My Greece/Italy vacation

Hi followers, sorry for my absence!  As you can tell, I was in the Mediterranean with family for two weeks.  No Monthly Me or Wonderful Strangers coming up; just this summary post with my pictures and thoughts.

Athens

It sounds like a joke, but literally the first word I heard in Greece was “Opa!”  That’s what an applauding woman cheered as our airplane met the pavement.  I can tell you how much sleep I got on that 8+ hour flight: one hour.  I was red-eyed, sleep-deprived, and still salty about my premature goodbye to my senior year of high school.

We parked our stuff at the Hotel Parthenon, which had lovely free cherry juice next to the reception desk.  We were nearby the Plaka neighborhood, which hosted delicious souvlaki and greek yogurt restaurants.  Our first and only stop of the day was the National Archaeological Museum.  It perked my spirits; so many famous artifacts and statues, all organized in a very coherent chronological thematic order.

The next day, my sister, who has been working in Amsterdam for the past month, finally reunited with us!  We went to the Acropolis.

13532879_886809418108240_2583710525981682053_nWhat can I say, really?  The Acropolis and Parthenon: imposing, majestic, impressive, inspiring, yet also crumbling and wistful.  My family absolutely loved it.  We also visited the Agora, Library of Hadrian, and Temple of Olympian Zeus.  We had lunch with the numerous stray cats and dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant.   At night we returned to the foot of the Acropolis and found a huge rock sprinkled with people.  It had the most sparkling sight of the city and the most dramatic view of the lit Parthenon.  It really was something.

Night life in Greece does not disappoint.  The best part is, for some reason, there were virtually ZERO dusk-time bugs.  I did not get a single mosquito bite in all five days at Greece.  I heard that certain aromatic trees might explain this.  (Sadly, this was NOT the case in Italy).

On our third and last day in Athens, we walked around Rome under the guidance of our Lord and Savior Rick Steves (via free audio guide).  I really love the car-less streets just full of shopping and life.  We also went to the Acropolis Museum, which was an excellent supplement to the real thing.  Finally we got an Uber to our cruise port: the Royal Princess ship was taking us around the Mediterranean.

Santorini

Our first stop was this dazzling, unreal island.  We needed to board a small boat from our ship to its shore because — well, the main island of Santorini is entirely Cliff.  Not cliffs, plural, but just one solid towering behemoth.  We also needed to take a cable car to the top because of this fact.

 

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Candid of me in the cable car

First we took a bus to a black sand beach.  Santorini’s small, but it is skinny and covers more area than you’d think.  So the bus-time naps were quite ample.  I think black sand beaches are less glamorous than people boast them to be.  Partly because, at least here, it was less “black sand beach” and more “black pebble beach.”  This actually suits me: I think tiny grains of sand are hateful.

We took another bus to the town of Oia (pronounced Ee-ah).  This was as glam as it was cracked up to be, and more.

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Words just aren’t enough for this

I hate wearing sunglasses, but I just had to on this day.  There was so much white for the sun to shine off of.

Most of Oia’s cliff-side are small but luxurious hotels.  Stucco’ed in white, a hotel room and its porch is like a barnacle on the side of the cliff, overlooking the blue water.  I saw swimsuit-clad residents sun-bathing in their porch’s lawn chairs and hot tubs.  It was a strange mixture of privacy and exposure that intrigued and repelled me.

Anyone who’s been to Santorini would then ask me: “How was the sunset??”  Apparently the island is famous for a gorgeous view.  I’ll never know, because it was pretty cloudy that evening.

Ephesus, Turkey

I hate to admit it, but I had underestimated my parents: they basically booked a vacation that hit every important ruin of the Ancient World.  It appealed perfectly to my inner historian and not-so-inner Latin nerd.  Ephesus was a critical hub of the Byzantine world, and perhaps I learned the most here (high school is pretty lax on Middle Eastern history).

In some ways I liked Ephesus more than the Acropolis.  Overall, it was better-preserved,  and there were fewer physical barriers to the visitors.  You could really get up close to the history.  Definitely my favorite part was the Terrace House, extremely well-preserved mansions of the ancients.  It was under this protective roof and had a pathway through it that let you observe from within.  There were some BOMB frescoes and mosaics.  If there’s anything I learned on this trip, it’s that I’m a slut for good ancient mosaics.

Afterwards we visited the tomb of St. John.  There is a profound amount of Christian history here.  Our taxi driver was also lovely, I thought.  He ate lunch with us and talked about Turkish polygamy, inheritance, and religion.

Mykonos, Greece

DSCN5695_optMykonos is more humble than Santorini, but still beautifully charming and pleasant.  It is near the island of Delos, the supposed birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and — you guessed it — full of ruins.  We missed the 9 am boat there, so we spent some time in the labyrinth streets, purposely designed to confuse pirate invaders.

I gotta say: Greek food is fresh as fuck.  Perhaps the highlight of Mykonos was lunch, and it wasn’t even at an upscale place.  Just another humble restaurant boasting souvlaki.  I ordered this fucking juicy beef pita thing with a tomato-cucumber-and-feta salad.   Once I bit into that pita I didn’t stop to breathe for five minutes.

I liked Delos a lot.  More eroded than Ephesus, but I could definitely imagine ancient life clearly there somehow.  I scratched my legs on weeds as I climbed over knee-high mazes, all that’s left of lavishly decorated shops and houses.  There was one courtyard with literally the best mosaic I had ever seen in my life.  It was of Dionysis, and the mosaic pieces that composed his face were so small that I wanted to weep.  We hit most of the main attractions, but sadly there was a significant part of the island we didn’t have time to see — consisting of a long, mountainous hike.  I hope one day I get to go back and complete it.

I also had my own special private moment.  As my sister and mother went to hold down the return boat, I had a final adventure to myself.  I raced up the bricked paths and read the exhibit signs I didn’t catch the first time.  I discovered a large theater with its stone seats still defined in its carving.  I can’t say that I listened and heard the spirits of the long-dead.  But there was something quiet and solemn in the cobwebs, weedy stones, and dust.  The silence itself spoke their sadness.

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Nemean Lions: statues that face East, roaring at the arrival of the sun (Apollo) to this day

The next day was a day at sea, as our ship approached the Italian peninsula.  To our surprise, the captain announced that strong winds canceled our stop at Malta.  Instead, they found availability at Naples, where we could dock safely.  In the end I was glad about the change of plan, but that is for part two of this vacation summary…dedicated entirely to Italy.

M.L.

 

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