The diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.
|I'm sorry the diary entries seem to have dropped off a bit lately! We're finding Greece rather more of a stretch to our budget than the other countries we have been through so far! We are having to keep internet cafe use to a minimum. Access to the net costs aboutten times as much here as it did in Romania! More proper entries soon - I promise!!|
|Athens: a summary of one month in Greece|
|We have spent a total of four weeks travelling around Greece. This section of the trip has had its share of rich rewards, mainly in the form of magnificent ancient ruins and breathtakingly beautiful scenery, together with sweeping bays and aquamarine seas. We have also had our share of frustrations and testing moments, not least because of the extent to which the Greek economy has stretched our budget. It quickly became clear that 42 pounds (64 Euros) was not sufficient to eat and sleep even adequately here, not to mention travel, too. Increasing this daily budget to 70, then 80, and eventually, in Athens, 95 Euros per day proved more realistic, but every day we have felt under extra pressure as a result.|
Greece is also frustrating in other ways. There is a general lack of organised tourist information. The 'Tourist Police', present in many large towns, are helpful at least in intention, but do not really constitute a comprehensive source of info, and are not always easy to find. Public transport has been notably less efficient here than in the Eastern European countries we visited. Due to the extremely mountainous geography of the country, transport tends to be by road rather than by rail, except in and out of Athens. This in itself was no problem (except that our children seem to have developed a tendency towards travel sickness as a result!), but the location of bus terminals was. Each sizeable town seems to have at least two bus stations, with buses leaving and arriving from different directions. We had particular 'fun' finding our way to the appropriate station, each time just a cafe with a separate ticket desk, in Lamia and in Tripoli.
Internet cafes cost about ten times as much here as they did in Romania, and because of our tight budget we have avoided using them in Greece unless absolutely necessary. For this reason we have all sat down together to condense one months' experiences into one diary update. Here goes!
Ancient sites (in the order we saw them)
Delphi: We spent two days exploring the archaeological site at Delphi. The site consists of the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Delphi, the 'navel of the Earth'! We wandered through the gymnasium and baths and Athina's Sanctuary on one day, and visited the larger section of the site, Apollo's Sanctuary, the theatre and stadium on the next. The place held us spellbound and really captured the imagination, set amid mountains and with wide sweeping views of the valley below. Here Apollo handed out advice to leaders of nations from his acclaimed Oracle, performers competed in drama tournaments in the theatre (well-preserved today) and the ancient Pythian Games were held in the stadium, high above the city.
Olympia: Home of the ancient Olympic Games, Olympia is a vast archaeological site. In its heyday it must have been truly spectacular, and even today it is incredible to see how enormous the buildings and their supporting columns must have been. Every way you turn there are huge stones which were used by an ancient civilisation to construct something truly monumental. Somehow, though, Olympia did not capture our imagination to the same degree as Delphi. Still, it was fun to run a race along the ancient track in the stadium where the first Olympian athletes performed. (Esther won!)
Mystras: The ruined city at Mystras is a Bysantine site, ie: 13th-16th century AD. The children particularly loved exploring the ruins here; a medieval style fortified town and castle, perched on a steep mountainside. Walls and layouts of houses were intact, as were monasteries, churches and chapels, complete with frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dull, rainy weather when we visited added to the atmosphere and we enjoyed the day a lot, helped by the availability of lots of information about the site in English.
Mycenae: We took the bus to Mikines to visit the ancient site of the city of Mycenae. It was excellent! We enjoyed wandering through the remains of the fortified citadelle, looking at old dwelling places and imagining the way things must have been there around 1500 BC. There were some fantastic tombs, huge round, dome-shaped chambers built into the mountain, where kings and queens were buried with all their worldly possessions; some of which we later saw at the museum. The walls of the citadelle were really impressive. They are 5.5-7.5m thick and built of enormous stones; one of those mysterious puzzles of ancient engineering. For us a highlight was finding the underground cistern, or reservoir. The way to it was not well marked, but we could see it on the map and were determined to find it. There was noone else there. The cistern was like a mine-shaft that went deep, deep down into the mountain rock below. Esther and I only went in a little way, but Nick and Tom, with Nick's torch, climbed down to the watery bottom, while bats flapped around their ears.
The Athens Acropolis: The Acropolis is amazing because of its sheer size and grandeur. To be honest we were feeling somewhat "Greeked out" by the time we arrived in Athens, but it had to be done. We explored the sites and were duly impressed!
Sun, sea and sand
We stayed in a number of places within walking distance from the beach. On our first night in Greece, after arriving by train in Thessaloniki, we found our way to Plaka Litohoro, actually not really a place at all, but one under construction, or would be if all the money for construction wasn't being channelled into the efforts for the Olympic Games next year! We stayed in a bungalow at a camp site, actually more like a garden shed, but in view of Mount Olympus. The beach was stony, but the sea was warm and we swam, thinking how incredible it was to be here, in the warm Aegean Sea, having travelled the length of Europe to reach this place.
The beaches around Kala Nera, on the Pelion Peninsula, were gorgeous. The sand was course, shingly stuff, but fine enough to build rudimentary sandcastles, and there was mile upon mile of it. We sat or played on quiet beaches and swam in the sea, and wandered back to our apartment as the sun set across the bay.
We spent a week on the island of Zakynthos, where the beaches were soft and sandy, although packed with British tourists! (Yes, I know, us included!) The children had lots of fun there, appreciating the opportunity to play in the sand with other English kids.
On the 2nd of November we sat on the beach at Tolo, near our camp site at Ancient Assini in the region of Nafplio. This would be our last swim in the sea before leaving Greece.
There is lots more to add, about people, food and the best and worst of where we stayed, but I fear I will have to keep you in suspense, as dinner - my last Greek gyros - beckons temptingly, and I've been here ages! Another update very soon, I promise!
They say it is the people who make a place, and Greece has it’s fair share of them! The Greek temperament can make for interesting interactions. In the first instance many Greeks can seem quick-tempered, and they certainly don’t suffer fools gladly. They defend themselves quickly if questioned, eg. over price / misunderstandings over tickets, especially childrens’ fares! However, if you are persistent and stand your ground you discover that they quickly soften and become amazingly helpful. We have encountered countless kind people.
Shopkeepers often gave something to the children (a biscuit in a bakery or, in one case, a pair of sunglasses; the woman practically ran after us to give these to Esther!), and many people were very ready to offer lifts, whether we asked for them or not.
On Zakynthos we headed for Alikes to try out our new tents. After taking the wrong road and walking 2km in the hot sun towards a non-existant campsite we met Mrs. Theodopolis. She gave us directions and sent us on our way, but then had a brainwave and came after us on her moped to tell us we could camp in her olive grove. Our neighbours there gave us water, firewood, and eggs for breakfast, and one woman was so worried about us out in the dark and cold (it was dark; it wasn’t cold), that she offered us the entire upstairs of her house!
On the night when, camping near Mystras, we found ourselves struggling to stay afloat in our tents during a terrific thunderstorm, Mrs. , who happened to live in the nearest house, took us in readily and, while we dripped mud on her floor, she dried Esther’s hair with a hairdrier, poured us all a glass of orange juice, produced a big box of biscuits and phoned a taxi to take us to a nearby inexpensive hotel. The following day a nice man who spoke no English stopped in a pickup truck and gave us a lift back along the road to collect our damp tents.
And then there was George, cafe owner in Tolo, who drove us to Nafplio because we had missed our bus.
Many more people were kind and helpful, and only a few were grumpy or uncooperative, notably the man from whom we rented a ‘bungalow’ at a campsite on our first night in Greece, who, I believe, still has my Maglite! Grrrr!!
We have eaten countless Greek salads, and Thomas has developed a real taste for feta cheese. We have also sampled ‘gyros’ (Greek kebabs, and the cheapest way to boost your cholestrol levels while here) in several of the towns we have visited. The best gyros we had was in Patra, where 4.5 Euros bought us a huge plateful of tasty meat, salad, tzatsiki and pitta bread, and the worst in Olympia - the less said the better! One morning in Kala Nera we bought fish freshly caught from a fishermen at the quai. It took me ages to prepare it (I had to gut it myself and Nick wouldn’t get his hands dirty), but it was good, and very fresh. During our time here we have also sampled many traditional dishes, including the old favourites; calamari fresh from the sea, moussaka, and stuffed vine leaves, but also kleftico (a dish of lamb, baked in a pot until it falls off the bone, with garlic, tomatoes and herbs), pasitsio (Tom’s favourite, like lasagne but layered with long tubes of pasta instead of the flat variety), and Greek wine, retsina, preserved using tree sap; an acquired taste. Serve well chilled!
Altogether we have stayed in 14 different places while in Greece. Here’s the best and worst of where we stayed. 1, 2 and 3 were Kala Nera, Athens, and camping. X, Y and Z were the bungalow at Plaka Litohoro, miles from anywhere, even the nearest shop, with only the grumpy owner to provide a meal with a not-so-friendly “What d’ya want to eat?”, the Youth Hostel in Patra, which was dingy and overpriced, and camping in that awful thunderstorm between Sparti and Mystras!
At Kala Nera, on the Pelion peninsula, we found a fantastic apartment with a little kitchen and a balcony, and we managed to persuade the lady there to let us have it for only 30 Euros, when the price is usually 75. (She swore us to secrecy, so I’m not going to say exactly where!) This was still more than we were used to paying in Eastern Europe. Lucky that we came here at the end of the season. Kala Nera itself was a lovely village, with beautiful calm sea lapping up the shingle beach, and fantastic views of the sunset. It was one of our favourite places in Greece.
The first night we camped was before we had bought the tents. We slept under the stars, and an almond tree, on a mountainside near Delphi. It was amazing and peaceful and ancient and really really groovy! Tom says that it was quite uncomfortable, too, and I suppose he is right, but it really was special to wake at dawn and watch the sun rise over the mountains. We ate almonds from the tree for breakfast, and had the excellent luck to spot a tortoise on our way down to the village.
We also did some excellent camping at Ancient Assini, near Tolo in the Nafplio region towards the end of our time in Greece.
Here in Athens we are staying in a basic but clean hotel (Hotel Dioskouros) where they have done us a very good deal. We are in Plaka, which is Old Athens, right in the midst of all the ancient sites in the city, the Acropolis only a short walk away. A fitting place to finish our stay, and the European section of our trip.
Next stop: Africa!
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