Monday, July 13, 2015

Greece has good things too.

So there's been a lot of questions surrounding Greece recently.  Will they/won't they default on their loans?  Is the drachma coming back?  And who exactly came up with that word "Grexit"?  It's all been pretty negative (not unexpected given the situation), and Greece doesn't exactly seem like the best place to be right now (which is quite unfortunate for them given that it's high summer holiday time right about now).  But even if Greece loses the Euro, I don't think it will be losing its gorgeous island sunsets, its beyond blue Mediterranean waters, or its title as the birthplace of democracy any time soon.  So it wasn't too hard to decide to meet up with Justine and Ryan in Greece (friends of ours from CO who now live in Australia) while they were doing some traveling in Europe back in May.


We headed to Athens a few days early with the intention of checking out one of the nearby islands for a few days, but a May 1st ferry strike changed our plans.  We ended up along the coast outside of Athens, and we never would have gotten eaten by fish or discovered the best Waffle House ever if not for the change of plans.  Let me explain.  The beach town of Vouliagmeni is about an hour bus ride outside of the city (and I got closer than I wanted to be with what seemed like half of Athens on that bus ride).  Besides its gorgeous beach, it's home to Lake Vouliagmeni, a natural mineral lake fed by underground hot springs.  And Lake Vouliagmeni is home to those little black fish that eat the dead skin off your feet.  I can't say that I enjoyed the fish experience (I guess I'm too ticklish), but David was a different story (it's his feet in the photo).  Vouliagmeni is also home to the best Waffle House ever.  I'm not sure anyone's told them that the name Waffle House has a bit of a sketchy reputation in the USA, but the line of people out the door at this place made me look past the name.  I was rewarded with freshly made waffles topped with homemade ice cream, and we went there 3 times in 2 days.

Back in Athens, Justine and Ryan met up with us for a day exploring the ancient city.  And just in case you start to forget how old this city is, all you have to do is look up and see the Acropolis presiding over everything or turn the corner and find another archaeological site.  The first part of the day was a walking tour of central Athens (accompanied by several of the city's homeless dogs and led by a funny guy who would say things like "The Parthenon was built in...shall we say...450 BC").  Then, we popped into the Acropolis Museum for air conditioning and frappes (and maybe a brief nap during the introductory movie about the Acropolis...shhhh) before climbing up the hill to check out it out for ourselves.  I still don't think I can fully wrap my mind around just how long those pillars have been standing there.

Changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Temple of Olympian Zeus

Hadrian's Library

Climbing 1000+ years old steps

Acropolis Hill
With the three day weekend over on Monday, David headed back to Aalborg to resume satellite building duties while I tagged along with Justine and Ryan to the island of Milos.  Milos is basically the opposite of Santorini or Mykonos in terms of party reputation, but it has all the pretty white buildings, delicious Greek food, and fantastic swimming and kayaking that we could ask for (and for much cheaper).  We arrived at the tiniest airport imaginable at 7am.  Luckily, Petrinela's Guesthouse was so wonderful and let us into our rooms that early.  I took a nap while Justine and Ryan climbed a nearby mountain (morning people...ugh) before spending the day swimming, hiking around the island, and fending off the sickly-looking cats that seemed to appear anytime we were eating something (what's with this country and its stray animals).



Slathering on the SPF 50 like crazy, the second day on Milos was a kayak tour to some cliffs, caves, and coves only accessible from the sea.  Now, sometimes when you see pictures of the Mediterranean, you think (or at least I do) that photo has got to have some Photoshop going on; water really isn't all those colors.  But I was wrong, folks, I was wrong.

Back on the mainland, I said goodbye to Justine and Ryan as they took off for further adventures, and I spent the few hours before my flight checking out the Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens.  I found a place that makes custom sandals for your feet and learned from the shopkeeper about the poet who revived the sandalmaking business in Athens.  Later on, hoping to get in one more gyro before heading back, I stopped by a restaurant planning to just grab one to go.  But I must have looked sweaty or something because the man running the restaurant insisted (in Greek) that I sit down and have some water and rest a while.  These encounters were fairly representative of the people I met throughout our trip...friendly, hospitable, ready to help (and to chat).  And that's what I remember about Greece...the spectacular beauty, the delicious food, and the friendly people (most of whom readily admit that their government is not doing so hot these days).  Yes, we did have some requests to pay in cash rather than credit card, and we heard a few protest rallies going on, but honestly, the Greece in the headlines was not the Greece that I saw.  The people we met were proud of their country, and based on our experience, they have every reason to be.

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