22 April 2010

Semana Santa: Feta cheese with a side of feta!

So my friend, Steph D, and I concocted this crazy plan for spring break. We had dreams of Greek cuisine and beaches, encounters with Bulgarian vampires, and Turkish teas in hammams. So we decided to head to  Greece and see Athens, Santorini, and Crete. Then take a night train to Sofia, Bulgaria, and finally take another night train to Istanbul, Turkey. In this blog I will try to recount the crazy adventures of the Greek leg of the trip. Fasten your seat belts! Here we go!

So we arrive in Athens and immediately realize that we cannot read any of the street signs because of course in Greece they use a different alphabet. Luckily Steph could use her experience jogging on frat row to interpret some of the signs. Athens wasn't my favorite city. It was a big jumble of unplanned streets crowded in an urban sprawl. But the way the urban was mixed with the ancient was really interesting. Right next to a huge business complex there would be the ruins of a temple.

I did enjoy seeing the Acropolis. Acropolis technically means the furthest point of the edge of the city. This is where the ancient Greeks would build the monuments. So the Acroplis contains a beautifully conserved amphitheater as well as the famous Temple of Athena. The temple was one of the largest constructions I've ever seen. It's sheer enormity was astounding.

The next day we headed to Delphi. It was a 3 hour ride on a bus and we arrived in the most beautiful mountainside town. This town has the Temple of Apollo where the Oracle at Delphi would predict the future by placing herself above a hole in the temple floor, which experts now think was emitting drug filled fumes. The ruins were interesting, but I enjoyed seeing the landscape more.

The next morning we boarded a ferry to Santorini. We got off the ferry and expected to be in the middle of a city. That would be too easy. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was the Greek version of a strip mall and that was it. So we got the last cab at the port and headed to Fira, the capitol. After settling in at the San Giorgio hotel and speaking with the hilarious George we decided to walk towards the old port to see the sunset. As we walked he kept meeting up with these awesome stray dogs so of course I made friends with them!

We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset on a Greek isle and I couldn't have been happier!

The next day we headed to the Red Beach. Santorini is a volcanic island so the beach is made up of both black and red volcanic rock. It was a rough sand beach but the atmosphere was so cool (and I've never even heard of a red beach before!).

That same day we headed to Crete with wet beach hair on another short ferry. This time we arrived exactly where we expected, Heraklio. We immediately took a bus to Rethymno, a Venetician city. It took us a million years to find our hostel, but the wandering around was absolutely beautiful. After getting into our hostel, we headed to this cafe/bar we had seen while wandering. The cafe was in a brick tunnel of sorts and the menus were in all Greek. Our first authentic experience! The waiter came over and between his broken English and our minimal knowledge of Greek food we ordered a traditional Cretan drink and some bruschetta. It was fantastic! At the end of the night the waiter came back to our table and told us that some guy at the bar had bought us a shot, but when I looked over at the bar the guy over there wasn't even looking at us. Then he awkwardly said, "Well who bought it doesn't matter. It's italian and it means pretty girls. Will you take it with me?" So cute! He was adorably awkward, and nervous. And I'm almost positive he was the one that bought the shot. It was a wonderfully authentic Greek evening. But alas we had to head to Plakias the next morning.

But Plakias did not disappoint. It was a gorgeous, natural oasis. The bus let us off right at the beach and we walked to our hostel set in the middle of an olive grove. Yes, it was as delightful as it sounds. The very first day we decided to head out for a hike. These hikes are not a joke by the way. The hostel owner, Chris, mentions on the instructions that these were originally donkey paths, but I didn't quite realize what it means. It means essentially that they are tiny, thistle covered "paths" that are incredibly hard to find. Our first hikes destination was this 14th century Venetian mill and church. We made it quite easily to the mill which was super cool.

But getting up to the top of the mountain proved a little more difficult than we expected. We got to the top and came to a gate marked "CLOSE GATE SHEEP FALL AND DIE." So we passed through the gates but just as we turned the corner three growling dogs came roaring around the bend. Two seemed to just want to make a racket. But one brindle-colored monster kept jumping at me with his teeth bared. Just as he nipped my legs and I began to pee my pants this homeless man came around the corner and yelled at this dogs in Greek to follow him. Phew, that was a close call.

We spent that afternoon relaxing on the beach after a long hike and it was joyous! The next morning we decided to embark upon an even more challenging hike. This hike involved going to where the mill was yesterday and then going down into the river and walking up in the river for around an hour and a half!! I LOVE RIVER WALKING! So this was totally up my alley. It was so much fun. But of course there were mishaps.
1. There were a lot of spiderwebs and at one point I got a spiderweb in my face along with the spider. So of course I spastically scratched my face until I realized that blood was running down my face from the nose ring that I had messed up. Great. And the blood was getting all over my fav tie-dye shirt. ugh.
2. Upon reaching the end of the river walk we had to hike straight up a thistle covered mountain. Yes my legs were covered in scratches.
3. Upon reaching the top of this mountain, I encountered a road . . . and 6 mountains goats complete with horns and bells! (kind of cool but kind of still a mishap)
4. The biggest mishap of all. After surviving the goats, we walked maybe 100 yards along the road and there she was in the middle of the road, a gargantuan momma hog!!!! It had like a million teets and a snarl like I've never seen. I was terrified. She started walking the same direction as us down the lane so we started to follow her. But she was not about to tolerate that. She turned around and stared us down until we had not only stopped walking, but moved off the path. We decided to wait until she had walked a good ways and then try to walk after her. Alas she was too smart for this ploy. Right after we started walking she came back towards us! Finally she started eating some grass on the side of the road so we climbed through the thistles on the other side and managed to get around her. I can now add another animal to the already lengthy "Farm Animals I'm Scared of List": momma hog.

Crete was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life. I would absolutely love to go back and explore some more. I loved that I spent every morning hiking until I was exhausted and then every afternoon laying out on the beach. It was the perfect combination. Unfortunately we had to leave that afternoon to head back to Athens. We boarded the ferry around 9pm, which is literally like a floating hotel room complete with shower and everything!

We knew the ferry was supposed to arrive at 5am, but there was a loud speaker in the room so we didn't set an alarm. Mistake. We woke up to a kind gentleman saying something to us in Greek at which point, Steph looks at her watch and in tones of panic says "It's 7am, and I think he said we are in Naxos," which is not the port in Athens where we needed to be. Of course my first reaction is to take off running after the guy down the ferry's hallway. In order for you to be able to fully form the visual, I'd like you to imagine me with morning hair wearing a blood stained tie-dye t-shirt (it was my only sleep shirt, don't judge), black leggings, and baby blue life is good boxers. Quite a sight to have chasing after you. After a few tense minutes of communication issues, I determined that we were in Athens, but had overslept by 2 hours. It was so embarrassing to walk past all the open doors with the cleaning people working. As we disembarked the dock workers shook their heads at us. What silly girls!

We spent the entire day in Athens relaxing in a park and reading English books we bought at a bookshop. It was a nice preparation for the Bulgarian adventures to come!!!!

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