adventures abroad, photography, travel

Day 4: Off to Olympia

Orange πορτοκαλί trees at the Hotel grounds.

We have a long drive today, starting by passing through the scenic Arkadian mountains (on the Ionic Sea).

Actually it’s a very long drive and I didn’t sleep well last night so… no pics. Just dozing.

Along the way we stop to see local artisans explain the ancient processes that yield the distinctive pottery of the area.

They had some amazingly beautiful works inside but I didn’t get pics. Sorry.

We stop for a delicious lunch en route – it’s a lovely springish day and everything is blooming, considering it’s November and then we arrive at Olympia, to visit the ruins of what was the site of the original Olympic Games.

An immense complex has been uncovered and portions of it restored, and a museum shows some of the original recovered pieces. Elena explains the way the games would have worked in antiquity, as well as the site where the torch was lit, but I have no pics of any of it (for now)… I very inconveniently left my camera/phone on the bus for this outing.  Which means, I pretty much felt distracted and discombobulated the entire time.

😦

I will report however that the Europa hotel near Olympia… Fantastic. As nice as some have or will be on the journey, this one is our collective favorite.

The rooms themselves are small but smartly laid out, with a lower level seating area, and bathrooms that feel positively luxurious after some we have had. The dinner and breakfast buffets are both superb as well.

adventures abroad, photography, travel

Day 3: Entering the Peloponnese Peninsula

We leave bustling Athens, and head south and west, through the Corinth Canal, connecting the Ionian Sea and the Aegean across the narrow isthmus, to the Peloponnese peninsula.

As we pass by the Bay of Corinth, and the barely visible remains of what was once a dock from which, nearly 2000 years ago, passengers might sail from Corinth to, say, Ephesus.

The apostle Paul, for instance.

We continue on to visit the auditorium at Epidaurus, where ancient plays would have been put on.

We visit Mycenae, where king Agamemnon departed to battle Troy. We see the ruins and excavation site of the palace, the Lion’s Gate, and the Beehive Tombs.

Then we stroll through picturesque Nauplia as the sun sets before continuing to the nearby hotel for the night.

We are all of one thought here: we wish we could have stayed in this little town longer.

We stay the night in the very pretty Amalia Nauplia. We run the waitstaff a bit ragged (not because we want to, but because we want to cluster ourselves in a larger group than planned, and they are super accommodating. So it goes when we all start to bond.)

Ring around the table: Connie Marge Linda Deana Troy and me.

adventures abroad, photography, travel

Day 2: Athens City Tour

Breakfast at The Stanley leaves something to be desired, but there’s coffee and water, both of which feel a blessing after the night.

Because of how early I went to bed (plus the time change, plus my unnecessary caution about the water day 1) I’m awake and headachy at 2:30. But by 3:30 I got myself resettled and wake up again just minutes before the alarm.

After the disappointing breakfast, I go down to meet the tour in the lobby. I am there early and find my tour guide for the land portion, Elena, but only Ben from my group (a retiree from Singapore on his third visit to Greece) also lingering, waiting. When Elena heads toward the door so do we… most everyone else is already on the bus!

We start with a city tour by bus, with just one stop for photos at the marble stadium, built for the PanAthenian games (a contemporary of the original olympic games – the site of which we will visit later) and then used for the first modern Olympic Games. Now it is used mostly as the terminus for their annual marathon, which will take place next Sunday (or I guess, a Sunday or two ago by the time I post this) – Nov 11.

Then we drive through the city, seeing the old and new Parliament buildings, the university, the remains of the Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian, and then we stop to visit the Acropolis.

We have our choice at the top of the Acropolis; we can explore for an hour and then take the bus back to the hotel, or make our own way. I chat with Linda, one of the other singles, but she is still adjusting and is heading back. Ben, on the other hand, has been here for days and is going exploring and walking back, so we decide to go together … around the Parthenon, through the crush of people exiting the Acropolis site, to the Hill of Mars (ostensibly where the apostle Paul preached in Athens) and out to the city.

We stop briefly to see about seeing the Acropolis Museum (which is supposed to be fantastic but on a Sunday is also an entry line miles long, so we forego it).

Then we trek through the city, through the Plaka, into basilicas, down again to the Arch of Hadrian:

We stop for lunch at a little place with desperately needed shade, cool water, and delicious chicken souvlaki, not to mention a gorgeous view back up to the Parthenon:

Then we press on, back through shopping districts, thank heaven Ben has been here for days and knows the city very well. But eventually we are back in familiar areas, and when we see the statue of Icarus I know my way.

The Stanley has a coffee shop on the corner around from the entrance, and he gets a coffee to my cappuccino. (Unusual for me, but so good and so reasonably priced. And a free bottle of water as well. I love The Stanley once again.)

We go our separate ways once we return to the hotel proper and finish our drinks. I need to rest for the optional dinner excursion tonight; Ben is skipping that, so plans to go fill his afternoon.

adventures abroad, photography, travel

Day 1: Exhausted in Athens

Technically this is a travel day; there’s nothing scheduled until the evening. But we have arrived at dark o’clock in the morning. There is no room at the inn for us, arriving so early, so for the smallest hours of the morning we find couches in the lobby and stretch out, en masse. I get windows of a few minutes here and there, and then finally fall into a rich deep sl-

The morning crew asks us not to sleep there. Or at least, not to sprawl to sleep. If we can sleep upright…

Around 8 I walk with Cara and Laura around the streets and to the corner bakery where we each get a nibble and I get a cappuccino (to their water). None of us feel awake enough or clean enough to be a person yet, but we are breathing the air of Greece – a bit smoke-flavored in the outdoor cafe, but Greece nonetheless.

We keep ourselves busy until 9 then come back to wait on rooms to turn over.

(We would hope having arrived so early that as rooms become available we would get them, but it seems that they are assigning the whole Gate1 group and then the Globus groups. But around noon I approach a different person at the desk, and plead for my early arrival and desperate hopes for a room, and he very kindly swaps an available but as yet unclaimed room from that group for me. Cara and Laura come right behind me and get the same.)

A shower. A bed. Such luxury!

A few hours later we meet up again and stroll in search of a local restaurant. We head out intrepid but end up at the restaurant across the street.

Chicken / κοτόπουλο

After dinner we each have our respective meetings – they are in a different group here so I don’t know how much we will see of each other before the cruise ship in a week.

The meeting is a bit scattered, between late flights just getting people in, and the front desk sending people to the wrong rooms. So I hear the spiel twice but I don’t mind. A glass of white wine and a few faces committed to memory – several people here are solos like me – and we have our plans for the morning squared away.

I go up to the rooftop bar just long enough to get one quick photo before I head to an early bedtime.

Parthenon at Night
adventures abroad, travel, ups and downs

Going

I get up and ready and am waiting at the door for 10 minutes. My driver arrives at 3:02 for my 3:00 pickup. Trust is not my strength; I’ve already looked up the number to check status.

My driver – this is my third time traveling with him – is a soft-spoken man with glasses and a pleasant accent. He’s from an African country but has lived here for 20 years. He’s thoughtful and reasoned, good-humored in such small hours, and enjoyable to chat with.

The self check kiosk isn’t working and there’s no one at the Air Canada desk yet, but I had printed my boarding pass at home so I press on. AC seems to have just one gate here. It’s across from a Dunkin Donuts and I bless the nice young woman who gives me my coffee.

I settle in near an outlet to charge my Kindle while I read the ebooks from Wil Wheaton I bought for travel (I enjoy his blog, and thus far my purchases do NOT disappoint)

…and a new arrival at the gate is a snorter. DUDE. WE CAN ALL HEAR THOSE NOISES AND THEY ARE GROSS.

Lord thank you for this day and bless this person because they are probably suffering or at least clueless and give me – no not strength but grace to not go punch a person.

As if I would ever.

The hop to Canada is relatively short; the 2nd leg to Heathrow is interminable. But Canada Air is running both and the planes feel clean, bright, spacious by airline standards, with nice amenities (movies, charging station, food service etc).

As we are landing in Heathrow on the 2nd, there are fireworks displays going off all around. How big they seem from the ground and how small from above!

The last leg of the flight is a codeshare run by Aegean and it’s a shock to the system to return to such tight cramped quarters. The crew is nice though. I try to sleep when I can but it’s just not conducive.

It’s 4:08 local time when we land and nearly 5:30am by the time we get through customs, get our luggage, meet our driver and get transferred to our hotel.

We see the Acropolis, lit up, in the dark of the morning on a distant hill en route to the hotel.

The moon is a crescent in the sky and the signs in English and Greek underscore the distance I’ve traveled today.

Αθινα.