Greece Post date – November 2004
We taxied into Athens with groggy heads and tired bodies – the 3:00 am arrival at Ben Gurion International airport in Israel had taken its toll on all of us. Our first priority was to check out the beds at our hotel, and a few hours later all of them were pronounced satisfactory as we crawled out of them to find somewhere to eat. Athens is a huge city of 2.7 million, sprawled over a number of hills and valleys. It is an ancient city, with a history inextricably intertwined with mythology. Its most recent claim to fame is as the host of the 2004 Summer Olympics, reminders of which crop up around every corner – from the omni-present souvenirs to the new metro (subway) lines and clean licks of paint on every public corner.
Our accommodation was a short walk to the Plaka (the old Turkish quarter) and the Acropolis. Our time in the city was spent exploring these two storied areas. The Plaka is a fascinating corner of the world, touristy to an extreme, but with inviting old cobbled streets that wind in labyrinth style in the shadow of the Acropolis. We delighted in the sidewalk gyros (meat only for the kids, fully loaded for the adults) and happily found ice cream vendors all over the place.
The Acropolis (meaning 'high city') is considered the most important ancient monument in the Western world. It sits on one of the highest points in Athens, and is visible from virtually everywhere in the city. It is magnificent from a distance and simply awesome as you stand in its midst. The most famous of its monuments is the Parthenon – it is virtually synonymous with the Acropolis and Athens. In our travels over the past four months, we have been privileged to visit many historic sites, and for both the under 12-set and the over-40s, the Acropolis ranks up at the top. Both Ben and Emma were thrilled to see figures that have become familiar in their reading and recreation (each of them have become rather voracious players of 'Age of Mythology' on the laptop), and Bram and Sharon were awed at the grandeur of the structures and the history that seeped from each pillar. The warm and sunny afternoon spent wandering through the ages atop Athens was a fine one indeed.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that by the time we arrived in Greece we were 'Middle Easted' out. The last four weeks had been a whirlwind of seemingly constant travel, often on rather dubious forms of transport, in temperatures that hovered much closer to the high-30 degree range than the mid-20 degree range. We had layers of dust and sand throughout our possessions that were a testament to the miles they had traveled over the month of September. We were ready for a vacation within our vacation, and the Greek islands called us south.
With the Lonely Planet guide book to Greece in hand, Sharon and Bram pored over the descriptions of the various islands to which we could travel. There are apparently over 1,400 of them – but we narrowed our choices down to three or four. We had a few conditions that had to be met: there had to be sandy beaches; there had to be trees (many of the islands are extremely rocky and lack anything other than scrubby vegetation); the travel time to the island couldn't be extremely long; and there were self-catering flats or apartments that we could rent. After hours of discussion and debate, more reading and Internet surfing, we decided that the island of Paros ably met all our conditions.
Paros is one of the islands in the Cyclades. Here's a quote from the Lonely Planet introduction to the Cyclades chapter to whet your appetite:
"The Cyclades are what Greek island dreams are made of – rugged, multi-coloured outcrops of rock, anchored in azure seas and strewn with snow-white cubist buildings and blue-domed Byzantine churches. Add in golden beaches, olive groves and the scented wild gardens of mountains and terraced valleys, all under a brilliant Mediterranean sun, and it's easy to believe that the Cyclades were once the closest that humanity ever got to paradise on earth."
The islands of the Cyclades are located midway between the Peloponnese and the western Turkish coast, above the Sea of Crete and on the lower end of the Aegean Sea. The island of Paros is a four and a half hour ferry ride from Athens, far enough to leave the big city life behind, but not so far to make accessibility a huge issue.
With a population just slightly smaller than Portage la Prairie (Sharon's home-town) at 12,853 people, Paros is a delightful island. Its capital city, and our home base for our stay there, is Parikia. The town is home to about four and a half thousand inhabitants, making it large enough for good service provision (a couple of supermarkets, internet cafes and various other shopping experiences), but small enough to make it easily accessible by foot. We spent many hours wandering narrow lanes between whitewashed dwellings trailed with flowering vines.
Our accommodation in Parikia was at a small hotel/apartment complex on the outskirts of town. One of our closest neighbours was a herd of goats grazing in a small field across the street. Our fellow guests in the hotel were a group of students at a 'study abroad' art program. Our intention had been to rent one of the hotel's self-catering four bed apartments, but when we arrived we found that the students had taken all the large apartments. So we settled ourselves in two rooms – one with cooking facilities and one simply for sleeping. Although it wasn't what we'd originally envisaged, parents and children welcomed the separation and 'personal space' that the separate rooms yielded. As well as self-catering, the hotel had a swimming pool, Internet access, television (in both rooms!) and a small bar that served cappuccino in the morning. Everyone's interests were well tended for what would turn out to be three weeks in Paros.
We had a truly wonderful time over those three weeks. We ate home-cooked meals (two-burner style), read close to a dozen books, went to the beach almost daily, rented scooters to explore the island, spent hours catching up on schoolwork, slept with no pressure of wake-up times, ate baklava and ice cream, scrambled over rocks searching for sea urchins, collected hermit crabs by the dozens, got sun and wind-burned, discovered the best pizza of our trip to date, spent hours wandering the old town … it was an idyllic time of rest and relaxation.
But, as with all good things, our time on Paros came to an end. If we were to accomplish all the things we'd planned before the 20th of December, we had to board the Blue Star Ferry to Athens no later than the 28th of October. Our last walk through the old town to the Parikia harbour was bittersweet; we were moving on to new adventures, but we'd fallen in love with this small island. There were lumps in all of our throats as the ferry rounded the point and Paros slowly disappeared from our sight. We penciled in our calendars a return visit for October 2006. Two years isn't a really long time from now, is it?