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JanQuest: My Downsie-Upsie Greece Adventure, May-June 2010


Oct 30th, 2010, 04:47 PM
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JanQuest: My Downsie-Upsie Greece Adventure, May-June 2010

I confess; my trip was back in May-June, but it took a while to assimilate the experience, then Life Got in the Way. Our trip was a rollercoaster -- at the start, a downward plunge (sudden events shrank our party drastically), then a big upswing (we recruited lively companions along the way, so everything ended splendidly). Although belated, I hope this account might inspire some people who are already planning/dreaming about 2011 Greece trips.

This was a route I’d traveled before – Athens, Crete, Santorini, Naxos, Nafplio -- since these are must-sees for newcomers I take along. But each time around I make new discoveries, and see sights afresh through their eyes. After they depart, I usually also take a few extra days on my own, to explore a new destination; this year it was Folegandros… and what a treat that proved to be!

I don’t think people have an unlimited appetite for photos of other folks’ vacations. I uploaded a handful, they’ll make more sense if viewed AFTER reading this (NOTE: click link direct, not from your own Facebook page): http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...6&l=5f9dba9f81

I always describe my Greece trips as Quests – i.e., full of surprises and challenges -- but this 9th trip took the cake! I usually take along a few “travel pals” and this year we were 7, the biggest Jan-bunch ever. Then, a few weeks beforehand, we lost 3 of our septet (Ron, sadly, passed away from recurrence of a rare ailment, his plucky wife Suzie broke an ankle, and a medical misdiagnosis sidelined Sally). That left myself, (Philly Phungirl), plus Bill & Helen, intrepid explorers from Dayton, and New England’s Mary Ellen, or M.E. Our flight hazards were the ashes of that Iceland Volcano, and a deluge of one-day strikes in early May, but we ‘ran between the raindrops’ to arrive triumphantly in Athens May 11-12 at our cute budget Hotel Metropolis. HOTEL NOTE: It’s super-handy, AND super-easy to spot from a taxi because of the world’s largest (honestly) bougainvillea vine from street level to roof! Basic (AND clean) rooms, stunning balcony views: Acropolis in the distance and Metropolis Cathedral dome almost close enough to touch; happily, its bell does NOT Bonnngg during the night.

First on the scene, the Daytonians traipsed off to “do” the Archeological Museum, and guess what?? Helen slipped on marble stairs and broke HER ankle! We began to think we were in a bad Agatha Christie novel. What next?!?! Luckily, she got a lightweight cast and we located a wheelchair, so at least she and Bill could enjoy Athens before having to cut their trip short. One afternoon we wheeled H all over the Benaki Museum. MUSEUM NOTE: So concise & well-curated! This collection offers an immensely rewarding 3 hours; I often suggest it for visitors with limited time or stamina. Then H rested while 3 of us scaled the Acropolis at 5:30 PM, no crowds around, for wandering and musing in the golden light. My New Discovery – the secret stair, where young girls descended with gifts for the goddess Athene. That night, good food lifted spirits even more; an easy walk down the street was Tsatsikas Mermigas where we dined among Athenians, consuming 10-ingredient salad, Chicken Masticha, and flagons of Nemean red, for about 15€ apiece. Afterwards we indulged in sinful desserts at Chatzi, with no guilt at all. Things were looking up!

Next day we toured the Acropolis Museum, a stunner. Sculpture treasures on pedestals, while through glass walls, the sacred heights… a perfect rebuttal to Britain’s claim that Greece cannot display the (stolen) Parthenon marbles properly! Reports are correct: the museum terrace restaurant IS delightful, with very decent lunch prices. Even better, our dinner on Filenon’s rooftop, gazing up at the spotlighted Parthenon. We snagged the best table, thanks to my Athens friends, and 4 of them joined us to choose mezedes galore and regale us with Greek gossip. Helen, a long-time Fodor’s and Trip-Advisor “lurker,” enjoyed meeting these Forum regulars, and peppered them with questions. A fine finale, before B & H had to head back to Ohio... while Crete lay ahead for the “survivors” – me and M.E. (hmm, that sounds like double-Jan, so from now on, I’ll just call M.E. ‘Emmy.”)

Aegean changed our flight to an ungodly hour so we reached Chania at 7 am May 15– and caught picturesque Old Town “undressed.” Theotokopoulous Street, normally bedecked with potted trees, flowers, bright café umbrellas, etc., looked bare & bleak. Then Hotel Palazzo kindly let us in to our rooms at 8 AM for a revitalizing nap and voila! 2 hours later -- the whole street had been transformed into The Land of Charm! However, the weather wasn’t as magical – chilly, with wind-blown red dust (all the way from Libya, we later learned). It marred sunsets, caused rough seas on both North AND South Crete Beaches, and had me head-scratching, trying to recall why we’d come.

What redeemed Crete? Scenery and Cuisinery! First, the FOOD: Our hotel, besides comfort, quiet and balconies at a bargain, offered velvety-rich yogurt every morning. For our first dinner, Apostolis II was as good as I remembered, with yummy fish. Next night Tamam (not touristy despite its guide-book stars) won me over with stifada (rabbit stew). On our final Chania night, Palazzo’s Anastasia steered us to a tiny “Mezedes” place on Daliana called Oniero-Dromio— in English, “Street of Dreams”, don’t you love it? Plates & plates of Cretan mezedes and a bucket o’ red, for less than €15 each. At 9:30, only 3 other diners. Too bad, we reported to Anastasia, that such a tasty place wasn’t full. Oh, no, she said, it’s for Greeks: by midnight it’s PACKED!. Lastly, a lunchtime gem in the tiny village of Vamos. NOTE: The Vamos website is deceptive; we found there’s no activity there unless you book cooking lessons in advance. But we also found a vine-covered Taverna, Sterntou Bloumosifi, where I had an amazing salad of potatoes, tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs. Sounds banal; but it was heaven. And Emmy devoured what she called the best roast lamb she ever ate.

The VIEWS: A keen photographer, throughout our journey Emmy was more into dramatic visuals than museum-prowls (unless a museum allowed cameras!). In Rethymnon, it was the huuuge Fortezza, and driving South, the dramatic cliffs by Matala Bay. We both pouted because winds whipped the waves too high for a swim, but Emmy rebounded by scaling the cliffs to the famous caves. I have this acrophobia thing, so I stood below & took her picture. Next day, SUNSHINE at last! We enjoyed the hilltop setting of the Palace of Phaistos (my fave Minoan spot, BTW) then drove North the same day to compare it with Knossos, over-restored but colorful. Then at our little bargain hotel outside Heraklion, Prince of Lillies, it was finally warm enough to lie by the pool and get some rays. Now this is more like it, smiles Emmy. And at dinner there, a unexpectedly rich & fluffy Masterpiece of Moussaka made her smile even wider. Onward to Santorini!

Sailing on the multi-decked ANEK Preveli confirmed why I prefer “regular” ferries; you’re not stuck in one seat, you sit on deck, walk around, meet people—and we did. Talent-scouting, we chatted up friendly Dennis & Dyan from Oregon. They had no hotel, so I said “Come with us!” Our Hotel Keferis in Firostephani was full, but the desk boy (this happens a lot) says, “Let me call my sister at Sunset Hotel” and presto! D & D got a super room @60€ right off the terrace! At Keferis, Emmy’s balcony offered the super view shown on their website, so we decided to stay right there for dinner. As the sky reddened with the first great sunset of our trip, Emmy clicked a "Conde Nast Traveler" tabletop photo of ham, fruit, wine and cheese. Something hypnotic about the changing light on the Cliffside buildings, and the glow of moored cruise ships below. We sat in a trance as the stars came out.

Next AM we bussed to the village of Oia for gorgeous photography (nobody can take a bad picture there!). We arrived ahead of huge cruise crowds (3 ships were in) and Emmy actually found a true Work of Art in a gallery, a bronze swimmer on a glass and marble base. She's a swimmer, so it truly spoke to her. While she left for the Archeological Museum I went back to the hotel to sunbathe, discovered my balcony was not overlooked by any others so whoops! a lot of my clothing fell off. At sunset D & D — thrilled with their hotel — hosted us on its lofty terrace. Cushy loveseats, sips of Santorini’s citrussy white wine; what’s not to like? Later on, nifty gnocchi at the cute Italian restaurant next door, Il Cantuccio (Tip: it’s small, so reserve). SAFETY NOTE: Walking back in the dark on a very busy road, I showed Emmy my tested technique. With your road-side hand, swing your flashlight widely, beamed BACKWARDS. To cars coming up from behind, it looks like a dazed/loopy motorcyclist. They give you a VERY wide berth!

On Blue Star ferry next day, we scored great deck seats to watch the wake on our 2 hour trip. At Naxos port, Emmy instantly grasped the different vibe; no crowds, traffic or noise – just a marble arch and a serene seaside. On the far side of the port lay St. George beach, so we rolled our bags along the waterside to Emmy’s Hotel Galini, and were greeted with hugs & fresh-squeezed OJ. I trundled around the corner to Studios Naxos, and found a note under my door from Seattle-ites Sue and Richard (whom I’d advised by phone). On the beach at Taverna Kavouri (sublime baked chicken) we all talked late into the night.

Our stay became a blissful blur of sights, sun, sand, food, friends and just plain Naxian Relaxin’. Emmy and I took the causeway to the famous Arch, then up maze-y lanes to the high Kastro and Naxos’ Museum full of ancient marble idols; her camera clicked nonstop. Coming down, we got a crusty loaf of bread from a wood-fired oven, perfect tomatoes and peaches at a fruit stand, and fresh cheese and olives at a quaint side-street shop, where wine and olive-oil comes in recycled soda bottles. After a terrace picnic lunch we bought the World’s Ugliest and Cheapest Beach Towels (4€ each) for an afternoon on the sand. Then, off a late-day ferry, our Santorini pals D & D showed up, again without reservations. Again, I found them a bargain room with beachfront patio. So at Taverna Maros near the town Square, we were SIX for dinner (with D & D, Sue & Richard) -- and we ate every bit of roast pork in the place. A happy night: despite losses from our original group, “recruiting” had brought us congenial company. What luck!

Sunday, Emmy & the 2 D’s took a day excursion to Delos & Mykonos. Because I’d visited both before, I reveled in doing … absolutely nothing. Our final day was a beach-y delight, ending with a feast of lamb & lettuce and many veggie side dishes at The Good Heart on the waterfront. A bouzouki and a lyra player were on hand, so four of us stayed for hours & walked back under the moon. Once again, Naxos had cast its spell.

Naxos to Nafplio… a day-long journey that started well, but became very trying before the end! For Emmy and me, Sue and Richard, the 5-hour ferry to Piraeus on Blue Star Paros (Reserved Economy seats) was comfortable and restful (that is, until a family with fussy tots sat by us). For the 2nd half of the journey, we’d cancelled our car rental, but Janet had a good idea… she thought. In 2008, I’d bussed Nafplio to Corinth, then took the Suburban train Corinth to Piraeus – a smooth speedy 90 minutes. Why not just do this in reverse? We all hopped on the train, zipped to Corinth, taxied to the bus station --- and found out why not! Outbound, This is a BAD Idea. In Greece you can’t reserve bus tickets ahead … and the Nafplio-bound bus was SOLD OUT when it arrived in Corinth. Mea Culpa! We had to take a jam-packed later bus, ultra-slow, arriving in Nafplio exhausted and starved. Faces were GRIM. I was saved from well-deserved retribution only by the hospitality of Hotel Leto, a harborside snack under a pink-orange-lavender sunset and a savory meal at Aeolus Taverna that restored morale. #1 LESSON LEARNED: Never try a long ferry trip and 2-3 hour mainland ride in one day. LESSON #2: From Athens to Nafplio do either Bus or Car, NO combo’s!

Happily, the next day began with sunshine, birdsong in tall cypresses outside the Hotel, and creamy-rich yogurt and croissants. Emmy & I went up to the very top of Nafplio (an elevator is built right into the rock cliff!), and out on the peninsula point to gaze down on the teal-blue Bay of Argos. A walk across along the high parapets led down a winding drive to the pebbly town beach, Arvanita, and back through narrow Nafplio lanes, festooned with flowering vines. After a market stop, we had our favorite thing, a balcony lunch with cheese, olives, tomatoes, strawberries. Emmy went shopping; Nafplio streets are lined with fascinating window displays of chic clothing, bibelots, objets one cannot resist, etc). To avoid temptation, I instead went back to the town beach. The bay gleamed like copper in the late-day sun, with small, pummeling waves (rather like a giant Jacuzzi). Enjoying the sea-massage, I found myself (oddly, for Nafplio in May) surrounded by sounds of English. My fellow swimmers were Canadians, Iowa honeymooners, US college girls on a 3-week “study tour” (yeah, right), and a Greek-American from Missouri visiting Nafplio relatives “We’re lucky to have family in a place like this,” he admitted. “Most Greeks from the US have to visit Uncle Nikos up a mountain road in a village full of goats.” After my swim, Emmy and I took the waterside path around the point to the perfect sunset dinner spot, Agnanti, a glass-sided café with banquettes facing the view. We had wine as the sun sank, salmon in the afterglow, then strolled the promenade to photograph a full moon above Palamidi Fortress, looming over the town… like walking through a calendar!

Our Last Argolid day was a doozy – a FOUR-RUIN day (a record!), but with wonderful add-ons like a swim, a snooze, and delectable food. For this tour Emmy & I rented a car with Richard and Sue – the latter had a taped-up sprained ankle (oh no! is this a trip theme?!?) and a crutch, but with the spunk of a Spartan, she prevailed! Our stops: (1) MYCENAE – I’d visited this Iliad-era fortress before but somehow never its museum, which proved fascinating. Rambling the ruins, Emmy & Richard descended deep dark steps to find the fort’s cistern; Sue & I took their word for it. Monumental walls were impressive, but heat (and bus-tour crowds) grew oppressive, so we waved goodbye to Agamemnon and said hello! to lunch and a cold Mythos. Next, (2) EPIDAURUS, 20 miles away, has acres of ruins, but the 15,000-seat Ancient Theatre is the big thrill. Emmy & Richard climbed to the top tier, mere specks on high, while I stood on center stage and whispered, like that TV ad, “Can you hear me now?” And they could. After that, everyone was ready for a swim, so we headed for sandy Tolo Beach. However, at a bend in the road just before crowded Tolo was my secret favorite, Kastraki, a tiny pebbled cove with NO other sunbathers, a cute taverna, AND an Hellenic ruin (3) ASSINE. We could swim, sun, doze, read, climb a ruin, and have dinner, all in one place! And that’s what we did. A favorite memory is the fresh, authentic fare we shared that evening. You could choose a fish from ice-filled drawers: a 10-euro drawer, 15-euro drawer etc. Full and happy, we drove back in the dark toward Nafplio. Suddenly, Richard twisted the wheel and took a steeply climbing road -- to (4)PALAMIDI Fortress! The gates were locked of course, but at the top we leaned over the driveway walls, looking down at the bright lights of Nafplio … The high point of a memorable day.

Leaving Seattle-ites behind, Emmy and I spent a last day in Athens, each with a separate goal. She took on the entire Archeological Museum while I, more modestly, was in search of Socrates’ Prison, the real one in the Agora (not the fake one on the Acropolis walkway). Like a Poe character, I counted steps (walk 5 meters along the Ditch from the Boundary Stone), but finally located it …Ta-da! and took pictures. However, the day’s most memorable discovery came on leaving the Agora – the Melina Mercouri Foundation, a rose-colored building tucked away in the Plaka http://www.melinamercourifoundation....ex.php?lang=en I was so moved by exhibits not only about her artistry but her political courage and her mission to help the Greek people understand and reclaim their ancient heritage. No other Western nation today has seen a woman of such political AND cultural significance. One of my heroines; go see this, she’ll be one of yours too.

Early in the morning I was on a fast-ferry, zooming to Folegandros, with the excitement I always feel before a new adventure in Greece. At the tiny port I was met by longtime Internet friend, Madame X and her brand-new spouse Stephanos, who whisked me off to Chora (like so many island ‘choras,’ a town settled on an inland peak as a defense against medieval pirates). This Chora is GORGEOUS, with all the postcard clichés of tiny lanes, whitewashed homes, blue shutters, red flowers. I’d asked them to find me a bargain place, maybe a widow’s back bedroom … but instead, they took me to a fantasy out of “Travel and Leisure.” Imagine small buildings with patios overlooking a sheer drop to the sea, with a divine ‘Infinity” pool at cliff-edge -- that was Hotel Anemousa at 30€ a night!! NOTE: I think this was because it was still off-season, with only 7 of 17 units occupied. But who cares? Live the Dream!!

I was welcomed to a 3-hour Sunday lunch with their 14 best friends, the entire faculty for the island Gymnasium (high school), all bright young teachers, who talked a mile a minute in Greek & translated a fraction of it to me. I just enjoyed; the meal was mainly half an entire spit-roasted lamb, enough cholesterol for the entire summer, plus a mountain of salad. After that… a NAP of course, then a swim in the dream pool and snacking on my patio at sunset. I could get used to this!!

Later in my stay, I hiked up a mule-path to the mountaintop Monastery of Panagia (to work off some of those calories).In Chora I found THE cutest-ever trinket shop, Kalo Taxidi terrific and tasteful items at tiny prices, run by an Athenian former cabaret singer. Madame X and I floated in the Aegean while discussing our favorite pre-history mysteries (who were the Sea People?). She and Steph stuffed me with more good Foley-food. I lay by the Infiniti Pool pretending to be a Celebrity (NOTE: Anemousa, so divine, has only one drawback: a VERY steep access pathway with no handrail, definitely unsafe after dark; however, they’ve been alerted and probably will fix this by 2011). Departing reluctantly, I awaited my ferry in a portside café in the afternoon hush. The only traffic: 1 fishing boat, one small sailboat. Two people scaled fish in dishpans, watched carefully by 3 cats. It could have been 1950. Quick, quick, go to Folegandros, while life is still lived in the slow lane.
Summer simmered by and Fall fell, before I could organize memories and share some general tips (specifics noted above). In the end, our trip worked out very well, and I’m glad Mary Ellen/Emmy thought so too (check out her comments here) http://www.techforecast.com/Greece/WhatTheySay.htm

(1) TRAVEL on WEEKENDS – Midweek fares are lower but in future I’ll fly Friday thru Monday; strikes are too stressful and I’ve figured out that Greeks always strike Tues-Wed-Thurs, so as not to disrupt their own weekends!
(2) GO a WEEK LATER – Late May vs. mid-May is just that much warmer & sunnier, important when you want to sun & swim as well as sight-see.
(3) 7 MAY Be TOO MANY – Perhaps the Trip Gods got Angry? I think I’ll take along only 4 (healthy!) people next time.
(4) DON’T OVER-REACH – In 2011, I may focus on Cyclades islands and a bit of the mainland for the first 2 weeks – more relaxing, more exploring.
travelerjan is online now  
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Oct 30th, 2010, 07:03 PM
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Thank you so much for the great trip report. I've also been to Greece many times, and will go many more. I also try to find that one new place each trip. Your report gives me many ideas. I'll definitely visit the Melina Mercouri Foundation next year. Folegandros and your hotel also sounds awesome.

I was also in Greece this past May. We hit those winds on Santorini and then the colder weather on Crete. Still a wonderful trip though!

Love this... so true!
"Sculpture treasures on pedestals, while through glass walls, the sacred heights… a perfect rebuttal to Britain’s claim that Greece cannot display the (stolen) Parthenon marbles properly!"
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Oct 30th, 2010, 10:01 PM
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Great to read about your trip Jan. It sounds like it was VERY eventful! We were in Folegandros in August and thought the Chora was really lovely.

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Oct 31st, 2010, 03:06 PM
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Love Greece and love your report. Folegandros is on my list.

Thanks, Yipper
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Oct 31st, 2010, 07:43 PM
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Glad you like the tale, especially since it had a happy ending! For more tales of my past Greece adventures with other travel pals, and my plans for 2011 (I still have "space" for 2 more, for a trip of 2 weeks or so), you can check out my website http://www.techforecast.com/janet.htm
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Nov 1st, 2010, 01:54 PM
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Thanks for a wonderful and inspiring trip report. I've savored it and saved it for my hopeful 2011 trip. Right now, as you put it so well, Life may be Getting in the Way of my planned June trip, but we will get away...eventually!
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Jan 12th, 2011, 11:04 AM
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Hi Jan,
Just read your trip report. We did love Folegandros as you predicted. Everything was wonderfully romantic: the chora, the pace of life, the views. We really enjoyed a day-trip on a boat to the hard-to-reach beaches. The only drawback was the meltemi at the the end of our stay. Our room was high on the cliff and it rattled our shutters all night. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about your visit and other adventures in Greece last summer. Some day we might cross paths.
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Jan 12th, 2011, 12:28 PM
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Parosblue, I am so pleased you enjoyed the report of my ramblings and discoveries ... and yes, I hope we do cross paths one day. Right now I am in the midst of firming the logistics for my 2011 adventure -- as I vowed, I am taking only 4 this time and VERY HEALTHY specimens! PLUS, I have timed our arrival-departures to avoid mid-week date, AND starting a bit later. The Group thing begins Saturday May 20 --- some leave June 5, another stays a bit longer, I linger until June 13. Stops include Athens - Nafplio - Milos, Santorini - Naxos - Antiparos- Delphi and ... who knows?? I always throw in an 'unknown' to keep it exciting... TJ
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