Somehow, over the years we have overlooked Greece, so this year decided to squeeze in an autumnal break and head for the Greek mainland.
We flew from Gatwick and were met at Athens airport and taken to our hotel situated in an area that made reaching the cultural heritage of the city easy. Having never been and not knowing if we would ever manage to return, we took the optional three-island excursion. This took us to Poros, Aegina and Hydra.
When I read about Hydra what struck me was no cars. You can only get around by boat, donkey or on foot, I loved the sound of that. Stepping off the boat there was a nice sea breeze, even at the end of September the climate was not exactly moderate. Hydra is a popular getaway being close to Athens. It feels “local”, I suppose because you predominantly hear Greek spoken more than anything else. The main part, by the harbour is small, a place to watch boats bobbing in the water, and donkeys trotting past. Hydra I realised was perfect; the only thing that could have made it better was to stay longer.
Next, Poros, filled with charming bars and restaurants and made up of picturesque alleys where the breeze sneaks round the corners to cool you down.
Our last stop, Aegina which is a short hop from Athens and many Athenians use it to escape the stress of city life. The main attraction is the Temple of Apollo, dating from 490BC but apart from that there is little to do other than relax in the waterfront tavernas and bars. It was surprising but without the people from our ship, there wasn’t a huge amount of tourists.
Even on this short day trip, we had found the picturesque rows of stark, whitewashed homes with Aegean blue trim mounting the hilltops and crowded little harbours. It already felt like we had seen the “Greek” side of Greece.
The following morning we set off early to miss the crowds and explore the highlights of the ancient capital Athens, which includes the Acropolis. Now in my ignorance, I thought the Acropolis was the structure you see in photos, but the actual word merely means hilltop and refers to the location where you find a whole collection of buildings including the Parthenon.
It is a steep climb to the top of the hill. Once there the magnificent towering entrance greets you. What is left today took shape around the 5th century BC. I stood with the dirt beneath my feet on a warm morning and everything stopped for a few seconds. Although people were around me, it was so easy to imagine the likes of Socrates and Plato standing there just like me. It was a magical moment.
Sadly, once at the top, the Parthenon is covered in scaffolding and apparently has been for 20+ years, nevertheless, it is impressive. Other buildings include the Erechtheion probably one most recognise by the women columns. The amphitheatre of Herodes Atticus that could seat 5,000 Greeks. It was used for music performances – something that is still done today and the Theatre of Dionysus that is even grander and can seat 17,000 people.
Before leaving Athens we, along with hundreds of others, saw the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Back on our coach, we head towards The Peloponnese with our first stop at the Corinth Canal. As a convent girl, I remember St Paul wrote letters to the Corinthians, I don’t think they wrote back. Parking up we walked across the bridge. The canal is about 50 feet across and some ships almost touch the sides as they squeeze through.
In the northeast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, Epidavros was our next stop. Said to be a place of miraculous cures, where the sick were treated by priests doing the work of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. The archaeological site has ruins of hospitals, shrines and temples, the highlight, however, is the theatre. This whopping structure provided entertainment for those seeking treatment. It is famous for its acoustics that echo from centre stage to the outermost seats despite the lack of modern amplification, so we were warned not to give away any secrets!
Our final stop was Nauplia, a seaside town that offered a relaxed vibe. The old town is a maze of small streets with traditional and quaint houses, balconies filled with flowers, and walls covered with bougainvillaea. Tavernas can be found on almost every corner, serving a variety of Greek delicacies and warm greetings from shop-owners added to its charm.
Late afternoon we took a small caique to Bourtzi fortress that sits on the little island in the middle of the bay, then to end the day dinner in a harbour side restaurant as we watched a simple sunset. Not much colour, yet still beautiful.
We wandered back to our hotel on what had been another memorable day. So far
Ελλάδα είναι υπέροχη