Greece

October 9, 2007 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Greece | Leave a comment

September 8 – 19

To get to Greece by sea from Dubrovnik, Croatia, you must first take a 6 hour ship across the Adriatic to Bari, Italy then spend the night and then take a 15 hour ferry from Bari to Patros, Greece. The first ship was fine and comfortable but a bit boring. We arrived in Bari at about 8 at night but didn’t have a place to stay and there was no tourist office at the pier. We knew we were in a bit of a jam but with the help of a ferry ticket agent who called a taxi, and a knowledgeable taxi driver, he took us to a decent hotel for the night. Did we spend more than we wanted? Yes, but that is the price of independent travel and extenuating circumstances. The name of the hotel was the Boston Hotel so perhaps it was a sign for better things to come. The 15 hour ship ride was very exciting for the boys. The ship had a pool, casino, dvd rentals, 2 restaurants, a kids play area and lots of room to explore. It also had wi-fi! It was more like a mini cruise ship. We booked a cabin and the boys could not believe that we were going to sleep on a bed on a ship. Bunk beds! We arrived 15 hours later at Patros, Greece at 5:00 am and boarded a train to Athens 3 hours away. The boys were excited all of the time. No matter what the hour or what the mode of transport, there was something to see.After missing the Athens stop (station signs were in Greek), we backtracked one stop and then called some places listed in our guidebook which we’d bought in Croatia. We found a place with four beds in a room and proceeded to navigate the metro (easy) to the right stop and hoofed it a few blocks to our hotel. It was basic (very) but it served the purpose.A travel agent helped us form a good itinerary for which islands to see and how to make our way to Turkey. We decided to spend only on day in Athens. By now it was approaching dusk so we headed to the Acropolis to see it at sunset. It was very exciting to finally arrive at a place so often shown in textbooks and magazines. We wished we were able to brush up on our Greek history a bit but we muddled through. Tour groups were gone by now so it was a treat to only share this treasured spot with a small smattering of tourists. The guidebook included details about the Acropolis which Laura attempted to translate on the fly into “kid-speak” and described the arena, the Parthenon, gateway and other buildings. Despite our attempts to explain what a special place this was and how old it was compared to other places we had seen, the boys decided to absorb the history via the marble dust on the ground which made good roads for their matchbox cars. We were all happy.The next day was Oliver’s birthday and as he was the last one to wake up, we surprised him with 3 gifts and homemade cards which depicted him in Greek garb as a leader perched atop the Acropolis so that he would remember that he turned 8 in Greece. We had secretly collected some coveted treasures along the way as gifts including a red Ferrari shirt which will now grace most of our pictures. Although the day had included a lot of administrative and logistical tasks, we promised to celebrate his birthday over several days and touted a trip to the Greek Islands and a hotel with swimming pool as part of the birthday package.

We caught a late afternoon high speed ferry to Mykonos and whisked to our hotel high above the center of town. It was nice not having to make any arrangements for the next 7 days since all was done via the travel agent. We had the best meal to date down the street from our hotel which was an area geared towards locals. The table was filled with greek breads, dips, shish kabobs, salads and wine. Despite the wild boar hanging in a cooler on the way to the restroom, the food was delicious (we ordered chicken and pork) and cheap. We spent two nights on Mykonos in a four bed apartment complete with pool and that was enough time to explore the small, touristy, pricey, lovely downtown. It was low season so we seemingly had the place to ourselves. The whitewashed windmills overlooked the harbor and we spent hours exploring the labyrinth of walkways and shops.

Laura was skeptical about going to Santorini knowing its commercial history but it was truly beautiful and an architectural achievement with whitewashed buildings cascading down the side of a dark grey volcanic landscape striated in earthtones. We would never tire of its beauty and unique setting. We stayed in a non-touristy section of Fira Stephani overlooking the blanket of fertile fields that had been created by this volcanic island. We watched farmers in wool caps and long-sleeved shirts return to their hilltop homes atop donkeys while we suffered from the heat. We watched black-clad plumb old ladies carry fruit and bread from the market uphill for their daily supper. We visited a black lava beach and collected bead-sized lava rocks to make necklaces and went to the town of Ia where we found a restaurant perfectly perched in order to get a front row seat for the famous spectacular sunset show. The natural surroundings had more of an impact on the boys than another historic site as the detailed illustrations in their journals proved.

Smoking. Everyone smokes. This has generated a lot of questions from the boys. Why do people smoke? How old do you have to be to smoke? What is inside the cigarette. Why do people drop a lit cigarette on the ground? Will a lit cigarette on the ground burn down the city? Can we buy candy cigarettes? Can I have a straw so I can pretend that I am smoking? Now the boys think it is their responsibility to go around and stomp out all of the cigarettes. Do you know how long it takes to walk down a main street in a city where everyone smokes and your children are stomping out all of the lit cigarettes? It has been a balancing act to allow them to “save the city” yet stay out of the gutters.

Our final destination was Naxos. This was recommended because it was supposed to be the “real” Greece. We had originally planned to go to Crete but decided it was too far afield and would require too many days to see so Naxos was the next best thing. It proved to be true and we spent 4 nights there and wanted to stay longer. Naxos had real sand beaches that stretched for miles, mazes of narrow paths to explore local shops with reasonable prices, fabulous food, and was a large enough island to rent a car and explore the ancient hills with tiny towns that look like they haven’t changed in centuries. We were excited to visit an ancient kouros which is a statue meant to be transported from the quarries in the hills down to the shore but the statue broke during transport and remains amongst the olive groves in the farmer’s fields. It was about 15 feet long and because it was dusk, our search was dark and mysterious as we looked for it on a poorly marked map. We also drove out to a recommended beach on the other side of the island. There was one lone restaurant and a long stretch of beach. There were 5 other people there. The water was aqua-blue with no waves but it was a bit windy (as most of the islands are) but this was perfect conditions for donning the boys towels as capes and playing superman and kicking up sand without disturbing the non-existant people. You would wonder how fresh the food would be in a lone restaurant 45 minutes from civilization, however, the platters of fresh fruit (watermelon, honeydew), hummus, fresh-baked pita bread, greek salad (to die for) with fresh feta, and the $2.00 Heinekens were an oasis.

It was nice to stay put in one place for four days. We could walk to the town, restaurants, the beach, the internet cafes and the ferry. Everyone was very friendly and loved our children – especially Henry’s floppy blonde hair. We would recommend Naxos to anyone wanting to experience real Greek culture in a laid back, authentic atmosphere. The things we enjoyed most were those things that were normal at home but a bit of a trick in another country like mailing a package – finding a box, finding filler, and finding tape. Then we went next door to find rope as Oliver left his rope somewhere. We need rope to hook things to the hotel door knobs, hang army men from it, tie it to trees, tie up siblings and generally do cool things with it.

We loved Greece and were very sad to leave. People were kind and several people, including shopkeepers and restauranteurs, gave things to the boys…just because. The bakery provided an “8” candle for Oliver’s birthday and then, looking towards the future, gave Henry a “7” and Peter a “?” candle which we all got a laugh out of. This is as close to everyday living than we had ever experienced outside of our home before and it is making us slowly feel like global citizens.

(click photo for slideshow)

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