Two years ago, a dear friend of mine proposed visiting Greece together. Last summer we met, created a list of the places that we wanted to see, and booked a Globus land/sea tour that would get us to our wish list of must-see Greek locations.
On May 14th we arrived in Athens and began our adventure in Greek culture, history, mythology, language, and customs. Along with 43 other fellow travelers and guided by an incredible Tour Director named Lida and an intrepid bus driver named Yannis, we toured Athens, Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nauplia, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, and Thermopylae. Then we boarded the cruise ship Celestyal Olympia at the Piraeus port and visited Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, and finally Santorini. An extremely capable and caring Globus onboard host Christiana managed our excursions off the ship and got us back to Athens for our flights back home. All of this in the space of two weeks!
There are pros and cons to traveling overseas these days – certainly the threat of terrorism, and the security measures associated with it, make flying a chore to be endured. I have never mastered the art of traveling light, so dragging my stuff through airports and trying to get my suitcase to weigh less than the allotted 50 pounds was a constant concern. Seeing so much in a short span of time – the old “if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium” tour – required getting up before dawn every day and going almost non-stop until late at night. And just about every Greek site required a significant cardio climb up steep cliffs.
However, the pros certainly outweigh the cons when it comes to Greece, a worthwhile and wonderful place to visit. When you live in a country like the United States that has only existed for a few hundred years, it is mind-blowing to discover places where someone built a palace with 1400 rooms and plumbing 4000 years ago! That’s 2000 years before the time of Christ.
When I was in high school, we read Edith Hamilton’s MYTHOLOGY, and my best friend Kate and I just soaked up the mythology of the Greeks. We loved the stories, and to hear them again and visit the temples that the Greeks built to Athena and Zeus and Apollo was just surreal to me. Our tour director Lida (she is named for Lida, who was visited by Zeus disguised as a swan and who bore him a child, Helen of Troy) shared not only the history and architecture, but the language of the Greeks. Gymnasium, from the Greek gymnos which means naked, the place where Olympic athletes worked out and competed naked. Cemetery, from the Greek koimētḗrion, which means a sleeping place. Even the ever-present cypress trees mean eternal life to the Greeks and the olive tree is a gift from Athena herself.
But it was the places themselves that kidnapped me, that captivated both soul and mind as we encountered them. The Acropolis of Athens and it’s jaw-dropping views and Temple of Athena. The original Olympic stadium now green and serene watched over by a Temple of Hera. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi where thousands came to hear the predictions of the Oracle. The monasteries of Meteora which perch atop limestone cliffs like nesting eagles.
And then the islands – Mykonos with its windmills and golden sunsets. Ephesus – an entire outdoor museum of a city on the coast of Turkey. Patmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation while exiled in a cave. Rhodes, with its own acropolis at Lindos and its remarkedly intact medieval fortress built by the Knights of St. John while fighting the Crusades. Crete with its Palace of Knossos, the center of the Minoan civilization. And finally, the jewel of them all, Santorini, with its white-washed towns draping the shoulders of volcanic cliffs like pearl necklaces.
My friend Sallie and I had the pleasure of sharing these magical places with delightful fellow travelers – Americans as well as Canadians, Australians, and one New Zealander. You form a unique bond; for a very short time, you eat, sleep, and share all the same spaces with total strangers, and the opportunity is always there to engage and learn. We had a Penn State sophomore, an egg farmer, two pharmaceutical reps, a retired nurse, and a Catholic priest, just to name a few. All of them were considerate and kind fellow travelers, and the trip would not have been the same without them.
In addition to our friends on the tour, the Greek people were wonderful hosts. Each morning began with a Kalimera (good morning), and we couldn’t say efharisto (thank you) enough. The food was delicious and both Greek and American cuisine was available at every meal. Many of our hotels had balconies with views and we even had a view of the Acropolis for our last night in Athens.
I don’t know if a return trip to Greece is in the cards for me, but I do know that I won’t ever forget its magnetic charm, its stunning beauty, and its incredible people. Adio, Greece and efharisto for everything.