Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Great Greek Sojourn - April 2014 :)

Kalimera !!

Right from the time we decided on going on this tour, it was all so exciting! After all it was Greece - bursting with historical ancient ruins, Gods, Goddesses and gorgeous architecture. There was no way we were going to miss this trip. The one question was whether our 19 month old would be okay on the trip because he is a kid who doesn't like to be restrained. So a 5 hour flight plus a lot of local road travel by bus etc - we were just not sure. Then again we decided to go ahead with the trip with the hope that even if he protested in the beginning, he would soon adjust. And he did very well ! More on that later :D

We were going as part of a group, so everything was already predecided and prebooked by the agency. Our tickets, our stay, our meals - all included. Most of the time when we have traveled in Europe, we have had to struggle with finding vegetarian food but we thought Greece wouldn't be such a big problem. After all Mediterranean cuisine is known for their focus on fresh vegetables. We were partly right and partly wrong - maybe if we had gone to restaurants on our own we may have had a better choice. As a group we had no choice but to go to the restaurants we were escorted to. Though they were clean and hygienic, they did not offer much focus on veg food. We were treated to some delicious Indian food on the last couple of nights on the tour, so that was a HUGE plus. Apart from that we had the opportunity to taste the local moussaka and tzatziki, both of which are beyond delicious! I have noticed that the Greeks really love aubergine (eggplant) and any vegetable dish will have this in some form or the other. Yum !

I can give a list of hotels we stayed at, and these are highly recommended for comfort, cleanliness and accessibility.

Athens:         The Athens Ledra

Olympia:     Best Western Europa

Itea-Delphi :  Nafsika Palace

Kalambaka:     Divani Meteora

The 3 day tour of Olympia-Delphi-Kalambaka is highly recommended.

An important thing is if you don't have the slightest clue about Greek history, I do recommend you read up a little else you are bound to feel a little lost when the guide is explaining. For example, Olympia has the ancient Olympian athletic events arena with a stadium, event locations etc. Everything is in ruins but each and every stone speaks of the years gone by. Just standing there you can imagine the sportsmen competing with each other and the spirits live on there. There's also a nice little museum in there with a lot of nice artefacts, most of them are archeaological excavations (statues etc). A lot of the statues have a head or a limb missing, maybe because they are all just so ancient.  

I highly recommend visiting the Christian monasteries in Kalambaka. They are situated on these huge beautiful rocks and they have quite a bit of history attached to them.

We also went on the 'Athens One Day Cruise' (http://www.athensonedaycruise.com/). This leisurely cruise takes you to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina. The only regret is they didn't give us much time on the islands. For example Hydra is such a beautiful island where the only form of transportation is mules and horses. It resonated old world charm, but the cruise docked only for 45 minutes which is way too less to walk around and enjoy. We didn't even have time for a cup of coffee even, at one of the quaint lil cafes - that was disappointing.

However at Aegina, which is the biggest of the three islands, we got a good 2 hours, so we were able to walk around by the shoreline, dip our feet into a little water, and relax by the seaside cafe.

A few notes:

I should write here that there is a LOT of climbing to be done because most of the ancient ruins are situated over walls and terrace-type ruins. Some of the trails can be pebbly and rocky, but fun ! Wear your walking shoes and get set to explore - it is worth it.

If you have a toddler, also know that only a few of the ruins are located along trails that you can take your stroller on. Some of the tourist sites do not allow strollers to be taken in so you will have to carry your toddler around or let him/her walk a little of course with great supervision as everything is at a height and the pathways can get steep. Our tot got cranky due to the full schedule and the itinerary, so a tip for next time is to go on as relaxed a tour as possible ;-)

Toilets are available at all sites and are quite clean. You may want to carry wipes along because as in most of Europe, Greeks use toilet paper, no water!

We were in Greece in the first week of April and the weather is just perfect then. It was quite chilly in the mornings but progressing towards a warm and sunny clime by say 11 a.m. Evenings would get a little chilly too but so pleasant and nice. The highways and main roads are dotted with little cafes that sell bakery products, coffee, hot chocolate and the works. The best part is the fresh unpolluted air, just one deep breath completely rejuvenates you.

In Athens, you can shop for curios and other souvenirs at Placa, which is full of these little shops. Feel free to bargain, the Greek shopkeepers love it ;-)

Will write another post if I can think of anything else to add. Meanwhile if you are planning your trip to Greece, feel free to ask questions!!

And finally,  some photos on request :)


Richa said...

Urmi nice post. So informative. But want to see some pics too. :)

Very well-written!

Rama Ramaswamy said...

Nice, nice! Some pics too, please! I dont think we should really expect any great vegetarian fare when we go to these exotic locales. I can understand your situation. I still go through it once in a while!!

Richa said...

Great clicks. thanks for sharing!

Subha Manoj said...

wow!!! I am sure you had a blast. I am someone who thoroughly enjoys historic places and monuments. I will come back to your blog for sure when I need a refresher. :)