Ancient Greece By Dr Reena Koppala
Greece was always on my bucket list for a very long time, but to do a trip that has a 17 hour journey from Dallas to Athens, with a huge time zone difference, I had to wait for my son to be 13. Before we embark on my journey and experience, I have to put it out there that we are one of the super crazy families that DO NOT relax on a vacation as we want to spend every single minute trying to explore some nook or corner of the city even if it is at midnight.
Day 1 and Day 2: We took a flight from Dallas to Athens via Chicago and Frankfurt. Plan the flight timings in such a way that you get to sleep during your flight and land before 12 pm in Athens. For any Europe travel, try to use your ATM card for Euros rather than exchanging cash. We reached Athens around 10:30 am and took a cab to our hotel, which was right in the middle of Syntagma Square and walking distance to the Parliament building. Once at the hotel, we quickly refreshed and soon were back on the cobblestone pavements leading to the Square. Greece is synonyms with gastronomy, as there was a wide range of cuisines to choose from at the market square, with everything tasting delicious. We visited a local travel agent and booked a Delphi Tour and made our reservations for the Hover speed boat to Santorini (it is better to book locally than on the internet because local reservations have so many choices). After lunch, we strolled around for 10 minutes and came across Acropolis, which is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historical significance, the most famous being the Parthenon.We took a hike to the top of the mountain and saw breath taking views of Athens. Watching the city during sunset made it even more spectacular. We spent some quiet moments absorbing the glory and stories it contained. On our way back, we stopped at the foot of the Acropolis had a gyro wrap for dinner, which ended with the strongest coffee I ever tasted. Once we reached our hotel, we all slept deeply.
Day 3 : We woke up early,around 7am, and enjoyed a sumptuous Greek breakfast spread. Do not forget to taste the Greek Coffee that really has a distinct taste. Next, was a brief visit to the Parliament, which was a 2 minute walk from our hotel. Make sure you get to witness the changing of guards and the march. Our next stop was the Panathenaic Stadium (the only marble stadium in the world!) where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. My husband and son did a sprint on the track, feeling every bit of the history within them. What felt like a 20 mins stopover, actually ended up being a 2 hour enriching experience at the stadium with a short stop at the museum in the far left side corner that displayed the original Olympic torch. By now it was midday and we wanted to cover the Acropolis museum as planned, but due to local political protest our commute to the Acropolis museum was longer than expected. By the time we reached it was 4pm and the museum was closed. After a late lunch we shopped for a while in the local stores on the streets of the ancient part of town. We walked to our hotel and later went for a local Greek Folkfore dinner show. The best part was the actors making us dance along with them, which was so much fun. This is something that should not be missed and planned the moment you land,with the help of your concierge service. We reached our hotel at 11:30 pm and called it a day.
Day 4: Today too, we were up at 7 am and took a day tour to Delphi which we planned only because my son insisted to visit, due to its historical significance. However, once we reached there I felt any trip to Greece is incomplete without visiting the ancient center of the earth and the Apollo temple. Our guide was very knowledgeable and explained the stories of each village or town that we passed on our way. During such journeys it is better to take a tour than drive because of the jet lag. It gave us some time to rest and I also loved the local photo and coffee stops on our way. We went through some old towns and reached Delphi around noon. Delphi was believed to be the center of the ancient world- the “Omphalos” (Navel) of the earth, and home of God Apollo. The history behind that was equally spectacular. After a visit to the museum we had a Greek lunch in the valleys of Delphi with the scent of olive and bay leaf trees in the background. We did a pullover for a brief stop at Arachova, the skiing town, for some shopping and started to head back to Athens. We reached the hotel around 7 pm and once back there, had some dinner, packed our luggage for the next day and slept.
Day 5: We checked out from the hotel at 4 a.m.and took a cab to Piraeus to get on a Hover speed boat to Santorini which is 5 hour ride. We had our breakfast on the boat as we sailed thorough Mykonos and finally reached Santorini at 1pm. The ride to Fira, the capital, was 20 mins. Our hotel was in Firastephani with a beautiful sunset view of the ocean, a private pool, and white washed exterior. We quickly dumped our luggage and went for a walk along the narrow alleys on the coastline and surprisingly found an INDIAN restaurant. Today was my son’s birthday so we had an extra spicy biryani lunch and walked back in the panoramic shopping district. Santorini is the supermodel of the Greek islands, a head-turner whose face is instantly recognizable around the world: multicolored cliffs soar out of a sea-drowned caldera, topped by drifts of whitewashed buildings. With its reputation for dazzling panoramas, romantic sunsets and volcanic-sand beaches, Santorini is a must visit place. In the evening, we went for a quiet local dinner within a short walk of the cliffs and spend the rest of the night gazing at the beautiful ocean.
Day 6: Breakfast at our private pool on the whitewashed walls was one of our most beautiful experiences. Our first stop was to Akrotiri, which is a group of prehistoric settlements that were unearthed during archaeological excavations. It was short drive from there to the top of Mount Profitis Ilias for panoramic views of the whole island. On our way back, we visited the black sand beach and spent our afternoon there and had a delicious lunch. We just had a little time to have a brief stop at a winery and back to view the idyllic Oia sunset from the Kastro — the Venetian castle ruins atop Santorini. Every tourist makes sure they visit this village and view the sunset and do some shopping. My son found a hidden old Atlantis book store and yes, we did indeed buy some book marks, not books though. We ended the day by having dinner and catching a local city bus back to our hotel. The beauty of this whole trip is trying to commute, eat and dine just like locals to get the real essence of Greece.
Day 7: We woke up leisurely and then took a boat to our first stop at Santorini’s hot springs, which are on the tiny, uninhabited islet of Palea Kameni. Continuous underground volcanic activity maintains the springs’ temperature between 86ºF and 95ºF (30°C and 35°C). The sulfuric, orange-tinged spring waters that bubble up into a shallow cove off the islet’s coast are said to be curative for the skin and joints. After an hour stop, we again boarded our boat and went to a caldera atop the volcanic hill. Make sure you have good walking shoes as the trek was steep, bumpy, and quite a walk. We ended the day with a quiet cruise back to Fira.
Day 8: We took an afternoon flight from Santorini to be back in Athens by 1pm. We checked into a unique hotel in the Plaka district that was like a rabbit hole. We spent our afternoon visiting the Temple of Zeus (one of the biggest temples in history) and Hadrian’s Gate. We ended our day by shopping and eating delicious Greek yogurt with honey and fresh fruits that tasted so different.
Day 9: By 6 a.m. we were at the Athens airport on our way back to Dallas, home sweet home, with beautiful memories of this ancient country.