A Travellerspoint blog

Beautiful Crete

Five lovely nights exploring western Crete.

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I was so thankful to have the last week of our Greek journey with my fourteen year old daughter. She had just completed middle school and we really needed some one-on-one time to reconnect and relax. Crete was the perfect place to do this!

We spent our first night in Heraklion, the largest city on Crete. Our hotel was nice (Kastro Hotel) and we had a delicious and very late dinner in the main pedestrian area. People were out having a great time even after 11pm when we finished dinner. Now that I am back in the US, this is truly what I miss the most about Europe. I love how every town has pedestrianized areas that the people actually use! You see folks of all ages out enjoying their city. It really is special.

On our first morning, we walked a very long distance to rent our little Kia Picante. Thank goodness it was a small car. I was relieved to still remember how to drive a stick!

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Our first stop was the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos. This place is seriously old. The first inhabitants were there around 7,000 BC. I cannot even comprehend 7,000 BC! The first palace was built around 2,000 BC. Some people call this palace Europe's first city. The excavations are still happening and while some of the recreations have been a little controversial, we were still awed by the age of this place. I also had to promise DD#1 that this was our last ancient site of the trip!

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We drove on to the pleasant port city of Rethymon where we shopped in another pedestrian-only area and had a delicious lunch. The tuna salad was particularly yummy. Why don't I make this at home? I am inspired to add several Greek dishes to my cooking repertoire.

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We drove on to our final destination, Chania. This would be our home base for the next four nights. We were very happy with our spacious room at Casa Veneta. It was just inside the old walled town and a great spot for exploring. I even successfully found parking! We were immediately charmed by the narrow lanes and adorable streets.

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Funny sign in our hotel bathroom.

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We bought a few groceries and had to snap a picture of this vast section in the freezer department. All flaky pastries. Yum!

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I gave the teenager some chill out time while I found the best place in Chania for a beer. If you like good beer, great jazz music, and cats, go to Rudi's Bierhouse. I had a local beer with Cascade hops. Wow! I went here twice during our stay and met this nicest people, including Rudi.

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Mostly, I was just happy to have a nice dinner with this girl.

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Falassarna and Elafonisi Beaches

Today was all about seeing some of western Crete. The driving was relatively easy and extremely scenic. Falassarna Beach was our first stop. The waves were pretty intense and a lot of fun! We both were taken out by a few waves. It was a good workout!

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We stopped in a small mountain village for a traditional lunch. It was great and so affordable.

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The last stop was a long curvy drive to the famous and popular Elafonisi Beach. This is the pink sand beach in all of Crete's brochures. After the wave excitement at Falassarna, this one was quite tame. The water was still and so blue. It was almost difficult to find a section that was above our waists. It was hot and we knew we had a long drive back so we didn't stay for very long.

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The drive was tiring so once we made it back to Chania, we parked the car, did some shopping, and had another yummy dinner. Here are a few more scenes around Chania. I especially like how the Greek man is feeding the neighborhood pets.

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Limnoupolis Waterpark!

Like everyday, we started with a yummy breakfast. Yogurt, cappuccino, and some flaky pie goodness.
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DD#1 convinced me to check out the waterpark on the outskirts of Chania. I had hoped to see some other beaches and sites but she was convincing. It turned out that she was on to something. We had a great time zipping down some mighty fast slides. I went on every single one of them!

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We googled a tasty taverna for lunch. It was a family run place with very friendly people. I absolutely loved my dakos lunch - Greek bruschetta. Anya had a gyros plate.

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We returned the Picante car and took the bus back to Chania for a repeat of more shopping and wandering. DD#1 scored some cute back to school clothes that no one is going have back in Oregon! I considered buying this cat along with the jewelry.

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We had an easy pizza dinner while walking around the old town.

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Last day in Chania

On our last day, we booked a three hour tour on a glass bottomed boat that included snorkeling! We really enjoyed Nick's boat tour and his hospitality. DD#1 had not snorkeled before and she did a great job. We also toured around a protected island known for its wild goats, caves, and decaying fortress. The boat ride was rough and several passengers were turning green. Luckily, we didn't get seasick.

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The highlight was holding an octopus!

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We finished our time in Chania with even more shopping. We bought our final souvenirs and I found a great reversible skirt. We had a last dinner along the city's Nea Chora beach. I know I will return to Crete someday.

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Back in Athens

We took a very short flight back to Athens. The short 30-40 minute flight made me realize just how long the ferries were! We used the subway to get into the main part of Athens where we checked into Hotel Attalos. The best part of the hotel was the rooftop with its view of the Acropolis. Wow! We had a snack both in the afternoon and after our dinner. The only disturbing thing were these manikins on the street selling Athenian-style dresses. Creepy!

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After our short sleep, we got back on the metro, hopped on a giant airplane bound for Istanbul, boarded another giant plane to San Francisco, and finally took the last short leg to our hometown. It is always wonderful to be home after a long journey. Still, I couldn't help but visit the public library the very next day to start planning Europe 2020. Let the adventure continue!

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Posted by familyineurope 16:26 Comments (0)

Santorini

Now I know where everyone was headed in all of Greece. This is Greece's version of Las Vegas!

Stunning Santorini

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Whenever I mentioned that I was headed to Greece for vacation, people always asked, "are you going to Santorini?" Well, we did it. As much as the stunning white buildings toppling over cliffs impressed, the whole scene of Santorini left me slightly disappointed. I knew there would be hordes of tourists both from cruise ships, tour companies, and ordinary folks checking off a bucket list destination. And I knew it was nearly mid-July when crowds were nearing the worst. After feeling like we had Greece nearly all to ourselves for 3+ weeks, it was a little hard to share Santorini with the masses. We were only on Santorini for two nights so more time would have surely lead to more discoveries.

We opted to stay about 10 minutes from Fira (the largest town) at Villa Danae. It was a peaceful oasis away from the busy streets of Fira. I am very glad we did not rent a car on Santorini. The roads seemed particularly narrow and clogged with buses, 4-wheelers, motorcycles and more! We rode buses around the island which was an adventure! The drivers managed many switchbacks, loads of traffic, and tourists without a bead of sweat or frustration. One driver played classic rock on the drive between Fira and Oia. It was memorable to hear folks from around the world singing along to "Bye Bye Miss America Pie".

When we arrived at the new port, we rode a harrowing bus drive up a steep cliff made passable with many switchbacks. There was a lot of construction going on at the port so I imagine it will be even better at managing the masses of tourists in the future.
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We were happy with our room at Villa Danae. We cooled off in the pool before heading into Fira for lunch.
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We found cheap gyros pita at Lucky's Souvlakis. Recommended. A reasonable and tasty lunch right near the main square.
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We headed to the ridge of the town for our first glimpse of the white building dripping off the cliff. Wow. Just wow.
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We had a somewhat expensive drink at Tropical bar - an Aussie joint, while we watched the sunset.
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It was also fun watching tons of tourists watching the sunset. Geesh.
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Here are the controversial donkeys who haul tourists up a steep hill from their cruise ships.
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We enjoyed shopping and gawking before heading back for sleep. The big plan for tomorrow is the hike between Fira and Oia.

Hiking Between Fira & Oia

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After an American style breakfast at Mamas, we began the 12 kilometer hike to Oia. This was no easy task. It was windy and hot at the same time and the path took us over every surface imaginable. Cobbled streets, loose stones, dirt, roadways, coarse sand, etc... The path ascended and descended and the crescent shape of Santorini made Oia look close and extremely far away at the same time. But we made it! It was fascinating walking past luxury hotels, many with private pools. Sadly, it made the cascading white buildings almost less impressive when realizing they are basically fancy hotels for the rich. Most real Santorini folk live on other parts of the island. Still, we enjoyed the hike and all the commanding views.

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We were especially thankful to find a pool that I had researched in Oia for a rewarding swim.
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After another gyros pita lunch in Oia, we took the bus back to Fira. Santorini is expensive but gyros pitas are a pretty good deal throughout Greece. Somehow we still weren't sick of them!
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We ended our day with a little more shopping in Fira. We found the main grocery store and bought a few items to have a picnic dinner in our hotel room. After another swim, we called it a day!

Last day in Santorini. More Oia

Here are the pictures like Greek calendars sold around the world.
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We had coffee and bougatsa. Mmmm- bougatsa! It's a flaky pastry with custard in the middle. A Greek standard. I can't begin to explain the pink concoction DD#1 picked.
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Our goal was to head back to Oia for more photographs. When we hiked to Oia yesterday, we were both sweaty and slightly cranky. Today was the day to get those beautiful pictures everyone thinks of when you say Greece. Oia is the most photographed town in all of Greece. It really is stunning.
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We rode the bus to and from Oia, checked out of our hotel, and bused to the port for our final ferry to Crete. A lovely sunset on the way to Crete.
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Let the adventure continue!

Posted by familyineurope 21:14 Comments (0)

Delphi and Naxos Island

More history and some serious beach time!

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More random thoughts:

  • Greek people work really hard. It is common to see the same shop owner at 10pm and again reopening shop at 8am the next morning. The same is true for the hotels we have stayed in. It is usually the same few people running the place from morning to late evening. There are tons of true mom- and-pop-type stores, hotels, and restaurants that are run by friendly Greek people.
  • Toilets. No toilet paper can be dropped in toilets in seemingly all of Greece. That has taken some getting used to!
  • Bugs. The critters and bigger and louder than anything at home. The crickets in the trees are incredibly loud - a lot like Florida. Luckily, there aren't many mosquitoes, but the big beetles, giant grasshopper-like things, and cockroaches are pretty shocking for someone from the PNW. We actually had four cockroaches in our hotel room in Athens! I was afraid that might set the scene for the rest of the trip but luckily it was an isolated experience.

Delphi

After the mighty rock formations in Meteora, we drove about three hours on more windy narrow Greek roads to Delphi. This small town in the mountains was the site of the ancient sanctuary of the Oracle, who made important decisions throughout the ancient world. Many considered Delphi to be the center of the world. Pilgrims came to Delphi bringing gifts to the Oracle, leaving so many treasures to see in the archaeological museum. It's amazing to think of how impressive Delphi, formerly known as Pytho, would have been in its heyday, around 800 - 300BC.

We arrived to town before check-in so we parked and found delicious souvlaki. Not a very hard thing to do in Greece. Our pension, Pitho Rooms, was another intimate place with four beds in one smallish room. At least we had AC and were in the center of this small and touristy town. The setting was pretty amazing with views of the mountains and sea far below.
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Like everywhere in Greece, cats roamed freely. Even with the neighborhood dogs!
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Every town in Greece seems to have an abandoned hotel. This one has amazing views just on the edge of town. Great real estate.
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A few random pictures from around the town.
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Before dinner, we headed to the famous archaeological museum. I wonder what it must be like to unearth some ancient gift to the Oracle from 500 BC?
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We had a somewhat touristy dinner outside.
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No horns around the ancient site!
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In the morning, we set off to explore the ancient sanctuary of Delphi. After seeing the museum, it was easier to imagine the importance of this place so long ago.
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Ancient Legos?
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After sweating it out and putting up with far too many tour groups, we decided to drive about twenty twisty downhill minutes to a nearby workaday beach town called Itea. We found a great seaside restaurant with seafood caught from their own boat. Perfect!
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We returned to Delphi, relaxed and cooled off (it was extremely hot) and had a casual dinner at a place with a spectacular view.
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We were ready for a long day following Delphi. We drove about 2.5 hours to the busy port of Piraeus, near Athens. We almost came full circle! We returned our rental car after some waiting around, stored our luggage, picked up our ferry tickets, and wandered around looking for coffee and food. The port area in Piraeus isn't very picturesque. We were hot and a little cranky but were happy to finally find a place with good meat.
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We did a little shopping (the girls keep finding cheap treasures in the teen stores), watched giant ships, and awaited our Blue Star ferry to Naxos. A five-hour evening ride was in our near future!
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Once we cooled down and figured out the ferry process, we were able to relax and enjoy the sunset.
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It was strange arriving in Naxos at nearly 11pm. Our hotel owner picked us up, gave us a ride to our apartment, and we crashed for the evening. Poor DD#2 was sick in the night making it rather restless. Still we were very very happy to wake up and look out our balcony to see this.
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Naxos

It was kind of fun waking up to more sunshine in an unfamiliar place. DH and I walked down the road to a bakery/coffee shop and did some shopping at the nearby Spar supermarket. We were staying on Naxos for five nights and had a mini-kitchen so groceries were in order. Our apartment was on the fringe of Naxos town (Chora) so exploring the town was everyone's first priority. All the twisty little streets with the iconic white painted buildings and ground were photogenic.

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We saw the gateway to Naxos. The ancient arch.
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We had a casual lunch at Naxos Grill and walked to the nearby beach for some swimming. The water had more waves than the mainland but was crystal clear. The shades of aqua, turquoise, and blue were remarkable.
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We walked back to town (about 10 minutes) for a seafood dinner right on the harbor front. The food was a little touristy but the setting was great. It was fun people watching and seeing another sunset. Plus, we scored great ice cream on our way back.
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Another day at the beach

After a lovely morning run, we rode the bus about 15 minutes away to Plaka Beach. This beach is supposedly one of the prettiest beaches in Greece and we could see why. We had coffee and fruit at a cafe before finding Plakafe Beach and Pool, where we camped out for hours.

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We made it back the hotel for a quick swim. We had our eye on a cafe with big TVs where we could watch the women's World Cup final game. We got a good table and enjoyed watching them win over Netherlands. Not many pictures from today, but a great day all around. In fact, we plan to repeat this same beach day later in the week.

Car Rental and Island Exploration

Our hotel owner made it really easy to rent a car for the day. It was delivered to our hotel in the morning and we paid a a reasonable daily rate. We were off to explore some more remote fishing and mountain villages. The roads were extremely narrow and windy! It was an adventure with some tremendous views.
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Some concrete pumpers for my brother.
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We continued driving around (thanks DH for managing the roads) and stopping at various places. We decided on a little fishing village, Apollonos, for lunch and a swim.
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Old vs new wind energy!
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Our last stop was at an old olive press museum where we learned how olive oil was made before modern machinery.
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We ate dinner at a fancy-ish place where DH had the most amazing octopus ever! The food has been so remarkable. I have felt very spoiled eating out so often. Tomorrow will be our last day on Naxos before our family splits up for the remainder of the trip. DH and DD#2 will fly to Athens where they will spend the night before taking the long flight back to the west coast. DD#1 and I will continue our exploration of the Greek islands heading to Santorini and Crete. We get a bonus week in Greece! I'm sorry that DH has work and DD#2 has soccer, but I'm thankful that I will have some one-on-one time with DD#1. I won't be able to blog until I get home but I will finish, so stay tuned!

Posted by familyineurope 00:16 Archived in Greece Tagged beach ferry naxos delphi oracle piraeus Comments (1)

More Kardamyli, Olympia, and Mighty Meteora

After some final beaches, we are inland in mountainous Greece.

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More Random Observations About Greece

Here are a few things that aren't so wonderful in Greece. (Just in case you were worried that we were having too much fun.)

  • Coming from "green" Oregon, it's a little hard to see the garbage all over Greece. I do think there are some recycling programs but they aren't clear and I am not convinced they are widely used. Lots of plastic water bottles, etc... But they do have these cool cylindrical hot water things that are powered by solar.

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  • Where is everyone? This one really isn't a bad thing. It's just that there are so so many cute tavernas and coffee shops with rows and rows of nice outdoor seating with often almost zero customers. It seems almost sad to me. These are great recommended places too. I'm guessing everyone is on the Greek islands or things will pick up in July and August.
  • Traffic can be really gnarly. Like scary crazy! On a road that has two lanes with a "turning lane" in the middle, you will see trucks driving in the shoulder and people passing anywhere they want despite lines, curves, or speed limits. The speed limits don't make any sense either. The speed limit will go down for no apparent reason. The trucks are kind of scary too. Some go really slow, don't always stay in their lane, and will tailgate you even if there is nothing you can do. Geesh! DH is doing most of the driving.
  • Ugly abandoned architecture. It is everywhere! Rebar sticking up from concrete slabs of buildings that were someone's unfinished vision.

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  • This has nothing to do with Greece but we are on week two of travelling with 12- and 14-year old girls. Enough said. In their defense, they are mostly good but we have all had our moments.

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Last Days in Peaceful Kardamyli

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We continue to be awed by the quiet beauty of this little seaside town. DH and I went for a morning hike up to an old church and tiny village. There was a lot of uphill climbing and sweat but the views were worth it. We even saw a random sheep who popped up on the trail from below the ridge. He was very chatty! The kids missed out but were happy relaxing at home.

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After yet another swim in the pool, we drove a few short miles to the resort town of Stoupa for lunch. The town had a crescent shaped beach lined with umbrellas. The water was beautiful and even though it was a lot busier than Kardamyli, it still had a a relaxed vibe. We found a popular place for lunch where we seemed surrounded by older British tourists.

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On the drive back to Kardamyli, we found a nearly hidden beach called Delfinia Beach. The drop off was steep but the water was crystal clear and we enjoyed seeing the rocks below while floating without any effort on the still water.

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We headed back for another swim in the pool and eventually had our last dinner in Kardamyli at a delicious place called Kastro. The salad, meatballs, fish, and Tzatziki were wonderful. There was no menu but our kind server explained everything in English. We were awfully sad to leave this place in the morning. We all think we will return.

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Ancient Olympia, Greece

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Olympia is the birthplace of the Olympic games way back in 776 BC. So this site is ridiculously old! Most of the Olympic grounds are in ruins, which are still pretty impressive. We rented virtual reality glasses which showed us recreations of the sites while we standing on the ancient grounds. It was pretty neat and made the experience more meaningful. We even saw the ancient statue that inspired Nike shoes and the place where the Olympic torch is still lit for modern day Olympics. We all sprinted (OK, I jogged) on the ancient track. In addition to the Olympic grounds, we also explored a couple of archaeological museums which contained more old stuff, like crazy old! It really made me think of how the human experience hasn't changed as much as we think. They were crazy about athletics even 2,800 years ago. They still cared about social status through clothes, jewelry, and could improve their status through connections.

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We had a casual lunch on the main strip in Olympia and were happy that we picked a hotel outside of town. Olympia isn't a great town. It appears mostly dependent on tourists, who only seem to come to see the sights, and leave. We found a nice restaurant with a pension (Hotel Bacchus) overlooking the hills. We ate dinner there both of our nights and really enjoyed the pool and atmospheric sunsets. Our room was tiny, with barely enough room for our beds. But the outdoor space and pool made up for it.
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On our way out of Olympia, we stopped at Klio's Honey Farm. Klio herself came out to greet us. We were the only ones there. She offered us a spoon sweet made from quince and honey and proceeded to tell us all about her farm and how honey is made. It was really interesting! At the end, she treated us to diplas and honey. Diplas are mostly made from egg whites. They were basically a vehicle for eating honey! We bought honey and some great cream made from beeswax.
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Now for a somewhat challenging five-hour ride on a variety of Greek roads! We were most appreciative of the toll roads which had tunnel after tunnel through the impressive mountains. Some of the tunnels were more than three miles long! We also crossed a nifty bridge that was one of two ways off the Peloponnese peninsula. (The Corinth Canal being the other.)
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We stopped in a random seaside town for a really cheap lunch of gyro pita sandwiches. Four sandwiches, bottled water, and four ice cream cones was 16 Euros including tip. This was the first place that had menus only in Greek.
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Random sightings. Pumpkins sold at roadside stands. I wonder what they use them for?
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Lots of melons. This dude had a loud speaker and was advertising them as he drive a load down the street.
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Meteora. Wow!

Meteora is known for its giant rock formations which are topped with monasteries. They really are a wonder. We could see the giant rocks as we approached the town on a very windy and narrow two-lane road which was also the truck route. We were so happy to check into an Airbnb style apartment that was enormous! Two bedrooms, a giant kitchen, living room, washing machine, three AC units and three TVs with Netflix. Good timing is all I can say. We also had a great view of some of the rocks from our balcony.
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We found a pub for our first evening, bought a few groceries, and wandered the town a bit. The town isn't remarkable. But those rocks! I was excited to explore monasteries in the morning. Here's dinner with the obligatory cat.
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One day, five monastaries, countless steps

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We began at a working monastery on top of a giant rock with many steps to the top. Varlaam Monastery. The views from the monasteries were probably my favorite part.
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We were on a mission to see the other monasteries. To be honest, they ran together a bit. All were beautiful and I loved the adventure of having to scramble to the top. There were many tour buses along the way but we tried to avoid the masses and enjoy the peaceful feeling up in the rocks.
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One monastery was used in "For Your Eyes Only", the James Bond movie I remember seeing as a kid. We will watch that one again when we get home! Check out the box gondola/shuttle thingy used to transport things from the mainland to the rock. We even saw people riding in it. No thanks!

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I know, we took too many pictures!

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Our town below, Kalambaka.
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Traffic slowed as we approached a herd of goats in the middle of the road. There were nearly 200 goats!
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We went to a recommended steakhouse/grill for lunch. We had to laugh when DH got his "housemade burger." It was good but not quite what he was expecting.
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We spent the afternoon relaxing in our great apartment. I worked on this blog, did laundry, and took it easy! I haven't mentioned the weather much because it has been hovering in the low to mid 90s. It is hot and we are getting used to being sweaty. We did have some rain in Olympia but it passed quickly. An easy pizza dinner is planned for evening and we will drive about three hours to Delphi in the morning.

Posted by familyineurope 09:35 Archived in Greece Tagged olympia meteora kardamyli Comments (1)

Monemvasia, Mystras, and Kardamyli

History, beach time, heat, and more yummy food.

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We were sad to leave beautiful Nafplio but also excited for the 3.5+ hour drive to Monemvasia. We decided to take the scenic route which wound around the coastline and up a huge mountain of nearly 4,000 ft. The monastery built into the giant rock was remarkable.

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We stopped at the top of the mountain in a little village for coffee and a snack. DD#1 was little car sick from all the switch backs on this narrow Greek road. I gave up the front seat and she hung in there.

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We continued on through the mountainous countryside in awe of all of the olive trees surrounded by rock walls. There were almost as many orange trees. We were excited to see Monemvasia in the distance. It is a hidden city which is behind this massive rock. There is a narrow causeway connecting the rock to the mainland.

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We had a casual lunch on the mainland before parking on the narrow causeway. We were excited to have booked a hotel within the hidden city, also known as the Monemvasia Castle.

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This place reminded us of Mont St. Michel in France, without the hordes of tourists. It was a maze of small streets with a looming abandoned upper town towering above us on the giant rock. It was hard to stop taking pictures.

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We found an escape through the town's walls to the rocky beach below. We hoped to swim but the water was too rough.

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We decided to hike up to the upper town around 7pm because the rock was in the shade. We saw some giant spiders and fascinating ruins up there. It would have been fun to have a scavenger hunt up there!

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Like everywhere in Greece, there were friendly cats roaming about.

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We went to a somewhat touristy place for dinner before I took a night walk. Most of the town was well-lit for a dark stroll but I had to use my phone flashlight a few times.

When we awoke in the morning, we heard extremely loud wind! It almost sounded like the nearby ocean was going to overtake the town! The nasty ashtray on our outdoor table fell off and broke. When we finally went to investigate, chairs were tipped over and pieces of plants and sand were blowing all over. Apparently, these sort of winds are normal for Monemvasia. After our filling buffet breakfast, we trekked to the lighthouse at the edge of the rock and were nearly blown over.

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We really enjoyed Monemvasia and suspect it will become a more popular destination in the future. We hauled our suitcases out to our car and traveled more windy roads to the ancient Byzantine city of Mystras. The churches and architecture were astounding. I remember reading about the Byzantine Empire and was fascinated seeing this spread out city built on a steep hill up close and personal.

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We were hot and tired but I insisted on hiking to the fortress at the tippy top of Mystras. The rest of my family patiently waited.

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We stopped at a nearby taverna for some yummy Greek food. Grape leaves, Greek salad, and more.

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We had nearly two more hours of driving on more windy and narrow roads before arriving in beautiful Kardamyli in the Mani Peninsula. This area of the Peloponnese felt almost deserted with little traffic and open space. The surrounding mountains were larger and greener than I imagined. I could tell that we were really going to like this region. We were even more excited when we found our hotel had double balconies. Once facing the ocean, and the other the pool and mountains. DH and I were already scheming about how we could move here or at least spend some significant time in the future!

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Our first day in Kardamyli seemed like it was in slow-motion. We swam in the pool, in the ocean, and back in the pool again. We had coffee, freddo cappuccinos and espressos (cold) like the locals, saw the historic Old Kardamyli and poked into some shops. I am so happy to be staying here for three nights. It really is a vacation from our vacation.

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I love how easy it is to have dinner right on the beach. There are many open tables and the menus are not expensive. We sat out on the beach this afternoon and had local microbrews delivered to us for 2.5 Euro each. I keep pinching myself at how affordable and easy everything is around here. The locals are friendly and no one seems to be in a hurry. The Greek attitude certainly seems contagious among the many British tourists who frequent this area. We are eager for more low-key adventures tomorrow.

Posted by familyineurope 12:44 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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