Ruins

Athens, Greece

I love ruins. The older they are, the better. I love walking among fallen columns, crumbling facades, and on broken streets. I like to imagine what life might have been like in these places when they were still populated, you know, before everything was ruined. Ruins, along with old churches, stunning beaches, and of course the food, are my favorite thing about traveling through Europe. They’re everywhere. They haven’t been destroyed in the name of progress, and sometimes progress gets destroyed in the name of archaeology. What a great set of priorities!

Pompeii

Now, why do I like the crumbling old ruins so much? I think it has to do with the same reasons I’m a sucker for reality TV. I have an active imagination and love wondering what other peoples’ lives are like. I like to see “how the other half lives.”

Pompeii

Ruins certainly let your imagination run wild. Bathhouses, brothels, coliseums, temples, and even bakeries and bars can really let you wonder just what went on in this place before you managed to make it here. Sometimes you don’t really have to wonder, the writing (pictures) is/are still on the walls.

Ephesus, TurkeySometimes the ruin you’re looking at doesn’t seem like much at all, but you know that it’s all that remains of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This kind of thing can really boggle the mind.

At any rate, I love ruins, and “ruins” starts with “R,” so there it is.

 

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Greece: I want to go back

Santorini, Greece

I guess that pretty much sums it up. Ha. Greece is where I’d like to be right now. Preferably one of the islands. Sitting in a taverna on a cliff looking out over the blue, blue water. Sweating a little in the heat. Eating those tomato balls, or grilled sardines, or an gyro from a vendor who puts french fries in it. That sounds nice. Jumping in the cool waves when the sun gets overbearing, touring some ancient ruins when the idea of another day on the beach seems too exhausting. Yes please. That sounds like a place I’d like to be. Good thing I don’t have to imagine what it would be like. I’m pretty sure that if you look up the word bliss in the dictionary you can find a map of Santorini. We’ve gotta get back to Greece. I think it’d be fair to call it my favorite place in the world.

Rhodes: A COLOSSAL way to end a Greek Odyssey (see what I did there?)

Frantisek Kupka - Colossus of Rhodos by ahisgett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  ahisgett 

I expected to see this in my mind’s eye when we arrived on the ferry from Kos, but placing the Colossus in “the place it once stood” was much more difficult than I imagined. I did recognize our hotel as we motored past the beach we would stay on for the next three days, though. Thanks, Google Maps. After we arrived we had a tiny bit of difficulty finding our way to the hotel. It turns out the Old Town of Rhodes is an old medieval city with crazy confusing streets and alleyways and stuff that can be a bit disorienting. We took care of that as soon as we found a tourist information booth, and soon we were checking into our beach-front room on the other side of town. The wind was up a bit, so we hung out by the pool working on our tans before heading into town for a cheap meal of Gyros.

Rhodes beach view.

The view from our room in Rhodes. Not bad, right?

My memory is a little fuzzy on what happened next, but I’m pretty certain we spent the  better part of the next two days staring at this view from either our balcony or the beach itself. The beaches on Rhodes are great. You could lay out on a towel if you wanted to, or you could pay 4 Euro for a ticket to use a city-owned beach chair and umbrella for the day. HELLO. After weeks of sightseeing, archaeological sites, and adventure, it was time to just chill out on the beach. The water was a little warmer, it was easy to get in and out of, and the sun was shining nonstop. We were even responsible enough adults to not get sunburned. I GUESS WE REALLY DID GROW UP.

Venturing into Rhodes’ Old Town

After a while, you feel like just laying in the sun is the kind of thing a serpent or turtle would do, and I guess it is, so you get up and do something. On our last day in Rhodes we headed into town in the morning to see some sights.

Rhodes Waterfront

The castle walls at the waterfront with a minaret sticking up in the background, reminding us that Rhodes was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Carolyn in Rhodes

Look! It’s Aphrodite! Wait…it’s Carolyn! Even better!

 

Rhodes Old Town

Streets of Old Town, Rhodes.

Rhodes Cat

Rhodes cat is watching you choose a place to eat.

Rhodes harbor

The Yacht harbor in Rhodes with it’s clear, cool, blue water.

Rhodes Mosque and Coastline

Rhodes Mosque, with the Mediterranean and Turkish coastline in the distance.

Caroly

Carolyn taking some beautiful photos in the castle of the Knights of Rhodes.

Rhodes Castle

The castle of the Rhodes’ sect of the Knights of Malta.

Rhodes Castle

Stairway in Rhodes Castle.

See? No need to worry, we got a good helping of culture while we were in Rhodes. It made for a good break from the sun. Of course, after a delicious lunch at this little place called Boukia Boukia, we were back out on the beach for the rest of our last day on the island. Greece is a beautiful, beautiful country. I don’t really know how to describe the depth and hue of the blue only than to say nothing on earth has ever seemed so blue to me. When you combine the cool sea with the hot, barren landscape, and the short, white buildings it’s just magical. I think the Greek Islands might be my favorite place on the planet so far. Well, let me rephrase. The Greek Islands are my favorite place on the planet so far, and with hundreds more to choose from, I can easily imagine many return trips to explore new places in the future.

Also, this:

Rhodes Beachscape

 

Kos: Isle of lettuce and medicine

After our short overnight ferry from Santorini to Kos, we didn’t really know what to expect. We left our Greek Islands guidebook at home, and Kos wasn’t ever part of the original plan of sailing through the Greek Isles, anyhow. We had no idea what would be here, no idea what there would be to do, and no idea about the lay of the land. Basically what I knew when I booked us through Kos was that we had to get the ferry from Santorini to Kos in order to be able to get to Rhodes and onto Turkey…and that Hippocrates lived here about a million years ago, and that it’s apparently famous for its lettuce. The good news is, Kos is well known among holidaymakers in the UK and Germany, and had plenty of facilities. We rented a hot little Fiat Panda and hit the roads of Kos for the next three days in search of the perfect beach, and I think we found it.

Therma Beach, Kos Island

Welcome to Therma Beach.

Kos, crystal clear water

The water in Kos was crystal clear.

Therma Beach, Kos

Therma Beach. You can see the heated pool at the far end of the beach, as it’s got way more people in it.

First stop: Therma Beach – Nature’s hot tub

Our first stop once we had the car was Therma Beach. As the name implies, the water here has a thermal quality thanks to the volcanic activity under the island. Unfortunately, the amount of water actually warmed by the activity is kinda small, and you find yourself packed in with a ton of other people a bit like sardines at the outset of the tanning process. It was nice to soak in the heat for a bit, then hit the cooler water on the other side of the break to cool off, but we didn’t stay too long. We heard the best beaches were at the other end of the island.

We hopped in our Panda and drove to Paradise Beach, all the way on the other end of Kos. The water here was a bit warmer, the beach was sandy from shore to a swimmable depth, and there weren’t that many people around. After much thought, I’m pretty sure this was the best beach we found on the trip. Well, possibly. We completely planned to come back here for our last day in Kos, but the weather didn’t cooperate. High winds came in and made the beach a not-so-wonderful place to be, so we drove up into the mountains of Kos instead.

Kos mountains

Carolyn posing in front of some sort of ancient stone castle-like building at the top of the mountain on a windy, windy day.

High up in the mountains we pulled off to see a church, and followed this path just a bit farther. What we saw at the top of the mountain was pretty amazing. There were ruins of old stone walls, probably from some sort of medieval fortress built to repel the invading Turks. The landscape in the mountains was straight out of Clash of the Titans too, a sort of spartan, hard-scrabble landscape where the only trees were tough little shrubs, the soil was rocky, and the whole place looked ready to change shapes in an earthquake.

Kos Town, Carolyn

Carolyn posing in Kos Town.

Old Mosque in Kos

An old mosque turned souvenir shop and restaurant complex in Kos’ Old Town.

Kos old town ruins

Ruins in the old town of Kos.

Once we returned our rental car and headed back to Kos Town on our last evening, we got dressed and headed out to find some food in the town. We wanted to stay out a little and have some drinks, but an early morning ferry had us concerned about missing our ride over to Rhodes. The old town of Kos is pretty cool though, with old mosques, arches, and some of the most impressive displays of flowers you could imagine.

Blue Star Ferries

Our last Blue Star Ferries trip was from Kos to Rhodes, and we enjoyed three hours of smooth sailing and cheap coffee as we sailed across the blue Mediterranean.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, packed up our bags, and hiked about half a mile down to the ferry port. We were pros at this by now. When the tailgate on our Blue Star Ferries ship dropped, we hustled aboard, getting a nice table and chairs right next to the window, ordered a couple of cups of coffee, then a couple more, and then another, and watched as Kos disappeared and Rhodes came into sight. Kos was a beautiful, beautiful place to visit, but what would we find in Rhodes? Would it be a COLOSSAL good time? (see what I did there?)

 

Santorini: Akrotiri and Perivolos Beach

Santorini: Church and Caldera

One of the picturesque blue-domed churches overlooking Santorini’s Caldera.

Our last day in Santorini started out a little bit melancholy. How could we possibly use the time before our ferry was due to leave to get our fill of this most lovely of islands? After our last breakfast at Agnadi Villa, we were surprised to find out that the hotel had a shower we could use before our ferry at midnight, and would let us leave our stuff at the hotel all day, come back to freshen up, and call a cab for us at around 11pm. The wonderful staff suggested that we go to Perivolos beach, and we had a few other sites we wanted to see, so we hopped aboard our ATV and hit the road running. The first stop? Oia for some final daylight vistas from the top of this side of the island.

Oia, Santorini

A beautiful, sunny day in Oia.

 

Santorini Caldera

Looking down to the Caldera.

Santorini, Church

Another blue-domed Church

After taking in the last few views we’d get of Oia, we headed back towards Akrotiri, to see the excavation of what was probably once the lost city of Atlantis. Okay, “probably” isn’t the right word. It totally was the lost city of Atlantis. It makes sense. No one is ever going to just come out and say it, but HELLO, ancient Greek island civilization that met a calamitous end. That’s pretty much the story, right?

 

Santorini: Akrotiri Amphora

Ancient amphora remain where they were left over 2,000 years ago.

Santorini: Akrotiri

Carolyn hanging out in the ancient city of Akrotiri.

After checking out the incredible excavation at Akrotiri, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Perivolos Beach, watching busloads of Russian tourists come and go and soaking up the sun. As the sun started to hang a bit lower in the west, we hopped back on the ATV, drove it back to Fira and returned it to the dealer after eating a couple more delicious gyros. He drove us back to Agnadi Villa and we got cleaned up, had a glass of wine and baklava at Thalami in Oia, and then took a cab down to the ferry port.

The Blue Star ferry arrived on time, and we swarmed aboard to find out that our “air seat lounge” had no floor space. In fact it looked a bit like a refugee camp. It was clear that this overnight journey was going to suck. They announced that upgrades were available, so I went to the purser and 50 Euro later we were in a cabin sleeping on beds. The next morning we got a knock on our door for a wake up call to let us know we were at our next destination, the island of Kos.

 

 

 

Santorini: Beach hopping around the island

Santorini Pyrgos Vista

The stunning view from Pyrgos, with Fira and Oia in the background.

Our second morning in Santorini brought better weather, less wind, and even more sunshine. We had our breakfast at Agnadi Villa then hopped on the bike, determined to find the ancient city of Akrotiri. The roads on Santorini are marked only with directional signs, and somehow we ended up ascending the tallest peak on the island. Riding next to the sheer cliff on one side we decided it would be better to turn around, so we headed back down and found the road we actually wanted, heading towards Akrotiri. We did stop to take in the view, though.

Santorini caldera view

The caldera view from the road near Akrotiri.

When we got back down to sea level we stumbled upon one of the greatest views we found on the island. Right by the side of the road we found ourselves to be in the bottom of the “U” that makes up Santorini’s caldera. Looking towards the west, we could see Oia at the far tip of the island, the active volcano in the center, and the tall humps of Santorini’s rocky outer rim wrapping around the cool blue water. We rode on from here for a few minutes and stopped for lunch, then moved on to Akrotiri…which we bypassed for want of getting to a beach. We figured Akrotiri had been there for millenia and would still be there in a few days. After parking and taking a short little hike, we found ourselves on Red Beach.

Red Beach Santorini

Do you wonder why they call it Red Beach? This beach was beautiful, required a short little hike over some lava to get to, and thanks to its color was nice and warm.

The red sands of Red Beach were warm and felt nice on the toes, but the very rocky waterline made it kind of difficult to get in and out of the cool water. We hung out here for a while, watching people come and go, and when we did get in the water found ourselves covered with thin strips of seaweed. We decided that we should probably get our money’s worth out of the quad bike, so we got back on and headed towards Fira to find another beach, only to miss our turn and go all the way to our new favorite beach on the island by mistake! Hooray for happy mistakes!

Perissa Beach, Santorini

Perissa beach didn’t have many rocks to struggle through, the water seemed a tiny bit warmer, and the scenery couldn’t be beat.

It was about 4:00pm when we pulled up to Perissa Beach. There were more people here, and the sand was devoid of seaweed. On closer inspection, the sand extended far enough into the water that you wouldn’t hurt your feet getting in and out. Of course we changed back into our bathing suits, laid out our towels, and frolicked in the calm blue water. There were a few other couples around doing the same thing, but all-in-all not a whole lot of tourists as it was late in the day. We decided to head back towards Fira before dark, and left somewhere around six. It was time for dinner, and our tummies were rumbling when we pulled into Fira.

Caldera view from Fira before sunset.

The sun heading towards the horizon from Fira, really lighting up the caldera.

Fira, Santorini

Fira clings to the edge of the cliffs above the caldera. Beautiful, no?

Fira donkeys, Santorini

A caravan of donkeys climb the cliffside in Fira.

With gyros in our bellies we explored Fira a little bit, snapping a couple of photos here and there. We shopped around a little, and enjoyed the picturesque white houses and steep pathways heading up and down the side of the cliff. Of course, Fira is where the cruise ships dock, and one was in port that day, so we did this all with about 3,000 of our closest friends, none of which seemed to make it to Oia, of course.

 

Santorini sunset

Santorini sunset

After a bit of shopping we rode back towards Oia, taking the low road. Carolyn wanted to stop and take some pictures of old boats and stuff we had seen in the late evening light, and when we were finished we watched a stunning sunset. It was a little bit chilly, so the short ride up the hill to Agnadi Villa had the added value of Carolyn clinging to me for warmth as we rode through the darkness.

Santorini ocean view

The bluest blue ocean with the bluest blue sky.

If I haven’t convinced you that Santorini is the most beautiful place on Earth yet, I’d like to submit this last image as evidence. Santorini has the most otherworldly landscape I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even seem strange if there were melted clocks everywhere, because the whole place made me think of Dali paintings. That whole landscape is surrounded with this blue, blue, blue water.

 

 

Santorini: Getting to know the island

Yeah, it was a rough ride out to the Cyclades from Athens.

Yeah, it was a rough ride out to the Cyclades from Athens.

After our epic one-day tour of Athens we had an early morning. We had to make it to Piraeus at around 5:30am to catch our ferry to Santorini, so we woke up really early and took the subway. The port was right next to the subway station and after about two minutes in line waiting for our tickets we walked aboard the Blue Star Ferry, took two seats near the bow, ordered a coffee, and settled in for the 8 hour ride to Santorini with stops in Naxos, Paros, and Ios on the way. It was rough. Spray was coming over the bow of the ship and it was rocking back and forth hard enough that everyone on board looked like they were drunk making their way back and forth through the hallways. When we arrived we took the “local bus” to Fira, then transferred for the short ride over to Oia, where we were mercifully some of the first people off of the bus. We checked into the Agnadi Villa hotel, and were super pleased to see the view from our room.

The view from our surprisingly affordable hotel. It was unreal, and a great backdrop for a glass of retsina and local olives.

The view from our surprisingly affordable hotel. It was unreal, and a great backdrop for a glass of retsina and local olives.

After we checked in, unpacked, and freshened up, it was off to Oia for dinner. You see, the Agnadi Villas are in Finikia, just outside of Oia, and Oia is the place to be for restaurants and such.

 

Santorini

Oia, the most desired location for visitors to see a sunset.

We made the ten minute walk into town and decided on a taverna called Thalami for dinner. Carolyn had a stewed vegetable thing, and I sampled the meatballs. Then we had the largest piece of baklava ever recorded in the history of mankind. It was kind of a rough day, with the underlying nausea caused by big waves, the super early morning, and the really terrible wind that was beating the island. We tucked in early, determined to wake up and get a scooter in the morning (no more of that bus crap.)

Agnadi Villa Morning View

We woke up to this view the next morning and knew we were in the right place.

We woke up and walked over to the reception building to get breakfast. The spread was perfect with fresh yogurt and honey, coffee, fruit, and bread. We took our time with breakfast and then asked the extremely nice manager to help us get a four wheeler. The wind was a bit scary for a scooter, after all. She made a call and a few minutes later a really nice man was driving us over to Fira to pick up our awesome ride.

Santorini Four Wheeler

Carolyn posing on our reliable old friend, the blue quad.

We took the lowest road possible back to the hotel, put on swimsuits, and started shopping for beaches. We ended up stopping on a pretty secluded beach called Exo Gialos near the airport, and spent the afternoon baking in the sun and frolicking in the cool blue waves.

Exo Gialos Beach - Santorini

Our first beach in Santorini was this beautiful, secluded beach called Exo Gialos.

After a nearly perfect day on the beach, aside from a bit of sandblasting due to the wind, we decided to head back up the mountain to get freshened up a bit for dinner. We had seen some pretty fancy looking places in Oia, and at this point we had eaten very few fancy meals. We picked a place with a caldera view and sat down for a fancy looking meal with a view. The moonlight shimmered on the waves, the villages draped along the sides of the cliffs glowed with their lights, and the wind whistled over the razorback of the island’s mountains. It was gorgeous.

Ouzo with a view

I don’t always drink ouzo, but when I do I’d better have a hell of a view.

Moonlight over Santorini

Moonlight over Santorini’s caldera, stunning, no?

The end of this first full day of Santorini ended with a great meal, a stop at a grocery store for a bottle of local retsina, and a romantic walk home huddling together for warmth. I’ve found that often when we travel the first day in a new location is when we get to know the place, and it was totally true here. Much like our visits to many other places, we fell in love with Santorini on day one. It was clear at this point that the next few days were going to be perfect.