Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

The Big Trip: Corfu

Monday, October 13th, 2014

It was our fifth morning of our cruise and the destination of the day was the last one in Greece. It was the island at the north-western corner of the country, holding a lot of heritage and beauty: the island of Corfu. Although we did not originally plan to take a pre-payed trip in Corfu, we changed our minds after some careful thinking 🙂 . We decided that if we are there, we really must visit a special palace which we have seen on pictures to be quite nice: Achilleion Palace.
Although the name of the trip held one destination, as we have already seen on other trips during the cruise, this did not mean that it was the only thing we could see. We also had the pleasure the see a lot of the island (granted, only from the bus) and to spend some time in the old town-center of Corfu, so the day was quite promising. We started of as usual: numbers on clothes, bus at the port, tour-guide on the bus. No changes there 😉 .

Being quite far away from the port, our itinerary had the Achilleion Palace as first point to visit, so we headed off to the higher points of the island, up to the famous palace built by the beloved empress of Austria:Sisi. The entry fee to the palace was, again, included in the tour price, so unfortunately I have no idea how much it was. For sure it is an acceptable price, because there were a lot of tourists visiting 😉 . We were walked by our guide through the main rooms on the ground floor, followed by a walk through the lovely gardens with a spectacular view of the island. The gardens are also home to the two famous statues giving the name to the castle: the beautiful statue of the dying Achiles and the huge statue of the victorious Achiles. There is a lot to learn about the history of the palace (if you have a guide) and a lot to see in this beautiful building, so I think it was a great decision to visit it.

Once we were on the bus, we started our descent on a somewhat different route than we followed to climb. The road was extremely narrow and frankly I have no idea how our bus driver managed to go through them. As the guide mentioned: “we just had to close our eyes and let things happen” 🙂 . After our eyes being closed a few times and a short stop at a terrace close to the airport, we quickly arrived to the city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In places like this, even McDonald’s has to follow the architecture and color scheme 😉 . Also, the main square in the town center is the largest square in entire Greece (I must admit, after seeing Athens’s “main square” I really understand why 😉 ).

The whole island gave an interesting impression of multiculturalism. According to our guide the people here even speak a very different dialect than in other parts of Greece, a dialect greatly influenced by the Venetian times. The palaces, the buildings all hold the marking of great European rulers without making it “too European”. It is a great mixture of elements making Corfu stand out from the rest of Greece. If we had to choose a place to return to for a couple of days, it would definitely be this island 😉 .

I have uploaded some picture here.


The Big Trip: Athens

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The destination of day four of our trip did not hold too much excitement, when I just looked at the brochure. The port we were about to dock to was called: Piraeus. Little did we know at that point, that this city is actually the main port of Athens, the birthplace of modern republic. Here, we really had to book for a trip, because the actual city of Athens was at a 20-25 minute drive from the port of Piraeus, so if we wanted to see something, we had to go on a trip.
We arrived to this destination a bit early in the morning, so we had quite the warn-out faces as we were sitting in the theater, waiting for our number to get called. Again, we were following the usual process, of disembarking, walking to the bus having our number on it, where our tour-guide was waiting for us. We did not have any delays, so we could head off towards Athens promptly. My impression of the city was quite a surprise. It was absolutely not what I was expecting: it had a very modern look with a lot of new high-rises (without overdoing the height), an internal highway leading into the center of the city and lots of green areas bringing nature right into the city center. Compared to Rome, for instance, it did not give off the ancient feel that I was expecting from this city: it was a modern city, with only small patches of the remains of the ancient culture that once vibed here.

The road to Acropolis mountain was again, through the narrow streets of modern Athens and not much gave away of what was coming up until we were almost there. The main tourist attraction was working like a charm: the place was swarming with tourists and we really had to be careful not to fall on the slippery marble stairs that lead up to the temple-complex. Our tour guide was wise enough to make a short stop before entering the crowds and tell us all the details up front of what was coming up. We just had to walk up the stairs, take some quick shots and get into the complex. Once inside, the air got breathable again, as people spread out to admire the different temples.

I must admit, this part of Athens did not disappoint at all. The temples were indeed magnificent, the view of the entire city was breathtaking 😀 . I was maybe a bit disappointed because of all the scaffolds that were built up around the Parthenon ruining any decent picture I wanted to take of it. It turns out, those have been there since the seventies (talk about efficiency :p ) as part of an ample restoration project to refurbish a bit the temple. In any case, it later turned out, that the scaffolds did not exactly go all the way around, so there were some shots I could make without that ugly (but useful) “decoration”.

After visiting the main attraction of the city, we headed back to the bus to take a quick ride to the ancient stadium (here we had a short pit-stop to make a few pictures, but that did not impress me too much…), then onto the main street of important buildings, that I completely forgot about, just because we did not even stop there. Yes, they were nice as I remember, but I could not see anything. Big disappointment here 🙁 .

The final stop of this trip was Plaka, the old historic center of Athens. This was basically a set of narrow streets filled with gift-shops, bars and restaurants. Even the main square was completely invisible due to all the tables and umbrellas of restaurants. It did not even resemble a real main square: it was too small, too crowded and again, did not give off any vibe at all. It was great to relax a bit and have a drink, but apart from that, nothing… I think I will refer to this place as “the shopping alley” rather that the “city center” of Athens 😉 .

I think the trip to Athens, left a lot of mixed feelings inside me. On one hand there was the awesome Acropolis and on the other hand the city itself, which was not something special. But then again, if someone thinks “Athens”, the next word that comes into our minds is “Acropolis”… so that is where you will get the wow-effect and not in the rest of the city…

I have uploaded some pictures here.


The Big Trip: Santorini

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The third morning we woke up and headed to Zanzibar to have our usual breakfast before preparing for the trip of the day. When we looked outside the window it was still a bit chilly and to our surprise, the tops of the nearby islands were… covered with snow (!?)… The islands were a bit far away so we could not tell 100% sure whether it was snow or some white sand on top of the black mountains, so we had to wait a bit to get closer. After about 20 minutes of cruising we got close enough to be able to distinguish the white stuff on the top: they were villages :)… we were in Santorini!
We had a prepaid trip in Santorini also, which was entitled Trip to Oia Village, but it actually included 3 main stops: some wine tasting in a local winery, a walk in Oia village and some shopping in Thira, the main village. We did not dock in Santorini, because there is no dock that is large enough to accommodate such a big ship. Instead, we used a local tender service, which took us ashore, where our local tour-guide was already waiting for us in our designated bus (we were given numbers again, just like in Katakolon).

Once we were in the bus, we headed off on a winding road taking us to the top of the “Caldera” and our tour-guide already started explaining us about the history of Santorini. After just a short trip, we stopped at the first destination, the winery, where we were greeted by the cheerful staff with three types of wine and some snacks (cheese, baked stuff and olives). Apart from tourism, wine is the main industry of the island, so we had the chance to taste the results of their hard work at this stop (and spend some money on bottled wine, if we wanted to, at the “gift shop” 😉 ). Also, the view from this spot was very exciting, so we could have our first scenic pictures taken so early in the morning (too bad, the sun was not out fully, yet 🙁 ). We have spent about half an hour here and then we were ready to move on to the main destination of the trip: Oia village.

The trip to Oia took about 20-25 minutes during which the tour-guide continued to explain us more and more information about Santorini. Actually this was OK… it was better to get the information while on the bus, instead of cramming around the guide on the narrow streets of Oia. This way, we could first understand what we are going to be visiting and then we were able to just explore the location on our own. The village of Oia lived up to its fame: the houses are really that white and the streets are really that narrow as they are on the posters. The main street is really easy to follow, so it is not too hard to find your way around, but careful, there are some turns which may look in a way from one direction, but are completely unrecognizable when you are coming back. It is a small village, but you may get lost if you are not careful 😉 .

After spending enough time and money in Oia, we were ready to return to our final destination of our trip: the capital of Santorini, Thira. It is also quite the colorless village, but it is significantly larger than Oia. Admiring the great cathedral in the main square was enough of an additional experience for us, so we decided to just follow the path to the cable-cars where we had the option to actually go down using the cable-cars (our tickets were included in the trip), or follow the long pathway down into the port to admire the descent into the crater on foot. Option 2 did not sound too bad at first, but (there is always a but), we had to share our path with the donkeys (an old tradition of Santorini is the usage of donkeys), which was not really something we were happy about. Donkeys seem quite nice animals on picture, but they have a big problem: they smell. And it is not really a problem when you have to deal with only a couple of donkeys, the problem arises, when there are large packs of them… in that case the smell quickly sends a lot of the tourists towards the cable-cars. We were some of these tourists ;).

We got back to the ship a bit ahead of the rest of the crowds, so at last we could have our first lunch at Zanzibar without the additional nerve-wrecking 20 minutes of trying to find a place to sit down. Also we were among the first ones to occupy some of the strategically placed sun-beds and enjoy some sun-bathing in the beautiful crater of this unique island. For that day the animators planned some Greek dances in the pool area so the atmosphere was exceptionally Greek that day 🙂 . We have spent quite a few hours on the sun-deck that day, partially due to the atmosphere and partially due to a family who was late and caused us some delays until we got a hold of them. It was funny to see half of the ship applauding from the top sun-deck when they saw them stepping out of the last tender aboard the ship 😀 .

After leaving Santorini, we packed our stuff and headed back to our cabin to prepare for the “white party” organized for that evening. It was quite the “matching” theme for all the white we have already seen that day ;).

I have uploaded some pictures here.


The Big Trip: Katakolon

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

For people who do not know what the name in the title means (like me 🙂 ) follow this link. Now, the new names like Olympia that pop up from such a site provide a more clear information of what the place holds. Yes, this was the possibility to explore the pathways of the ancient athletes on a huge field on a hot sunny day. Or… to go to a nearby beach and enjoy the waves on a hot sunny day. We went for option B.
Kouruta Beach
Now getting to an actual beach near Katakolon is not easy. We actually had a prepaid “trip” to transfer us to the beach, so we gathered at one of the lounges of the ship to give our tickets and receive some sticky numbers and beach towels in return. After that, we just had to wait until our number was called, meaning we could disembark, get on the coach carrying our number and together with a guide from the ship enjoy the Greek countryside on a short trip to Kouroúta beach.

The weather was not as hot as the day before in Bari, but slowly it got warmer and warmer and soon after arriving to the nice and sandy beach of Kouroúta, the weather got ideal. On the beach we had a reserved location, with sun loungers and parasolars available free of charge for anyone ordering food or drink (we also had a dedicated waiter for our group). There was not much to see this day, but it was an excellent way of relaxing (we needed it 🙂 ) and to get ourselves filled up with sand 😛 .

Well, this was our first day in Greece (in our life) and that was already an experience on its own. The rest was not too exciting, but hey, the following days were much more promising in being full of things to see 😉 …