Monday, September 28, 2009

Greece - Week 3

Back on track...


We flew into Thessaloniki in northern Greece early Sunday morning and had to wait for a couple of hours to catch a bus to Meteora in central Greece. Meteora is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that we learned about, made up of a bunch of monasteries built on rocky outcroppings high in the mountains of Greece. At one time, there were about 21 functioning monasteries, but now there are only 6 that are still in operation and the rest are in various stages of ruin. Women are required to wear long skirts to go through the monasteries, but if you don't have one the monastery will provide you with a wrap-around one to wear over your pants. We hiked curving mountain roads from monastery to monastery and had to jump over the guard-rails a couple of times when tour buses went by, but we had great views the whole way.


We got a lot of advice before we left that we should spend as little time in Athens as possible. About half a day to one full day really is enough to see the city's only main site which is the Acropolis. The rest of the city is just a massive, filthy, 1970's throwback, which is really sad because Athens could be so much more than what it is. The Acropolis is really amazing though, built up on a rocky hill overlooking the entire city.

The Parthenon is enormous and made of gigantic pieces of carved marble. It was a place where I just felt like being quiet and sitting down to wonder in awe of the awesome things that ancient people were able to accomplish without modern technology or conveniences. And inevitably when I get to wondering about that sort of thing I wonder about how these civilizations eventually decline and are mostly forgotten. It always leaves me feeling a little sad. Paul was not happy about all of the framework that interfered with his photos of the Parthenon. He joked that the whole place has been "restored" so much that it is now mostly fake - put up by the Greek government to attract tourist dollars - but I had to convince him that it was still worth taking pictures of.

We took an overnight ferry from Athens to the island of Santorini. We had planned on going to Mykonos as well, but had some problems figuring out the ferry schedule and were unable to see both islands on this trip. Santorini was definitely another highlight of the trip. We rented an ATV to drive around between the towns and beaches (because we weren't confident enough to rent a moped), and spent our two days there zipping around in the withering island sun. The picturesque towns of Fira and Oia are built on the lip of a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago and left a circular crater called a caldera that is now a port for the island. The white-washed houses cling to the cliff-face and gingerly climb down the inside of the caldera so that the gently sloping backside of the island can be used for farming. Oia, our favorite town, had windmills and flowers and the famous blue-domed churches that we had heard about. While taking photos in Oia, I discovered that Paul's camera can actually take really good "jumping" photos and we had a fun time playing around with that feature. We also ate our favorite gyros of the trip at a place called "Lucky Souvlaki" in Fira. For about 5 Euro we could get two amazing gyros with yogurt sauce and a Fanta to split - still pricey, but a great deal compared to everywhere else we had been.

After two days in Santorini, we took another overnight ferry to the island of Rhodes, which is part of the Dodecanese islands in Greece. We hadn't really planned on seeing much of Rhodes, but we missed the morning ferry over to mainland Turkey so we had to wait for the 5:00 pm one. We were glad that we had time to see the island though, because Rhodes was so different from Santorini. The island is only about an hour and a half ferry ride from Turkey, so back in medieval times it was sacked a lot by invaders. So the Rhodians built huge fortresses and walls to protect themselves from invaders. The whole old town is surrounded by thick stone walls and towers with roughly cobbled streets, and it is easy to see how the townsfolk could bunker down inside the gates when they were besieged to try to defend their home. There is also a lot of Islamic influence in Rhodes and it was here that we saw our first minarets and mosques of the trip.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pardon this interruption...

but I'm sick and I would like the world to mourn with me. I hate my life. And right now I am drugged up and feeling sorry for myself and wondering if blogging will make me feel better. Surprisingly, it does. A little.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Como, Venice, and Rome - Week 2

Lake Como
In Park City, UT, there is a gallery of fine art photography called "Windows to the World" that Paul and I love to visit. For years now, we always stared at one photo in particular of a cobblestone street, talking about how we would love to find the place because it seemed so magical and enchanted. After some research, we learned that the place was located in Bellagio, on Lake Como in Italy. So we made our plans and showed up with high hopes. Bellagio was quaint and lovely and quiet, nestled on a wooded peninsula of an ancient lake, but ultimately, the three days we spent there was a little too quiet for our tastes. But it was still beautiful, nonetheless.

There were extensive gardens stretching along the water's edge and extravagant villas with sycamore trees pruned to resemble candelabras. We rode water ferries between towns and hiked over to Villa Balbianello where Casino Royale and the second Star Wars movie were filmed. We climbed up to a medieval castle and clandestinely tried on the rusted armor on display when no one was looking. And we even cooked dinner for ourselves one night in the tiny kitchen in the apartment we had rented. Who knew that the Barrilla pasta I have been buying in the grocery store turns out to be the real deal?


Venezia is one of our favorite places. We love getting lost in the narrows streets and alleyways and discovering forgotten bridges and shops and cafes. Paul loves the dilapidation you see everywhere - the crumbling plaster and exposed bricks, the weathered wood and worn stones. And the lighting is ever-changing, which makes it a photographer's dream. I even got a little over-tired of taking photos and opted to spend the morning going through the Doge's Palace or St. Mark's Cathedral while Paul wandered around on his own looking for new angles and perfect lighting.

Paul took a ferry over to the island of Burano one morning and took these photos of the colorful houses he found there.

In the evenings, after the crowds from the cruise ships had gone, we would go back to St. Mark's Square to eat gelato and listen to the small orchestras play or watch the brides and grooms who would come to have their photos taken in the evening lighting of the square. Some people danced, but Paul nixed that idea.


We only had about 5 hours in Rome before we had to catch our plane to Greece, but we made the most of them by revisiting our favorite spots from our previous trip there. After grabbing a Nutella gelato at the Blue Ice shop (Paul's favorite), we sat and licked our fingers at the Trevi Fountain. We also went over to the Spanish Steps but were again thwarted by the heat and sun in any desire to climb them.

That night we slept in the Athens airport on the cold hard floor. It was miserable. But Greece was worth it. More to come...