages. For example, I have only a limited ability to appreciate the views -- and of course, it is often the case that the better the views, the more important it is that I ignore them and keep my eyes on the road! And I can’t (don’t) drive after consuming alcohol unless all I’ve done is sip & spit, and then walked and had juice or coffee and a bite to eat afterwards. Yes, I get lost sometimes, but that happens, right? It even happens when I’m on foot! And if lost, at least I don’t have to worry about whether someone might blame me, or whether someone might think I am blaming him/her…. Really, it is a selfish thing. That said, I still appreciate your kind words -- thanks!

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    In answer to your question about Akrotiri, what little I do know, it is thought to have been colonized by the Minoans around 3000 BC. But at some point, can't remember when, the Dorians took over so ancient Thira is a Dorian town. Wish I could provide more info, hopefully someone will elaborate.


    Sorry to hear about your nightmare car rental experience. As you said it was totally unnecessary and extremely unpleasant on top of it all. The tough part is shaking it off so you can enjoy the rest of your trip and appreciate the good stuff, which you certainly did.

    Santorini was a real mixed bag for me. It IS jaw-droppingly beautiful and why so many folks flock there. I stayed in Oia, but like I said almost 20 years ago and it was well on its way to cheesiness way back then. I had no plans to return and after hearing your description I surely won't!

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    Well, I did a six week trip to Greece without visiting Santorini... A lot of mainland, Crete, Rhodes and Kos. Would probably try to include it if I make it back to Greece and concentrated more on islands, but I am not too upset about missing it because I had a wonderful time elsewhere in Greece. And I hate crowds!

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    What a journey you are having. Sounds like Santorini is even worse than our last visit 6 years or so ago. Our first trip Oia was a tiny village with very little to offer other than gorgeous views. It was shocking to return so many years later to a fully developed town with cruise ships arriving regularly. It's always a struggle for me to decide if I want to visit these overly tourist places for whatever it is to offer.

    Looking forward to Naxos which I hope has not turned into another tourist jungle.

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    You saw so much! I really enjoy reading your trip report.

    I have been to Thira 3 times and still have not had time to make to the museum. But the Minoan civilization fascinates me (loved Knossos) and since there are so many similarities, you convinced me to stop and make a effort next time.

    I stay in Oia, on the caldera and get up early in the morning. During the hours of 6am-10am, there are only a few locals, no tours. I explore the little streets without the crowds. There use to be a small path to go swimming, but after a landslide, it does not exist anymore.

    One of my favorite wandering hikes is the old donkey path from Oia to Fira. The views are spectacular.

    I avoid Fira at all cost.

    There is a direct flight to Vienna from Thira and it usually suits my purpose.

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    kja, Thanks so much for this report. I've also have been silently following along with interest and enjoyment.

    My wife and I were planning to go to Greece this fall, but for various good reasons we are putting it off until next year.

    Our dilemma is we'd prefer avoid the car rental stress and hassle, but we want to get to places that are easiest reached by car.

    One solution could be to use a tour agency to book transportation to our main destinations, then leave us alone until it's time to move again. Some Googling turns up quite a few agencies that might do this. Any thoughts on this strategy? [Perhaps I should start a new thread with this question.]

    In any case thanks again for your report! In particular looking forward to your impressions of Athens, Delphi and the Peloponnese.

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    kja,
    once again thank you for your trip report as we leave in 6 weeks. I am a little confused about the luggage situation on the ferry. Can you explain this for me? Is there a luggage room so to speak and everyone's is just thrown in like a free for all? So anyone can walk off with anyone's luggage? UGh. I never keep any valuables in the luggage but still.......

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    OMG, what a wonderful set of greetings! Thank you, Fodorites, for joining me and sharing your observations! :-) And please, keep it up -- I so appreciate your comments!

    @ Tralfaz: That’s very interesting about Akrotiri and the Dorians – I must learn more once I have a chance! In the meantime, you are so right about the importance of shaking off the bad moments -- that's a skill that I've found incredibly useful on EVERY trip I've taken. Like you, I definitely found Santorini a mixed bag – I’m glad to have had my jaw drop at the beauty, and at Akrotiri, and at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, but the rest…. Well, how would I know if I hadn't actually gone....

    @ thursdaysd: I hope I get to visit Rhodes some day…! I remain envious of your many travels, but honestly, I'm just sincerely grateful for the opportunities that I have had -- I consider myself inordinately fortunate! :-)

    @ yestravel: I envy you a visit to Santorini before the cruise ships made it a regular destination! I’m pleased to say that Naxos has not, IMO, turned into another tourist jungle. I really enjoyed it, as I hope will be clear in my post on it, which I hope to add later tonight or tomorrow.

    @ ToujoursVoyager: Thank you for you kind words! If you are brave enough to return to Thira / Santorini, I would encourage you to consider a visit to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira – it really does have some exquisite pieces. :-) I had SOOooooo wanted to walk a part of that old donkey path! That was my plan for the morning I gave up because of the misinformation from Spiradakis. Growl.

    @ Nelson: I can fully understand your dilemma, but unfortunately, I don’t have a solution. :-( I strongly encourage you to begin your own thread – Fodors has a number of experts on Greece, not all of whom are following along (or at least, not all of them have added a comment). In the meantime, I hope my subsequent posts on the Peloponnese, Delphi, and Athens prove of use to you!

    @ otherchelebi: I’m glad to see that you are along for the ride! I was very pleasantly surprised by Thessaloniki, and hope my report proves useful to you as you plan a visit there.

    @ travelerjan: Good to see that you are still following along, even if it is a loooooong thread in a format that you would not choose. ;-)

    @ lancer: Here’s my experience of the luggage for the ferry between Santorini and Naxos, which I suspect is not unlike other ferries: When you board, you walk up a ramp connecting the shore to the ferry, on a part to the side of the section the cars use. Once you actually enter the mouth of the ferry, there are several luggage racks – big metal things – to the side, and you leave any LARGE pieces of luggage there. I don’t know if there’s a way to take big pieces higher; once you leave your luggage there, you go through a standard ship door – one of those things with a raised metal base and steep, rather narrow stairs – something that can be closed off easily if a ship compartment becomes flooded. (Sorry I don’t know the technical terms, but maybe just a description is actually more helpful?) So you only take a small bag – something with all your valuables – up to the seating areas. Your main luggage is stored on what is basically an honor system, but like a train or long distance bus, it’s not like anyone can take it off the ferry in between stops. I don’t know if anyone actually watches it, but I doubt there are many troubles, or we’d be hearing about them! (At least, that’s my take.) One gets an announcement about departure a bit before arrival. I made sure I had a good sense of when we were to arrive, and had decided to go down at the 15-minute mark – I was on my way when I heard the announcement. One takes one’s luggage from the place one left it – or to which it was moved (as can happen, for example, when my strong steward moved things about), and then you line up for departure. The ferry stops for only moments, so it is rather important to be there and be ready to debark, in line and with your luggage, when the time comes! Does that help? I'm suspect that it sounds like a chaotic process, and in some ways it is! But FWIW, I thought debarking went more easily than I had expected.

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    Re luggage: When I was taking trains in India I carried a cable and padlock, and locked my bigger bag to loops under the seats/berths. Would it be possible to lock luggage to the racks on the ferry?

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    kja,
    Thank you. I have two ferries. Mykonos to Santorini then Santorini to Crete I will make sure we are in the luggage area 15 minutes before are scheduled arrival. It's good to know there isn't much time to get off the ferry. We are also staying in Firostefani while in Santorini. Thank you once again for your report. Very informative.

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    Kja, I feel the same way about much of Santorini. It looked so Greek but the experience was so not like the wonderful experiences I had elsewhere in Greece.
    The views are incredible though. And I even returned a second just to visit Akrotiri which had been closed during my first visit( the had roof collaspsed killing tourists.thus it was closed and a safer roof installed.)

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    @ thursdaysd: I’ve used the chain & padlock strategy before, too. But I admit I wouldn’t use it if I only going a single ferry stop – WAY too heavy and cumbersome, IME! And on a ferry, I would seem to me to pose a risk of getting the cable intertwined with other luggage in that last dash to retrieve one’s suitcase before debarking. JMO! ! I’m more likely to show up a bit before the departure time to make sure that no one is walking off with my luggage – just as I do with under-carriage busses. JMO.

    @ lancer: I’m glad you are finding value to my report – thanks for letting me know! I’m sure you will see some wondrful things! And I think you will find some merits to staying in Firostefani – I did!

    @ HappyTrvlr: I read about that nasty roof collapse at Akrotiri! Once you returned, were you as awed as I was?

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    Re the luggage: kja describes the process accurately, and the car deck is locked while the ferry is at sea. You are allowed to bring large suitcases to your seat if you are foolish enough to do so, but you will regret struggling up and down the steps and finding somewhere to put them in the seating area.

    Look at it this way: every time you take a flight, you leave your luggage at the check-in counter, it passes through a complicated system, and numerous baggage handlers have access to your bags before they are loaded on the airplane. You are never 100% sure it arrived intact (or at all) until you see it on the carousel after the flight. Everyone knows someone whose luggage didn't make it on the airplane.

    With ferries you carry the bags to the car deck and leave them in a secure area. You return to the secure area just before the ferry reaches port, and retrieve the bags yourself. They never pass through anyone else's hands, or get moved more than a few feet during the voyage. That, in my mind, is safer than checking your bags on a flight.

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    Naxos – part 1, including Delos and Mykonos

    Day 9, cont.

    It was just a short ride from the ferry port to the absolutely outstanding (and seriously recommended!) Hotel Grotta, where I enjoyed TRULY excellent service, breakfasts, and views, and where I was warmly greeted.
    • I lingered over the welcoming treats (delicious!) and wine, but, with some errands to run before the day's closings, I finally tore myself away.
    • I took the "shortcut" (a short path through an undeveloped hillside) to the main part of Chora – which is what I am choosing to call the capital city of Naxos. Some call it Naxos Town, or Chora own, or simply Naxos…. I was so confused when I began planning! I’ll try to call it Chora when I mean the city.

    The cathedral was closed, as were the nearby excavations of ancient Chora.
    • Then, enjoying the views I encountered with each advancing step, I strolled to the
    • Magnificent Portara of the Temple of Apollo. Wow!
    • The setting, the very fact that the Portara still stands, the extant traces of architectural detail ... To my eye, Awesome!

    After a few quick stops to finalize some ferry arrangements,
    • I returned to the hotel, walking along the rather rocky Grotta Beach to do so.
    • I enjoyed it, but understand why it is not ranked among the finest beaches of Naxos -- a bit too rough for that, but therefore also a bit different and interesting!

    I settled into my room and freshened up before heading into the city again.
    • I roamed around the Old Town / Bourgos district,
    • Found that the Folk Museum wasn't open (too early in the season, I think), but the
    • Castle Museum in Chora's old Venetian Castle (aka the Della Rocca-Barozzi Venetian Museum), was open, and provided what I thought an interesting array of artifacts in an historic setting.

    Toward the end of my exploration of the Castle Museum, I looked out of a window to see the beginnings of a sunset. So,
    • once I finished my visit, I headed back to the harbor and
    • savored the most spectacular sunset of my time in Greece! :-)
    • With changing shades of blue and yellow and rose -- all incredibly soft shades! -- it seemed to last forever.
    • Even people who were working, and people who told me that they had lived on Naxos all their lives, stopped for this particular sunset.
    • And the tourists awaiting service didn't object, understanding the moment.
    • I didn’t even see anyone hovering over his/her smart phone! What does THAT tell you!
    • WOW WOW WOW!
    • How is it that I am fortunate enough to see things like this sunset?

    As the sunset faded, I made my way to
    Nostimon Hellas, which I truly enjoyed -- it was a lovely setting in which to enjoy a tasty, modern interpretation of traditional Greek cuisine.
    • And then a long, pleasant, walk back to my hotel.


    Day 10

    Up early, I savored my breakfast at the Hotel Grotta. I had read raves about its breakfast buffet, and even so, I was completely unprepared for the astonishing array of fresh, and freshly baked, dishes that stretched out before me. WOW and WOW. And kudos!

    My plan for this day: Visit Delos, which I would do by taking a day-trip that also necessarily included Mykonos.
    • I managed to get a seat at the open, outer, port-side edge, just beyond the cabin (and thereby protected from the wind), and I managed to reclaim that seat for all but that last segment of the excursion. :-)
    • Even so, I'll admit that this trip involved WAY more time on the water than I would have preferred. I greatly enjoyed an hour or two on the water. That would have been enough for me! This trip included more ... much more -- I think about 6 hours. Sigh.

    But I'd do it again, without question, for the chance to see Delos!
    • OMG, what a special place! The Delos lions, the mosaics, the bits of statuary half-hidden among the ruins... !
    • And some wonderful pieces in the museum, including the originals of the most stunning items.
    • And when I was there, it was completely and gloriously bejeweled with blooming wildflowers. OMG! I am SOOooooo lucky!
    • As I was leaving, I walked for a bit with one of the site’s staff. She mentioned that recent rains had spurred the astonishing wealth of wildflowers – and encouraged and hid snakes. Ack! I am definitely glad that the ONLY way I knew of this problem was because she brought it up!!
    • My 3 hours at Delos passed WAY too quickly!

    I was less enamored of Mykonos, and honestly, I didn’t expect to be enthralled – I would have skipped it if it hadn’t been part and parcel of visiting Delos from Naxos.
    • It is, of course, a very pretty place on a stunning waterfront, but as is probably clear by now, places that seem devoted to tourism are rarely my favorites.
    • I did enjoy walking by the Paraportiani Church, even though it was closed. I was impressed with its classic Cycladine architecture, and
    • A man was on the nearby rocks, gutting his day's catch of fish and tossing them into the air, where a flock of seabirds wheeled and swooped and cawed as they savored this feast. Nice!

    I walked around and around, without finding the island's famous windmills, until
    • The heat finally got to me. With a bit of effort I managed to
    • find a QUIET place for a glass of beer. (Boisterous places abounded!)

    With something under an hour to go, I decided to amble back to my ferry, and
    • OMG, I'm lost! (Again?!? Yes indeed, lost!)
    • How could I possibly have become lost in such a tiny place?!? I'm still in sight of the water, and
    • Whoa -- there are the windmills! Cool!
    • And, I’m glad to say, there was a posted map by the windmills. :-)
    • Some of you might realize that I had inadvertently roamed to the far side of the town….
    • I’m glad I saw the windmills and had plenty (plenty!) of time to return to my ferry, and
    • Then the LONG boat ride back to Naxos.

    Once back in Naxos, I spent a few relaxing moments in my hotel's jacuzzi, and then
    • after a wrong turn or two, I managed to return to the castle (which I had visited the evening before), JUST in time to see a performance:
    • I saw an accomplished violinist, accompanied by a skilled pianist, in a
    • Charming medieval hall from a seat that let me see both musicians' fingers. :-)
    • The performance, and the acoustics, were, IMO, not perfect, but were definitely commendable, and I enjoyed the variety of pieces they chose to perform __ folk and classic, upbeat and more somber.
    • There was an intermission, during which our host – the owner of the castle -- invited us to savor local wine or ouzo or citron. (I think one could also have indulged in advance of the performance, but I arrived a bit too late for that.).
    • Whatever the financial benefits to the current owner of the castle, I think he is to be commended for opening space in this evocative castle in a way that promotes the arts – JMO.
    • What a pleasant couple of hours!

    Contrary to the many assurances I read in advance of this trip, restaurants in Greece are NOT necessarily open late – or at least, many aren’t open late. Sigh.
    • As I sought a place to dine, I passed any number of restaurants that were just closing, or had already closed.
    • I ended up at one of the few open harbor side cafes, Meze2. Not a good choice, IMO, although it did have some redeeming features.


    Next up: More of Naxos….

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    @ Heimdall: What a wonderfully illuminating comparison of luggage handling on ferries versus airplanes – thank you! I’m sorry I missed your post while working on my post about the first part of my time on Naxos….

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    Loving this installment in your report as I mentioned Naxos is next on my list. I took a look at your hotel's website, nice! Those photos of the breakfast buffet are all I needed to see. Wow and Yum! I wouldn't know where to begin. Great hotel location too, quiet AND convenient with a helluva view.

    Delos is a must-see for me and from what you say is as glorious as I imagine it. I DO wish there was a way to just do Delos and skip Mykonos, I could do without that long ferry ride as well. As far as getting lost in Mykonos town, seems it happens to even the best navigators. I just read somewhere that it was deliberately designed, way back when, to confuse possible pirate invaders. Apparently it worked, and still works, quite well!

    Yes, it's precious moments like that lovely sunset you saw which offset the negative experiences. That element of surprise, totally unexpected, makes those moments all the more special. I feel fortunate in that I never had a totally unpleasant trip anywhere, in the end all the good and the bad balanced out.

    Can't wait to hear what's next on Naxos. So many lovely sites, villages and countryside, one is spoilt for choice.

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    Yes ... the sunsets ... yes. Here's a secret: there's a Naxos skycam website. with 4-5 views. http://www.naxosisland.eu Since Greece is 7 hrs ahead from Eastern Daylight, tune in about 1 pm to the "portara & seafront" view for the sunset. Right now I'm looking at the shoreline at St. George Beach. It's sunny & windy.. you can hear the wind on camera above Flisvos Sport Club

    THere's also a link below: "Live ship data" ... it shows all the ships in the Aegean, and exactly where they are at the moment. Right now, That old gramma of a ferry, Nissos Samos is pulling away from Naxos pier. There she goes! (great way to kill time at the office when work chores bore!).

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    travelerjan:

    I just checked with Weather Underground and sunset in Naxos is supposedly 8:18 pm, 1:18 pm EDT, pretty much what you said. In the last half-hour or so I have been checking in from time to time to watch the ever-changing pre-sunset colors of the harbor. Love the audio too, heard what sounded like church bells earlier. This is seriously addictive.

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    @ Tralfaz: The Hotel Grotta really is a gem, IMO, and some other Fodorites have also stayed there and praised it. If you go, you might want to take a small flashlight in case you walk back along the shortcut after dark. Interesting about Mykonos and the pirates – I like thinking that I only got lost because of an intentionally labyrinthine street plan! :-)

    @ travelerjan: Cool web-site – thanks!

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    I've heard two reasons why Mykonos Town was built as it is. As Tralfaz says, to confuse pirates and the other, sometimes also mentioned by locals, was to provide a defence against the winds that regularly blast the island, especially in the months of the Meltemi.

    I have no idea which is most likely to be true but getting lost in those narrow streets is all part of it for me. It's good you found your way out quite quickly kja. Many folks don't!

    bill

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    Traalfaz, about where u stay in Naxos -- much depends on when you want to go, and how important beaches are to you, and what your age & stamina is. I speak as one who's stayed many places in Naxos -- up in the Kastro area, in Hotel Grotta & next door in studios Ellada ... and finally, at St. George Beach. I usually go in late May, a couple of times early September, both times the island is pleasantly populated, but crowds not an issue. Herewith my experience (which may be irrelevant to yours).

    • KASTRO -- wonderful views at night, looking down at ferries coming & going, etc. Problem is, its walk walk walk & climb climb, and if you get down to the sea level & realize you've forgotten your sunglasses, Quelle backtrack! And if you go to swim on a hot day, by the time you get back to your room you are hot again.
    • GROTTA -- much the same problem... liked the hotel, but it's way on the other side of town from St. G. Beach. If you want to bus to an outer beach, you can catch an outbound bus not far from the hotel... but returning, the bus is over at the East end of the port, and a long walk. If you don't care about swims, or routinely rent a car for whole stay, then the distances are irrelevant. (However, walking up hill in dark after dinner is a challenge, I always took my flashlight).
    • ST GEORGE BEACH -- level with town, and a very easy stroll along the waters edge to the port & cafes, shops, entertainment. So nice to wake up on/near the beach. Yes, it's a shallow beach & you walk out 100 yards to swim, but I don't mind. ANd whenever I want a "beach day" I take a bus to Prokopios or out to Plaka. St. George appeals for a stay because it has shade & trees & greenery & outer beaches are strips of hotel at edge of farm-fields, and in hot weather can be sunbaked & dusty for a stay. Duing my visits with others, we've rented a car to explore far reaches of the isle but otherwise have done fine with local bus network.

    ... but of course this is all based on my visit timing & priorities ... if I came btween Mid-July & Mid August I might stay farther out.

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    I'm glad you enjoyed Delos. Isn't it magnificent? I was there on two consecutive mornings, three hours each time, and did not get everywhere I wanted to go. I will probably return at some point. I loved the mosaics, but it drove me nuts when I got to one and there was a big weed (3 feet tall) sticking up in front of it at the one place you could stand to see the mosaic. Less than a wonderful view, and hard to take decent photos. You would think they could spare someone to go around and just take out those weeds - there were probably 10 of them total, but each one was a real annoyance, and these were highlights of the site. Or had they cut them down when you were there?

    I love that you remember the Scruffman! He is just about to start his last semester at Berkeley and is getting ready to apply to grad school in International Relations. He's still traveling - he was in a Spanish program in Spain last summer and then studied in Chile this spring. I had some fun phone calls with him while he was there, but nothing to rival the adventures of the Big Trip!

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    @ billbarr –The idea that winds were a consideration in the layout of those streets makes a lot of sense, too – and maybe the townspeople recognized that a single solution would help with both viscious winds AND pirates? In any case, I agree that getting lost in that maze of narrow streets had its wonderful moments, and in the end, I found my way back to my boat in time. Hard to complain about that!

    @ travelerjan: I wonder if the buses on Naxos have changed their routes? I took a bus to Agia Prokopios beach, and upon return, the bus left me near the causeway to the Portara, and so not far from the Hotel Grotta. But your basic point is an important one – the best location for a hotel on Naxos depends on what one wants to do!

    @ artsnletters: Delos was, indeed, magnificent – a highlight of a highlight-filled trip! There were weeds sprouting in and around a number of the mosaics, but none that I recall of the size you mention – thank goodness! … You must be so proud of Scruffman! I’m glad to hear that he is doing so well, and hope that you are, too. :-)

    . . . .

    Naxos – part 2

    Day 11

    For this day, I had my hotel arrange for a rental car so I could explore a bit of the island.
    • It took a bit longer than I hoped, mostly because of a few miscommunications that were recognized only in retrospect.
    • Despite that, I was extremely pleased with Fun Cars, and am grateful to the Hotel Grotta for facilitating my rental.
    • It was late morning when I finally set out, but that meant more time to linger over breakfast and then enjoy the views from the Grotta's terrace. :-)

    My first stop of the day was the Temple of Dimitras, with its tiny (closed) Orthodox Church.
    • What a glorious setting, and again,
    • adorned by a riot of wildflowers!

    Next: the town called Halki, where
    • I visited a citron distillery, complete with displays of traditional equipment, and
    • The opportunity to taste the three different strengths of this beverage.
    • I then walked around the town a bit and
    • Stopped for orange juice before heading to....

    Apiranthos, a town paved and sometimes walled in white marble, a town that wraps scenically around the slopes of a mountain.
    • I reached town just in time to stop in its women's cooperative to buy a few small, beautiful, handwoven textiles before the town's long siesta began.
    • I proceeded to roam about this delightful town, admiring brilliant blooms in flowerpots and glimpses out over some stunning scenery and well-tended cats napping in shaded corners and a few bits of debris where old buildings have not been replaced and a field with grazing sheep and

    Uh oh … I am completely lost. Yes, again – I seem to have a knack for it! ;-)
    • OK, it's not that big a town, right?
    • But every intersection seemed both familiar (marble alleys and stairs, whitewashed walls, plants with deep green leaves and bright blooms, closed shutters, sprawling cat) and unfamiliar (even if I'd been there before, I was probably going in the opposite direction).
    • And this town seemed to take the mid-day pause very, very seriously! I walked for nearly 1/2 hour before seeing someone, ANYone!

    Oh, I was glad to see that first person! -- an older woman who stepped outside her home.
    • I had a photograph that should help her figure out where my car was – that’s something I do – take a few pictures where I park a car in case I get lost.
    • So I set my camera to show the church next to the parking lot where I had left my car and the did my best to ask, in Greek, "Excuse me, do you know where this place is?"
    • I think she thought I was asking to take her picture, because she immediately shook her head and said, "Ohi, ohi," (no, no!) and turned away.
    • I kept trying to say please and excuse me and where is, and
    • As she neared her door, I think she realized that I was asking for her help.
    • She turned, and as I continued to try to convey my need, she slowly approached and took the camera and said, "oh! Agia xxx!"
    • Success! :-)
    • She began to try to signal the directions when a young lad came by, and the woman asked him to take me to the church.
    • He spoke some English, but he didn't seem inclined to converse.
    • But even at his young age, he carried himself with incredible dignity and grace. I’ve not yet found a way to describe this young boy’s demeanor, but I know I found it striking and awesome and utterly natural.
    • He led me back to any area that I clearly recognized, reluctant to let me out of his eyes until he had fully discharged the duty he had been asked to assume.
    • I am grateful for, and appreciative of, his sense of responsibility. :-)

    On my way again, I drove to an intersection noted by staff of the Hotel Grotta -- a place where one can see the meeting of the wet and dry sides of Naxos. Wow! And, off in the distance to the north, views to the sea -- glorious!

    One of my main reasons for renting in a car to explore Naxos was because I wanted to visit the Panagia Drossani, the oldest Christian church on Naxos, dating from the 6th century.
    • With a small main section and a pair of side chapels, it was impressive!
    • It's frescoes may not be in pristine condition (far from it), but I thought them incredibly expressive and well worth seeing.
    • It is also home to a very beautiful silver-wrought icon.
    • If what I had read was correct, this church was one where a small donation is considered appropriate, so before I left, I gave a very small donation -- just 2 or 3 euros, IIRC.
    • I was surprised when the woman who attended the church ran after me -- had I somehow offended?
    • She grasped my hands and gave me a small card with the image of the church's most priceless icon. That was nice!
    • Walking around the church, I was surprised to find that it's tiny cemetery held the grave of someone who died recently. It reminded me of a thread on burial customs on Fodor's within the last few years that discussed ways in which spaces in European cemeteries are, for lack of a better word, recycled. I have no idea what happened here ... It just made me wonder.

    Because I had never seen an olive press, I had hoped to do so that day. I was reasonably certain that it was too late when I left the Panagia Drossani -- and I was. ☹

    As I headed back to Chora, I refleced on the incredibly varied landscapes of this island.
    • From beaches through rocky peaks; and
    • Barren, parched, rock-strewn slopes through lush, green, flower-filled fields;
    • An occasional goat or sheep or horse tucked into a pasture, and
    • Wildflowers everywhere, but different ones, depending on altitude and rainfall and who knows what...
    • I finally drove to my hotel, where (as arranged) I could return the car. It was so easy! All I had to do was give the keys to the receptionist when I was done with the car.

    I enjoyed a glass of wine with the Hotel Grotta's incomparable view of the Portara,
    • Freshened up, and -- before leaving for dinner –
    • stopped at the hotel's desk to confirm my plans for the next day, when I was to leave by ferry to Athens's Piraeus port.
    • And that is when I learned that my ferry had been cancelled due to a strike. What?!?

    To make a long story short, over the next few hours
    • a man at the agency from which I had gotten my ferry ticket managed to get me onto a flight the next afternoon and
    • the staff of the hotel changed my car rental arrangement from Piraeus to the Athens airport.
    • I would not be able to reach Cape Sounion for sunset, but I'd already had one truly awesome sunset, and more to the point, I had already learned that being well-positioned for a good sunset view is no guarantee of seeing one.
    • And – double bonus! -- I was spared a really long ferry ride and would have a few extra hours on delightful Naxos.
    • I cannot thank the staff of the Hotel Grotta enough for their kind and patient assistance at this time – they were there with me, exploring each and every option, with each changing moment. Kudos!

    With my arrangements made, I went back into town,
    • confirmed that the folk museum was closed,
    • Admired some handmade textiles at a local shop, and
    • Then had a delicious dinner at Ammos -- oh, what scrumptious stuffed calamari!


    Day 12

    After another awesome breakfast (I remain in awe of the Hotel Grotta’s breakfast buffet!), I checked out, leaving my suitcase at the hotel.
    • Now open, the Cathedral held some noteworthy icons.
    • The museum with Naxos's prehistoric ruins was still closed.
    • A long, uphill walk on this hot day brought me to the Archeological Museum, which held a particularly impressive collection of Cycladic figurines. A great fan of Brancusi, I was enthralled by these figurines. :-)
    • A nearby church made use of some ancient columns and their capitals.

    I paused at a harbor-side table for a glass of wine, served with a surprising array of tasty treats. And I then
    • managed to catch a bus to Naxos's Agia Prokopios beach with minutes to spare.
    • I spent the next 1.25 or 1.5 hours walking from end to end and back. -- very beautiful!

    It was soon time to return to Chora and to my hotel, where I showered and changed in its pool area, and then,
    • After a few last glimpses of the glorious view from the Grotta's terrace,
    • I appreciated a ride to the airport (the service provided by the Grotta really is amazing).
    • It was not long before my 40-seater took off.


    Next up: Cape Sounion

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    Kja, I'm still following your report, and love your writing style. The Naxos Island bus station is where you say it is, near the ferry dock and causeway, so theoretically all buses should start and end there.

    Artsnletters, I'm another fan of Delos. I guess wildflowers become weeds when they lose their bloom. They are certainly present on Delos, but I like the island in its natural state. I've visited Delos in May and June, and go there early in the morning while there are few tourists on the island. Have a look at my small Mykonos & Delos Flickr album, which has lots of photos of the mosaics. There is an issue with Flickr where some photos are shown as "no longer available" on my MacBook, but they all show up in my iPad app. https://www.flickr.com/photos/heimdall_1/albums/72157627791957268

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    Kja - Like other Naxophiles, I'm pleased you were able to see so many of its highlights, driving on your own. Add-on comments:

    • Re bus route - u & Heimdall correct ... I guess I was mainly remembering the long trek from St. George beach, not from bus circle for other beaches.

    • About Ag. Drossiana churchyard - yes, Greek churchyards continue to be in use, due to a longstanding (and very devoutly handled) custom. The departed are buried without modern" preservatives, just in a simple shroud, and left undisturbed for at least 5 years - ample time for "dust to dust" to occur, leaving only skeletal remains & coverings. Then in a very moving ceremony, these remains are caringly removed with prayers & blessings, lovingly rewrapped, enclosed in a small metal box and carried down stairs to the "ossuary" where there are shelves for each family. If you have photos, look and you may find, to one side the inconspicuous entry & stone steps.

    • Naxos' Archeological Museum has perhaps world's top collection of those mysterious amazing figurines; when a world-famous exhibit of prehistoric Cycladic art was mounted in NYC in 2002 or so, most of its most notable objects were from Naxos. NYC's Met today devotes a full room to just 6 such figurines -- Naxos has 6 CASES of them, from 3" to 3 feet tall.

    • Your village encounter reminded me of a key Greece tip; anyplace where u need to find someone who speaks English, look for someone under 20! Greek kids now start English lesson in kindergarten, and unless shy like your little helper, they enjoy showing off what they know.

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    Well kja you have perfectly described what Naxos is like and why so many of us just keep returning. Even after 13 visits over the past 20 years we keep finding new things to see and do.
    Still enjoying your report.

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    @ Heimdall: Thank you for the compliment! … I seriously envy those of you who have been able tp visit Delos multiple times, but mostly, I’m just incredibly grateful that I got there (at least) once.

    @ travelerjan: Thank you for the information about Greek Orthodox burial customs – fascinating! I did see quite a few ossuaries, but had thought them part of a centuries-old past. … That collection of Cycladic figurines at the Archeological Museum in Naxos is truly outstanding. :-) It was an enormous privilege to see it. … I was very impressed with the command of English by the vast majority of people I met in Greece. But of course, I welcomed a non-English speaking local after a half hour of complete disorientation! ;-)

    @ stanbr: Given your experience with Naxos, it’s very nice to hearthat I described it well. I always worry about misrepresenting places, because – of course – I can only describe them through my biased perceptions and limited experiences.


    Another note about Naxos:

    I forgot to mention that there is – or at least was – a group bus tour that one could take to see most of the places I visited on my day’s drive around Naxos, and maybe a few other places, too. It wasn’t available every day, though. I could have taken it the day before, but Delos was a priority, and I was loathe to delay my trip to Delos in case the weather prevented the boat tour from going the next day.

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    A short post today:
    Cape Sounion to (but not yet into) the Peloponnese

    Day 12, cont.

    Picking up my rental car at the Athens airport was extremely easy -- the Hertz office there is commendably efficient.
    • I was soon on the road, becoming acquainted with my new car and,
    • finally becoming re-aquainted with my freshly-endowed-with-maps-of-Greece TomTom (which I had last used two years before).
    • Night fell before I reached Cape Sounion, but it wasn't difficult driving -- at least
    • Not until I caught my first glimpse of the lit Temple of Poseidon, and nearly drove off the road!

    I quickly checked into a spacious room at the Aegeon Beach Hotel and
    • Almost immediately left for the Elias Fish Restaurant, where
    • I enjoyed a glorious view of the temple, a tasty portion of grilled octopus, and the gracious patience of my servers, who let me take my time even though I was the only person there.
    • Back at my hotel, I enjoyed a last glass of wine on my balcony.
    • I could see the temple and hear the rote of the surf and feel some freshening breezes and listen to the gentle sounds of the few boats in the harbor… one can do worse! (And trust me, I have done worse!) ;-)


    Day 13

    Awakening to the sight of the dawn lightening the very pretty harbor,
    • I ate my breakfast outdoors, fighting a few very aggressive birds and
    • Admiring a view of the temple and trees near it being seriously whipped around by the wind
    • Until a few drops of rain began to fall.
    • Making sure that I was prepared for chilly wind and rain, I checked out and drove to the

    Temple of Poseidon. What a glorious temple! And what breathtakingly beautiful views!
    • It did sprinkle a bit while I was there, and the winds were incredibly strong -- enough so that it was difficult to stand.
    • Clouds scudded across the skies, creating wonderfully dramatic and ever-changing patterns of light (where the sun's rays shone through spaces between clouds) and dark (where the clouds' shadows fell) over the water and the islands and surrounding mountains and the temple itself….
    • I'm sure that sunsets must be magnificent here, and I would have loved to see one if I could, but it was glorious during the day, too. :-)
    • In truth, I feel very fortunate to have seen it and experienced in this particular weather: I found it a powerful reminder of the forces of nature with which Poseidon and the ancient (not to mention current) Greeks struggle.

    Upon leaving Cape Sounion,
    • I headed along the coastal road (ooh, such lovely glimpses of the sea!) and then through the nexus of expressways around Athens.
    • Once on the expressways (what fortuitous timing!) it began to rain varying from the mild sprinkles to decided (but thankfully, not horrendous) storms.

    l was fortunate to reach the Corinthian Canal during a break in the weather.
    • At one level, I can understand that the canal is less than enthralling -- it is, after all, essentially a big ditch, the dimensions of which are hard to grasp unless there is a ship passing through, and there was no such ship when I visited. But
    • I'm a bit of a sucker for feats of engineering, and IMO, this canal easily qualifies! I'm very glad I made it a point to stop there.


    Next up: To, In, and Around Nafplio

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    travelerjan:

    Thanks for the advice on where to stay in Naxos. I travel during shoulder seasons, April/May or Sept/Oct, pretty much like you. This trip would probably be mid to late September. As far as my interests, my boyfriend and I are nature lovers so we enjoy countryside and beach walks, along with visiting villages, a few museums of interest, churches, etc. What we don't do is lay on the beach or even go in the water, nor do we care about nightlife. Oh, and like most people, we appreciate good food particularly reasonably-priced, fresh seafood which is hard to come by here in the mid-Atlantic US.


    I would probably spend a week on Naxos, there's so much to see, rent a car for a few days and take buses to see the villages. My concern is that because it's not high season, buses may not run all that often. And as far as where to stay, seems like Naxos town itself (excluding the Kastro, don't want to do all that climbing after walking all day, thanks for the tip!)is the best option since it should be quieter in September. Can you tell me about how long a walk it is from the town center to the bus station? I am lousy at gauging distance on a map. Thanks.

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    kja:

    Wow, where to begin! I have been reading up on Naxos and the more I learn about and see of the place, the more I understand why there are so many Naxophiles on Fodor's. I can't believe how long it's taken me to discover it.

    I am enjoying, and learning a lot from, your descriptions of things. Those varied landscapes you mentioned are a big draw for me, and what a lovely experience at the church. Very nice. I get the sense that Naxos is a place where a sizeable number of people actually live as opposed to it being geared mostly to tourists. You can see folks just going about their day and the towns look lived in with a few bits of debris here and there as you said. The postcard-prettiness of Santorini was really off-putting for me, but alas that's just the way it goes with uber popular tourist spots. May that never happen to Naxos!

    The archaeological museum sounds like a gem, and a manageable size. Speaking for myself it's often the smaller museums I end up liking the most. You mentioned wanting to see an olive press. Was your intention to go to the Eggares Olive Press museum? Heard it's pretty fun, and informative.

    And the Temple of Poseidon, a site I wanted to see while in Athens but just couldn't fit in. Sounds like a pretty powerful place and how brave of you to drive there or anywhere near Athens. I'd have to opt for a tour where someone else does the driving!

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    Tralfaz77, since you are travelling in September you will be there around the time grapes are harvested, so may even have a chance to see the process of pressing grapes to make wine. If too late for that, you may have a chance to see how the grape skins left from the vintage are distilled into the potent raki: http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/naxos/naxos-festivals/rakee-distillery-festival.htm

    Naxos Town is very small, and I doubt it would take more than five minutes to walk from one end of the harbour to the other where the bus station is located. Even the walk from St George Beach to the bus station takes no more than 10-15 minutes. If you are staying in the harbour side of kastro hill you will be near just about everything.

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    I took a public bus from Athens to Cape Sounio, but it did take a while to get there. I had to be careful not to miss the last bus back, but it was worth it. No need for a tour, the bus ride was more interesting.

    http://ktelattikis.gr/en/en_markopoulo_lavrio

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    Tralfaz ... do not base location decision on desires for quietness .. Sept is not noisy period. And having stayed up in Kastro area, AND up in Grotta area, these (with climb/walk requirement) are the only town areas with any view. So I still firmly recommend staying in St. George by the beach... not for the swims or sunbathing, just so lovely to wake up, have balcony breakfast or patio breakfast w. sea view. Look, I'm no spring chicken, I like convenience, but since you have problem w judging map distances, look at Skymap http://www.skymap.gr/apps/site/viewmap/?mapid=29&cid=305 Figure out how to zoom in/out (I use wheel on my mouse) and mov around on this fab 3-dimensional naxos town map -- and you will see that St. G. Beach is just an extension of the town -- in fact, it begins directly behind Town Hall!

    BTW, if you found something in the town lanes near sea front, you might just happen to be near one of the 2-3 clubs that play music late. So you see.

    OK, now about Seafood. Dining out is amazingly economical in Naxos, half that of the most popular Santorini spots. You can eat your fill of traditional Greek cookery for under €30 per couple including carafe of house wine... and that can include various recipes of seafood like grilled octopus, calamari, small fish like sardines and marides (the latter are tiny! yummy!), shrimp. What WILL cost a bunch -- and this is all over Greece AND other countries bordering the Med/Aegean -- are large fresh fish. They're priced (untrimmed/unfileted) by the Kilo (2.2 lbs), and Then prepared... thus a large broiled mullet w. sides could cost €40+. Delicious! but certainly sticker-shock.

    The reasons?? Longstanding -- dating to WW II. 1945 found people all around the Med starving (Nazis took ALL of Greece's food supply... Greek starvation deaths the worst in occupied Europe!). Salvation lay in the sea... so for decades the Med/Aegean was so overfished, that the fish stock could not recover. Today the small-scale types are abundant, but the rest are scarce & costly. Any tuna-cod-sole etc are from Atlantic, flash-frozen. Do not be annoyed/frustrated; understand the history, and enjoy the VERY fresh varieties that are on offer.

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    kja -- Don't fret at missing Sounion sunsets; I was told on my first trip that early-morning light is just as delightful, with solitude to contemplate and that Alas! commercial allure of sunset visits has brought SO many tour busses that they cluster like Elephants around a water-hole, making it hard to get an unobstructed view, and certainly, no silence for serene contemplation.

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    travelerjan:

    That map is a huge help, thanks. Now I get it. Normally when I hear beach I don't imagine it to be THAT close to the town. Bear with me, just getting to know Naxos.

    Food in Greece was a bargain when I visited many years ago, good to know it still is. Lucky for me I prefer the more inexpensive (and less healthy!) type seafood like cephalopods and shellfish. Interesting history on why fish prices are as such.

    So glad thursdaysd told me you can reach Cape Sounion via public transit. For some reason I was under the impression a car or tour bus were my only options. After reading your post to kja I thought, oh dear god I don't want to contribute to the scenario you described. Reminds me of Oia, Santorini only without the busses. Sunrises were much more civilized.

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    @ Tralfaz:
    ... I’ve found the walking times on google maps to be surprisingly accurate, based on a normal pace of about 1 mile in 20 minutes (i.e., about 1 km in 15 minutes). Add time if you want to windowshop or stop for a lot of photo ops or whatever.

    ... Yes, the olive press I hoped to visit was the Eggares. It is only open during high season, so you’ll want to confirm whether you can visit it when you are there. It actually opened for the first day this year on the day I did my drive around the island – which I know, because the same people who own the Hotel Grotta own it, and I had mentioned my interest to them.

    … I didn’t drive IN Athens at all – just on major highways around it.

    … As for fish, not all fish in Greece is actually fresh, as travelerjan mentioned. In theory, there will be a letter “k” on the menu indicating that it was frozen at some time. I must admit that I had at least one occasion to seriously doubt that the fish had been properly labeled, and so opted against it.

    … While I don’t mind the hijack, I would strongly encourage you to start your own thread when you are ready to do so. IME, context is critical when providing advice about a trip, so you should give people a chance to know what itinerary you are considering, in what time frame, with what goals, and with what constraints. And perhaps even more importantly, many Fodorits who are experts, or who have relevant experience, don’t read trip reports (and so will never see your comments here), but they are VERY responsive to requests for input on planning threads. You would do well to seek that input.

    … As you research, be sure to consult some really good guidebooks (e.g., the Rough Guide and Michelin Green Guide) and take a look at rome2rio.com to figure out how to get from place to place. You will need to confirm anything you read there, as it is not sensitive to seasonal variation, but you can get a good sense of your options, with links to the companies that offer public transportation.


    @ Heimdall:
    ... I bet the grape harvest season is a delight!

    … and thanks for your compliment on this thread as you wisely recommended that Tralfaz start her own one.


    @ thursdaysd: The scenery I saw on the road to Cape Sounion was impresive! I’m glad I saw it, even if I didn’t have the uninterrupted views that you would have had from the bus.


    @ travelerjan:
    ... FWIW, there are rooms with balconies at the Hotel Grotta that offer sea views including the Portara. And that hill is, IME, nothing like the Kastro hill. JMO!

    … Thanks for the reassurances about missing the sunset at Sounion. Really, it would be ridiculous to worry about that, when I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing so many glorious moments in Greece!

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    To, In, and Around Nafplio

    Day 13, cont.

    Leaving the Corinthian Canal, I soon saw a massive mesa rising steeply from the surrounding land and thought, surely THAT is not Acrocorinth, is it? Those can’t be castle walls on top, are they? But yes, and yes!
    • From a nearly flat road, I turned onto the switchbacks scaling this dominating geological feature.
    • Up and up and around and up and around and it began raining lightly again and gusts of winds kicked in…. An, uh, interesting drive!

    When I finally reached the parking lot of Acrocorinth, I was very, very glad that I had my rain jacket and few items for warmth at hand.
    • As soon as I protected myself from the elements as well as possible,
    • I headed to the ticket gate, where I learned that, for some unstated reason (or at least a reason I didn't understand), the site would be closing early on this day:
    • I had only 30 or 40 minutes to visit before closing.
    • Fortunately, my primary goal had been to see the views.

    I made my way up the treacherously steep and slippery cobbled lane to and through just one gate beyond the entrance (so through two gates in all), and was rewarded for the effort:
    • OMG, what a view!
    • Clearings among the clouds chased after rain clouds at Olympic speeds, coloring the fields and buildings and waterway well below my vantage point in glorious, saturated shades of blue and green and gold and rust and
    • Imbuing the area with a powerfully dramatic effect and
    • Again, reminding me that the ancients didn't live in everlastingly sun-drenched and breeze-less heat.
    • I found it hard to pull myself away from theses breathtaking and rapidly shifting views, but
    • I eventually began my slow, careful descent of that steep, cobbled lane.
    • I felt enormous sympathy for the skimpily clad young woman wearing dainty sandals who was struggling with both the weather and the surface. Poor thing! I couldn't help but wonder what she thought of her male "friend's" unwillingness to assist her.
    • Before I got in my car, I noticed a couple of very large birds who seemed to be suspended in the air just out of reach – they were flying straight into the wind, matching it’s force and so appearing to be stationary. Cool!

    It wasn't far to Mycenae and
    • my first exposure to the impressive stone work of this culture -- OMG, the Mycenaens were master builders!
    • The weather remained much as at Acrocorinth -- awesomely dramatic skies, rain that ranged from drizzling to drenching, and winds that were sometimes strong enough to make it hard to keep one’s footing.
    • I was impressed by the Lion Gate, not just for its execution, but also for its abstract features; and the palace – what a location! – and the grave circles, and “Lion Tomb” and the ceremonial walk….
    • The Museum held quite a collection, and helped me see the differences between the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, and later ancient Greeks -- not that I can clearly articulate those differences, but I gained enough to provide some insights and serve as a bit of a compass for my further experiences.
    • One warning, though: There are no WCs in the museum itself. Argh!
    • I found the nearby Treasury of Atreus interesting, but more for how similar it seemed to the tombs of ancient Silla (in South Korea) than for its design per se. I guess there are a limited number of ways in which one can construct a burial chamber with stone and earth, and so independent derivation of such tombs isn't that surprising. (But both of them were notably different than the tomb at Locmariaquer in Brittany....) Or maybe I just failed to see the important ways in which Greek tholos tombs differ from Silla's tumuli! The Treasury of Atreus was much taller, so it probably required a different distribution of stress along its walls....

    As the weather cleared, I headed to Nafplio,
    • and a few LOT of frustrating moments as I tried -- and tried and tried! -- to find a place near my B&B where I could park long enough to leave my luggage. No luck!
    • I eventually chose an illegal parking space (blocking access to a short alley), took my suitcase up some stairs and into the B&B, got directions to parking options, and
    • Trotted back to the car, grateful that no one was there, waiting for me. Whew!
    • Once I got my bearings (or, to put that a bit differently, after taking just about every wrong turn possible),
    • I found a free parking space in a lot by the harbor -- and had the foresight to take several pictures of the area, which proved quite helpful the next day when I tried to figure out which of several adjacent parking lots held my car. ;-)

    Finally ready to check in to the delightful Pension Dafni, Sonia welcomed me warmly with a glass of her homemade liqueur, made of ouzo and orange rind and spices and oh, I wish I had her recipe!
    • I settled into my comfortable room, complete with a complimentary bottle of Nemean red wine (which I saved for another time), and freshened up before
    • Heading to Ta Fanaria for dinner and
    • My first taste of rabbit stifado -- OMG, that was good! :-)
    • Returning to the hotel, I savored another small glass of Sonia's liqueur and
    • spent a few moments on my room's small balcony, which offered views along a quiet street in this old section of town.


    Day 14

    After a generous and tasty breakfast, complete with Sonia's incredibly moist orange cake, I headed out to explore Nafplio.
    • I began with the Church if the Transfiguration, a converted mosque, and then the
    Church of St. Spiridon, with some richly detailed frescoes in need of restoration, and the
    • Turkish fountain across from it, and then the
    Vouleftikon, another one-time mosque, now a meeting hall, with another Turkish fountain outside, and then a
    • Much appreciated orange juice at one of the tree-shaded tables of Nafplio's lovely marble-paved Syntagma Square.

    Nafplio's Archeological Museum is housed in a wonderful Venetian palace and
    • Holds fascinating prehistoric hearths, a wide and well-curated collection of Mycenaen artifacts, including figurines and a full set of bronze-age armor, and any number of other treasures.
    • After a stop at one more church, the lavishly decorated Church of the Panagia,
    • I managed to find my car and drove to...

    Tiryns.
    • I again admired the building skills of the Mycenaeans,
    • Not to mention the views!
    • Unfortunately, the signage was minimal, and there was little to see other than building foundations and some massively imposing and incredibly well-fitted walls, but
    • I thought the palace courtyard quite lovely, and perhaps because I was becoming more familiar with Mycenaean culture, it seemed easier for me to picture what that courtyard must have been like than I experienced with many other ancient palaces. :-)

    Next: Epidaurus.
    • I welcomed a large beer at a shady table before exploring this extensive and fascinating site.
    • For me, the highlights included the
    • Healing hall, with its stone-work lattices for privacy; the
    • Grandeur suggested by the remaining bits of the Propylon;
    • The remants of the Tholos Temple, including those in its museum, and of course, the
    • Stunning theater with its incomparable acoustics (and sweetly welcoming little cat).

    Returning to Nafplio, I freshened up before heading out for a long sunset stroll around the outside of it's peninsula,
    • starting at the Arvantia Beach and ending
    • at the harbor and its views of the Bourtzi Fortress.
    • It was a perfect evening for a long walk, and
    • the skies offered an array of changing colors above distant mountains and reflected in the gently undulating sea.
    • A number of people were out, and it was a pleasure to see the joggers and young lovers and elderly couples and families with strollers or children enjoying the promenade and its sights and the pleasant breezes of the early evening.
    • Toward the end of my walk, the lights of the city and the Bourtzi Fortress and properties along the waterfront, near and far, began to come on, and
    • their reflections glittered and swayed in the water … Nice!

    For dinner, I went to Alaloum, where
    • I enjoyed welcoming service; the food (I never expected to say these words, but OMG, those mashed potatoes were amazing!); and
    • a trio of musicians playing mostly traditional Greek pieces.
    • And then a slow walk back through charming Nafplio.


    Day 15

    After another satisfying breakfast, I
    • I stopped briefly in the Komboloi Museum, which is really a shop selling every style and variety of worry beads imaginable.
    • And then I thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely visit to Nafplio's fabulous Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation Museum, with its excellent display of folk costumes and other objects. Then a
    • stroll through a lively farmers' market, something I always enjoy!

    Next, I drove to Nemea, where I particularly enjoyed
    • entering the stadium through the athletes' tunnel;
    • the athletes' quarters,
    • the Museum, with its starting blocks and illustrations of the ways the ancient Greeks tried to eliminate and identify false starts; and the
    • Partially reconstructed Temple of Nemean Zeus, where one can roam in and around the temple (not just outside it) and admire the three columns that have withstood the ravages of time. Wonderful!

    Eager to sample some Nemean reds, I drove along the labeled route of wineries.
    • If any were open, I didn't find them. Maybe the wrong day of the week, or time of year, or time of day?
    • I stopped at one taberna, in case it offered a tasting; no luck, nor could they tell me of any place where I could do that. Ah, well,
    • sip & spit is not my favorite way to sample wines, and that's what I would have done.
    • I just made it a point afterwards to sample Nemean reds any time I could! ;-)

    Back to Nafplio and its Palamidi Castle, which I reached by car.
    • Kudos to each and every person who has climbed those 999 stairs, or even some of them! Maybe in my younger, fitter days, but on this trip? No way!!!
    • But I enjoyed my time in the ruins of the castle:
    • I roamed the battlements and savored the stunning views.

    I then welcomed a refreshing cold beer with a view of Nafplio's lovely harbor.
    • I decided to forego visiting the Bourtzi, opting instead to take a long, leisurely stroll through various charming streets and plazas before
    • returning to my B&B for a long shower and a few moments with a very pleasant Nemean red on my tiny balcony. :-)

    For dinner, I went to Mezedopoleio Noulis, where I found the service brusque, but competent.


    Day 16

    With one last delicious breakfast, I left Nafplio and
    • enjoyed some lovely scenery along the coast before
    • stopping briefly in Lerna, for a visit to the interesting House of Tiles.


    Next up: Mystras and a tiny bit of the Mani

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    Thank gosh you're safe. When I recommended Pension Dafni I didn't tell you the following. We were standing outside the hotel when the nozzle of a hose hit one son on the shoulder at very high speed. The nozzle had fallen off a hose being used by someone to water flowers up a few floors. A couple of inches over and sonny boy would have been hosed.

    Isn't that a beautiful town?

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    Lerna ... Lerna. In 8 visits to Nafplio area, haven't made it to Lerna, which I've wanted to, ever since my 1st Greek Archeology course at Penn. Can u imagine -- it was built BEFORE the Minoans or Mycenaeans, before the bronze age, 3000+ BC. Amazing. Kudos to u, kja.

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    Perhaps it's my perceived attractiveness of the city from photographs or perhaps it's the history, I always think I would include Nafplio on any visit to Greece. You just confirmed by feelings about it.

    And I understand your comparison between something from Greece and something from Korea. I had a similar experience on Easter Island today; the former housing structures in one village reminded me of Newgrange in Ireland.

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    Once again, I am so thrilled to find that so many of you are hanging in with me on this LONG trip report – thanks so much! :-)

    @ xcountry:
    … OMG! Your son, and the rest of your family, are (as you know!!!) SOOoooo very lucky! But now that you have shared the information that I might have needed to ensure my survival, I must ask you a question: Did you, perhaps, have some ulterior motive in making sure I received your recommendation of the Dafni? Hmm? Well, if so, your plot was foiled! And I’m VERY glad that you’ve read along far enough to realize that I survived my time there. I hope you were in suspense from my very first post! ;-) ;-) ;-)

    … And oh yes, I agree -- Nafplio is truly beautiful. :-) And such a perfect base for so many points of interest!


    @ travelerjan: There’s so much to see in the area around Nafplio, isn’t there? I suspect that sites like the House of Tiles are an acquired taste. Honestly, I can understand that many people would look at it and think, well, that just some old foundations and bits of dusty walls.… But I have acquired that taste, and I’m glad very glad I stopped in Lerna -- I was awed! I hope you get there some day.


    @ joannyc: I’m glad you are still following along! But I’ll leave the photography to those who, like you, have the knack of capturing the essense of an experience in a picture. And OMG, you do have that knack!


    @ tripplanner:
    … Wow, you’ve spent the day on Easter Island?!? That must be an awesome experience!

    … It won’t be the same kind of experience (of course), but I agree that Nafplio would be an excellent choice for ANY visit to Greece.

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    heimdall:

    You're correct and thanks for checking me on my gradual hijack of kja's trip report, didn't mean to do so.


    kja:

    Apologies for the unintentional hijack of your report. I will heed your advice and start my own thread when the time is right. I guess you stoked my newfound interest in Naxos. Now on to your report.

    Sounds like Sonia was right on time with her orange liqueur concoction! I am thoroughly enjoying your vivid and atmospheric descriptions, e.g. the hovering birds, cloud cover. One can actually envision your travels.

    Nafplio's a place I wish I'd had more time for on my trip to Greece. Epidauros and Mycenae are truly amazing, not just the sites themselves but the settings as well. I was quite wowed by the landscape.

    As for the differences between the Myceneans and Minoans, I don't know about you but I get the sense that the latter were more peace-loving and open to outsiders. They didn't wall in their cities or have an army of any sort. It seems the Myceneans were generally more uptight and just a tad war-mongering!

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    kja, still following along and enjoying. You are now into the region that we certainly intend to visit on our trip. Your report will be helpful for our planning.

    BTW, maybe everyone knows this already, but I just learned you can pick up reading a long TR by bookmarking the post you want to read next. For example this link gets you kja's Nafplio post:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/with-gratitude-for-a-glorious-solo-month-in-greece.cfm#comment-10051118

    It's faster than having to scroll around looking for where you were last.

    Thanks again, kja!

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    To one and al: My sincere apologies for the bold font through most of my last installment – how irritating! :-(

    @ tralfaz: No worries! Thank your compliments – its nice to think that I’ve helped you envision the glorious places I was able to see. … Interesting observation about the Minoans and Mycenaeans!

    @ yestravel: And thanks to you, too, for your kind words! Everything I’ve described so far was during May; just my last few days in Athens were in June. IMO, it was a lovely time to be in Greece. :-)

    @ Nelson: I’m glad you’re still following along and enjoying it, and I hope my report does, indeed, prove useful as you plan. And thanks for giving everyone that suggestion for finding specific parts of this LONG thread!

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    (Oops: one and all. I miss our preview function!)


    Mystras and a tiny bit of the Mani

    Day 16, cont.

    I admired the scenery as I drove into the mountains on my way to Mystras --
    • and encountered the mysteries of finding it!
    • There was a curious lack of signage about how to reach the ancient site from the modern town, and
    • the signage that I did see seemed misleading. As examples, a clearly marked Tourist Information office seemed like it hadn’t been open in a LONG while, and a large sign, in English, on one taberna's window indicated that one should inquire within for information about Mystras, but no one on staff there seemed to speak English.
    • I eventually got the information I needed from a tour guide who happened to be passing by with her group and took pity on me.

    Planning to start in the upper area, I drove
    • up and around and up and up and around and up and (is this sounding familiar?) and around and oh, my,
    • That wasn’t the parking lot for the upper entrance, was it?
    • Up and around and around and … uh oh, I bet it was. ☹
    • Finally finding a place to turn around safely – or at least, reasonably safely!
    • I went back down and around down and
    • into the parking lot, where I got out of the car and
    • walked on foot a bit and
    • turned a corner, oh, thank goodness -- the upper entrance to Mystras! :-)
    • I got a map of the site, advice about how best to see it, bought some water, and
    • Said hello to a sleeping cat and her nursing kitten.

    As I climbed to the topping fortress, I treasured the breathtaking views out over the surrounding valley and off into distant mountains.
    • Again, I was awed by the dramatic skies overhead, with clouds of every shade of white through black strewn against a remarkably blue sky, with
    • Glimpses of rain here and there in the offing, and
    • Deeply saturated colors in the shifting light and shade on the ground. Glorious!

    As I was turning toward a small covered gateway / guard post, a few raindrops began to fall.
    • I stepped into the gate area, and even as I was donning my rain jacket,
    • the skies opened to a drenching, chilling, gusty thunderstorm.
    • Grateful for my fortuitous timing, I waited patiently as more and more people joined me in this small, protected space.
    • As the rain began to diminish just a bit, one young couple decided to venture on, and
    • I followed, making it through the entrance to the fortress grounds before
    • the wind and rain picked up again, with ferocity!
    • I wimped out – I returned to the gate's shelter, and waited for the rain to abate.
    • The returning couple assured me that I hadn’t missed much, so once the rain had slowed to a drizzle,
    • I inched my way down the slippery stones of the downhill path.
    • Later, there were a few raindrops now and again, but I was fortunate -- most of the rest of the day was very nice.

    I then visited an awesome array of Mystras’s monasteries and churches.
    • As someone with a great appreciation of Byzantine art and architecture (even if not a well-informed one), I was very happy to spend my day at this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    • And I say that despite all the climbing!
    • I admit, though, that I was TIRED when I finished exploring these gems.
    • And yes, there were more than a few gems –
    • some incredibly expressive images, many with traces of once vibrant colors and awesome details;
    • wonderfully articulated architecture, with various nuances distinguishing one church from another,
    • and a few remnants of intricate floor inlays,
    • all surrounded by--and affording views of--delightful scenery.

    Turning onto the Mani Peninsula, I had planned to visit Gytheio briefly, but I was running later than I had hoped, and decided to skip it, going instead directly to the
    Limeni Village, where I was greeted very graciously.
    • I arrived just before sunset, and so
    • dashed onto my balcony, where I sipped wine as I watched the sunset skies over distant waters, and the lights reflected in the waters of the inlet on which this hotel sits, and the changing shades of light on and above the oddly treeless slopes of the mountain across the inlet.
    • With a freshening breeze and the sound of the surf far below, it was very relaxing!
    • Later, I took a few moments to appreciate the ways in which this hotel has attempted (successfully, IMO!) to convey a sense of the architecture and fortifications of the Mani.
    • And I had a pleasant dinner in the hotel's main building.


    Day 7

    The Limeni Village offered
    • a very nice breakfast buffet.
    • I also enjoyed spending a few minutes in a small room it has for the display of traditional crafts and clothes and objects from the area. Nice!

    It was easy to reach the Daros Caves,
    • where I had only a brief harbor-side wait until enough people arrived to justfiy a tour.
    • The boat ride through the caves was very pleasant
    • (well, except for the woman who seems not to realize how her "private" remarks to her partner resounded loudly – VERY loudly! -- through each chamber).
    • Despite some unfortunate signs of damage to the cave's stalactites and mostly submerged stalagmites, this was an impressive cave system with some stunning formations.
    • The last part of the tour of the cave itself is by foot, and then one
    • Emerges into the sunlight above a glorious inlet of the sea, with
    • Fishing and pleasure boats bobbing in the protected harbor, and a
    • village nestled at the inland edge of the finger of water, and
    • Hills rising from every side, and
    • Flowers bedecking the walkway back to the parking lot. Nice!

    Driving up and around and down the largely barren and steep hills of the Mani,
    • I reached Aeropoli, where I had hoped to see St. Taxiarchia.
    • It was closed, but it's exterior held some exquisite features.
    • I'm glad I walked around this fascinating town,
    • with its delightfully restored traditional Mani towers and flower boxes and interesting nooks and crannies.
    • A tall, freshly squeezed orange juice provided the perfect bit of a rest before moving on.

    Back on the road, I was in for some stunning scenery --
    • And yes, I say that even after commenting on all the glorious views I’d already had on this trip!
    • Going through Limeni itself (and with some glimpses back to the Limeni Village, perched on a hill above the inlet),
    • I began driving up and around and down that barren mountain that I had seen from my balcony, and
    • Then drove a seemingly endless series of switchbacks as I moved from one mountainous promontory to the next, all close to the coast, and
    • often with breathtaking views, whether from high above or just beyond the surf hitting a beach.
    • And hitchhikers! My goodness, I haven’t seen any of those in ages!
    • Too, I saw a number of Mani's traditional tower houses, and an occasional goat or two, and a profusion of glorious wildflowers.
    • Oh, I am one lucky person!


    Next up: More of the Peloponnese

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    More of the Peloponnese

    Day 17, cont.

    My first stop outside of the Mani Peninsula was Kalamata, with an archeology museum that I wanted to see -- the Benakeion. My
    • TomTom "easily" plotted a route. Does the fact that I used quotation marks tell you anything? I think the problem was that it mistook pedestrian-only roads for drivable roads....
    • In any case, I drove around and around and parked and got directions -- or tried to do so, but many people I asked either didn't know or admitted that they were only guessing.
    • I finally found myself at Kalamata's cathedral, where there was a large and apparently free parking lot.
    • I thought I would go inside to ask, and on the way, to the entrance, I used my limited Greek to ask each of the people I saw.
    • The first two (it was a large and busy parking lot!) said they didn't know,
    • but then a gentleman assured me that I could park there, and proceeded to run from car to car, in the lot and on the street, trying to get an answer for me.
    • I tried to tell him not to worry, I would ask in the church, but it seems that I had become his mission for the day.
    • He finally fond a pedestrian who knew and then gave me very clear directions. How very kind! :-)

    I was, in fact, quite close. Once I found the museum, and confirmed its hours,
    • I decided to stop first for a glass of wine nearby.
    • As is so often the (much appreciated) case in Greece, it was served with a small bowl of potato chips.
    • And then, a few minutes later, the server came back with a plate holding a small serving of freshly grilled squid and a slice of grilled eggplant. OMG! All for less than 3 euros!

    The Benakeion Museum is small, but is well worth visiting, IMO.
    • It holds a well curated collection of artifacts, organized by the location in which they were found (rather than by time, although information about age is, of course, also presented),
    • and it also includes an exhibit featuring Kalamata itself, which was devastated by an earthquake in the 1980s.

    The lovingly restored, and very old Agion Apostolon was just steps away.
    • It was closed for the day, but the exterior was stunning!
    • The cathedral had also been destroyed and rebuilt.
    • While I appreciated the cost and effort involved, I must admit that the newer frescoes seemed to me to fall short of the expressiveness of most Byzantine frescoes. JMO.

    Next: Mavromati, where I spent the night at the utterly charming Messana B&B.
    • After Maria's warm greeting, I took a few moments to stretch my legs and walk just a bit,
    • While doing so, I greeted a passing woman in Greek. She stopped, and after exchanging just a few words, she insisted on giving me a gorgeous stem of roses that she had been carrying. How generous!
    • I watched the sunset over the ancient site of Messina, which I could see from my room's balcony. If not the most spectacular sunset I've ever seen, it wasn't bad, and ooh, what a setting!

    A bit later, I explored a bit of the town:
    • I stopped at a nearby crafts shop, where Maria had said that I should be able to buy a bottle of wine. And I did,
    • but only after trying to decline, and then agreeing to taste the shipowner's homemade raki -- which he offered not because it was for sale, but just to be welcoming! And I did, indeed, feel warmly welcomed. :-)
    • I briefly passed by the town's ancient fountain, and then
    • Ate dinner on the Ithomi Taverna's lovely terrace, which I thought very pleasant in the cooling breezes of late evening.


    Day 18

    I began his day with aonther awesome breakfast buffet, complete with various local treats that Maria prepares. Delicious!

    The ancient site of Messini (sometimes spelled Messene) is enormous and fascinating and, IMO, well worth seeing. For me, the highlights included
    • the mosaic floors of now-vanished buildings to the outside of the theater;
    • The colonnaded stadium;
    • The odeon, with its patterned floor, and
    • The area by its fountains.
    • After many delightful hours on site, I visited the museum briefly, and then
    • drove to and through the awesome Arcadian Gate.

    From there, I negotiated the series of switchbacks that climbed from a valley floor to Karytaina, perched high – and quite beautifully -- on the slopes of a mountain, and described in one of my guidebooks as a “signature” Arcadian image.
    • One thing I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that it is another place that can be completely, utterly shut up during siesta. During my first hour there, I saw exactly zero humans and one cat.
    • Nonetheless, I enjoyed roaming around. The setting was gorgeous, and
    • I thought the (closed) ancient Byzantine church worth seeing.
    • It was a bit eerie though, as I couldn't see, hear, smell, or otherwise detect any sign of human habitation. By way of contrast, when I roamed around other towns during siesta (e.g., Archanes, on Crete, or Apiranthos, on Naxos), I could at least occasionally hear the strains of conversation or the sounds of cutlery hitting dishes.
    • As I returned to my car, a taberna opened. I savored a glass of fresh orange juice while admiring the views and the attentions of a few friendly cats.

    As I drove into the Lousios Gorge, my plan was to stop at Moni Philosofou.
    • When I was close to Dimitsana, I saw a sign pointing to a steeply downhill gravel road. I don't think so!
    • I decided to go straight to my lodging, and see if I had time to find it later.

    I thought En Dimitsani B&B delightfully cozy and welcoming!
    • I settled in and relaxed for a while on my charming balcony overlooking the gorge.
    • My hostess, Angeliki, had told me that there was a road to the Moni Philosofou right next to the B&B, and that it was just 15 minutes away! So off I went.
    • It might have been a 15 minute drive for someone who knew the roads, but
    • 30 minutes later, I was still navigating a road that was apparently 2-lanes, but so narrow that my tiny Citroen was brushing shrubs on each side. At that point, the road was relatively flat, but there certainly wasn't a lot of space for two cars to get by each other if another car did appear. (And thankfully, none did.)
    • It was beginning to get dark, and a mild drizzle was intensifying, and I was getting VERY tired of driving, so
    • when I came to an unmarked intersection, I decided that it was the perfect place to turn back.
    • Even if it had been just around the next bend, I wasn't chasing that rabbit any further into its hole.

    I returned to En Dimitsani, where I sat on my balcony, near the start of the very pretty Lousios Gorge, and looked out over its lush greenery.
    • It was drizzling on and off, and was a bit chilly, but I enjoyed the view and
    • change in light as day turned to dusk before leaving for dinner.
    • With the kind help of a stranger, I found my way to
    To Kapelo Ton Athenaton, which I loved! I had a delicious dinner of ground wild boar stuffed with cheese. I imagine the terrace on which I ate must be stunning during daylight hours.
    • Walking quickly in the chilly air, I returned to my B&B,
    • where I enjoyed a sip or two of the house raki -- an orange liqueur -- while I readied for bed.


    Day 19

    After a delicious breakfast, I went to Dimitsana's
    • fascinating Open Air Water Power Museum, where
    • I learned a lot about fulling, tanning of leather, and the making of gunpowder and raki,
    • All with some lovely views of the Lousios Gorge.

    Driving through more spectacular scenery, I reached the
    Temple of Apollo Epicurious, which I found mildly disappointing.
    • Although I had known that it was under restoration and under a protective structure,
    • I hadn't realized how limited one's views are because there is so little space between the temple and the outer boundary of the structure.
    • Nonetheless, it was impressive and (of course) beautifully sited.

    And then I began the LONG drive -- about 5 hours, not counting breaks -- to Delphi.
    • Parts of the drive were gloriously scenic, but
    • There was one rather long stretch of flat land (yes really! FLAT land, in Greece!) in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese that was particularly frustrating because of cross streets. Although many Greek drivers ignored the changes in speed limits, I tried to honor the apparent requirement to slow down for a half kilometer to either side of an intersection. Basically, each time I got up to speed (90 km per hour, IIRC), it was time to brake again, and throughout, cars were passing me at high speed. I found it tiring. :-(
    • At one coffee shop, I smelled the roses in a vase by the cash register, and the woman working there called out to me as I was leaving so she could give me one. How nice!
    • A bit later, I followed a seemingly endless stretch of wide, sweeping turns to climb another mountains ridge, and a
    • Seemingly even longer set of broad, sweeping turns down the other side,
    • With the beautiful Rio-Antirrio Bridge and Gulf of Corinth near Patras coming into view in the distance.
    • Eventually, I crossed that bridge and said farewell to the Peloponnese.


    Next up: in and around Delphi

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    Hello kja! This is going to take me ages to read but I will start right now!

    Have been out of touch since I got exiled from the US in February when I lost my Green Card in Costa Rica. It took me until end of July to get back... procrastination, bureaucracy, expense, travels in Europe, Middle East and Ecuador, new granddaughter, any other excuse I can make. Anyway I am back now!

    The beginning of your trip made me smile. I was in Chania last week of March and first week of April. I went to exactly the same restaurants as you. Delicious. And saw lots of snow on the mountains too.

    Have been to most of the places you mention but it has taken me 4 or maybe 5 trips to do it! And I am far too chicken to hire a car... public transport is fun but slow.

    More when I have read your trip report properly!

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    @ gertie:
    … OMG, you lost your green card? And were exiled? I can imagine few people who would deal with all the stresses that must have accompanied these events as well as I suspect you did, and still, no matter how well you dealt with it, I’m sure there were some rough moments along the way! … But wait a second – did you just say you used part of the time to travel? Brilliant! But no more sympathy from me! ;-)
    … Seriously, welcome back, and congratulations on your new granddaughter! :-)
    … That’s funny about the restaurants in Chania! You had told me that you enjoyed the food in Crete (you said I was in for a treat – and I was!), but I don’t think you mentioned any specific restaurants. Oooh, I did eat well in Chania! (And almost everywhere in Greece!)
    … I’m delighted to learn that you are reading along. :-)

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    In and Around Delphi

    Day 19, cont.

    Shortly after I crossed the Rio-Antirio Bridge, it began to rain.
    • I was soon driving through the most amazing cloudburst:
    • The sky above me and ahead was a dark, nearly black shade of grey and I could see lightning flashes ahead, but
    • To my left, blue skies with scattered cumulus clouds topped a mountain ridge, and
    • To my right, the Gulf of Corinth and the mountains of the Peloponnese were also under blue skies with puffy white clouds.
    • The rain cloud was very long and rather narrow and directly above the road, like a big, dark stripe in the sky. Wow!

    In deference to the rain, I was driving a bit below the speed limit, well onto the shoulder, and as usual, cars were whipping past me.
    • I rounded a bend and found that one of those cars had flipped over and was half off the road and it looked BAD.
    • A number of people had stopped and it looked like they were trying to help. Scary!
    • As I inched past the wreckage, I sent my silent best wishes to the driver and any passengers....
    • Already tired, I was now also shaken, both psychologically and physiologically, as my body dealt with the adrenalin rush, so
    • I pulled off at the next gas station, where I bought gas and paced around for some time while sipping a glass of juice.

    When my pulse and breathing returned to normal, I returned to the car and started driving again.
    • The rain had slowed to an off-and-on sprinkle, and
    • the road began to climb and zigzag up into the mountains and, thankfully, it wasn’t far to Delphi.

    • I soon found my destination: the Pan Hotel -- not the best choice of this trip, as the room was cramped and the bathroom was poorly laid out and VERY cramped,
    • BUT I had a small, private balcony with a glorious view to the Gulf of Corinth. :-)
    • Exhausted after that long drive, and still a bit shaken, I sat on that lovely balcony for qutie some time.
    • I slowly recovered with the help of some pleasant wine – another Nemean red, IIRC.
    • As dusk fell and the last of the day’s light reflected of the gulf’s waters, lights slowly came on in the town at the gulf's edge (Itea, I believe). Beautfiul!
    • That balcony made up for a lot of the room’s flaws!

    I had a disappointing meal at the Taverna To Patrick Mas (one of only two disappointing meals I had in Greece, so I’m not complaining) and
    • Then spent a few last moments admiring the twinkling lights of Itea before
    • Collapsing for the night.


    Day 20

    After a rather basic breakfast (I had been seriously spoiled by all the wonderful breakfasts I'd enjoyed thus far!),
    • I began my exploration of Delphi with the
    Temple of Athena Pronea. So lovely, and so wonderfully sited!

    At the awesome, breathtaking, extraordinary main Archeological Site of Delphi, I was particularly struck by the
    • Treasury of the Athenians; the
    • Temple of Apollo (where, as I've experienced elsewhere, a group of Chinese tourists were NOT going to move on until EVERY single person had gotten an acceptable shot of himself / herself / themselves in front of the extant columns. Sigh);
    • the glorious views from the impressive Theater, and the
    • Stadium, which I'm pleased to say I thought worth the climb. (I’m also glad to report that there was a small patch of shade just about every 40 or 50 steps up that long, serpentine, uphill path.)
    • What a glorious site!
    • In one area near the Temple of Apollo, there was a man chiseling the centuries' worth of detritus from a wall, and I couldn't help but think: that man, and those of us watching, are the first people to see that wall in, what, a couple of millennia? Wow!

    The Archeological Museum was exceptional, IMO:
    • The friezes, the Sphinx, the ceramic dish showing Apollo and a black bird, the bronze charioteer (oh, that charioteer!), and SOOOooooo many other treasures!
    • I visited slowly, and then re-visited some pieces and lingered over others until the museum was to close. Such a treat!

    I had wanted to see Delphi for as long as I can remember knowing of it. After nearly 3 truly amazing weeks in Greece, and after seeing soooo many wonders, I approached it with a bit of caution: How could it possibly live up to my expectations? I am very happy to report that Delphi easily exceeded my expectations. :-)

    I then drove to Arachova, where I
    • spent an hour or so walking around.
    • As a caravan of tour buses began pulling into the town, I decided it was time to go!
    • I returned to the modern town of Delphi, near my hotel,
    • where I exchanged some pleasantries with various shopkeepers as I scanned their wares.
    • After a long, relaxing break on my balcony,
    • I dined at the wonderful Taverna Vakhos -- gorgeous views to the gulf; excellent service; and, along with a delicious salad of fresh vegetables and some kind of luscious goat cheese, another rabbit stifado entrée. (I really must find a good recipe for that!) And, of course, a tasty bite to end a perfect evening. :-)


    Day 21

    After a quick breakfast, I checked out and headed to the utterly awesome Hosios Loukas.
    • A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this walled monastery includes a pair of interconnected Byzantine churches.
    • Such glorious mosaics!
    • Not to mention its frescoes, and crypt, and museum (with its ancient and remarkably low marble refractory tables, among other things), and example of a typical monk's cell, and views, and ancient stone olive press, and the Roman relief of lions embedded on the church's exterior wall....
    • I believe this monastery continues to function. Certainly, the site remains of great importance to Greek Orthodox Christians -- several groups of them arrived while I was there, lead by priests, and what I believed to be a service began just as I was leaving the churches.

    I then began another very long drive -- about 4 hours plus breaks -- this time to Meteora.
    • For a part of this trip, I encountered another heavy thunderstorm, and
    • Again, I could see mountains under clear skies to one or both sides. Oh my!


    Next up: Meteora and beyond

    I hope some of you are still reading along! Just a few more stops (Meteora, Thessaloniki, and Athens)….

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    Catching up! Did you trek back up to the parking lot at Mystras, or find something less strenuous?

    My favorite place at Delphi was the Temple to Athena - I poured her a libation. (Well, water.) Was disappointed to miss the museum there.

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    I am so impressed with your travels and how araticulate you are in describing them.

    Delphi to this day remains one of those heartstopping places for me. I was in awe of it when I saw it ever so many years ago. It's right up there with Machu Picchu in terms of the reference I feel for it,

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    Delphi is one "sight" where you realize a major part of the impact is the setting ... the view down the mountain ... even if many of the ancient buildings are gone or in ruins ... Similarly, Phaistos in Crete is impressive due to its high settng looking down over an entire valley ... The Palace of Malia in Crete may have many of the Phaistos characteristics but on a dead-flat field, no vista, it loses some of its importance.

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    I really enjoyed reading your description of Delphi. I was there in 1972, and I remember it as one of the highlights of my trip to Greece. I don't remember seeing the museum, though. I was with a small tour group, and maybe we didn't have the time for the museum. Too bad. Looking forward to Meteora!

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    I’m so glad to know that some of you are still following along! Thanks for letting me know. :-)

    @ thursdaysd:
    … Oops, I failed to mention moving the car at Mystras! After visiting the upper part – the fortress (or at least the little bit of it I saw) and two or three churches -- I moved the car to the lower lot. It was still a ridiculous amount of climbing, but I think I would have had to be carried out if I had had to go all the way back up!
    … Isn’t that Temple to Athena glorious? I wish I’d thought to pour a libation – what a great idea!

    @ yestravel: Thank you for the compliment, as I am impressed with YOUR travels! I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet – and am a tad envious of you for doing so. Mostly, I’m just glad that I’ve seen the places I have seen, including Delphi. “Heartstopping” is a great word for it.

    @ travelerjan:
    ... So true -- the views from Delphi and Phaistos really were stunning! The concept of “Location, location, location” seems to apply anywhere.
    … When I first started planning this trip, I had hoped to include Malia, but just couldn’t fit it in. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it, but find it reassuring that you thought it somewhat less powerful than Phaistos.

    @ KarenWoo: IMO, Delphi could easily be the highlight of any trip, even without its museum, but oooh, that museum was something special! I hope you (and thursdaysd) get to see it one day. Its hours are limited, though, so I can understand that it would sometimes be skipped. Hope you enjoy my report on Meteora, too.

    @ joannyc: Thanks again! I’m glad you feel like you are right there with me, as that’s how your photo journals make me feel. :-)

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    I'm still following along too and enjoying your report. I also know that we would not be able to do as much as you, especially as a non-driver. You're still giving me ideas too.

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    @ tripplanner: I’m glad that you’re still following along, too! I suspect that I fit more into my trips than most, and am able to do so, in part, because of rental cars. But no reason to do everything – it’s just my preference to fill every possible moment. If my report gives you ideas that help you decide what to do, I’d be very pleased!

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    After reading your report I realize I HAVE to see Delphi on my next visit to Greece. It's a bit off the beaten path but obviously worth the effort. Sounds wonderful, a special place indeed.

    I must say you have guts for driving everywhere. One surely gets to see a lot more that way, but speaking for myself I'd be a nerve-racked mess! I dislike driving on a well-paved, flat road let alone the kind one often encounters in Greece.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Athens and a city about which I know precious little, Thessaloniki.

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    Following your trip report from my trip to The Netherlands and London! Greece still ranks very high in my travels. We parked at the top of Mystras and then had to do that long hike back up. I will never forget the views from Delphi. I am enjoying your articulate reporting!

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    @ Tralfaz: Oh yes, do consider adding Delphi to your plans for Greece! It is truly special.

    @ tripplanner:; Great! Just, uh … “don’t get any ideas” (as that saying goes). ;-)

    @ HappyTrvlr: OMG, kudos for managing to hike back up Mystras! … I’m glad to know you’re still following and enjoying. And I hope you are enjoying the Netherlands and London. ☺


    A Note about Driving in Greece: So many people have commented on driving in Greece that I feel obliged to add an observation. Despite the challenges of the twists and turns and climbs or descents, once I learned the norms (like driving on the shoulder), I found it extremely easy to drive defensively in Greece. Except when inching past the two wrecks I encountered, I never saw anyone cross the medial line. And although people driving faster than I sometimes backed up behind me before I could find a place to let them pass, no one every crowded me from behind or cut me off when moving ahead. Those experiences are quite in contrast to other places where I have driving. For example, I found the drivers in Sicily and Croatia to be maniacal – I don’t know how many times I would approach a blind turn on a shoulderless two-lane road in those locations, only to have someone whip around that curve in MY lane with barely enough time for either of us to pull to the side to avoid a crash. And being tail-gated and having cars pull in front of me unnecessarily soon have been routine almost every where I’ve driven. So, while the terrain in Greece poses challenges, driving was, in many ways, surprisingly easy. IME.

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    Finally kja!
    Just almost caught up with you. I was with you all the way until the Mani, then you lost me! And I have to say that your speed of travel leaves me standing. I had 2 weeks in Chania alone, one each in Santorini Naxos and Nafplio. Have even made notes as I read along though not all of them make sense!

    I think what got me most was the driving. I am full of admiration for someone who can do all that stressful stuff then do the sights at the end of the day. And find parking spots. And manage not to get tickets. And decipher Greek road signs. With no navigator too. Not to mention keeping off the booze while on the road. Hats off. Have to say it did reinforce my decision to travel exclusively by public transport and having read all that, feel vindicated.

    More soon...

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    I also drove myself for 10 days in Greece. I honestly did not find it challenging. Once I got a feel for the rules, I even did a bit of Greek-style passing. GPS was my lifesaver, though. I could make out a Greek road sign if I had some time, but not at a glance, so being told to turn in 300 meters was much more useful. The thing that really knocked me out was driving on the big interstate-type roads. The speeding was incredible, and that's before you got to the motorcycles. While motorcycles on the two-lane roads are invariably slow, slow, slow, on the multi-lane roads, they appear all to be engaged in a mad race and blow by the cars going easily 20 mph faster than the rest of the [speeding] traffic. That's the part I found terrifying! But in general, I too found Greek drivers quite reasonable, rational and patient.

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    @ gertie:

    … OMG, how did I lose you in the Mani? What must I do to reel you back in?

    … I do try to warn people that I travel hard! I mean it when I say that I want to take advantage of every possible moment to see and do things that I cannot do at home, and I’m willing to thoroughly exhaust myself to that end. (And I did on this trip!) Please understand that I’m not criticizing anyone for choosing a different style or pace – I would hope that every traveler finds what works for him / her / them on each and every trip. In truth, a part of me envies those of you who travel as you do, and at the very least, I hope to ease into a style more like yours as it becomes necessary for me to do so (and I know that it will!)

    … As I just mentioned in a note about driving, there were ways in which I found driving in Greece surprisingly easy. I rarely drove more than a couple of hours at a time (I admit that my two LONG drives were taxing); with a GPS, I really didn’t need a navigator or translator; and I had generally identified parking lots in advance (but, as noted, I miscalculated a few times). Forgoing alcohol until I settled for the evening was, I admit, sometimes a bit more challenging. ;-)

    … Too, I love to drive, and I don’t have (or need) a car, so having one when I travel is a bit of a treat. My father adored driving, so when I’m on the road in a foreign country, I’m always reminded of some of my best memories of him. (OMG, what he would think of GPS systems!) He taught me to read (and treasure) maps; to drive defensively; to drive safely. I like to think that he would be proud of the ways in which I’ve implemented the lessons he so patiently provided.

    … That said, there are SOoooo many advantages to public transportation that I fully endorse your commitment to it!


    @ artsnletters: I must have been just enough off-season to miss the motorcyclists – and from what you say, I’m very glad about that! GPS really has simplifed driving, hasn’t it?



    Meteora coming up…

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    @ joannyc: OMG, I remember navigating, solo, by paper maps in the pre-GPS days – what a PITA!

    ...


    Meteora and Beyond

    Day 21, cont.

    After a relatively long flat stretch, I reached the Meteora area, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    • (If anyone reading this report doesn’t know about Meteora, I encourage you to do a google images search.)
    • With a last, challenging drive up a narrow, twisting, and STEEP driveway, I arrived at the
    • delightful Pyrgos Adrachti, my B&B in Kastraki.
    • I spent some time relaxing on my private patio, which opened onto a small lawn with some flowers and rustic objects and – best of all -- some awesome views of Matera's stunning rock towers. :-)
    • After a while, I moved to the B&B's front porch to watch the sunset.
    • The cloud cover was too dense to afford a spectacular sunset, but a few small breaks in the clouds provided some beautifully impressive moments.

    I ate dinner at the pleasant Taverna Gardenia, and then
    • Plodded, huffing and puffing, up that long, steep driveway. :-(


    Day 22

    Awakening to the joyous calls of numerous birds, I peeked outside and enjoyed the lovely sight of the lightening sky as dawn approached.
    • Later, I savored a tasty breakfast before heading off to the monasteries.
    • As some of you may recall, I was still recovering from a nasty thigh injury, and I wasn't at all confident that I could manage the stairs involved in visiting most of Meteora's monasteries. The effort it had taken to reach my B&B after dinner had not put my mind at ease!
    • My plan: Take each climb slowly, and see what I felt able to manage.

    First up: Grand Meteoron.
    • Grand indeed! And a treat to see, despite the hordes of tourists and tour groups.
    • With glorious wall paintings, intricately inlaid wooden furnishings, incredible treasures, fascinating displays of the implements of everyday survival and an ancient wooden wine press and an ancient kitchen, an ossuary, and (of course) stunning views,
    • it was, IMO, well worth every one of those stairs!

    I decided to tackle the climb to Varlaam, too.
    • Smaller, it also held impressive wall paintings, a rich treasury (including an illustrated manuscript from the 6th century), and a terrace affording amazing views, not only of Meteora’s awesome terrain, but also of
    • four people scaling a neighboring tower -- oh my!
    • I watched the first two reach the top, where they leapt and jumped around -- while I silently screamed, “No!!! Be careful! Don’t do that!” (I grow old... but I still eat peaches, and, to add to the confusion, I also wear my pants rolled when necessary.) (Sorry – couldn’t resist the homage to T.S. Eliot….)

    To my surprise, I decided I had the energy to visit Roussanou, too, as it didn’t entail very many stairs.
    • As at each of the other monasteries and convents I visited in Meteora, women were asked to don a skirt upon entering, which basically means tieing a sarong-like garment over one’s pants.
    • There was a rack of such garments at the entrance to each, and a place to return them upon leaving.
    • At the entrance to Roussanou, the rack didn’t have any sarongs, just a few headscarves (which were not required, but which some women chose to wear), but I could see a heap of garments in the “return” pile.
    • While I waited to ask the nun at the counter whether other sarongs might be available, a group of women tied the headscarves around their waists, almost like sashes, and tried to enter.
    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nun so distressed! The women seemed completely impervious to the issue and were moving up a ramp, the nun was obviously trying to get out of her cubicle … I stepped ahead to ask the ladies to stop, leading the nun to think that I was trying to enter without even buying a ticket…! It was all very confusing.
    • As I herded the women back to the entrance, I think the nun realized that I had been trying to help. She gave us all sarongs, and after the now properly attired ladies entered, she and I exchanged a pleasant word or two (in my limited Greek) as I finally paid for my entrance.

    • I was rewarded by some truly exquisite and expressive frescoes in Roussanou’s tiny church. They seemed, to me, to have a more cohesive aesthetic than the frescoes of most of the other monasteries I saw in Greece. So lovely!
    • Too, I could see a bit of a garden that was closed to tourists, part of this still functioning nunnery.

    Wondering if I would regret the effort, I then climbed to St. Nicholas.
    • The way to the entrance didn't have too many stairs, and one could take a serpentine path instead for parts of the climb.
    • I encountered a welcoming tortoise who was very, very slowly, and with seemingly great determination, making his way across the path. I bonded with that tortoise. ;-)
    • Once inside, there are a LOT of stairs to reach its top, :-(
    • But the views from the uppermost, tree-topped level were, IMO, worth every painful step! :-)
    • This monastery also had a small church with an interesting painted ceiling in one part, and
    • A series of frescoes of stories from the Bible that I thought absolutely breathtaking, and quite unlike anything I saw in the many other Byzantine churches I visited on this trip.

    Very pleased that I had managed all of the stairs to and from these four monasteries, I decided to hedge my bets -- I stopped by the side of the road for an awesome view of the Monastery of the Holy Trimity, but skipped an actual visit.

    The last of the open monasteries, St. Stephen's, did not require stairs (thank goodness!) -- one reaches it via a bridge.
    • The treasures of this functioning nunnery, IMO, included the exquisite woodwork of the iconostasis and furnishings of the church, a wall of frescoes of sainted women rendered with what I thought to be unusual expressiveness, and glimpses of the herb garden (which tourists could not enter).

    Exhausted, I stopped briefly at my B&B for some refreshment and to grab a small bag of supplies, and then
    • I went to the Ananti City Resort, outside of nearby Trikala, where I had reserved a massage even before leaving home. ;-)
    • (The way I saw it, if I was able to visit a monastery or two, then I would likely welcome a massage. And if I was NOT able to visit as many as I wanted, then I would definitely NEED a massage!)
    • Oh, I enjoyed that wonderful herbed hot-oil treatment! :-)

    I returned to Kastraki just in time to catch a few glimpses of another sunset from my B&B’s front porch -- it was pleasant, if too cloudy for awe.
    • After relaxing with some wine for a while as dusk turned to night, I walked into town for dinner.
    • The taverna where I had dined the night before had live music -- enticing, but I decided I wanted a more quiet evening.
    • I found a very pleasant restaurant with an outdoor terrace, where I enjoyed a very tasty meal and
    • a complimentary treat of a huge bowl of fresh cherries and a dish of yogurt with preserved orange rind and walnut. Wonderful!
    • Unfortunately, if I wrote down the name of this taverna, I haven’t found it. :-(
    • Tired - VERY tired, truth be told! -- I climbed back to my B&B with steps that may have been even slower than (if as determined as) those of my tortoise buddy, and
    • I then collapsed. But happily!


    Day 23

    Again awakening to birds as they greeted daybreak, I enjoyed watching for a while before
    • another tasty breakfast and
    • my departure from the Pyrgos Adrachti.

    I stopped briefly at Meteora's Natural History and Mushroom Museum.
    • Small, it was nearly filled with energetic young children and the attention-demanding voices of the adults guiding them through the collections.
    • The woman who sold me my ticket kept apologizing for the crowds and noise, but I was very glad to see that children are given this opportunity and seemed to be enjoying it.
    • I didn't stay long -- enough to confirm that a creature I had seen crossing a road near the Lousios Gorge was, in fact, a young wild boar and to confirm that I really had seen quite a few different species of goat.
    • The section on mushrooms was particularly crowded, so I just bought some mushroom powder (do any of you know Willa Cather’s My Ántonia?) and left for Veria.

    After about an hour on back roads through an area of beautiful rolling hills and farmland,
    • I turned onto a major expressway for most of another hour.
    • Distant mountains sometimes seemed enticingly clear, while at other times, they vanished into a cover of dense clouds.
    • Tall and fluffy white clouds mixed with open spaces and shifting bits of rain to create the kinds of dramatically shifting skies and light effects that I had so appreciated at several points during my time in Greece.
    • As I crossed a wide river, I realized how rarely I had seen rivers on my travels here. In fact, I don’t remember any others … there must have been some…?!?

    Reaching Veria, I faced, and eventually overcame, the challenge of locating the Byzantine Museum of Veroia.
    • (The sign with the name of the museum had become completely hidden by folliage.)
    • What a gem! Relatively small, it held some wonderful examples of Byzantine art, and
    • parts of two houses, one Byzantine and one Post-Byzantine.
    • Everything was very well signed in English, with the obvious intention of educating and informing visitors.

    The graciously helpful man at the museum's desk gave me a map and directions to the
    • tiny Church of Christ the Savior, which was, unfortunately, closed.
    • I admit that I stepped over the low, but gated, fence (shame on me!) to walk around it;
    • I thought the frescoes on its exterior (protected by porticoes) both unusual for their content and unusually well preserved for external frescoes.

    It was only a few kilometers to Vergina, where
    • I found excellent signage directing me to parking for archeological site and
    • then NO signs for how to get there from the parking lot -- argh!
    • With a bit of help from a local shopkeeper, I located the

    Extraordinary Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai, a large tumulus where Phillip II, father of Alexander, and others were buried.
    • Such treasures! Gold, silver, ivory ... And the
    • Preserved, in situ, portals to two of the tombs. Wow!
    • I can easily appreciate why this site was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    None of the other parts of Vergina's archeological site are currently open, so I soon left for Thessaloniki.


    Next up: Thessaloniki
    Note: I’m so glad that so many of you are still reading along! The end of this trip, and this trip report, is coming!. I hope to post on Thessaloniki tomorrow. My final stop, after Thessaloniki, was in Athens, but with a busy week at work, it might take me two posts to cover my time there. And then I’ll offer a few final thoughts….

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    Hi kja,

    Still reading! This latest segment reminds me of part of my daughter's overland trip from London to Cape Town. She and her husband were driving their Land Rover from Albania that day, and arrived in Kalabaka, near Meteora, after dark. Not being able to see much of the scenery in darkness, they were overwhelmed when they woke up next morning at how beautiful it is in that part of Greece.

    Unfortunately they didn't have much time to linger, because they had a deadline to get the Land Rover on a cargo ship at Piraeus which was sailing for Alexandria, Egypt, where they would pick it up for the rest of the trip to South Africa. The whole trip took nearly a year, and I was disappointed they didn't have more time for Greece. I did arrange for them to meet a friend in Athens, who took them on a tour of the city.

    Btw, they recorded their trip on a Wordpress blog, with my daughter doing the writing, and her husband the photography. The blog is a wonderful memento of the trip, which has its own website address. You may be doing a blog yourself, but if not, think about it—you are an excellent writer.

  • Comment has been removed by Fodor's moderators

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    @ Heimdall: That trip of your daughter and SIL must have been quite an amazing journey! … And thanks for your compliment. I don’t have a blog – maybe when I retire.

    @ yestravel: I’m glad that your are finding enjoyment in reading about some of the places you haven’t yet visited! I’m very pleased I saw them.

    @ jaonnyc: Oh indeed, Meteora is truly spectacular! I am soooo lucky to have seen it!

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    Kja

    Me again. Here are a few random comments. I havent caught up with you yet but am working on it.

    Chania: Amazing we went to the same restaurants even though it was 6 weeks apart!w
    Cruise ships: cant bear them and what they are doing to world ports. I have been to Santorini 3 times. The last was in 2010 and there were 5 cruise ships in the harbour then. I said never again. And those poor poor donkeys. Well....
    Cellphones: if it makes you feel we are fellow dinosaurs, I haven't got one either! People ask me how I manage all my travels without one and I say I dont know really but I do!!
    GPS... Or satnav.... No idea. I print out various sizes of google maps before I leave home. Get town maps from the hotels. If it ain't on the map or in my guidebook I probably dont get there! As I dont drive on my travels it is not a major problem. I drive enough in TX to last me a lifetime.
    Security screening... I often ring all the bells and buzzers by forgetting to take things off. When challenged by security staff, I offer to take all my clothes off, but warn them that it isnt as much fun as it used to be.
    Naxos: lovely details of your stay there. Brought back memories of getting hopelessly lost every day in and around the castle area. Never got the hang of it.
    Corinth Canal: yes, I too get excited about feats of engineering. And that is a good one.

    More when I have got a bit further on!!

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    @ gertie: Sounds like we have some very similar views on a few things! I love maps. Even if I succumb to the current world enough to buy a smartphone some day, I can’t imagine giving up my maps. ;-)

    ...

    Thessaloniki

    WARNING: Long post!

    Day 23, cont.

    From Vergina, it wasn't far -- just over an hour -- to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, with, I believe, something over 300,000 residents in the city and perhaps a total of about 1 million in the greater area.
    • From my perspective, that is not a particularly large city, but oh my! -- after weeks in much, much smaller places, I felt like I was entering a mega-city as
    • I caught glimpses of hillsides filled with white buildings, descending to glitteringly blue waters.

    Returning my car to Hertz at the airport proved extraordinarily easy.
    • I was soon in a taxi, en route to the
    • Quirky, wonderful, and well-located The Caravan B&B, which, as I was to learn, offers commendable customer service. Kudos to the young men who own and run this place!
    • As I had requested, my room had a bit of a view over a former mosque (the Hamza Bey), turned (I'm told) into a movie theater, then abandoned, and now showing signs of ongoing restoration. My views were from a tiny balcony from my bathroom – seriously! But it was positioned to afford absolute privacy, so as odd as it sounds, I enjoyed my little balcony.
    • I walked around a bit to familiarize myself with the area and buy a bottle of wine.

    Having read that the Trigano Tower was THE place in Thessaloniki from which to watch the sun set,
    • I asked my hotel staff to help me figure out how to get there – and was given a map and verbal directions, along with instructions on how to use the tram and the necessary coins.
    • It was only about a block to the relevant bust stop, and once on board, a young man helped me figure out how to pay and stamp my ticket, and the bus driver kindly made sure I found the right stop.

    The views from the Trigano Tower were impressive -- a sweeping vista out over the old walled city and the sea.
    • BUT if this tower is a good place for the sunset, then I think it must depend on the time of year, or maybe one needs to be inside (and it was closed at the time).
    • I could see the changing of the light, but I had no line of sight to the actual sunset.

    I walked around the lively area near this tower a bit.
    • And then I found the bus stop for my return trip, just outside a church were a wedding reception was being held.
    • I sat with my back to them, but enjoyed listening to the celebration.
    • There was an electronic sign above the bus stop that, when I arrived, said it would be 9 minutes until the next bus. I glanced again when it said 2 minutes, and then, after what seemed a long time, I looked and it said 19 minutes!?! I have no idea what happened.
    • The bus did eventually arrive and I showed the driver the address of The Caravan and he made sure I knew when to get off.
    • But it wasn’t where I had boarded, and I didn't see any street names, and so I had no idea where I was!
    • I decided to walk toward the water, and soon saw buildings that I had seen in that initial walk-around, and
    • Just another block or two and there it was!

    After freshening up a bit, I walked a few blocks to
    Sempriko, a casual and comfortable restaurant where I enjoyed my dinner and the taste of dessert I was given afterwards.
    • Although it was after midnight when I left the restaurant, I couldn't help but notice that the
    • Streets were still lively -- one of the ways in which the city's large university contributes to the local culture.


    Day 24

    Breakfast at The Caravan included a nice array of items and an absolutely delicious type of preserves made with red rose. Although The Caravan didn’t offer the lavish spreads I had encounered elsewhere, it was still commendable for some yummy options.

    Once ready, I began my day with a stroll through various markets -- one that I believe is called the Bezesteni market and another that I think is called the Modiano market.
    • The first part was a half-empty Ottoman building that looked to me like a converted hamam, and beyond that,
    • a set of open air stalls filled the streets between shops of what seemed every description.
    • I enjoyed the vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables for offer at the produce stands, and the interesting cuts of meat at butchers' stalls, and the bounty of the sea at fishmongers' counters.
    • And there were herbs and flowers and nuts and olives ... soooo many different kinds of olives! (That was true of every market I visited in Greece. How I wanted to learn the advantages of each and every variety!)

    I walked through a large public square (Dikastirion Square, I believe) where bits of lawn and a few trees were interspersed among crossing walkways and
    • cement benches had holes through them, I suspect to allow drainage after rain, but I could easily be wrong!
    • I passed the closed Bey Hamam, which seemed in poor repair, and
    • an intriguing ancient fountain, most of which was beneath the level of the current road.

    A row of dead trees marked the entrance to the impresssive Agia Sofia.
    • While I did not think comparisons the Istanbul's Hagia Sofia fair or reasonable, I still found much to treasure in this 8th century church, including the
    • Glorious mosaics of its central dome and the
    • Use of ancient capitals in differing styles, some with leaves that seemed to go across rather than up.

    I then walked along a very lively street with
    • some interesting Art Deco and other buildings. (Much oF the city had been destroyed by a fire in 1917, opening the way for erection of any number of architectural experiments.)
    • Passing through the Platia Aristotelous and its many cafes, I reached Thessaloniki's
    • beautiful promenade-lined waterfront. The inland side of the walk held shops and cafes, many with outdoor tables; the other side is edged by the sea wall.
    • People strolled or rode bikes and old men fished, with a view of a few boats in the near distance and,
    • Alternately hiding in clouds along the far horizon, or stepping out to reveal a gloriously snow-capped cone, glorious Mt. Olympus.
    • As I neared the end of this lovely seafront promenade, I stopped briefly for some refreshment, and then visited the

    White Tower, which had offered an enticingly attractive goal as I proceeded along the sea's edge.
    • The tower holds a museum of the history of the city that I thought extremely well done.
    • Each floor -- there are seven, IIRC -- is devoted to a different theme, with well signed displays and interactive videos and maps and objects....
    • The floors are connected by a spiral ramp at the outer edge, with occasional windows that offer a variety of views over the sea and city.
    • The top floor had been planned as a cafe, and although it no longer has that function, the cafe tables remain, and their tops are still video screens that show the preparation of various traditional Greek foods. Cool!
    • The top of the White Tower offers delightful views in all directions, and when I was there,
    • Mt. Olympus emerged from the distant clouds to bedazzle. Wow!

    I returned briefly to the waterfront for a welcome beer before heading, with a few missteps (signage was, IMO, poor), to Thessaloniki's Archeological Museum.
    • It's most impressive collection, IMO, was of gold and other artifacts from Macedonian graves, similar in the awesome craftsmanship to those I had seen in Vergina.
    • The museum also held a wonderful collection of regional artifacts, including statues from its Roman history, and a
    • Large collection of sarcophagi, displayed outside the main building.

    From there, I went around the corner to the Museum of Byzantine Culture.
    • Once I confirmed the hours, I went straight to its pleasant courtyard cafe for a much appreciated glass of wine.
    • What an awesome museum! Incredibly well curated and signed, this museum does a wonderful job of laying out the nearly thousand-year history of Byzantine art and culture, and
    • it does so with some extraordinary examples.
    • Even though I was tired when I got here, I spent hours here being awed and absorbed by the experience.
    • When I finally finished my visit, hours later, I again realized how tired I was!
    • Another glass of wine (with some aspirin) at the museum's café did a great deal to revive me.

    Refreshed, I returned to the waterfront to explore a bit more to the other side of the White Tower.
    • I walked by some interesting modern art installations as a slight drizzle began.
    • I enjoyed the views and breezes and another dramatic sky: With clouds of every shade from white to black, and a decided chop to the sea, and the sound of water slapping against the seawall, I watched the light change as the sun began to set.
    • But I wouldn't have a direct view of the sunset, and I was tired, and the rain was intensifying…
    • I soon walked a block or two inland to a bus stop, where it was only minutes until one that would serve my needs arrived.

    Glad that actually knew how to use the buses, and this time, knowing where I wanted to get off, I
    • I easily found my way back to The Caravan.
    • I welcomed a hot shower before walking to

    7 Thalasses, a restaurant that I knew would be a bit of a splurge, but it sounded special!
    • My meal was delicious, but the service and setting left a little room for improvement, IMO.
    • Thankfully, it was not an outrageous splurge…


    Day 25

    While in Thessaloniki, I had an ambitious desire to see all 12 of the Byzantine churches that are (along with some other paleo-Christian and Byzantine sites) part of its UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription, but I knew that oddities of opening times would make that well nigh impossible.
    • I had done my best to formulate a plan in advance, and
    • George of The Caravan, who knew them all, helped me revise my plan in ways that drastically improved my experience. Kudos, George!
    • So after another tasty breakfast, including more of that red rose preserve, I set out.

    First up for this day:
    Panagia Chalkeon</b (Byzantine church #2 – Agia Sofia was the 1st one I saw). From the 11th century, I thought this church particularly notable for its beautifully proportioned and refined architectural details.
    • Few of its frescoes have survived, but those that are there were impressive, and it's
    • Icons stand out against the richly varied hues of the interior brickwork.

    It was only steps to the Roman Agora, the centerpiece of which is an
    • unusual bath area, where people would have relaxed in individual "sit-tubs" (for lack of a better word!) with a place to sit and a small lower place for one's feet
    • arranged in a spoke-like array around a central area from which heat, and/or perhaps steam (a question under debate), would have flowed. Cool!
    • The Roman Agora also includes an odeon, the lower part of what was once a large agora, and a small museum.
    • I’m glad I made time for this site!

    The 7th century St. Demetrios (#3) is quite large and very grand, and
    • includes an impressive treasury, any number of priceless icons, and
    • accessble crypts (which are, I was told, actually connected via underground passages to all of the other Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki -- passages used for various purposes during eras unfavorable to Greek Orthodox religious beliefs).

    The 14th century Church of the Prophet Elijah (#4) held a
    • very large collection of icons in a rather spare, mostly white and black interior.
    • I saw only a few traces of its original frescoes, mostly in window arches.
    • Nonetheless, I thought it's proportions and full-length portico made for a particularly pleasant exterior.
    • I think I reached this church just as it was about to close for the lunch hour; I greatly appreciated the patience shown by the man with the keys.
    • From there I walked ever more steeply uphill, with glances back to see the sea glittering in the narrow space defined by the narrowing street.

    The Latomou Monastery, aka the Church of Osios David (#5), from the 6th century, is small, but truly exceptional, IMO.
    • Its main mosaic, in the hemispheric wall behind and above the altar, and a fresco on a side wall, escaped destruction during the Byzantine Iconoclasm because (if I heard correctly) their keepers hid them under hides and then painted the hides.
    • I reached this church just after an English-speaking couple, and the man who described himself as the "current keeper" gave the three of us a delightfully detailed and engaging description of the history and symbolism of these treasures.
    • I am so very lucky to see these places! And to learn about them!
    • I feel extraordinarly fortunate to have seen many of Thessaloniki’s magnificent Byzantine masterpieces, and of course, I can’t speak to those I missed, but OMG, Osios David is truly outstanding! If any of you visit Thessaloniki, consider making it a priority.

    Climbing further uphill, streets became ever more narrow and were replaced, in parts, by stairs.
    • I slowly, very slowly, plodded ever upwards, glad to have plenty of water on this oppressively hot day.
    • It probably wasn't as far as it felt when I reached the ridge line along which this stretch of the 4th and 5th century city walls (which are also part of the WHS inscription) stand.

    From there, it wasn't far to the 14th centurary Vlatades Monastery (aka Vlatadon) (#6).
    • The grounds were open, but the church had closed for siesta.
    • Even so, it was easy to admire stunning views out over the city.
    • I walked around a bit to at least admire the church’s exterior and to
    • Pay compliments to the several (four?) peacocks sunning themselves in a cage along with several peahens and some chickens and other fowl.

    By the time I pulled myself away from these views, I was tired and thirsty.
    • I was able to buy a bottle of water at Vlatadon's bookshop, and then headed off in search of a taverna.
    • George, of the Caravan, had told me of one taverna that he noted was really old – it had been there for more than 100 years! I managed to keep my face straight as I told him that in the U.S., we don't think of something as "really" old unless it's at least two or three hundred years old. He paused, with his eyes still on the map, and as he clarified that he was referring to the age of a taverna, he looked at me, and we both laughed.
    • In any case, I was about ready to kill for a beer, and as I headed down and down and down, still in the heat of the day, I took some hope, knowing that at least this taverna was ahead, even if I didn't want to go that far.
    • And then, rounding a corner, there was the Taverna Igglis, the place George had mentioned! And it was open and ooh, I enjoyed that beer!
    • I am always amazed at how even a brief stop and refreshing beverage -- and maybe an aspirin or two --can revive me.
    • It wasn't long before I started walking again, passing the closed 14th century St. Nicholas Orphanos (# 7) before returning to the lower town.

    There, I went straight to the Rotunda of St. George.
    • OMG!!! I do at lot of research before my trips, and I usually know what I'm going to visit and why, but I surely missed something this time, as I was
    • Completely blown away by the grandeur and elegance and colors and style of the Rotunda's extant mosaics.
    • Huge and of gorgeous proportions, I can barely imagine it's one-time splendor.
    • Ι σpent a lot of time admiring this space, and also
    • Walking around the exterior, taking in the minaret that was added during the city's Ottoman times. If I understand correctly, the Rotunda was built as a church or temple In the early 300s, converted to an Orthodox Church, then -- much later -- converted to a mosque, and even later, back to a church....
    • Truly awesome!

    Walking along a street that edges excavations of the ancient boulevard connecting the Rotunda to the Palace of Galerius, I next stopped at the
    Arch of Galerius, also dating from the city's Roman era, and
    • Providing a fascinating insight into the city's prevailing winds:
    • Some sides of the arch's original deep reliefs retain depth and surprising clarity; other sides are so worn as to be nearly unidentifiable.

    The nearby St. Panteleimon was closed temporarily, as was the
    · 14th centurary Church of the Savior (#8) but oh, what a gem!
    • Dwarfed by the high rises that edge it by what must be one of Thessaloniki's busiest and most hectic intersections, this
    • tiny church nonetheless commanded my attention, with its
    • slightly tilting, but otherwise perfect copula- shaped dome. I’m not sure if it is ever open....

    Churches abound in Thessaloniki, and I passed any number of others in this area. Although my focus was on those that are part of the UNESCO inscription,
    • I took a few moments to enter a large modern church here, and while I found elements to appreciate, it didn't have the pull on me that the older churches had.
    • I took advantage of the few moments before the post-lunch opening of one to
    • relax over a glass of wine (and more aspirin). By the time I finished,
    St. Panteleimon (#9) was open. I appreciated the delicacy of some of this 14th century church's features, the placement of a baptismal font in an exterior gazebo-like structure, and the flowering plants adorning the small walled grounds.

    I then returned to the road edging excavations of the route from the Rotunda to the Palace of Galerius. As I expected,
    • access to this archeological site was closed for the day. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it, but it was a low priority for me, particularly because the main excavations are open to the air.
    • Ι walked around and admired the foundations of the Octagon, and
    • Admired the many cats stretched out here and there in the sun, or grooming themselves in the shade.

    Thanks to The Caravan's George, I knew that there were catacombs near Agia Sofia.
    • There was construction work in the area, but I
    • I saw a bit of a pool and ancient column by the open-air part.
    • Although I don't normally eat a mid-day meal, I found that I was hungry!
    • A nearby eatery, the Estrella, offered a welcome solution: a hearty bagel sandwich and large, fresh glass of juice.

    The surprisingly spacious and light 5th century Church of the Acheiropoietos (#10) provided an
    • Intriguing contrast to the churches I had already seen.
    • A service was in progress, so I didn't explore it as fully as I would have liked.

    I readily admit that I was tired by then.
    • I found a store within a block of my hotel where I could buy some preserves of red rose to give as gifts (I've learned to avoid buying even small tastes of foodstuffs as gifts because of their weight, but I couldn't resist!), and then I
    • Returned to my B&B and nearly collapsed!
    • I sat with my journal for a while, but the pull of things-to-do soon drew me into a restorative shower, and I went out again.

    My goal for this outing was a pier that marks the edge of Thessaloniki's harbor, a pier that the men of the Caravan recommended for sunset.
    • Only a few blocks away, it was a pleasant place where couples strolled and young people gathered and
    • Freshening breezes cooled the air.
    • I won't wax poetic about the views: the sun set behind a series of rather ugly derricks (like one sees at oil fields) with a chain metal fence marking the edge of the pier. That said,
    • Nonetheless, I could see the light change, and a few clouds that the descending sun brushed with color, and
    • to the south, there was a small island with an art installation that caught the changing light in interesting ways, and
    • to the east, the lights of the city came on against the darkening sky.
    • All-in-all, quite nice!
    • As the day cooled, and with the sound of the sea first lapping, and later heaving, against the sea walls, I turned back into town.

    I walked through the Platia Aristotelous, which was even more lively at night than during the day, and then
    • strolled north almost as far as the Roman Forum.
    • I didn't want a big meal, but I did want to eat something and my Caravan men recommended Tsarouches -- perfect!
    • This popular little place is one where you look through a window to see what’s available, point to what you want, and soon understand why it is a VERY popular place.
    • I was lucky -- a seat was available when I got there.
    • I had a wonderfully flavorful bowl of chicken soup and bread -- exactly what I needed!
    • Back to my room for another glimpse from my balcony before much needed sleep.


    Day 26

    After breakfast, I walked to the 14th century
    Church of the Holy Apostles (#11). Many of its frescoes had been badly damaged, but
    • some d the higher ones gave a sense of how beautiful they must once have been.
    • Unfortunately, the 13th century St. Catherine (#12) was closed when I reached it, so I could only admire its exterior.
    • I was about to walk back into town, when a taxi approached -- I hailed it, and took the opportunity to try to see the interior of the church at Vlatadon, the hill- topping home to peacocks that I had visited the day before.
    • It was open, but it's frescoes, too, had been badly damaged. Nonetheless, there were a few preserved elements, and it was
    • A lavishly decorated space, with a great deal of gold and many priceless icons.
    • (Woohoo! I made it to all 12 of the Byzantine churches of the UNESCO WHS inscription! OK, three were closed, but I think I did pretty well!) :-)

    The one remaining thing I wanted to do in Thessaliniki was to visit the Folklore and Ethnology Museum of Macedonia, so I walked to the taxi rank near the Trigonan Gate.
    • To give you an idea of just how obscure this museum is, even George had never heard of it!
    • I wasn't surprised when the taxi driver said he didn't know it, but he immediately got on his smart phone and started looking. And looking. And looking. And then he gave up.
    • Having studied maps when planning, I knew it was near the waterfront well to the east of the White Tower -- not enough information to find it, but maybe enough to find someone who knew it?
    • So I had the taxi driver leave me off around where I had finished my walk a few nights before and I started walking.
    • Ι αsked several people, but only one -- perhaps the third or fourth person I asked -- seemed certain that he knew it, and the best directions he could give me involved pointing in the direction in which I was headed.
    • I was about to give up when, oh, there it is!
    • And I'm so glad I saw it!
    • A small museum in a lovely old mansion, it holds an impressive collection of folk costumes from throughout Macedonia and Thrace.
    • It also has informative displays of customs – carding wool and weaving and flailing grain and fulling, etc.
    • And the museum staff could not have been kinder – they seemed delighted to share their treasures!
    • Although clearly not of the same caliber as several of this city's other museums, I thought it rather sad that so few people seem to know of it.

    I easily found a bus,
    • returned to The Caravan, claimed my luggage, and said farewell to the young men who had made me feel so welcome in this decidedly underrated city.
    • A taxi, a flight, and I was off for the last destination of my trip, Athens.


    Next up: Athens, part 1 of 2

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    I love Thessaloniki. So vibrant and full of young people having a good time. When I was there (about 10 years ago now) I was more interested in the history, the old Turkish town on the hill, Ataturk, the 1917 fire and the 1944 Jewish deportation. Thought the Byzantine Museum was one of the best I have seen anywhere. I might have stumbled over a few of your churches but am going to print all that out for next time.
    Bit worried about your aspirin consumption. Is it because of the thigh? At the pace you go I guess every little helps.

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    Just catching up. Glad you were able to visit as many of the monasteries in Meteora as you did, in spite of the challenges. I had known little to nothing about Thessaloniki until I read your report; now I'm curious how it compared in your mind versus Athens.

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    @ yestravel: Wise decision! I hope your ears have stopped ringing now…

    @ thursdaysd: It was a lot of walking -- and IMO, wonderful evidence that I was recovering strength and stamina. But oh, I was tired!

    @ gertie: Isn’t Thessaloniki a delightfully vibrant place? And I agree -- that Byzantine Museum was excellent. Thanks for your concern; aspirin were not a usual need, but that day, I ached all over!

    @ tripplanner: Wow, I’m not sure how to begin a comparison of Thessaloniki and Athens, as they are incredibly different. Athens has the Parthenon; so many ruins (Greek, and also Roman) that basically nothing can be built without finding and working around them; and an incredible array of worthy museums, including several that were, IMO, exceptional. Thessaloniki doesn’t really have any major ancient Greek ruins, but lots of Roman and Byzantine sites (and many of the Byzantine churches are still in use); it doesn’t have a LOT of museums, but those it does have are, IMO, of very high quality. Athens was filled with tourists and restaurants and shops that cater to them, and my sense was that those in the tourism industry learned long ago not to expect tourists to even acknowledge their existence (overstated, of course, but I think there’s some truth there). Thessaloniki seemed filled with students, and those in the tourism industry seemed thrilled to see that someone Western had included Thessaloniki in an itinerary. Just my impressions. Both have a LOT to offer.

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    (hoping -- seriously hoping! -- I turn off bold when appropriate)

    Athens

    Day 26, cont.

    A cloud cover precluded good views for much of my flight, but there were a few stretches when I had glorious views over glittering seas and steep promontories and cloud-kissed mountain ranges and that tiny strip of greener water separating land's edge from deep blue of the sea because it gets deep SOOoooo quickly off many of those coasts....

    I took a taxi to the Acropolis View Hotel, where I treasured my balcony with its views of the Parthenon, but was otherwise not particularly favorably impressed.
    • But OMG, the Parthenon – WOW and WOW!
    • As I had hoped, I arrived in time to check in, freshen, and
    • attend a performance of folk dances at the Dora Stratou Theater, which I
    • managed to find with the help of several very kind strangers.
    • It was a perfect night for an open-air performance, with comfortable temperatures and just a hint of a breeze.
    • I greatly enjoyed the live music and the costumes and the dance, and
    • thought about the ways in which line dances allow the elder members of a community to participate in ways that other forms of dance would not. Nice!

    As I returned to my hotel, walking now in the dark along a street that did not always have sidewalks :-(
    • I realized that I had paid absolutely NO attention to the place where the steps from the street with my hotel had reached the street on which I was walking, and this time,
    • I had taken no pictures to help me with exactly such moments. Argh!
    • I was just reassuring myself that I should be able to find my way if I did go to far when,
    • To my relief, there it was!

    I had contacted the restaurant next to my hotel, the GH Attikos, earlier, and
    • had been assured that no reservation would be necessary, so I was surprised when they tried to turn me away.
    • I protested and explained before the manager agreed to seat me.
    • Despite that disconcerting moment, I enjoyed my meal, the service, and the wonderful view of the Acropolis.

    Before I went to sleep, I went to my hotel's roof deck for a few moments.
    • Like the GH Attikos, and unlike my balcony, one can see more than "just" the Parthenon from the roof.
    • At the risk of being redundant, I found ANY view of the Acropolis nearly irresistible. IMO, it truly is magnificent.
    • No matter how tired I was (and I was exhausted by the time I returned to my room most nights!), I could not resist a few moments on my balcony for that glorious view of the Parthenon.


    Day 27

    My plan for the day began with walking by the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates on the way to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
    • After a quick, orienting walk around my immediate neighborhood,
    • I walked along the Dionysiou Areopagitou — the wide pedestrian-only marble avenue edging the base of the Acropolis, an avenue that is home to some grand mansions on the outer side, and street musicians and artists, and throngs of tourists.
    • Somewhere, somehow, at the end of that avenue, I took a wrong turn and, absolutely sure that I knew where I was,
    • I got lost and disoriented! Fortunately, I didn’t get TOO lost, and ultimately, it paid off, as found myself on some of those same streets later during my stay, and so knew where I was when I did.
    • With some help, I eventually found the monument in a small, leafy, cafe-filled square that I was to pass many times in the next few days.

    Passing through the imposing Hadrian's Arch, I came to
    • the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which left me in awe -- soooo huge!
    • Despite the increasingly oppressive heat, I took my time walking around that temple,
    • admiring each of its columns, standing or fallen, from every angle, and
    • appreciating glimpses of the Acropolis looming above in the distance.

    I was reasonably certain that I was near the
    Frissiras Museum (and I was), but gosh, it was hard to find!
    • After several false starts, I stopped for a beer beside a row of jacaranda trees that were just beyond the point of their fullest, most glorious bloom, but they still gorgeous and provided a carpet of purple petals.
    • Refreshed, I set off again, and finally, found it.
    • IMO, this small museum held an interesting display and made good use of its space,
    • but I must admit that I had placed it on my itinerary because one of my guidebooks recommended its collection of paintings by Greek artists.
    • I hadn't realized that its focus is specifically on contemporary Greek artists, and contemporary art is not my favorite.
    • Still I appreciated some of the pieces, and I'm always willing to expand my horizons.

    I took a path just inside the National Garden,
    • where another tortoise welcomed me to his home, before
    • Leaving for the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
    • which I reached just in time for one of the hourly changings of the guard.
    • Fascinating! I don't know the origin of the particular steps the guards used, but I can easily understand that that ritual would likely provide an effective screen against most imposters.
    • I also appreciated the dignity with which these men carried out their duties, and
    • the care that a supervisor took to ensure that their uniforms were arranged impeccably before leaving the tomb in their care.

    Returning to the National Garden, I found it a pleasant place for a leisurely stroll away from the worst of the day's heat.
    • I particularly enjoyed a vine wrapped gazebo housing a fountain, a duck pond, and a pond thick with young and old turtles climbing over each other in their quest for just the right balance of warming sun and cooling water.
    • I also greatly enjoyed a glass of wine in a leafy arbor.

    The Museum of Byzantine and Christian Art was very near, and well worth seeing, IMO.
    • I began with a collection of modern paintings in the lovely mansion that forms the central building of this museum -- paintings of various traditional Greek gods, goddesses, and saints in modern styles. Interesting!
    • I lingered in the extensive and very well signed section on Byzantine art,
    • pleased to be able to put many of my experiences while traveling through Greece (Mystras, the churches of Thessaloniki, various other small and ancient churches I visited along the way) in perspective, and
    • adding to the information I had gleaned along the way.
    • My visit to the collection of Post-Byzantine art was more cursory, in large part because I had greater prior familiarity with these art forms.
    • Nonetheless some pieces were of such beauty or craftsmanship that I couldn't help but pause in admiration.

    The Museum of Cycladic Art was just a block or so away, and
    • my first stop there was in its cafe for a glass of wine.
    • I treasured my time in this museum! I may have mentioned that I hadn't known of this genre before coming to Greece, but I fell in love with it.
    • I thought the collection excellent, informative, and very well signed.
    • I also appreciated a video display on the life of an Ancient Greek man, showing things like the ceramic stool in which toddlers were placed. Cool! (If I had seen any to this time, I hadn't recognized the purpose. I'm glad to say that I later saw one at the National Archeology Museum.)

    Having planned my visit to the Benaki Museum for a day when it would be open late,
    • I still had several hours to savor its incredible collection. And yes, it is an incredible, and incredibly diverse and intriguingly curated collection!
    • I particularly enjoyed the two Ottoman rooms, glorious textiles, and displays of jewelry from different eras.
    • I also appreciated a glass of wine on its pleasant terrace as dusk descended over the city.
    • Confident that I would have enjoyed much more time here, but comfortable with the time I had given it, I finally left.

    Passing through the now largely empty Syntagma Square (it was after 23:00), and
    • intrigued by the tiny Agia Dynami, sheltered behind a few columns in a cutaway space of a tall, modern office building,
    • I made my way to Athenaikon, where I had a reservation for this late hour and where I was very warmly welcomed.
    • Wonderful service, food, and ambience!
    • With my waiter's help, I plotted a route back to my hotel, finding the
    • Plaka oddly deserted, with only a few scattered still-occupied tables.
    • After a few last moments on my balcony, during which I reflected on the many treasures I had seen in just this one day, I collapsed.


    Day 28

    My first goal for this day was to visit the weekly farmer's market in Koukaki, a district not far from my hotel.
    • It was a bit further than I had expected, but I kept seeing people coming toward me holding bags of produce, so I kept going.
    • Just as I was about to give up, there it was!
    • Despite the many hawkers who saw fit to shout out just as my ear passed in front of them (ouch!), I enjoyed this market --
    • The man who insisted that I try a slice of his peach, the young man who insisted on hamming it up for my camera, and
    • especially, seeing the way that one particular very elderly lady was greeted so affectionately and attentively by every vendor she passed, no matter how old or young. She was obviously a much beloved member of that community!

    Moving slowly on this very hot day, I plodded up the hill behind the Acropolis and down the far side, where
    • a pair of men were sitting at the edge of a small square, playing stringed instruments with both skill and love.
    • After listening to a song or two,
    • I headed steeply down, down, down to the Roman Agora, most notable, IMO, for its fascinating Tower of the Winds.

    And then back up, and up, and oh golly, I am tired! -- and up…
    • just in time to watch the door to the Canellopoulous Museum being locked. Sigh.
    • I faced a choice: I could go on to my next destination, the Acropolis, but if there was a place en route at which I could take a break, I hadn't seen it. Or, I could go partway back down that hill to one of several cafes or tavernas.
    • I opted for the break.
    • Fortunately, one of the tables in the shade beside the walkway to the ancient agora was open, and I relaxed over a glass of wine and some pleasant views.
    • With another slow, plodding walk up the steep hill and a slow plodding walk through the park...

    I reached the Acropolis, one of the places I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember.
    • With a place like that, I think there is always the risk of disappointment, because my expectations were so high.
    • The Acropolis did NOT disappoint!
    • I spent hours there, admiring the views, which included glimpses of the sea (silly me -- I honestly had not expected that!);
    • marveling at how every bit of the still often rugged rock of this mesa has been worn to a slippery sheen by millennia of footsteps;
    • savoring the stunning Parthenon from up close (I thought it magnificent, despite scaffolding over a large portion);
    • awed by the entrance (Propyla), with its grand features and small temple (to Athena Nike); and
    • smitten by the Caryatids and the Erechtheion.
    • Altogether absolutely awesome! Enough so that I was barely even aware of all the crowds, or the many people with their ridiculous selfie-sticks, or how tired I had been earlier that day.

    For my decent, I chose the path toward the theater, with
    • glimpses of the one time church-caves on the hill, which I didn't get near.
    • I did explore a few "minor" sites (by Athens's standards), including the Sanctuary of Asclepius, and
    • then the grand Theater of Dionysus. Wow!

    Taking advantage of another late museum night, I now turned my attention to the Museum of the Acropolis.
    • Once again, my first stop was the outdoor terrace, where I sipped a glass of wine.
    • I loved this museum!
    • SOOoooo many treasures: from the incredibly well-done true-to-size recreation of the top of the Parthenon; and the Porch of the Erechtheion, showing clearly that each caryatid is unique; and the exquisite and very well signed examples of Greek statues, complete with traces of color and a bit of a small metal disk above a woman's head that was intended to help protect her from bird droppings! (Having been the recipient of a direct hit earlier that day, I wanted one! And why, pray tell, did that little invention disappear from our repertoire?)
    • I even enjoyed the glimpse, through transparent segments of flooring, of cats running through the ruins beneath the museum!
    • And as a bonus (and none was necessary!) I caught a bit of the day's sunset from the museum;s top floor.
    • I spent a number of very happy moments at this awesome museum!

    Returning to my hotel with only the briefest of stops to admire some of the many street performers entertaining crowds along the Dionysiou Areopagitou,
    • I welcomed a shower and change before going out again.
    • I got just a bit lost in Plaka, but with help, found my way to
    2Mazi, where I enjoyed the creative cuisine and pleasant setting, even if I thought there was a slight bit of room for improvement.
    • Then another long, quiet walk back to my hotel, again through a disconcertly empty Plaka,
    • followed by a few more moments on my balcony, treasuring the view and the thoughts of all the incomparable experiences of the day.


    Next up: Athens, part 2 of 2 – my last stop!

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    Golly, your stamina is impressive! 2 Highlight-Crammed Days! And it does show that it pays to stay within walking distance of Acropolis, because so many of the sight/sites are on pedestrian-only streets/lanes anyway. The ( unspellable) Dionysus Areo-something adds so much to the pleasure of staying on SOUTH side of Acropolis .... no cars on that pleasant promenade (on my FIRST trip, 1999, that was still a busy traffic street! Quel difference!). In the Spring & fall at least, about 1 hour before sunset, the greek families appear for their "volta" (stroll before dinner), with baby carrriage, kiddies on tricycles, people stopping at balloon-sellers and ice-cream carts ... it's like being in a travel poster!

    I am also fond of the tree-shaded cafe (it's called Diogenes) just behind the Lysikrates Monument ... and looove that little "arbor cafe" covering the path you take thru National Gardens to the Cycladi & Benaki museums. You are helping lots of newbies to mark their maps for cafes & tavernas, along with the cultural landmarks.

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    Well, kja, you have covered in one day what it took me 5 or 6 trips to see in Athens! I am breathless.

    My default hotel in Athens used to be the Adonis opposite the Acropolis View. Adonis used to be cheap and convenient. I think it is now just convenient. I need to start working my way through the list of hotels brotherleelove posted a while back. This time I flew into Athens for a few days at the beginning of May, but after the madness of Alex, decided to go straight down to Piraeus and the flying dolphin to Poros for some R&R.

    Athens has upped its tourist stuff in the past 10-15 years. Little trains chug about now for the weary at the end of their travels; there seem to be much larger crowds too. I too loved the Acropolis Museum, such a lot of space and light and coffee!

    I love walking back through Plaka late in the evening. Only local old men in kafenions, waiters clearing tables, cats, space between catering to the tourists. Quiet.

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    gertie, I think that the place across from Adonis is Acropolis HOUSE, not Acropolis View ... the latter is South of the acropolis, somewhat of a longish walk East along Dionysus Aerosomthng promenade. I think it qualifies as being in Koukaki area.

    Acrropolis House, on Koudrou in Plaka, is/was a kinda quirky place, some rooms "updated" and some waaay in the 1950s. I too used Adonis my first 3 visits, but it just raised its prices did nothing to improve it. I'm now a huge fan of Hotel Phaedra, maybe THE best location of any of the budget hotels, only 21 rooms, not fancy, plain hallways, but always fresh & clean w crisp linens and great balcony views PLUS rooftop w umbrellas, view, and no bar - u bring your own picnics or sunset beverages.

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    Maybe you mentioned it at some point, but how old are you?! What a whirlwind tour, seems you can't be over 50. I'm 58 and in pretty decent shape, but would have been a goner after the first week.

    The Museum of Cycladic Art is fantastic, one of my favorites. The collection has grown quite a bit since my visit over 10 years ago. Such simple and beautiful designs.

    I liked getting your opinion of the Acropolis Museum because it sounds wonderful from your description. When I see photos of it I have mixed feelings, the architecture seems out of place somehow but you never know until you're there.

    As for the Acropolis itself, well, wow! As you said, exceeds expectations. I'm right there with you on that balcony, with wine in hand of course.


    travelerjan,

    Quirky is one way to describe Acropolis House. Convenience is it's saving grace. I stayed there many years ago, before the so-called renovations and it was dingy AND incredibly disorganized. They essentially overbooked the place and had to juggle people around, kind of a mess really. I couldn't believe the place got such high marks from so many sources. I'll keep Hotel Phaedra in mind for next time, thanks for the tip.

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    Jan, yes you are right!
    Last time in Athens I stayed at the Phaedra on your recommendation. And do you know I never found the roof terrace! As you say, great location.
    I am amazed that our paths have never crossed: I too make a beeline for Diogenes for a G&T as soon as I arrive in Athens before I start serious sightseeing.
    Do you ever go to Scholarchaiou? That's another one I hang out in eating mezes and people watching!

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    Gertie -- I have been to Scholaria or however it's spelled, but not of recent years... it is mostly good if you are with 5-6 people and then yu can get a choice, otherwise you are stuck with a huuuge plate of gigantes, and a pyramid of grape leaves and you've spent €14, and you just wanted an itty bit of each. I have some little favorites I go to, but mainly I'm led around by the nose by my old friend Thalia (we were DE's together on TA before the trolls there chased us off)... she's half-Scots/half Athenian, and leads me down nameless alleys to wonderful nameless places where merriment ensues until way too late at night. Lots of fun, but I never get the name or the directions!

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    Do you not travel with a smart phone? I find the map apps are great help getting around a city. Took my husband a long time to convert from a paper map, but he now agrees the apps work better when we want to get somewhere and not get lost.

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    @ travelerjan: I’m not sure you should commend my stamina – I was exhausted at the end of those days! But very happily so. :-) I’m glad you recognized, and enjoyed, so many of the places I visited!

    @ gertie: My first two full days in Athens were full, weren’t they? But most importantly, full of extraordinary moments! Isn’t the Museum of the Acropolis special? And I agree -- Plaka as it shuts down has a very special charm. I’m glad I saw it that way!

    @ Tralfaz: I’ll admit that I am no spring chicken and to feeling fortunate to travel as I do. ;-) … I so agree about the Museum of Cycladic Art – it really is fantastic!

    @ yestravel: I don’t own a smart phone. I am in the competition to be the last person on earth to have one, and the two others ;-) who still don’t have one seem very stubborn. And honestly, even if I had a smart phone, I love my “lost” moments. Seriously! I study maps, and I carry maps, and sometimes I just put them aside and roam, as I find it usualy means that I get a MUCH better sense of where I am, and often gives me some unexpectedly delightful moments. JMO.

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    I still use paper maps-love them. And also agree some wonderful moments and sites are often found when we get lost. However there are times when I just want to get somewhere and love the apps for those times.
    Have a friend who will join you in the competition to be the last to get a smart phone.:)

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    @ yestravel: Oh no – there are four of us competing for that last-person-to-have-a-smartphone slot? I thought we were down to three. ;-)


    ...

    Athens, part 2 of 2 = LAST installment!

    Day 29

    After a few quick errands, I walked to the
    Ancient Agora, which surpassed my expectations.
    • I was fascinated by the scope and airiness of the re-created two-story agora, and by the
    • various statues in that agora, or scattered among the ruins, and by the
    • stunningly effective camouflaging of the green finches that surprised me by flying from a tree I had been admiring and then vanished quite completely into another leafy tree, and
    • OMG, the Temple of Hephaestus (aka Thissio) is extraordinarily well preserved! I was gobsmacked.
    • I didn't even mind taking pictures of others for them, as it was just another way to see this truly awesome building. :-)
    • If smaller than many other temples of any state of preservation I’ve seen, I found it more accessible, perhaps because of it size.

    Finally pulling myself away, I found my way to the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art without too much difficulty (although I will admit that the seeming desertion of a few blocks by the museum was a bit disconcerting).
    • I found much to enjoy there --
    • Some glorious Iznik tiles, an Egyptian reception room, some beautifully carved and layered doors, which, the signage explained, limited the use of scarce wood while also allowing room for the wood to expand and contract in differing weather conditions -- fascinating!

    It wasn't far to the Kerameikos Cemetery, with its
    • small collection of notable statues and other grave markers, including a few that had been subsequently used as road fill, complete with the marks of chariot wheels! Among them were two sphinxes, a lion, and a truly awesome kouri. Glorious, despite the damage!
    • I walked through a bit of the cemetery itself, just to get a sense of the area,
    • but I was tired – too tired to roam very far. :-( Call me a wimp, if you must. ;-)

    With brief stops at a small memorial to the Holocaust
    • and a little courtyard in which handicrafts were for sale,
    • I made my way back to an area not far from the Ancient Agora, where I found an
    • outdoor table at Kuzina.
    • I ordered a glass of wine, and then another, along with an order of absolutely scrumptious dumplings. :-)

    With renewed enemy, I walked to
    Hadrian's Library, which I visited from street level only, and then
    Megali Mitropoli (Athens's cathedral), which I thought had a pleasant airiness.

    I then began a concerted effort to shop for family and friends. I am NOT a shopper, but I do like finding gifts for family and friends when I travel.
    • I easily found a number of token gifts, and
    • with a bit more difficulty, I found a few more substantive gifts.
    • Unfortunately, I did not fill in all of the slots on my shopping list.

    I returned to my hotel to freshen up for what I had hoped would be a special experience:
    • Attendance at a performance in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
    • My only option while in Athens was an opera, Madame Butterfly,
    • and even though it is not a story of which I am particularly fond, I splurged for a seat in the center and near the front.
    • While I understand the historical validity of this story, I found it extremely difficult to watch it, as a US citizen, without painful embarrassment.
    • That said, I can only compliment the performance and the venue:
    • Incredible voicing, compelling acting, gorgeous costumes, empassioned execution by the orchestra, and
    • What a treat to see a performance in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus!
    • As when I saw a performance at the Greek theater in Siracusa, I found it impossible to not think of all the people who had sat in that seat, over so very many centuries, watching and enjoying performances. Wow!

    I had (of course) carefully researched my dinner options, and had reserved a table at Dionysos Zonar's well in advance.
    • Although the performance had run late, the hostess greeted me warmly.
    • BUT, the music was MUCH too loud, my food was decidedly substandard, and my server was actually insulting.
    • If I had known of ANY other option at that late hour, I would have left.
    • Thank goodness I had eaten that afternoon!

    Fortunately, my hotel was very near, and I soon went to sleep.


    Day 30

    Welcome to my last full day in Athens, and in Greece!
    • I began with a brief stop at the nearby Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, which displays pieces by this man and his workshop.
    • Much was decidedly haute couture, with some pieces of simple elegance, and many others of a substantially more ostentatious or flambouyant or daring style, complete with fashion magazine shots.
    • There was also a display Lalounis work with examples of items from Greek history that inspired them, and I found that portion of the exhibition quite interesting, as I thought it nicely highlighted the differences between some of the styles of ancient Greek jewelry that I had seen during my travels.

    Climbing over the hill leading to the Acropolis one last time, I found that the Canellopoulous Museum was open, so I stopped there briefly, too.
    • Its collections of Ancient Greek and Byzantine art were small, but included a few pieces that I am glad to have seen.
    • I also appreciated a small side room where hands-on displays were intended to help children learn a bit about these arts.

    It was another hot day, and very humid, too.
    • I was on my way to the National Archeological Museum when a few raindrops began falling.
    • I kept going.
    • The rain became a bit more intense.
    • I kept going.
    • And then, just a block or two from the museum, the skies opened to a torrential downpour! :-(
    • Fortunately, I was right beside a small arcade -- a small open area edged by columns under a much larger, taller building, so I ducked under cover.
    • My thoughts over the next half hours went something like: “I’m so glad I was right by this protected area!... Wow, it’s really coming down…. Gosh, I’ve been here more than 15 minutes now…. It’s STILL really coming down, with no sign that it will let up…. How much longer can this last? … Where is my emergency poncho when I need it!... Oh, it’s in my day pack!” And LOL, there it was!
    • I pulled it out, donned it, and set out.

    Pulling my skirt up, I forded the mid-calf-deep rushing river otherwise known as a cross street, and,
    • clutching my poncho to my head, began carefully slogging through the puddled sidewalks, when
    • OUCH!!! Something hit my shoulder! And OUCH!!! Something hit my head! Oh my: ping pong ball sized hail. Argh!
    • It was too slippery to run, so I just did my best to hunch over and step carefully as I could as I slogged through the streaming water, forded another side stream, and tried to protect myself from the pelting hail.
    • Soon, I turned into the landscaped walkway to the museum's entrance, and
    • as I slowly, painfully, made my way toward the stairs that define the entrance, I started hearing something rhythmic, like percussion.
    • I looked up, and found that a few of the people who were waiting on the museum’s portico, at the top of the stairs, had began cheering me on. How nice!
    • And then more, and more!
    • By the time I reached the base of those stairs, the crowd – now filling every corner of that portico -- was in full support mode, chanting and clapping in unison, and
    • Oh my, when I finally stepped into the shelter of that portico, I was greeted by rousing shouts of WOOHOO and YAY, complete with arms raised and high fives!
    • Now THAT was a moment I had not planned!
    • I’m not sure any Olympic athlete ever received a warmer welcome. :-)

    I dried off with a glass of wine in the museum's pleasant courtyard,
    • finished my gift shopping at the museum's shop, and
    • decided to do something I rarely do -- hire a guide for an hour or so.
    • To my surprise, I couldn't! I was told that English speaking guides no longer offer services at this museum, because "everyone" who speaks English just uses his/her smart phone. As already noted, I’m still in the running to be the LAST person on earth without a smart phone (or for that matter, a stupid one), so I was out of luck. But that was OK …
    • It seems that my travels and my research had prepared me very well for this museum.

    Athens's National Archeological Museum was exactly what I had hoped -- the perfect capstone to my time in Greece! :-)
    • I saw treasures from most, of not all, of the major archeological sites that I had visited, and other treasures, too!
    • And I thought the signage and curation admirable.
    • I spent more than six happy hours at the museum, with a brief break or two.
    • I had time for only a quick visit to the extensive collection of vases, but otherwise, saw everything I hoped to see.
    • And I left knowing that I had been fortunate enough to visit an incredible collection.

    I took a taxi to my hotel, where I went to it’s rooftop deck, hoping to see the sunset.
    • My hour there was pleasant, but no real sunset -- just an ever darkening sky.
    • Still, it was very nice to sip a glass of wine with a view of the Acropolis as the day shifted to night.

    For my last night in Athens, I hoped for a comfortable, casual restaurant not far from my hotel.
    • After a rather ambling walk, I ended up at Skoumbri.
    • Set along a pleasant, leafy, quiet avenue not far from my hotel and
    • filled with Greek-speaking diners, it proved to be
    • exactly what I wanted for a last, tasty meal.

    I strolled back to my hotel,
    • packed everything I could, and
    • lingered for a while on my balcony, so grateful for this trip
    • and this last chance to admire the night-lit Parthenon.


    Day 31

    I finished packing,
    • made a quick last stop in my hotel's roof deck, and
    • took a pre-arranged taxi to the airport.

    After the usual airport rituals, my flight departed.
    • Unfortunately, cloud cover precluded even the tiniest of last glimpses of this glorious country.
    • I was routed through Newark, where weather caused hours and hours of delays.
    • When I eventually reached my final destination, it was without luggage, which didn't arrive until the next day. But it did arrive safely, so no complaints.

    I readily admit that I was completely, utterly exhausted by the time I reached home. I don’t think I had even one more day in me! But, as I had hoped, I took advantage of every single moment I had in glorious Greece -- and I would FAR rather return exhausted than to have indulged a transient desire for rest. (Just me -- no criticism of those who have different travel priorities.)


    A few final thoughts

    It was a month of truly glorious moments – so many interactions with Greek people who could not have been more graciously welcoming; so many stunning ruins and artifacts from so many different cultural traditions; such beautiful, and wonderfully diverse scenery; such delicious foods; … well, I’ve already noted these things. Let me just say, once again, how truly fortunate I feel to have had these moments and these experiences.

    Once again, many, many thanks to every Fodorite who helped me make this trip so special!

    And my sincere thanks, too, to each of you who have joined me for this vicarious journey! I may be committed to solo (actual) travel, but I surely do enjoy having company along the way as I relive my experiences, and I’m very pleased to have had so many delightful travel companions for this second part of my journey. Thank you so much! (And if anyone joins later, welcome! And please, let me know!)

    I will, of course, remain available for questions.
    Thanks again, one and all!

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    Quite the experience with the hailstorm! Nice to know when others are cheering us on isn't it? Well, you've certainly made me consider a trip toGreece sometime in the future. Thanks kja for another helpful report.

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    @ tripplanner: I’m glad you learned a thing or two, am glad you tagged along, and if my report is amazing, well, that’s undoubtedly in large part because Greece is amazing. I have no doubt that you will enjoy it!

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    @ sundriedtopepo: Messages crossing! Yes, that hail storm was something, and OMG, it was so very nice to be cheered on as I was! I had many, many wonderful moments along the way, but that experience certainly stands out in my memory. :-) I'm sure you would enjoy a trip to Greece, and am glad I've provided a helpful report. Thanks for encouraging me, even before I wrote the first word!

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    What a lovely report on a lovely country. Greece really is a special place. Like you I spent about a month there (didn't cover nearly as much ground!) and feel very fortunate to have been able to do so. Of course everyone's tastes are different, but that trip left me with the kind of indelible experience no place I've seen since has matched. I learned a lot from your report and was reminded that it's high time I return to Greece. Thanks so much.

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    On my first trip ('99), after decades of wishing (but Life got in the Way), I had as companion for first 6 days my great sis-in-law, an artist, which greatly enhanced our experiences in Athens, Santorini & Crete. I then stayed on solo in Crete, then hopped to Paros, Naxos (where I lingered!), then Mykonos, where a very wise artist pointed me toward Nafplio, then a visit to Delphi & back to Athens... 30 days that changed my life.

    I knew I needed to keep going back but couldn't see how, after retiring on a measly pension. But then my sister asked me to escort her & 3 friends, in return for buying my ticket. Done! And it started me thinking, and spreading the word, and led to 8 other trips where, through word-of-mouth I'd find myself with 3-4 eager newbie "travel pals" to share my discoveries and favorite places ... now so many are treasured friends over the years. I've visited more than 25 islands, some of them many many times and a bunch of wonderful places on the mainland. Not as peppy as in the past, I've also done 3 trips solo ... and if I can muster the muscles one more time, hoping for a Farewell Tour in 2018 ... much less ambitious than my first trip, or KJA's... but filled with the same joy & appreciation. Bravo, KJA - and don't make your first trip to Greece your last one; the discoveries never end!

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    Kja, thank you. I’ve enjoyed your report immensely especially the many memories it brought back for me and my goodness, I admire your stamina. It’s well over 50 years since I began travelling to Greece and not once have I tired of it.

    I agree with your thoughts and feelings about the Parthenon and the Acropolis. They had exactly the same effect on me when I first saw them and again when I first saw them floodlit.

    When you go back (and you will!) take a little stroll through Anafiotika, just at the side of the Acropolis hill. That’s been one of my special places since being directed to it by a local on my initial visit. I’ve returned there every single time I’ve been in Athens because in this mad, crazy and wonderful city it’s a unique experience to feel you’ve been instantly transported to a tiny island village.

    Bill

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    Congratulations on the planning that went into this, and, again, on the driving!

    Thanks for a wonderful report on a wonderful trip, and for reminding me how much I enjoyed Greece.

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    @ Tralfaz: Thank you so much for your kind words! I agree that Greece is a really special place, and can easily understand why it left an indelible impression on you. I hope that you are able to visit it again soon.

    @ travelerjan: What a wonderful way to return to Greece so many times – I bet every one of the people you showed around not only saw wonderful things, but found your delight in that country infectious. And I’m so glad that you were willing to share your knowledge with me, too! I sincerely hope you manage your 2018 trip, and that you can return even after that.

    @ billbarr: I’m glad that you enjoyed my trip and am very pleased that it brought back some fond memories. Anafiotika looks absolutely charming – I hope to see it one day! In the meantime, please give a nod to the Acropolis and the Parthenon for me when you next return.

    @ thursdaysd: My planning worked out quite well! Of course, with all the wonderful help I got, it would be hard to have gone wrong. I’m glad you enjoyed my report and that it reminded you of your enjoyment of glorious Greece.

    @ joannyc: I’m glad you joined along, and oh my, it was, indeed, a wonderful trip! I think, though, I’ll leave the pics to those who, like you, have the eye for it.

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    Kja, thank you for sharing your wonderful holiday with us. Nice to see someone else who punctuates their travelling days with a glass of wine in a relaxing cafe.

    After many trips, I will be travelling solo next year for the first time and wonder how it will change the experience and whether I'll be inclined to pack more in than otherwise. I feel a mixture of trepidation and excitement at the prospect.

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    @ dreamon: I definitely punctuated my travelling days with a glass of wine now and again, and oh my, I tasted some very nice Greek wines!

    FWIW, I am firmly commited to solo travel – I find it an incredible self-indulgence, as I can do exactly what I want, when I want. :-) Too, no matter what I see, I’m seeing it without the “distraction” of anyone else – I often think about how this or that friend might see whatever, but I can keep the focus on my own experience. Too, I like letting the images and experiences sink in a bit before verbalizing them, and I think it’s hard to do that when traveling with someone – but those immediate conversations, as delightful as they might be, have a way of reifying an experience, at least for me. Please understand that I’m not saying there aren’t great reasons to travel with someone else – I’m just commenting on some of the advantages I find in being solo when on a journey. I suspect that one reason I fit so much into my trips is that I am traveling solo – no need to find quality time with a traveling companion, no need to stop for a break when I’m ready to keep going, etc. BUT, of course, there’s no reason why you would need to do so – you can just as easily sit at a pleasant café all day, without someone pulling you off to do or see something. ;-)

    You might go with some idea of your priorities, and also some idea of what you will do if you find that you want to keep exploring once you’ve seen the things you most want to see. If you haven’t seen it, you might find some inspiration on this thread, which is basically a compilation of Fodorite’s solo trip reports.
    http://www.fodors.com/community/travel-tips-trip-ideas/goin-solonothing-like-it-a-trip-report-collection.cfm

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    Absolutely agree with you kja. I travel frequently with other people... Husband, friends, groups, but there is nothing like travelling alone for the freedom and independence and, yes, self-indulgence. It is my biggest treat to myself too!

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    Kja, I know EXACTLY what you mean... i have enjoyed my returns to Greece with "newbies" because it gives me pleasure when I show them a favorite place, or view, and they say Aaaaaaah. However, I can experience things most intensely when on my own. I always have my little spiral-notebook journal beside my wineglass in a cafe. And most of my most rewarding interactions with Greeks have been during solo times. One good routine of mine -- on each of my "group adventures" I came 1-2 days early, just to check on things & see Athens friends, and that gave alone-time. Then after I waved off the homebound Travel Pals after 17 days or so, I would take a whole week on my own to "decompress" .. and also that's the time when I'd explore a new place. There's nothing like boarding a bus, or a ferry, to the unknown ... the thrill of not knowing exactly what's next. For some people, that brings anxiety; for me, the shiver of anticipation. You too, I think.

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    guys, you've made me look forward to my travels next year even more! Barring anything going completely pear shaped, I will have some time with a friend and the rest by myself, which will be a perfect balance.

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    Solo's the way to go IMHO. I sometimes feel selfish for saying so, but honestly, generally speaking, my best times were had on solo vacations. Good travel companions are hard to come by, even a close friend doesn't always cut it because you're with that person all day, every day and you're just going to have different habits. Neither one is right or wrong, just different. And you may go off and do your own thing here and there, but in the end you're still beholden to your friend.


    One of the best things for me in going it alone is how many more people I meet. Folks are more likely to approach me and I them. I've gotten so many invitations to join others for drinks, dinner, etc. that never happened when traveling with someone else.


    I can take things in better too, just observe more. I'll never forget, while in Madrid, when a rather frazzled-looking woman on vacation with family, came up to my table and whispered 'How I envy you, just being able to sit in peace with a glass of wine.' I felt lucky indeed.

    travelerjan:

    I hear you with that 'shiver of anticipation.' I'm like a child when I travel, up at the crack of dawn ready for the adventures of a new day. And dammit if I'm with someone else they better be ready too!

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    @ heimdall: In that case, allow me to amend my previously stated wish for you: I hope you are finding some absolutely wonderful places to relax, places where you can have some time on your own and also meet up with friends.

    @ Tralfaz: Great story about that mother! We are lucky to be able to travel as we do.

    @ yestravel: Thanks for sharing the journey! I haven’t decided on my next trip yet, probably somewhere in the Orient, maybe Taiwan and some parts of China that I haven’t seen yet…. The world is so full of places I want to see!

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    Thank you kja!!

    I followed all your adventures! I especially loved reading about Meteora. I had to skip it last time I was staying in Naplio. We are leaving in two weeks to go to Greece and this time we are renting a sailboat to explore the Cyclades for a week.

    Thank you again for such an amazing detailed itinerary.

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    Kja, thanks for your thoughts! Next destination Cape Town, sort of a South African San Francisco, with great restaurants, beautiful beaches, and Western Cape winelands. Just been invited for October by Capetonian friends.

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    @ ToujoursVoyager: Thank you for following my adventures! I hope you are able to visit Meteora some day, and I have no doubt that you will have a wonderful time sailing the Cyclades. Bon voyage!

    @ Heimdall: I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts about Cape Town! South Africa is definitely on my radar – it sounds like a place with much to offer. Enjoy!

    @ cherie2125: I I had a great visit to Greece, and I’m very glad that I included a stop in Vergina – thanks for encouraging it! I found even the portals to the tombs at Vergina mesmerizing. And the artifacts, along with those from other Macedonian tombs that were in the archeological museum in Thessaloniki, were truly stunning. One of the few things I bought for myself on this trip was a reproduction of one of the carved ivory faces that had adorned a chest found in Phillip II’s tomb – such exquisite workmanship!

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    Kja, I can already tell you about Cape Town (CT), because I was there for Christmas and New Year two years ago. I was surprised to be invited for October, because I already have another trip to CT planned for next April (there goes my trips to Greece!) My first three trips to Africa were safaris and church aid work in Rwanda (with a side-trip for gorilla tracking), so it was fun to see a completely different aspect of the continent, including penguins and seals on some of the beaches.

    CT is a foodies paradise, because there are many excellent restaurants, and prices are very low, especially now with the Rand exchange rate about 13 to the US dollar. The Western Cape wineland is about an hour's drive from CT, and we went on several wine tastings while I was there. Each tasting included five different wines for 50 rand (about $4).

    CT has lots of history dating back to the 1600s when the Dutch used it as a way-station for their voyages to the East Indies, and you can still visit the castle and company gardens where they grew vegetables to resupply the ships. The view from Table Mountain is breathtaking, but you need to choose your day carefully, because sometimes the top of the mountain is covered with cloud (nicknamed the tablecloth).

    Modern Cape Town has divided highways and shopping malls, so it's not what one would expect of Africa. The main tourist centre is V&A Waterfront, where you can take boats to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated.

    You can see photos of my trip to CT at https://www.flickr.com/photos/heimdall_1/albums/72157650084680066

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    @ Heimdall: Thanks so much for confirming that a trip to Cape Town / South Africa should be high on my priority list! And thanks for the link to your stunning photographs. ☺

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    @kja: Have started reading through and have gotten as far as your likes and dislikes for the trip. Looking forward to reading your site details coming up. I spent 7 days in Greece in 2011 as part of an 11-day trip to Greece and Istanbul. I was not that impressed with Athens other than the Parthenon and the New Acropolis Museum (that I saw while horribly jet lagged my first day). Did a day trip to Delphi which was fine enough but then LOVED my 3 nights on Santorini. What an incredible, one of a kind place. If I read correctly, you only gave it one night. Any particular reason.

    I hope to make it back to Greece within the next 5 years to visit Crete, Mykonos, Meteora and Thessaloniki.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your report.

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    @ MinnBeef: Thanks for joining in! Even with a month, there was NO way I could see everything I wanted to see in Greece, so – like most of us -- I did my best to select destinations with care and to time my stays to match my interests as well as I could. I can imagine having enjoyed a second night on Santorini, but my prior experience with places that get multiple cruise ships each day convinced me that I would not likely find Santorini an unequivocal delight – and I was right. I’m very glad I visited it – I loved the views from “my” terrace, and I treasured my time at Akrotiri and in the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. I was less enamored of other aspects of my experiences with Santorini. As you will discover, I was very happy to visit Crete, Meteora, and Thessaloniki; I hope my comments prove useful to you when you are ready to plan your time there. And I hope you enjoy the rest of my report!

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    I just finished this report and want to let you know that I found it very interesting, and I appreciate that you provide details which is so helpful to fellow travelers. Your writing style had me tagging along on your journey, enough so that I now know I want to revisit Greece in the future ... my last visit was in the mid 80's ... much too long ago! And much more to see beyond Athens, Delphi, and a few islands. (Loved Rhodes and Crete; Mykonos wasn't crammed with visitors back then, so not a problem to be stranded a few extra days due to high winds!)

    I came to this Greece report after first reading your China trip report as I'm researching a planned solo trip in Spring 2018 to the Yunnan area, plus Guilin and Shanghai (possibly starting in Hanoi before Kunming). While your trip did not cover the areas I plan to visit, your report was a joy to read, and brought back great memories of my earlier visits to some of the more well traveled locations. (However, you are a much more intrepid traveler than I!) After your China report, I started the Spain report. Yep, I need to consider a revisit! So thank you for posting such thoughtful and helpful trip reports!

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    Are you going to post on the Asia board about your trip? I took the train Kunming-Nanning-Hanoi back in 2004. Highly recommend skipping Guilin, more interesting places in Yunnan. [Sorry for the interruption, kja.]

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    This is just an astonishingly well-executed trip report! So glad you enjoyed your stay, kja. And so glad you shared your experiences with us in such a lovely fashion.


    I can’t say I took full advantage of the information that any of you gave, but I am confident that my trip was far better because of your input. Fodorites ROCK!

    You said a mouthful, right there.

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    Thursdaysd - Yes, I'll post on the Asia board once I think through the general itinerary. And oops ... my planned trip is Spring 2019! (I almost enjoy the planning stage as much as the actual travel!) I'm still reading as much as possible to fix destinations/activities/# days/$s. Rome2Rio shows a daily flight from Hanoi to Guilin, where I'm thinking only one full day, then short cruise to Yangshou, with a stay there for a few days at the Mountain Retreat; followed by visits to Dali and Lijiang. Thanks for your suggestion, and now I'll look for your report!

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    @ Janetd5: Thank you so much for your lovely compliments – I’m very pleased that you are finding my trip reports helpful and interesting! I must admit that I’m astonished that you would find them of sufficient interest to root them out to read – wow! That’s really nice to hear. :-) I had quite a few adventures on that trip to China, and benefitted enormously from thursdaysd’s input, so I’m glad she’s given you that link. And no worries about going on a tangent – it’s a delight to see travelers come together to benefit one another.

    @ mr_go: My thanks to you, too! You and your wife write such wonderful trip reports that I consider your words particularly high praise. We are, I think, incredibly fortunate to be members of the Fodorite community, where so many are so generous in sharing their knowledge and their experiences. :-)

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    Thanks, kja. It's like I often say, we can't possibly pay back the community with our "thank you"s... so we do what we can to pay it forward.

    Wish I was in Chania right now...

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    Thank you so much kja for this excellent trip report. RL kept me away from Fodor's for quite some time, i juts now managed to read it all with care.
    I have been to all the places that you visited ( even though it took me years and more trips to see it all ) but i must admit i still haven't seen all byzantine churches in Thessaloniki.
    I loved the way you wrote about Greece, the people and the beauty of the country and i often had tears in my eyes ...
    I am a solo traveler as well, starting at the age of 18, when i left Greece to study in Germany and Austria, which gave me the opportunity for some great travels at that young age.. always solo...which lasts till now :)

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    @ clausar: RL has a nasty way of interfering with fun stuff, doesn’t it? I’m glad you read this report, because you were so helpful when I planned my trip. Your love of Greece comes through everything you write about it, so I’m particularly pleased to know that the wonderful people and the beauty of Greece came through my words. It was such a delight to experience those things! If it makes you feel any better, remember that 3 of the 12 listed Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki were closed when I tried to visit them – so you still have a chance to see their interiors before I do. ;-) Thanks again for your help, clausar, and many thanks for these touching words.

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    I like to read your description about the breathtaking scenery of Greece, from Meteora’s incredible monolithic pillars and boulders to the punished terrain of central Crete filled with fractured rock and vast stretches of non-arable land; from an unexpected panorama of a vast plain or the sea far below to a stunning variety of wildflowers and blooming shrubs in the Cyclades, kja.

    Feel like I'm reading Tolkien.

    And your mention of flavorful stews and perfectly grilled meats and octopus and calamari and braised pork and wonderful cheeses and tasty regional breads and incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables and spinach pies and local specialties,
    made me mouthwatering!

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    I agree that is the best trip report I have read on the forum.

    Kja, let me return to my earlier suggestion of turning the trip report into a blog, which you will have control over no matter what happens to the Fodor's Forums (and there are changes in the works).

    To show you what can be done, my daughter and her husband wrote a blog during their overland trip from London to Cape Town. She did the writing and her husband the photography, and now they have something to look back on in the future. Nearly all the blog was written during the trip, and updated whenever they had internet access. It's a very lengthy blog because the trip took nearly a year:
    https://charliesoverlandadventure.wordpress.com

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    I’m absolutely awed to see new posts on this thread! :-)

    @ FuryFluffy: Tolkien may be turning in his grave, but I am blushing with your compliments – thank you so much!

    @ Clausar: :-)


    @ Heimdall: Thank you again for your compliments! I took just a very quick peek at your daughter & her husband’s blog – awesome, and very well and thoughtfully done! I hope to peruse it at leisure some day. In the meantime, rest assured that I have saved a copy of this trip report (with comments!) on my computer. And FWIW, Fodor’s new owners have told us that our prior content won’t disappear … we’ll see! Thank you for making sure I thought about it!

    In the meantime – another consideration: I benefited enormously from you and other Fodorites when planning this trip, so I really, really, REALLY do not want to ask any of you to click on another site (where I might have arranged commercial support dependent upon clicks) to see what I wrote – I want to give back and pay forward without financial benefit. I think blogging is a very different thing when one is using it to keep in contact with friends and family for an extended trip – as your DD and SL did -- or when active Fodorites use blogs to share additional insights into their experiences, beyond those they make available to Fodorites for free. So for now, I’ll remain a poster – but I greatly appreciate your suggestion, and your link to a fascinating blog! Again, my thanks.

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