A Hellenic Odyssey
Our family returned from an amazing trip to Greece from September 6-19, 2021.
We had originally planned this trip 5 years ago but after a last-minute date with the State Spelling Bee, we had to call it off after Irene had planned the entire trip.
Fast forward to September 2021, we were supposed to attend my cousin's big fat Greek wedding in Glyfada, Athens and so, we called up Irene again who meticulously mapped out and customized our 12-night itinerary over several weeks. The pandemic scuttled the wedding, and we almost didn't make the trip as our passports did not arrive till 48 hours before the trip. Irene was very understanding and even offered to give us full credit for a trip for 2022. However, Tyche/Fortuna took pity on us, and we were off to the hippodrome!
Our first stop was Chania, Crete where we stayed for the next 3 nights in a boutique hotel with the most fabulous view of the historic Venetian harbor. Wine, cheese, and pastries welcomed us.
A Classic Cretan dinner at the taverna owned by a cousin of Irene, complete with Raki and Ouzo was fabulous. Walking around in the storied alleyways of Old Chania, with the bracing breezes off of the Mediterranean transported all into an older era where time passed slowly. The bustling streets and the nightly buskers meant we never had a dull moment. The next day, we met our 2 guides, Vangelis and Giana, who were the living embodiment of Cretan hospitality. We went high up into the rugged mountainous countryside, past possibly all the 40 million olive trees of Crete !, to the Church of St Ioannis, and the secret school which the Monks ran for the children during the Ottoman rule. We visited Biolea Astrikas Estate owned by the 5th and 6th generation Dimitradis family, the only organic cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil mill in Greece where we were thoroughly simultaneously entertained and educated by the vaudevillian English guide.
Lunch was at a kafenion deep in the countryside. We rolled up our sleeves and under the watchful eye of Maria, we made Dolmades, Boureki, and Gemista. We walked through the vegetable and herb garden where we saw the fertile Cretan produce growing. After a well-deserved lunch, we walked along the harbor and the charming alleyways while exploring the Venetian Fort and the covered markets until late at night.
The rain altered our plans for a hike through the Deliana gorge, but Vangelis and Giana took us across to the other end of the island where the skies were blue. We saw the ancient Roman stronghold of Polyrrhenia and marveled at the layout and aqueducts.
Vangelis took us to see his grandmother in a traditional Cretan village, where we experienced the unspoiled warmth and philoxenia of the Cretans. Later we hiked in the Chestnut forest of Sirikari and had a huge lunch at the seaside taverna in Kissamos, with the gorgeous view of the sun-kissed bay.
After bidding goodbye to our guides, we rode with our guide Panos, originally from Corfu, through the town of Rethymnon where we visited the old man who is the only person still handmaking Philo. We then went on to Heraklion and the ancient Minoan capital of Knossos.
The Heraklion archaeological museum shouldn’t be missed, and dinner at Peskesi which we finally found after a wild goose chase, was fantastic.
We took the fast ferry to Santorini, and again Irene had outdone herself. At our hotel, we had breathtaking Caldera views and our private balcony; we were pampered thoroughly. We had an early evening baking class at a traditional taverna in Akrotiri and had the most mouthwatering Tomatokeftedes, Fava, and finished off our meal with loukoumades, then saw the sunset over the Aegean.
Over the next 2 days, we visited Ancient Akrotiri, did the sunset sail to Oia on a Catamaran, sampled wines at the Hatzadakis winery, and did the Firostefani to Oia hike, along with the Skaros rock detour. Sunset in Oia was overrated, but Santorini was absolutely picturesque.
Arriving at Athens airport, we were met by our guide, Dem, Demosthenes, who was truly the paragon of Greek hospitality. Over the next 5 days, as we traveled the length and breadth of the mainland and the Peloponnese, he was always immaculately polite, attentive, and helpful. We peppered him constantly with questions on our drives, and Dem almost always had the answers, not the usual picture-postcard travel guide ones, but profoundly reasoned responses, which were informed by his deep passion for the patris and his study of the Greek Classics.
Our first stop was Meteora, and the monasteries clinging perilously to the rock formations reaching up to the skies were a perfect metaphor for what was the driving force for the monks who made a home for themselves under the stars. Sunset over the highest point there was magical, with all present spellbound.
An impromptu stop at Thermopylae with the Leonidas Museum and Theban Memorial was deeply moving and the short climb up to the Spartan Memorial on Kolonos Hill was immensely uplifting.
Next, we were off to the Omphalos of the world, with Mt Parnassus looming over Delphi. The deeply resonant message of the Oracle, Know Thyself, was and remains eternally true. After another fabulous dinner with a view, we were off to Olympia and our guide truly brought out the importance of the Games to the Hellenes.
We went on to Mycenae, and the home of Agamemnon and Orestes, Clytemnestra and Iphigenia. Walking up past the Lion Gates, and gazing at the Homeric landscape was unreal. Our guide, Theodorus the Philospher, also came along to Epidaurus where we visited the theatre, hippodrome, and the Askelpion. His sage expounding of the quintessentially Greek concepts of Hubris and Metron Ariston, Kallos and Arete, under the ancient pines of the valley was unforgettable.
After an overnight stay at picturesque Nafplion, we ended up in Athens. The Acropolis tour was detailed, and we walked away after the tour of the museum with a much better understanding of the Greek soul.
To truly make the most of your trip, to such an ancient culture, one must do their homework. The podcasts we listened to were very helpful, including the Ancient Greek History by Yale University, the History of Ancient Greece, and Casting through Ancient Greece.
Our transfers were seamless, we were given a cellphone for our use, and our local guides were always professional and passionate.
Thank you, Irene, for making this dream come true