As many of you know, I was in Greece for a month in December and January. Being able to travel is one of the greatest joys of being my own boss and setting my own schedule. It’s taken me a while to get here, but I’m so grateful to have these opportunities.
I’m breaking this post up into at least three parts – partially because I don’t want to write it all at once and partially because it would make an enormous post.
We start in Iraklio (or Heraklion, or any other number of crazy combinations of letter choice.) I’m the travel planner between the two of us, and I figured it’d be easier to just get all the flying done ahead of time, so though we passed through Athens after 16 something hours of travel, we had yet one more one-hour flight to conquer to get to Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. Almost immediately, we were taken with Greece’s seemingly unending supply of delights – small, unexpected things, constantly surprising us. For instance, within about half an hour of arriving in Iraklio, we saw a wedding arrive at a historic church.
Here is George at the Palace at Knossos. The Minoans were one of the earliest advanced civilizations – this site dates to something like 3,000 BC. These people were on it before anyone else. Also of note, T-Mobile decided it was going to offer an international unlimited plan just a few months before the trip. We qualified and it was a huge resource for us to have internet during our travels. Yay, T-Mobile! (And that is something I never thought I would write.)
Our stamina for archeological museums was quite high at this point.
We’re still in Iraklio, looking out into the Mediterranean. The skies would darken considerably in the following days.
The water in the Mediterranean is unbelievably clear.
Just one photo from Rethymno, from the fortress overlooking the city. Greece went back-and-forth between many hands in the centuries following the end of the classical era (400 BC-ish). Romans, Turks, Venetians, barbarians all had their time controlling the lands, and they’ve all left their marks on the architecture of the country. Many cities have fortified palaces or fortresses atop hills overlooking them.
By the time we got to Chania, there was a full-on storm raging. You can see the lighthouse which marks the end of the sea wall enclosing this tiny Venetian port (many Greek sea towns have Venetian ports). The water inside the ports is normally glass-still, but big dramatic waves were washing up and into the businesses this day. We were told Crete sees a storm like this maybe once a year. As an example of delights, we took shelter from the blustery winds inside the clear tent of a restaurant – just barely in the doorway while the waiters set up for the day. One guy called us over, and asked if we wanted some free coffee and a warm place to watch the storm. Of course we agreed, and he set up a table and a heater and brought out coffee for us. Greek people are very hospitable, even to strangers.
I know this image is hard to make out, but if you look closely, you can see the waves splashing up towards George. He got quite wet after that one hit.
Cats are the undisputed rulers of Greece. They live in the ruins. People feed them. We learned from a tour guide in Thessaloniki (see below) that it’s not uncommon for people to just take stray cats into their homes and keep them there, if they like them. The street animals in Greece are, for the most part, clean, well-fed and friendly.
Here we are avoiding the storm and drinking this 1.5L of wine for $2.75.
Finally, the storm passed.
One of the remarkable things about almost everywhere we went in Greece is that there are ruins everywhere underfoot. They can’t just level entire cities to excavate, so every time a parking garage or an apartment building goes in, they do these extensive digs and preserve things as-is, in a sub-level. You have amazing archeological ruins right in the midst of downtown.
One more plane to take us from Chania to Thessaloniki. I believe that’s Mt. Olympus, but I’m not totally sure. We would eventually see it later in the trip (though I didn’t take photos).
Thessaloniki is one of the best cities I’ve visited. There are awesome archeological ruins everywhere and lots of sweet Byzantine churches sunk into the street, but the city also has a great vibe and seems to operate regardless of tourism, which is always nice for tourists. Naturally I sought out the modern art museum.
Here’s another great example of spectacular ruins right in the middle of busy urban areas. This is the Galerius Palace. I don’t remember the whole story, but Galerius was a Roman emperor or sub-emperor or however they do it. These ruins are massive, and occupy an entire city block, with big apartment buildings on all sides. The ruins go on under the buildings.
More cats, living in the ruins.
Here’s George waiting in front of some meats and cheeses. This was one of the best meals we had in Greece.
Greek people eat lunch at 3pm and dinner at 10pm, a habit we tried to develop while we were there but struggled with all the time. Normally if we had a big lunch at 3, we wouldn’t be hungry for dinner at all, and then be ravenous the next morning. If breakfast wasn’t provided by the hotel, we’d then end up eating lunch at noon like we’re used to and be alone in the restaurant. Other than this obstacle, we found Greek food to be absolutely fantastic. We had only one or two truly bad meals the entire time we were there, and most often we were delighted by how tasty everything was, even though we frequently ate the same dishes. There are a number of “standard” dishes every taverna offers up and, honestly, we didn’t mind a bit – Greek food is simple, but delicious.
This is one of those Byzantine churches I was referring to. Built somewhere around 1,000 AD, the streets have since been raised, but the churches preserved, such that most of them sit in a little sunken pit. Most of them are still in daily use.
We spent our fourth wedding anniversary, and took the bulk of our pictures, at the amazing site of Meteora, in central Greece. The area consists of a number of monasteries built on top of these amazing rock formations. Back in the day, monks used baskets on ropes to move people and supplies up and down the rocks. Nowadays there’s a road connecting them. The photo at the top of the post is from Meteora. The image below is of St. George’s monastery – no longer in use. Every year on St. George’s Day, locals climb up to the ruined monastery and hang clothes – I don’t know why. We walked right up to it, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how they get up there.
This dog actually belongs to somebody, but was super-friendly nonetheless. She bounded up to us while we were on the trail to the first monastery, and continued with us up up up all the way to the monastery door, where we had to tell her to go away.
This is George excited because she’s come back to us after having run off to go do dog things for a while.
Here’s our escort #2. This dog stayed with us for the entire rest of the day – hours – as we walked between the various monasteries. Up the mountain, across the roads, and even waiting for us outside while we went into the monasteries. We really liked this dog.
We saw a few tourists, but mostly had the places to ourselves. We had to get a we’re-in-Meteora picture for the anniversary, though.
Our dog friend finally left us as we headed down the mountain and back into town. We were worried he was going to follow us all the way back to our hotel and we would have to figure out what to do with him. (It even crossed both our minds that we might take this dog home with us.) Turns out, he’s a hustler and does this for a living. When we went to visit monasteries that weren’t open the next day when they were, he bounded right by us and onto some other tourists. I’m glad he was our friend for the day, regardless.
Look, a wall of skulls!
And that will about wrap up installment #1. This takes us to about 12 days into our trip. More to come.