Greece

Have you guys read about the Olympian Gods? I am well aware of the fact that absolutely all problems came from the fact that Zeus couldn’t keep his pants on…but that’s not why I started the article with that question. Reading about the Olympian Gods made me fall in love with Greece. And secretly wished I had some super powers from time to time.

Greece is one of those countries where you cannot shake a stick without finding so many things to do and places to visit that you don’t know how to actually add them all to a trip. Before you scratch your head and complain that if you book a tour you’d be stuck with the schedule – I completely agree and that’s why I avoid guided tours like plague – look up the option to rent a car . Because the circuit I’m going to talk about is long and amazing. And requires flexibility, thus a car.

Let us start in Athens, the capital of Greece, a city which has fascinated me even before my low cost flight landed on the airport. To visit the most important sights – The Acropolis, The Roman Agora and The Greek Agora – it’s enough to allow a day or two here. Yours truly has managed to spend 4 hours in the Acropolis and although I’ve stayed 5 days in Athens I haven’t been able to visit some of the sites.

Leave Athens and head for the Theatre of Epidaurus. It is located about two hours’ drive from the capital and it is one of the best preserved ancient theatres in Europe. The original amphitheater was constructed in the 4th century BC and later , the Romans, decided to add some rows to it. Nowadays, it is home to the Epidaurus Festival, taking place each year in late spring. Aside from visiting the archaeological site there’s also an interesting museum to check out.

Mycenae

On the same day, make your way to Mycenae, about an hour drive from Epidavros (the village where the theatre is located). Home to Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and once a powerful fortress, the site is best known for the mythology linked to it. The Iliad tells the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and how their love started a war.

Prepare to spend some time here. The city is located on a hill and you can still visit the Acropolis and some remains of the ancient walls. The Lion Gate and the royal tombs are the highlights for the tourists.

Just like in Athens, you can spend quite a lot of time here, especially if you like to check out every corner and take a lot of photos. Just make sure to wear very comfortable shoes -a good advice for absolutely ANY city or historical site you visit in Greece.

You could look up accommodation in Corinth, and while you are here you can check out the ancient city and the remains of the temples.

The next day, start driving to Meteora. Expect to drive for at least 4 ½ hours but, by now you probably figured out that estimates aren’t exactly the most accurate when it comes to Greek traffic.

Kalampaka is the best place to get accommodation in. Meteora is just a stone’s throw away from here and you have a lot of choices when it comes to finding places to eat, as well.

Meteora 2

The monasteries can easily be visited during a day. Not all of them are open all the time and some require a modest entry fee (1 or 2 euros). Pay attention to the dressing code! You should never enter an Orthodox monastery wearing a tank top or shorts.

Delphi

On the way back to Athens, pay a visit to the Oracle of Delphi (about 3 ½ hours’ drive from Meteora). Once the “bellybutton” of the Ancient World, Delhi’s main attracting is the Sanctuary of Apollo. But the remains of the ancient city also comprise the theatre, the stadium, the gymnasium and the Stoa of the Athenians.

Getting back to the capital should take about two hours from here.

While the circuit can be easily done in three days, I strongly recommend to allow more time ,especially if you love ancient history and adore Greece. As a general rule, bring very good walking shoes, always carry a water bottle – and don’t forget to refill it – and try to avoid staying in the sun during those blazing summer days.

Photo Credits:
phonakins via Compfight cc
Reham Alhelsi via Compfight cc
johncatral via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SonOfJordan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: SonOfJordan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: SonOfJordan via Compfight cc

Meteora literally means “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above.” Along with Mount Athos, it is one of the most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox Monasteries in Greece. Due to the outstanding geography of the area, the feeling you get when you arrive is surreal; as if the place was specially created to make you feel close to God.

There are six monasteries which can be visited. Some of them require a tiny entry fee (1 euro or 2 euros) and you can always make a donation. Remember to cover your shoulders and knees. Yes, all Orthodox Monasteries require visitors to abide to a dress code.

The monasteries date from the 14th -16th centuries and have been renovated over the years. Unfortunately, tourism has also impacted them and sometimes you may not exactly feel very contemplative here (and this happens in pretty much any church / monastery which has been opened for mass tourism).

Kalampaka (alt spelling: Kalambaka) is located at the foot of Meteora. If you are looking for an overnight to explore the area better, then this is the place to look for a place to stay. Plus, the city in itself is filled with history and there are interesting places to see: from the ruins of an ancient Greek temple to old churches.

Tip: should you want to come here to any Orthodox major holiday (Easter being the most important), make plans way in advance!

Meteora is located closer to Thessaloniki then Athens. So if you are looking for the easiest way to get here, then you’d want to fly into Thessaloniki. Sure, there are buses and travel agencies which organize trips to Meteora but to fully grasp the magnificent area, it’s better to be driving on your own.

Attention: if you are not used to driving in hectic European towns, you’d want to let someone more experienced to do the driving for you. Plan breaks and stop when you feel tired.

The winding roads and the backdrop of the mountains make it an interesting and beautiful drive. And since there are areas along the way where you can park, take advantage of them to both stretch your legs and take photos.

Map Thessaloniki - Meteora

The drive from Thessaloniki takes about 3-4 hours, depend on how often you stop, of course.

The drive from Athens is about twice as long. However, there is a very interesting stop along the way which would totally be worth it. Do plan to break the trip though. Drive from Athens to Delphi , visit the sanctuary, then spend a night in the coastal village of Glaxidi before driving further to Meteora.
Make sure to leave Athens in the morning – especially if you drive during summer. By the time you reach Delphi it would be noon and hot.

Map Athens - Meteora

The archeological site of Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In ancient times, it was the home to the most important oracle of the God Apollo. The archeological site and the museum are located within walking distance of modern Delphi, so you can easily find a parking spot and cover the rest of the distance on foot.

Depend on how long you spend visiting the site and the museum, you’d want to stop for an overnight rather than continue to Meteora.

Hot dust at my feet, hazy valley behind me, I trudge up the hill. Fuchsia wildflowers cling to the rocky ground, struggling to survive in arid conditions. The rest of my group has scattered over the hillside, some already walking to the nearby (air conditioned) museum. Sweat drips down my back and I drink the last of my water bottle as I reach the top. I walk a little way down a path where I can survey the valley below in solitude under the shade of the pines. Golden columns rise far below me, where once people from all over Greece came to consult the Oracle at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
Some trips are etched more indelibly in my mind than others, have had a more lasting effect on my life. My trip to Greece is one of them.

When a local university scheduled a two-week trip through Greece—a week visiting archaeological sites in the Peloponnese, and a week cruising through the Cyclades islands—my mother-in-law signed up. Knowing I had long wanted to visit Greece, she asked if we—I, my husband, and our 12-year-old-son—would like to join her. My husband and son weren’t interested and I wasn’t sure about going without them—it would be an expensive trip “just for me.” But the temptation was irresistible. Without my husband and son along, I would be free to consider only my own needs and desires, to listen to my inner voice, a voice that had been largely drowned out by anxieties, everyday responsibilities and sheer laziness. As a college student, I had gone white-water rafting and worked on an archaeological dig in Israel. That woman had all but disappeared. I hoped while I was fulfilling my dream of visiting Greece, I could unearth parts of myself I had buried. I put aside my fears and guilt and paid my deposit.

Before we left, I decided that to make the most of my trip, I would follow two rules: I would do everything and I would eat everything. To my surprise, my rules proved easy to follow. Something about the freedom from responsibility swept away the layers of self-consciousness and insecurity that bound me at home. The few times I needed rule number one provided me with some of my best memories. It got me into a castle courtyard on Naxos where I drank wine while listening to a man play the sheep’s stomach. It plunged me into the 70-degree Aegean every day—at home, I’d never immerse myself in water that cold. One afternoon, several of us swam to a nearby beach, and convinced our tour guide, Dmitri, to teach us some Greek dance steps. Frankly, you haven’t lived until you’ve danced on a deserted beach with a Greek god in a Speedo.

Eating everything proved even less challenging, except for the squid and octopus (rubber bands and erasers, anyone?). I fell in love with Greek yogurt (it hadn’t yet hit American grocery store shelves), salads of crisp cucumber, bright red tomatoes and chunks of feta cheese, and pastitsio, luscious layers of pasta, ground meat and béchamel sauce. I even took part in an informal ouzo tasting.

And I loved every minute of it. We sweated our way through archaeological sites during a summer heat wave. We gazed at the Parthenon from the roof garden of our Athens hotel, and took pictures of the small patch of ground where they light the Olympic flame. So many of the antiquities we saw were fragmented that we privately dubbed the trip the “Bits and Pieces Tour.”

On the cruise portion, I spent the time we sailed between islands curled on a couch in the shade of the top deck, reading, writing in my journal, or simply staring out to sea. I found that instead of relying on someone else, I could buy the bottled water and get the Euros from the ATM.

From every trip we bring back more than a few souvenirs and a suitcase full of dirty clothes. We bring back knowledge of other ways of life, and adjusted attitudes to others and ourselves. Accepting the gift of freedom during this trip changed my attitude towards seizing new opportunities and doing things just for myself. Greece was all I hoped it would be, but what I remember most is how I felt about myself. I liked myself. I felt open, curious, happy, and free.
After I returned home, I began taking watercolor classes, joined a writing group and on our next family vacation, found myself hiking in the woods of Yellowstone instead of reading a book on the lodge porch. Among the bits and pieces of ancient Greece, I found bits and pieces of myself. I won’t lose them again.

About the Author: Kathy A. Johnson is a freelance writer and editor based in Florida. She continues to find new bits and pieces of herself, and often writes about them

 

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Dubrovnik Summer

Eastward Bound — Cruising the Mediterranean

Over 20 million people now take cruise holidays each year. One popular destination is the Eastern Mediterranean and there are number of reasons why this vacation option has risen in popularity. Obviously, cruises are an excellent way of visiting more than one destination within a week or two and the longer the cruise the more places you can explore.

Dropping by

If you’re considering an Eastern Mediterranean cruise (lucky you!) the first decision will be to decide on your ports of call. Most holiday operators will sail to specific locations such as a week travelling to Croatia, Greece and Montenegro. This means you’ll be able to spend nights and days exploring cities such as Corfu Town, Dubrovnik, Athens and Kotor. Holidaymakers will usually begin their cruise at one port, travel to a set itinerary of locations during their week or two and then end the cruise at the original departure port.

Where to make your beeline

The Eastern Mediterranean includes destinations such as mainland Greece and the sun-drenched Greek Islands as well as other beach locations in Turkey and Egypt. Cyprus is another popular cruise option thanks to the beaches and nightlife options at ports of call such as Limassol. A cruise from Cyprus can then be taken to Israel to visit famous cities such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Alternative cruises from Cyprus can include Egypt, Syria, Rhodes, and the Greek Islands.

You’re in the Eastern Med. Now what?

One of the cool things about cruise holidays is that you can fit in a number of activities around your destinations. You can enjoy scuba diving in the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik or in the warm Aegean and Ionian Sea waters surrounding the Greek Islands. Spend a day cycling around the Bodrum Peninsula in Turkey or explore historic cities such as Alexandria in Egypt and the medieval old town of Rhodes. At the end of the day you can enjoy the local cuisine in the restaurants and taverns of whichever country you’re visiting.

Packing your sailing gear and heading out on a cruise is the way to obtain a flavor of a number of different countries and to see destinations you may never have previously considered. The Eastern Mediterranean offers a host of exotic locations. Arriving at a new port each day is all part of this vacation experience. You just need to be up for the ride. Who’s in?

Image by trishhartmann, used under Creative Commons license.

David Oscar is a travel journalist and has a special fondness for Croatia. He visits this country at least for times every year.

 

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FIH_CVR2I enjoyed the book, “Falling in Honey; How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart” by Jennifer Barclay and wrote about it for the Huffington Post. I asked if we could share an excerpt and she said YES!

From the book, “Falling in Honey; How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart:” 

Tilos is a tiny eight miles long and a few miles wide. The population is somewhere around five hundred depending on the season, the people far outnumbered by thousands of goats roaming wild. The whole island is a conservation area for wildlife: often the only sounds are crickets, bees, crows, and donkeys. There are little chapels built into otherwise empty hillsides, and walks to Eristos beach go through a lush valley of olive and fig trees.

One morning, alone, I follow a dirt track leading away from Megalo Horio and end up wandering through a deserted valley pungent with thyme, marjoram, and sage, until gradually blue sea appears in the distance. I keep going and find a secluded cove of red sand and clear water: Skafi beach.

The villa is on the edge of Megalo Horio, which means “Big Village”; although it is the administrative capital of the island, these days the name seems amusingly ironic,
like calling a basketball player “Shorty.” I read in the guidebook that Megalo Horio had a “one-way system” and “supermarket”; I’d imagined lots of traffic and a hypermarket on the outskirts of town. The reality is so very different. For “one-way system,” read: there is one road through the village, and it’s too narrow for more than one car at a time, and even that car has to stop sometimes to let cats and chickens pass; as it goes through the village there’s shade created by a huge arch of bougainvillea. As for the supermarket, it’s a family-run shop with two rooms. The village is home to about one hundred people, two tavernas, and one café-bar serving drinks and frequented mostly by locals. Slumbering on a hillside topped by a ruined castle, Megalo Horio isn’t exactly a hive of activity.

The island also has a “Small Village,” or Mikro Horio, but that was abandoned half a century ago and is now uninhabited. And there’s a very small settlement with just a couple of tavernas by the sea at a place a mile north of here called Ayios Andonis. But the main village is the port, Livadia, where we arrived, four miles to the south of Megalo Horio. We visit again on the island bus and find it has about a dozen tavernas, a handful of family-owned mini markets, a butcher’s and a bakery, and a few gift shops and low-key bars. We sit on the rooftop terrace of one of the seafront bars and meet a friendly local man who tells us about the sheep and goats he raises when he’s not helping his son serve drinks.

Tilos hasn’t succumbed to mass tourism or become the kind of place that sees visitors only as a source of money, but, thankfully for us, it hasn’t developed itself into a “holistic spa yoga retreat” either; it is pure, unreconstructed Greece at its best. The island is also a walkers’ paradise. Many of its beaches are reached only by restored mule paths or goat tracks through countryside. The islanders, though they might not walk much themselves, encourage visitors from all over Europe who enjoy walking and nature—with the protection of wildlife, rare bird species found here include Eleonora’s Falcons and Bonelli’s Eagles and Long-Legged Buzzards.

IMG_0067The four of us have big lunches at a taverna by the sea at Ayios Andonis where they bake their own bread and catch their own fish and add pickled local capers to the salad, and another place where they grow their own vegetables and have friendly cats. At Kastro restaurant in Megalo Horio, where I endear myself to the owner by speaking a few half-remembered words of Greek, they serve dishes of their home-reared goat and pork baked with tomatoes, and mash up their own potatoes and herbs into irresistibly melt-in-the-mouth keftedes. One evening, walking back from the restaurant toward the villa, we hear live music coming from behind trees at the end of a long garden. “D’you think that’s a bar?” asks Chris, walking toward it.

“It might just be someone’s house,” we whisper.

He keeps going, and we follow a few steps behind. Sure enough, we’ve walked onto someone’s terrace, where a man and a boy are playing traditional dance on a Greek lute and a lyra, the three-stringed fiddle. They invite us in to sit down and listen, and the man’s wife brings us a plate of melon and apple. I am delighted to have found this island.

A year later, I’m heading back to Tilos alone…

From the ferry, I see the huge semicircular blue bay, and the view I photographed last year when I was leaving, which a few months ago I put on my computer as a desktop photo to remind myself every day I’d be back: the rugged brown hillsides, the immaculate, brilliantly whitewashed houses, lush green trees and pink flowers. As we close in on the quayside, I spy a terrace with a vine beyond the Mini Market and wonder if it will be mine. There’s the deep clanking as the anchor’s chain unravels and the anchor goes down, and adults tell children to wait (Pereemeneh!) as we all cram forward to exit.

And here I am, walking up the jetty, breathing in the clear, gentle air of Tilos. It is just as I remembered it: through the square and past the bakery and five minutes after I’ve disembarked, my landlords are ready to show me around my new home. The terrace is enormous, with a vine hanging from a trellis.

By lunchtime I am lying on an empty stretch of white pebble beach, looking out at the expanse of blue bay, listening to the waves calmly stroking the shore. The water is cold, but I plunge in for a quick swim and it feels amazing. I can’t take my eyes off the view for long; life does not get much better than this. Eventually, I get up and walk.

The main road has been diverted to the back of the village and a simple pedestrian walkway follows the curve of the bay, passing the church, restaurants, rooms for rent—and I love that there are still a few fields that come right down to the waterfront too. And at any point you can step off the path onto the beach and sit in the shade of a tamarisk tree. I follow it all the way around the bay, passing the last straggle of houses at the end of the village, and follow the road up the hill. It keeps winding up, amid the sound of goats and bees, toward a little chapel that looks out over empty mountains and deep blue sea.

The white pebbles give the sea a pale topaz color, becoming darker as it gets deeper. I could happily look at this bay for the rest of my life, this perfect semicircle of deep blue, with rugged hills curved all around.

First, Catch Your Octopus…

Manolis sees me at the beach at lunchtime and comes over to join me. I was rather hoping to have some time to myself. Yawning, I tell him I stayed up too late.“I am like grandmother,” he says. “Except one night a year stay up late for paniyiri at Easter Saturday, I always have enough food and sleep. For this I will live to one hundred years.”I decide not to pursue the topic but to go for a long swim. After days of snorkeling it feels good to stretch out with long strokes across this big, open bay.

“You are swimming like a dolphin,” says Manolis. “And I swim like a duck.” I giggle. He tends to do a kind of doggy paddle in the water until he finds something of interest on the sea bed, and then dives down—a bit like a duck, it’s true. Because the bay here is mostly sandy, there’s not so much to see, only tiny fish. He has to go to other places of course to catch big fish.

“So where do you find octopus?” I ask.

“Everywhere.”

“But I mean, how do you find them?”

He pauses, thinks about how to explain. “You look for some little white rocks, is the nest, octopus hide inside.”

IMG_0142  Tiny covesSwimming back, he dives down and finds a big, beautiful shell half buried in the sand, which he puts in the net bag he wears around his waist while swimming. I swim on ahead again for the exercise, letting my eyes wander over all the details in the mountains around. By the time I get back to my towel, I’ve been in the water for forty minutes and am ready to rest.

Just as I’ve taken off my aqua shoes, he beckons me to come back into the water, pointing down to the sea bed. He must have found something interesting. I dash back in, putting on the snorkel and mask again, and try to see what he’s pointing at—a rock with a little cave underneath, and something orangey-brown inside. Then suddenly he plunges down, kicking with his flippers, pulls up the rock and in a flash he is back up with a small brown octopus in his hand, which he hands over to me.I’m holding an octopus.

“Is not dangerous,” he says.

It’s small, and delicate, and the little suckers on its tentacles tickle my fingers as it writhes around gracefully. Manolis shows me how to stroke the octopus’s head, which feels incredibly soft and smooth. It crawls around my hand, ever so lightly sticking to me, and seems to be trying to decide if my hands are a comfortable new home or not. I am so excited that as I try to keep my head underwater and hold onto the octopus without hurting it, I keep swallowing water through the snorkel and half choking. Manolis takes it back and the octopus decides it’s had enough of this game, shoots purplish-black ink at us, and makes its escape down to the deep.When I come up for air and can breathe normally again, I am still giggling and have a big grin on my face.

“Thank you!”

“Is only small one, half-kilo. It is illegal to take this out. But I want to show you. You look like a little child when you take the octopus.”

About the Author: Jennifer Barclay is the author of  Falling in Honey (published by Sourcebooks in the US and Canada, and Summersdale in the UK)

olympiaOur ship was scheduled to dock at the seaside town of Katakalon, situated off the Ionian Coast, at 9am. Referred to as the “gateway to Olympia” the town often gets overlooked as most visitors use it as a passage to ancient Olympia – the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

It was the fifth stop on our Mediterranean cruise and each time our feet touched land we looked forth to each new place with renewed expectation.

It was an early start for us, since the ship was scheduled to leave the port of Katakalon at 1pm to set sail for Croatia, so we only had a few hours to soak up as much Greek culture as possible.

Once we disembarked, we waited for our bus which would take us to Olympia. I noticed seagulls flying low overhead; took a deep breath of the crisp morning air and just felt an absolute sense of bliss.

Katakalon appeared to be a peaceful little town which consisted of just one main road, a waterfront laced with cafes and stores and a few beautiful beaches. It was really early and it seemed as if the town was still waking up; shop keepers were opening their doors, sweeping the front porches and carrying tables and chairs outside, seagulls were pecking lazily at the sand and the pristine beaches were deserted.
I thought that we would get to spend some time in Katakalon, at least to enjoy a cup of tea at a café, but we boarded the bus almost immediately and began the 40 minute journey to Olympia. As we got deeper into the journey, we passed some scenic views of the Greek countryside, complete with rolling cornfields and acres of olive trees.

We arrived at Olympia and the bus dropped us off at archeological site at the foot of Kronos Hill.

The surrounding area was very quiet, apart from the excited tourists; the only other sign of life was a lonely looking hotel across the road. We had a short walk to the Olympia Archeological site and purchased tickets from the ticket office for the site and the museum. Our excitement began to soar– we were going to the place where the Olympic Games began!

As soon as we entered the site we were immediately transported back in time to 776 BC. We were surrounded by dusty pathways, strewn with remains and ruins. Massive pillars lined the pathways, welcoming us, as we walked into this magnificent piece of History.

We were given a map of the area, which contained numbered and clear explanations of each site as well as the brief history behind it, so we didn’t even need a tour guide.

It was quite a large area and it took us the better part of the morning to navigate our way around everything. It was a wonderful experience to witness these structures first hand. I used my imagination to envision what they would have looked like in their glory days – magnificent structures, athletes milling around and excitable cheers erupting from the crowds.

The Ancient Greeks had given the world a great gift.

Some key sites included the Temple of Zeus, which once contained the 12-meter-high gold and ivory seated statue of the Greek God, the gymnasium where athletes trained, the hippodrome; which was used for horse and chariot races, the stadium where the games were held and the Temple of Hera – this is the site where the Olympic flame of the modern games is still lit (using a parabolic mirror and the sun) and then transported to the host country.

We came up with a clever way for us to remember every structure in our photos, (since everything lay in ruins and looked similar) we would pose in front of the site and do an action that was relevant to that location, e.g. for the church, one of us would stand with our hands together in prayer position, or for the race track we would do a standing running man.

Almost an hour had passed and we made our way to the archeological museum of Olympia, which was behind the archaeological site. The museum housed most of the ancient artifacts, sculptures and figurines found on the Olympic grounds during excavations. We spent about half an hour in the museum and walked back to the bus stop to get back to the ship.
On the return bus trip, I still had goosebumps from what we had witnessed, a piece of History, something so humble and unpretentious that had made such a massive impact on the world, and still continues to influence present day western civilization.

I smiled to myself and thought that this is what gets me excited about travelling – the bug had bitten and I would happily be infected for the rest of my life.

About the Author:  Tejal is a Manangement Consultant, who loves to travel the world. She enjoys practicing yoga, watching football, experiencing new places and cultures, writing and spending time with friends and family.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

IMG_20140220_103728The significance of time is time itself. To waste time is to waste that which cannot be regained. Furthermore, to live life with regrets is to deny its brilliance at permitting much needed do-overs. -Self

This I know all too well. Each new day being announced by the intrusive wail of the alarm clock, never failing to remind me of my measly surroundings. Ever since migrating here to the United States over a decade again I have seldom gone out of state, so it no wonder that these four walls of this compact Brooklyn apartment aim to confine, imprison and stifle my lifelong desire to travel the world starting with Greece. These bland neighborhood backdrops, such as the projects adjacent to my living quarters desperately want me to believe that I am entitled only to what lies before me and little else. It wants me to sink down into my spirit that because I am not financially endowed, my dreams to see outside of my routine settings are somewhat ludicrous if not at all impossible.

And yet defiantly I dream. I feverishly dream of Greece and the moments in which I will immerse myself into its breathtaking atmosphere without any regrets whatsoever. Greece in itself is its own muse and time a commodity. A never ending vessel and basin of inspiration, where the past and present dance enticingly hand in hand. An open canvas for all forms of arts to find conception. I can already envision myself in the grandeur called Greece. I visualize myself being elevated until I am given a bird’s eye view of the Ionian Islands. Its transparent waters, lush greens and sandy earthy complexion beckon to me and instantly I am lured in; much like the sirens, Circe and mermaids of ancient Greek mythology who ensnared the sailors, except I come free will.

That being said, who needs television when one can listen to the exotic myths being spunned from locals who have learned them well, from the mouths of their very own descendants, for both religious and recreation purposes. No modern form of enterntainment can rival to the tale of Hermes the Olympian God of Travel or Odyssey, another travel enthusiast. On another occasion I can see myself too vividly descending along the Corinth canal. Its narrow walls enveloping me and yet it does not pose a threat because unlike my previous domain, it does not try to suffocate me. Further still I can catch a glimpse of myself in Athens. A trip to Greece always merits and is never quite complete without a visit to its metropolis. Athens is the central point. A key site for innovation and thought where Greece’s history spill full to the brim and where you are given a rare chance at unparelled beauty.

Only in Greece am I presented with the opportunity to admire nature and in unison ponder its meaning in depth. Only there in its bosom can I simultaneously be a tourist as well as a philosopher, such as the great Socrates, as I imagine myself as Colossus of Rhodes, allowing myself to rise to new heights, standing between what I knew then and the knowledge which still remains to be obtained.

Greece to me represents no restraints. It represents freedom, awe as well as creativity. In Greece, time is much more precious than currency. Each hour more sacred than the last. Although at this instance, I am limited to these four walls and monotonous locale, one day in the near future Greece and I will have the chance to flirt and I will forever cherish the time when I will lose myself in time in a land of paradise.

About the Author: My name is Liza Philidor and my aspiration is to travel the world, starting with Greece. I want to expand my mind as well as locale.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

crete

It’s the one place on earth where I don’t like to sleep: I don’t want to miss a thing.
I don’t want to waste a minute of the day, or night.
It’s my spiritual home. The place where I take off my suit of armour and just be me.
It’s where I breathe deeply.
Where I laugh like a child again.
It’s where suddenly I am speaking my newly-acquired second language, without reticence and hesitation, and I’m understood.
Where I live like a local, with only a passing notion of time and a glorious tendency to live spontaneously.
“Sit for a coffee.”
“Share a meal with me.”
“Let’s take a walk.”
“Come for a swim.”
It’s so liberating.
The place is small but has a gargantuan history and culture, and has contributed more to the rest of the world than any other place its size. It has endured centuries of invasions and so been injected with extraordinary influences such as Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish to name a few. It lies at the heart of the Mediterranean diet and is known as the cradle of western civilization thanks to the ingenuity of the Minoan race.
It is the island of Crete.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is a tourist mecca. But push past the noisy the English-style cafes and the lines of shops selling gaudy t-shirts and you’ll find the ‘other’ Crete.
My Crete…
Where the food is all locally grown, and is literally taken from the ground and the sea the very morning it’s lovingly cooked with olive oil from the trees outside the kitchen window and fresh oregano and thyme from the fields beyond.
Where an angular, blue-eyed shepherd deftly herds his flock over the ragged, unforgiving terrain, as the tune of the goat bells clang in harmony with their own echoes from the mountains above.
Where Yia Yias (grandmothers) enshrouded in black blithely sweep the crooked pathways around their village, while the men loudly discuss the day’s news from under tamarisk trees as they repair sunflower- coloured fishing nets.
Where the aroma of strong Greek coffee and Assos cigarettes coming from every cafeneion beckons like forbidden fruit …since when did cigarettes smell so good?
Where pale Cretan cats, lithe and sleek sleep Sphinx-like beneath Carob trees dripping with fruit.
Where I swim far, far into the blue as I play hide and seek with an octopus scurrying along the sand and pottery shards beneath me.
Where the Mediterranean sun hopscotches over crystal clear waters creating blues and greens unseen on an artist’s easel.
Where visually, life is like living in a postcard, and where, despite the political and financial woes of the country I am treated as one of the family – greeted with open arms and a warm hug and generously given everything they have. Food…oh so much food. A place to stay. The use of their only vehicle. The list is endless.
It’s where I rise daily just as a pomegranate sun first spreads her sleepy fingers over the hill, creeping forward and painting all gold as she passes.
My own very special place in Crete is a little balcony in a villa in Adrakos, a small Cretan family-run escape nestled high on a hill between the two fishing villages of Agios Nikolaos and Elounda on the East Coast.
Here I sit looking at a view which defies description, suffice to say I can see forever. Over pristine bays and whitewashed houses; perfect hotels with their perfect swimming pools; Byzantine churches; old windmills and a road which meanders along the water’s edge. In the distance I can see Spinalonga – or what I call ‘the island of infinite tears’ for it too has a huge, but very different history. It was the last leper colony in Europe.
Here I voraciously consume the days and nights…exploring…eating…swimming…walking…talking… learning…questioning…writing…photographing…observing…absorbing…thinking…dreaming…planning
…breathing…living.

Here I am inspired…passing time wisely…with no regrets. Just being me.

About the Author: Francesca Muir – I am passionate about photography, travel, colour and the Mediterranean lifestyle. In the late 1980s I lived in Agios Nikolaos, Crete for nearly 10 years where I had the only English-speaking, daily music and news radio program on the island and ran villas and a dance school, amongst many other things. My daughter was born there and in 1996 we returned to Sydney, Australia. Find me on Facebook.

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Golf from CorinthA couple of years have passed already since we travelled to Greece to spend our best holidays ever.
We, my husband, our two girls and me, had taken a flight from Vienna to Athens. We now live in Australia and Europe is way more distant now.

After we had arrived in Athens we had hired a car in direction to Peloponnese. We stopped for a night in Loutraki as our plane had arrived at Athens at night. Loutraki is a seaside resort on the Gulf of Corinth about 65 kilometres west form Athens. We also went to see the Gulf of Corinth and felt very small in relation to this impressing channel. I have never seen something like this before and it was also very interesting to know more about the history when it was constructed.

After a couple of hours drive we finally arrived at Vassilitsi, a small village in Koroni in Messinia in the Peloponnese’s Region of Greece. We had booked a holiday house for 10 days. The house was like a dream came through. We had a fantastic view to the ocean and a terrace around the whole house. When I first saw the garden my attention was immediately caught by all those wonderful fig trees with hundreds of ripe figs waiting to be picked, what I did every morning. If everyone knows the feeling of eating a ripe fig with all the fullness and flavour just stay with me. I can still sense it. There were olive trees as well, as typical for Greece.

Besides enjoying the wonderful view to the ocean we could go for a little walk until we came to a small trail where we could climb down and arrived at a small but peaceful beach. Although the beach was accessible by car as well it was never crowded or noisy. Right at the end of this peaceful beach there was a small alcove. This was a perfect place for finding shade and protection against the sun and to have some quiet time as well.

I still remember that this was the place where I could really relax which I had not been able for ages. I think it was the combination of the fantastic turquoise blue water, paired with the sun reflecting in the waves, the time to read books and on the other hand enjoy being with my family, having fun whilst swimming, snorkelling or playing games on the beach. I had the impression as if time was endless and therefore so precious. On the other hand we had plenty of possibilities to discover the surrounding area and visited historic places such as Olympia. Given that it was pretty hot at this time as it was during August.

All of us have been Greece fans and therefore we really enjoyed going out for dinner as we love to eat Greek food. It was very nice to find some restaurants in Vassilitsi where a lot of Greek people went to eat as well. The food was beautiful and rich and we enjoyed sitting outside until late night. We had the impression that it was less touristic and felt very authentic.

As I mentioned at the beginning already many moons have passed since we had this family holidays and I still have got all those wonderful memories and impressions I collected during this time. Whenever I feel down or under too much stress I recall these memories and immediately my face changes and I start smiling and feel like a wave of life-force and happiness is flowing through my body.

About the Author: Barbara Wallner:  English is not my first language and I do hope that my translation still captures how beautiful this vacation was.

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rhodesAwe-inspiring Resilience on the Tiny Island of Rhodes
Samantha Katz

I have a bit of a fascination with tiny Jewish communities in unexpected places. I know it’s random, but it’s just my thing. Having grown up in the Northeast US, where I’ve always enjoyed freedom of religion and been surrounded by large Jewish communities, I’m amazed when a community somewhere else in the world has survived the tests of time and persecution. Since being Jewish has always been a strong part of my identity, whenever I travel I investigate if there are any Jewish sites, museums, or synagogues to visit and make sure to fit them into my typically packed schedule. However, there is one experience that stands out for me above the rest.

While planning a solo trip to Greece in July 2012, I discovered that the island of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean has the oldest synagogue in Greece, with an attached museum telling the story of the 4,000-strong Jewish community that once thrived there. In addition, from a practical standpoint, Rhodes was accessible by plane, had a medieval old town and pretty beaches, and seemed like it would be a safe place for a lone female traveler. Time to book!

Then things got interesting. I discovered that the 30 Jews living on Rhodes today and other Rhodesli Jews who live in the US, Israel, and other parts of Greece gather on Rhodes annually to memorialize the entire Jewish community that was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in July 1944. Incredibly, I would be visiting during that time. The schedule of events included Shabbat (Sabbath) services and dinner, a memorial event in the town’s central plaza, and an additional gathering in the town’s Jewish cemetery. I was immediately awestruck by the community’s dedication to preserving its memory. While I felt intrusive participating in the memorial events, I knew the opportunity to join a Shabbat service and dinner would be unforgettable and meaningful. I immediately sent an email to an address I saw on the website and crossed my fingers someone was monitoring the inbox and would be open to taking in a stray Jewish traveler from Los Angeles with no personal ties to Rhodes.

I felt my pulse quicken when I saw a response the very next day. I couldn’t believe it! I was warmly welcomed to join the service and dinner and even have a private tour of the museum if I wished. I immediately began to wonder if the usual Shabbat dinner of matzah ball soup, chicken, and kugel I was accustomed to would be replaced with grape leaves, Greek salad, and stuffed peppers.

The synagogue looked nothing like the Ashkenazi synagogue I grew up in. The main room had beautiful stone walls with wooden benches. Men and women sat separately on opposite sides of the room facing each other, with the pulpit in the center in traditional Sephardic style. The rabbi had flown in that morning from Athens, as the remaining Jewish community is too small to support a rabbi full-time.

I was immediately welcomed in and introduced to everyone – admittedly there was a fascination with the stray Angeleno – and ushered in to sit amongst the women. One woman asked me in broken English if I had a boyfriend – I guess Jewish mothering is a global phenomenon! While I didn’t understand the Greek parts of the service and the Hebrew melodies were very different from the ones I had grown up with, I had the chance to observe the scene in front of me and reflect on how grateful I was to be part of welcoming in a beautiful Shabbat evening on a tiny island in the eastern Mediterranean with a community that insisted on solidarity. I may have come from 7,000 miles and a whole world away, but I felt like I was among my own. I truly couldn’t believe I was part of something so awe-inspiring.

Following services, it was time to eat. Again, some things are universally Jewish! I was not disappointed. There were in fact grape leaves and stuffed peppers, as well as challah, hummus, babaganoush, a variety of salads, several fish dishes, and lots of wine. I had the chance to speak with several families and learn about their relatives’ stories from before the war in times of prosperity, and after the war in times of rebuilding. I felt so grateful to be sharing this experience with them to honor the past and look to the future.

Just when I thought my experience couldn’t be any richer, some serious Greek dancing ensued. Circling, jumping, crouching, and everything you’ve seen in My Big Fat Greek Wedding! It was amazing to see the resilience and celebration of life following the horrific events of the past. I will never forget this remarkable experience with the Jewish community of Rhodes.

About the Author: Samantha has been traveling non-stop since studying abroad in Belgium while in college. While her favorite places include San Sebastian, Bali, Japan, and Santorini, her number one happy place is home in Los Angeles. Sam works in product development for a company that makes insulin pumps and glucose sensors for people with diabetes, and she is grateful for the company’s generous vacation policies that enable her travel habit. Find her on Facebook.