The Tail End of an Amazing Trip

by Sam Lacy 2. May 2011 01:57

     Following a ferry ride that seemed as if it would never end, Amy and I found ourselves back in Athens, ready to cram every last bit of sightseeing into my last two days. I have no idea when, or even if, I would ever get a chance to make it back to Greece so I wanted to utilize every last second and be able to hop on the plane back to America with no regrets. Saturday turned out to be one of my favorite days of the entire trip even though it was a day in which we saw just a couple of attractions.

     We visited the Olympic Stadium, perhaps my favorite historical venue, on Saturday afternoon. The history that I felt there was like none other I had felt. Perhaps it was because I could see myself, years and years ago, sitting in those very stands, watching all types of different sporting events. Athens was chosen to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, an incredibly historic event considering they were also chosen to host the 1896 Olympics, considered to be the very first games of the modern Olympics. It was as if the Olympics had returned to their birthplace. Considering the impact that the Olympics have on the entire world, I felt as if I was in a place of incredible history. In fact, even though the city of Athens had built a modern stadium to host many of the Olympic events in 2004, it was in this stadium that all of the archery events and the end of the marathon were held. The audio tour that we were provided was great; I learned so much history about the stadium and its history. We were able to walk into the tunnel that the Greek gladiators used to enter the stadium. The tunnel was preserved exactly as it was centuries ago and I used my imagination to picture hundreds of gladiators walking onto the field prepared to fight for their lives, or die trying, while 68,000+ watched in awe.  At the end, I had to run the obligatory lap around the track.

     Our tour of the Olympic Stadium consumed us until dinner time; we took a short break to look at some shops and then headed to dinner at Vizantino in Thissio, a district of Athens. Vizantino is a restaurant that is frequently mentioned by numerous publications as being one of the best in Athens; I had actually read about it before flying over. While Amy had eaten there a couple of times before, I had never had the pleasure. It was about as good as I could have imagined. After my very first meal in Athens I had come to love lamb and the lamb with lemon sauce at Vizantino was top-notch. We followed our meal with a carryout baklava from a small, family-owned bakery and I was more than set for the night.

     Monday was a relaxed day; I slept in for a bit and then Amy and I decided to head to the Athens Flea Market, which snakes its way all the way from Monastiraki to Thissio. Hundreds of people, young and old, peddling their wares to the masses. I saw everything from batteries, decades-old cameras, tricycles, lime green refrigerators, swords, and anything else that you can possibly imagine. Calling the flea market vibrant would be an understatement.

     As soon as I arrived, it seemed as if I must leave. I spent a full nine days in Greece and it would have required another nine more, at the very least, to fully appreciate everything that Greece has to offer. I cannot wait for my return visit; I have already made a list of the islands that I wish to visit and the sites that I intend to see. Greece is a vibrant, fully alive country, and I am counting down the days until I can spend time here again.

A view of the Olympic Stadium from high in the stands.

 

Coming out of the tunnel, entering the Olympic Stadium to meet my fate.

 

Running my lap around the track at the Olympic Stadium.  I have never felt so much a part of history.

 

A man peddling his wares at the Athens Flea Market.

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Gyros in Greece!

Cold Water and Hot Springs

by Sam Lacy 1. May 2011 01:24

     Amy and I decided to keep the ATV for another day, thinking that it would be much easier to be able to travel whenever we pleased as opposed to trying to plan our day around the limited bus schedule. We had reserved a spot on the 2:00 PM boat for the volcano and hot springs tour. We made our way down the long, winding stone path to the Old Port, which served as the only way in and out of Santorini up until just a couple of decades ago.

     A small vessel, filled with mostly tourists, took us on a half-hour trip out to a barren island that contained two volcanoes, one dormant and one still active. The barren volcano was basically right off the boat; Amy and I took a quick look at it and then continued on the long hike up to the active volcano. We were left less than an hour and a half to make our way to the other side of the island (quite a long hike) and catch a glimpse of the active volcano, then make our way all the way back to the boat. We aren’t quite sure if what we saw was actually the volcano! Amy and I were expecting a huge volcano with a visible crater at the top, and we didn’t happen to see anything that resembled that, unfortunately. The entire island seemed to be made up of red and green grasses interspersed with sections of jagged, volcanic rock. It was incredibly interesting nonetheless.

     The boat took us on another quick trip to a much smaller island. Here we were given the option of jumping into the Aegean Sea and swimming our way over to the hot springs in a small cove named Palia Kameni. Quite a large group of those on the boat decided to take the plunge, and we all begin stripping down to our bathing suits. I knew the water right off the boat would be cold, but I wasn’t quite prepared; as soon as I hit the water it took my breath away. It was a quick swim to the hot springs and, hopefully, relief from the frigid water. Relief we found, and we basked in the abnormally warm water with a view of the small church of St. Nicholas. All the swimmers around me and I were petrified of entering the cold waters of the Aegean Sea again, so we took our time until we mustered up the courage to make the sprint back to the boat.

     After a return to the Old Port and a ride up the cable car to Fira, Amy and I ended our day with a quick trip to the Koutsoyannopoulos Winery & Wine Museum, supposedly the only of its kind in all of Greece. We went through an underground museum, complete with 24 separate exhibits detailing the life of Gregory and Dimitri Koutsoyannopoulou, the original founders of the winery in 1870. The museum illustrated their lives and the techniques and machines they used to make their different wines. At the conclusion, we were able to sample four different wines and learned about the different techniques used to make each one. George Koutsoyannopoulos, the fourth generation of the Koutsoyannopoulou family, still owns and operates the winery today.

A view from the Old Port all the way up to Santorini.  Many tourists ride donkeys from the bottom to the top.

 

The Koutsoyannopoulos Winery & Wine Museum.  Excellent museum and excellent wine!

Tags:

Gyros in Greece!

Santorini: An Ideal Greek Paradise

by Sam Lacy 28. April 2011 02:18

Despite not yet being the tourist season, Santorini is a pretty special place. The stark white buildings set against the red and tan earth are truly a sight to behold. When most people think of Greece, they imagine white buildings with blue shutters set atop cliffs and mountains. At least, that is what I had always pictured Greece to be. I found out in Athens that this was not the case. I was, however, thrilled to hear that the island of Santorini, and particularly Oia within it, were much closer to this view.

Amy and I awoke early Tuesday morning and made our way down to the main port of Athens. We hopped on a huge ferry that would take us first to the islands of Paros and Naxos, then on to our final destination of Santorini some seven hours later. Amy and I passed the time by playing rummy and people-watching; groups, large and small, from all over the world, seemed to be headed to the islands of Greece. We stepped off the ferry in Santorini and immediately boarded a bus which wound its way up the sheer side of a mountain until we finally reached the top, and with it, Santorini. We made our way into Fira, the largest city on Santorini, only to learn that we had missed our bus to Kamari by a mere ten minutes. We had to wait over an hour for the next, so we walked a short way into Fira and had a beer and a gyro. The rest of the day consisted of a bit of sightseeing, checking into our villa a few miles outside of Fira, and a great dinner at Café Mistral in Kamari, where our villa was located.

Wednesday was an adventurous day. Amy and I rented an ATV for 24 hours and drove all over Santorini. The town we are staying in, Kamari, is about 10 minutes outside of Fira so we drove our ATV to Fira for some sightseeing and a quick lunch. We started out towards the Red Beach, all the way on the other side of the island, but on the way we passed signs for Santo Winery and decided to stop in. It is these types of improvisations that so often turn out to be the highlights of a trip. Amy and I sampled four wines, recommended by the bartender, and loved each one. We sampled a couple of whites, their specialty, followed by a red and Vinsanto, an extremely sweet dessert wine. Amy snapped a couple of quick pictures of cruise ships anchored off the coast of Santorini and we were on our way. We cruised on down to the Red Beach in Akrotiri, the most southerly point on the island. The Red Beach was one of the neatest things I have seen the entire trip; over thousands of years, the ocean has worn away the side of a cliff, exposing the red rock face. The sand on the beach is, in turn, red. It’s a pretty cool thing to see, and one you won’t see many other places in the world.

We headed to Oia around 5:30 PM. I was incredibly anxious to see the white and blue houses set into the mountainside like I had seen on postcards. Oia did not disappoint. It has been called the most beautiful city in Greece by many people and you will get no argument from me. If you have seen a postcard from Santorini, it has most likely come from Oia. It was just as I had imagined; amazingly white houses stacked one on top of the other on the mountainside. I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the blue roofs; judging by the white houses and blue roofs and shutters, I enjoyed imagining that everyone in Oia is a diehard University of Kentucky fan!!!

Making our way back to Kamari was the biggest adventure of the day. It was dark outside, and we had only our dim ATV lights to guide us back along the 40 minute ride on the curvy, windswept mountainside. We made a short stop in Fira for one of Greece’s famous iced coffees and an apple and cinnamon crepe. Thoroughly satisfied, we finally ended up in our villa in Kamari. It was a long and incredibly successful day, the best type of day to have in a foreign country. Tomorrow promises to be another such day, filled with ATV rides, visits to volcanoes, and a dip in a hot spring or two.

 

Amy and Me in Santorini.

 

Amy enjoying the red at Santo Winery in Santorini, Greece.

 

At the Red Beach.

 

O

Oia.  One of the most amazing places I have ever seen.

Tags:

Gyros in Greece!

Three Days In Athens

by Sam Lacy 25. April 2011 22:27

There is nothing quite like embarking on a full day of travel and having your long-lost girlfriend there to meet you on the other side of the world.  My girlfriend, Amy, has been studying in Athens, Greece, for almost three months and I decided several months ago that a vacation for me would be in short order!  Why should she get to have all the fun?!  So I landed in Athens early Saturday morning and we haven't looked back since.  

There is so much to see in Athens.  Saturday was filled with exploration of the local meat, vegetable, and seafood market.  That was quite a scene; the meat market was absolutely packed.  Everyone was jostling to buy their whole lamb for the midnight roast for Easter; Amy said she had never witnessed the meat market so packed before.  It was at this time that I had my first gyro, a great combination of mouth-watering chicken, beef, or pork stuffed in a pita with tzatziki, french fries, tomatoes, onion, paprika, and salt.  If you ever make it to Greece, it is a rite of passage to enjoy a gyro!

After a quick nap for me, Amy and I walked to a great dinner at Sissifos, an incredible Greek restaurant which offered a rooftop view of the lit Acropolis.  I ordered lamb with oil and oregano, and let me say with no exaggeration that it was one of the best meals I have ever had.  Dinner in Greece is an all-night event; by the time we left Sissifos, full and satisfied, we had spent well over two hours enjoying the view and the wonderful food.  Amy, her roommate Sarah, and I concluded the night by climbing nearly to the top of a huge hill overlooking all of Athens so we could watch the midnight fireworks show to celebrate Easter.

Sunday was filled with more sightseeing.  Amy and I embarked on an early morning walk past Syntagma Square to the National Gardens, a huge forested area of flowers, creeks, trails, and such situated right next to the Greek Parliament.  A strenuous hike to the top of Lycabettus Hill followed.  At the top stands a small white church, centuries old, with a neat cafe adjoining.  The view of Athens from the top of the hill is breathtaking.  Athens stretches out in every direction as far as the eye can see.  Dinner was amazing once again!  Amy and I walked to Thissio, a local restaurant district, which offered another view of the lit Acropolis and superb food once again.  It was here I enjoyed my first Mythos, the local Greek beer.  

All three of the most prominent historical sights were visited Monday.  The Agora, an ancient village which housed the common people of Greece, was an amazing sight.  It has been beautifully preserved and truly offered a view into what Greece was like many centuries ago.  From there we ventured all the way up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.  The sheer scale of it is mindblowing; to think that the Parthenon was built with just manpower is simply amazing.  It has been extremely well-preserved and restoration work continues on it year-round.  A quick walk down the other side of the Acropolis led us to the Temple of Zeus, a massive temple that the rest of ancient Athens was built around.  A mid-afternoon trip to Bretton's qualifies as one of the highlights of my trip thus far.  Bretton's is a 102-year-old tavern where they distill their own ouzo, the famous Greek liquor.  My trip would not have been complete without a taste of ouzo, so I saddled up to the bar and ordered a glass of the 84 proof liquor.  The taste of ouzo is incredibly difficult to describe; it is brewed with licorice and anise and the taste overwhelms you at first but then goes down incredibly smooth.  Bretton's is a must-see for any visitor to Athens.

Amy and I are catching an early morning ferry to Santorini tomorrow.  Santorini is one of the most well-known Greek islands and is considered by some to be among the most beautiful places on the planet.  Pictures will be sure to follow!

 

Amy and I enjoyed a meal at Sissifos.  The Acropolis can be seen in the upper right hand corner.

 

Taking a break in front of the Parthenon.

 

My first taste of Ouzo.

 

Greek man passes the time at Bretton's with a glass of Ouzo.

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Gyros in Greece!

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