A Travellerspoint blog

Greece

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)

Nafplio. Beaches, history, food, and sunshine.

This sure isn't Athens. What a change of pace just a couple of hours from the big city!

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A Few Observations About Greece

After leaving Athens, we noticed a few things that seem different from other countries we have visited.

  • Water. We are so thankful for the free water that is often brought to our tables before a meal. What a nice change from other European countries! And if we do buy water, it is extremely reasonable.
  • Driving. Parking is a free-for-all, even in Athens! We never saw parking restrictions anywhere nor do people have to pay to park. Many people seem to just create their own spots. Motorcycles and scooters can drive anywhere. Pedestrian streets, sidewalks - it doesn't matter! And those rentable electric scooters are absolutely everywhere. Seems like a scary proposition to me.
  • Abandoned homes and buildings. They are everywhere! Maybe it's due to the economic crisis Greece endured in the last decade, but there are so many homes and buildings that are either empty, partially-built, or in severe decay. It would be a fixer-upper's paradise around here.

Renting our Car and Getting Out of Athens

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We had coffee and pastries and made our way to the Sixt rental car company. It took about an hour to complete all the necessary paperwork. Luckily, we scored a nice diesel Audi and got out of town. About an hour from Athens was the extraordinary Corinth Canal. It's a man-made canal that provides as a shortcut for boats not wanting to go all the way around the Peloponnese Peninsula.

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We continued driving to the small town of Nemea which is known for its wine. We found a recommended restaurant that ended up being one of the most memorable lunches we've had! It was a very local place that didn't even have a menu. The chef/owner came to our table to describe the choices. We went for a yummy Greek salad, tzatziki, roasted lemon chicken, and potatoes. It was so filling and delicious. After lunch, we stopped at a nearby winery where I tried some varietals I had never heard of. I bought a bottle for the hotel.

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Finally, we made our way to lovely Nafplio and found parking near one of those abandoned buildings. This one was a hotel that would have views of the ocean from every room. Sadly, it is looking beyond repair. It's quite the opposite of the nice pension where we are staying. I love the old rock walls and atmosphere. The adult room is upstairs giving us a little privacy from the kids.

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There are great views from the breakfast area upstairs. The breakfast is so yummy with Greek yogurt, orange cake, various savory pies and cakes.

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We wandered around the town and made friends with many of the resident cats. So many cats and kittens!

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We took some pictures of the scenic streets, got a small take-out pizza (we still were not hungry after that massive lunch), and called it a day.

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First Full Day in Nafplio

I began the day with a scenic run along the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, it was hotter than I am accustomed and I must have been dehydrated. Those six miles really worked me over! It was a scenic run with more cats.

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We decided to hike up 999 steps to Palamidi Fortress. We could see the fortress and its steps from our breakfast patio. It was a sweat-fest but we did it and it was really awesome!
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After cooling off with some ice cream, we packed up and drove to a nearby beach. The water was so warm! We found a casual beach bar with umbrellas. We felt spoiled having drinks and lunch brought to us on the beach! It wasn't very expensive either.

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After 2-3 hours at the beach, we came back to our room to cool off and unwind before a late 8:00pm dinner. We played games and relaxed. Dinner was a real treat. We sat outside on a small street enjoying moussaka (kind of like Greek lasagna), lamb, and another Greek salad. What a great way to end another day.

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Epidavros, a scenic lunch, and more beach time

After another yummy breakfast, we drove about thirty minutes to the historic Epidavros Theater. The theater was created in 300 BC and is the best-preserved of all of Greece's ancient theaters. The acoustics are amazing. You can hear someone speaking from the stage all way to the top seat. We all took turns clapping and speaking from center stage.

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We were hot and thirsty by this point so we found a recommended casual yet scenic spot for a snack. It was a twisty uphill road to an incredibly perched restaurant. We were practically the only ones there!

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We decided to head back to the same beach as yesterday because it was so easy and relaxing. We came back and wandered the streets of Nafplio for the last time. DD#2 had been eyeing a pair of Greek sandals so we finally let her buy them.

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We found another recommended place for dinner where we ordered way too much food! We tried some hummus and fish roe spread, more Greek salad, fried shrimps (unpeeled and still with their heads and tails. Interesting), grillled octopus, and lamb meatballs. So much food! We will be heading south down the coast tomorrow to Monemvasia. More to come!

Posted by familyineurope 12:59 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

Athens - gritty, historic, and delicious!

Let the Greek adventure begin!

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Our Greek adventure began in Oregon on a Tuesday morning. We flew to San Francisco where we connected to a very long flight to Zurich, Switzerland. The nearly eleven hour flight felt especially long for some reason. After a three hour layover and a very expensive Starbucks drink in Zurich, we completed our journey with a 2.5 hour flight to Athens. Whew! We took a 45-minute taxi ride to our Athens apartment called Marble House. Despite being exhausted, we rallied and took a walk to a nearby restaurant for our first Greek food. Delicious!
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We promptly came back to the apartment, pet the neighborhood cat, and finally got some sleep!
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First Full Day in Athens

We began our day with coffee and pastries at a good place nearby the apartment. Luckily, we all got some much needed sleep.
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We bought all-day subway passes and made our way to Syntagma Square where we saw the Parliament building with its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded by military in full uniform.
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We used an audio guide on our phones to take a city tour down some of the main streets. We did some shopping, toured a few ancient churches, and eventually made our way to the Acropolis Museum.
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The Acropolis Museum contained so many artifacts from the Acropolis. We happened to be there on the museum's 10th anniversary so we got in for free. Of course there were nice views of the Acropolis from the museum. We were saving our visit to the Acropolis until tomorrow.
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We wandered though a colorful neighborhood called Anafiotika with tiny streets and ancient homes clinging to a hill.
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We found a tasty souvlaki place for lunch. Yummy grilled meats!
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We didn't go in, but we found the famous Little Kook cafe all decked out with a Mary Poppins theme.
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We saw this hill, Mount Lycabettus, off in the distance and decided we had to climb it. We were planning on taking a funicular to the top but couldn't find it. So we took our sweaty bodies up there in some intense heat!
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We were pretty exhausted by this point and the kids really need a nap and some down time. Luckily, they are at this magical age where we can lock them in the apartment and leave for a nearby beer at a neighborhood joint. Thank goodness for wifi and phones to stay connected!
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We picked up the kids, and headed to an Indian place, Namaste, for dinner. While in Athens, we decided to make the most of their diverse dining scene.
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And that's a wrap for day one!

Second and Final Day in Athens

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The Acropolis - oh my!

We arrived around 9:15am attempting to beat the masses of tourists ascending on one of the world's most popular attractions. There were crowds and it was hot, but it was manageable. It was hard to stop taking pictures!
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We saw this theater - Odeon of Herodes Atticus. What is so cool is that they were setting up for an evening concert that we are currently watching on live TV in our apartment. If only we had arranged for tickets.
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After the amazing Acropolis, we took a colorful subway north to the Psyrri neighborhood. We found a great place, Stani, for traditional sheep's milk yogurt with honey and walnuts.
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We continued wandering the Psyrri neighborhood through the central market. The goat heads were the most interesting and disturbing!
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On this ultra-hot day, we stopped for bubble tea, beer, ice cream, etc...
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Athens is quite a mish-mash. There are run-down buildings, graffiti, ridiculous traffic, cats, historic ruins everywhere! Despite the chaos, people are friendly and no one seems to be in a hurry. After two days, I find myself warming up to the place and feel a little sad to be leaving in the morning.
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And there are orange trees everywhere!
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After some wandering and shopping, (girls both scored new clothes at Mango) I sent my hot and tired family back to the apartment for some air-conditioning while I explored the Ancient Agora. The Temple of Hephaistos in remarkably intact despite being built in 450 BC! Incredible. I sat in the shade and imagined Socrates and Aristotle wandering around philosophizing.
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I met up with DH for another beer. We actually found a place with Czech Staropramen! Then we went to Tuk Tuk Thai for dinner. The kids are definitely ready for some beach time in Nafplio tomorrow! All and all, Athens was a great place to start our Greek adventure.

Posted by familyineurope 11:13 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

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