Spring Tour Part II: Greece (and Venice)

24 Φεβρουάριος – 2 Μάρτιος 2019
24 February – 2 March 2019

So Greece. I didn’t take as many pictures as I did of Italy, but that doesn’t mean it was any less good than Italy – in fact, I think I enjoyed Greece more. But that’s beside the point.

Also, there were a LOT of animals in Greece. A lot. Enough that I made a photoset of only animals we found. And this isn’t even close to all of the animals we saw.

Greece was also a whirlwind, but slightly more relaxed than Italy. We started out our bus ride on Sunday, 24 February, in Igoumenitsa, where our ferry landed.

After our stomach-churning, rough ferry ride, we woke up on the morning and were all ready to get off and actually be in Greece. Unfortunately, after a rough night at sea, we were woken up by pounding doors and phone calls, and we only had 10 minutes to get off before the ferry was to depart to its next location in Greece.

Anyways, everyone made it okay, and we hopped on our bus to what was supposed to be Kalambaka. Most of us knocked out in the bus with what was a little gloomy weather, and we woke up a few hours later to full-on snow. Unfortunately, there was a car accident and our bus got stuck in the mountains of Greece in heavy snow, which threw off our plans for the morning – we were meant to have breakfast in Kalambaka, tour the monasteries in Meteora, and get lunch in Kalambaka as well. However, with a ferry delay and now our bus getting stuck in the mountains, we didn’t know for sure if we’d make it to Meteora at all, or get a breakfast or lunch break in Kalambaka. There was a funny interaction between Kaitlyn and Andrés, which I wrote down:

Kaitlyn: “I don’t want to starve you guys, but I also want you guys to be able to see everything.”
Andres: “I can offer myself up as a sacrificial lamb if that helps.”

But alas, we made it! Not in time for breakfast, but in time for lunch. We headed into Kalambaka and everyone got food, except for me, because I bought a panini back in Italy that I had for breakfast, so I wasn’t hungry.

After lunch, we headed up to the monasteries at Meteora. And despite my hatred and fear of heights, I found them fantastic! We went up to two monasteries, the first being the Roussanou Monastery.

Roussanou Monastery

We couldn’t take any pictures inside the monasteries, and there wasn’t really a way to get that angle of the picture, but oh well. The monastery was absolutely fascinating and quite beautiful. There was a room in this monastery dedicated ONLY to ancient art regarding Greek Orthodox martyrs. The paintings were from the late 16th Century and were Cretian art styled, and the walls were basically huge mosaics depicting the graphic martyrdom of many martyrs. It was also dedicated to St. Barbara, a Greek Orthodox martyr who was beheaded by her father for being Christian. It was really interesting to see how the Greek Orthodox Church differed from Roman Catholic in art and practice. We didn’t stay at Roussanou for too long, because we were also heading to another monastery.

Thanks to Maya for this one!
Thanks to Dzhravko for the picture!

So the second monastery we visited was the Holy Monastery of St. Nikolas. This one was pretty cool. We learned about these hermits who live out in caves that they created in the rocky cliffs, and they only come down by rope every once in awhile to get food from nearby towns. We found a lot of these caves, but no sign of life, other than a few little rock formations. But then, we found some bigger rock formations (like walls) and I found one that even had laundry out hanging! It seemed almost made-up when we heard about it, because these caves are HIGH – hundreds of feet high – but I actually was able to find this one!

Anyways, the Monastery of St. Nikolas was really cool. It had fantastic views and the guy that ran it spoke very little English (he was wearing a “DOPE” hat in a monastery, so I’m not sure he knew what it meant), but he brought out Turkish delights and little biscuit things and some delicious orange juice. He was really excited to see Americans, and he gave us free postcards and books and all of these snacks (all of the books were in Greek, so we couldn’t understand a word of it). It was a really pleasant stay, and a very cosy environment with some great little treats. I tried thanking him in my very limited Greek, and he seemed to receive it well. If someone happens to be near Kalambaka or Meteora, I’d highly recommend visiting the monasteries, and specifically the Monastery of St. Nikolas. It’s fascinating and beautiful and very, very enjoyable. I took some pictures outside, and was pretty happy with them, but especially this one:

From Meteora, we headed to Delphi, where our hotel was. Our hotel was only 5 minutes away from the Oracle at Delphi and the excavation site, but we didn’t visit that until the next day. As for Sunday, we just checked in, had dinner, and relaxed for the night.

On Monday the 25th, we first headed to the excavation site at Delphi.

So a side note, because I don’t know where else to include it: I’ve never paid much attention to flora and fauna. But it’s really cool to see how different it is from Italy, which is a stone’s throw across the Adriatic. Greece is a lot more mountainous and dry-green, but Italy feels just different. I don’t know how to explain it, but all of the plants and landscape were different. It was really interesting to be able to experience and see the differences.

Anyways.

At Delphi, we first toured the museum, and our tour guide, Penny, was fantastic. I would definitely say she’s the best tour guide I’ve ever had, and it seemed like a pretty unanimous statement from the rest of the program – she challenged us to really think and understand the significance of the place and the things we saw. Rather than talk TO us, she talked WITH us and our tour was mentally stimulating as a result, and incredibly interesting.

After the tour, we headed out to check out the excavation site. It was really moving to be in what was believed to be the center of the universe for thousands of years – 1200 years to be exact – from 800 BCE to 400 CE. I couldn’t stop thinking of how hard it would have been for ancient Greeks to reach this site – it was up on a hill, quite high up (as you can see from the first photo in the last photoset), but people came from all over to speak with the Oracle (which apparently, the “Oracle” references the place, not the priestess). Something that I found incredibly interesting was that, although Greek language has evolved since then, it’s still able to be read by average Greeks who knew the language prior to the late 1970s language laws that simplified the language.

Delphi was fascinating – we learned all about the culture of the Ancient Greeks and the lifestyle: how important different things were to them, such as theater. They situated the Temple of Apollo directly behind the theater’s stage so that it set as a backdrop, because the plays were often about Delphi and its history. Another interesting fact that we learned was that the priestesses who prophesized (commonly mis-referred to as the Oracle) had their visions because they were seated directly above a fissure in the ground that emitted poisonous gases (such as sulfur and hallucinogens), so they had vivid hallucinations but could only prophesize once a year at first, and once they got used to it, once a month. They prophesized about even small things, but they always gave the people they prophesized to an option (for example, you can do this, or you can do this, and here’s the result of each choice).

After the tour of Delphi, we headed back to the hotel for lunch. After that, we had 3 options: either go on a LONG hike (11 miles, to a town called Itea, which was down the mountain), drive to Itea and spend a few hours there, or stay in the hotel and rest. I chose to drive to Itea, which is a little seaside town that’s super quiet and not many people speak English. The hikers were pretty brave to do it, because the weather was really windy and it’s pretty far, and it’s all mountainous; you can see how far the town is, and this isn’t even as far as it actually was, because this was on the way out of town, so the bus is closer to Itea than our hotel was.

Itea is by the sea

Anyways, in Itea, Haley, Hayden, and I hung out for a long while. It was a lot of fun, and we talked about career plans, our futures, and various other things, such as TV shows and books and stuff. Itea was a really quiet town – not many people were out, but we kept seeing graffiti about something called “Rr?7,” which we weren’t sure what it was, and the internet yielded no results. Oh well. If someone reading this from the internet or WordPress’ reader by any chance has a clue, let me know.

After wandering around Itea for awhile, we headed with our bus back to Delphi, where we had group dinner and went to sleep.

Our next destination, on Tuesday the 26th, was Athens. We only passed through Athens, but it was SO COOL. I definitely want to get back to Athens, hopefully on a motorcycle at some point. It’s such a cool city and the history is so visible, which I love. We had a guided tour of the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis, but unfortunately our tour guide wasn’t great. She was a little bit pushy and didn’t really respect the fact that we had an itinerary to follow so the tour was only limited to a certain amount of time, which meant that we had less time to eat and see the city. Oh well. However, we saw a lot of cool things, such as the rock that St. Paul gave his speech from when he first arrived in Athens, which you can find in Acts 17:24.

After the Acropolis, we headed to check out the city and grab lunch. We had a place in mind, but a very aggressive waiter(?) basically dragged us into his restaurant instead after literally blocking our path to the other restaurant. The food was good, but a bit pricey. After lunch, we wandered around a little bit more and headed to the bus, where we departed for Vrachati, but first we visited the Canal of Corinth.

After the Corinth Canal, we checked into our hotel in Vrachati, where we had group dinner, which was delicious. The hotels we stayed in all had fantastic meals (and buffet-style eating, so you could just get more!). From there, everyone hung out for a little bit and then headed to bed. At one point, I heard a knock at the door and 7 or 8 people were outside, all wearing the cheap slippers provided to us by the hotel, so we went around to other rooms slipping around.

On the morning of the 27th, Wednesday, we headed to Mycenae first. Our tour guide was fantastic – he was kinda a hippy, but in a good way – he kept talking about how we need to learn from the ancient Greeks because all of the philosophers and stuff had ways to guide our lives. He was also really passionate about language and climate change and stuff, and he dropped a lot of knowledge and “truth bombs (lol)” on us regarding climate change. He went on a big rant against the older generations (and himself included) for leaving us to have to fix the environment.

Anyways, back to Mycenae. It was really cool to finally see it in person because I have vivid memories about learning about it in my freshman year World History class at CB, and finally being able to see the mythical lion’s gate was pretty cool. Apparently the city was always above ground, just uninhabited, so there wasn’t anything that needed to be excavated – everyone knew it was the ancient mythical city of Mycenae, but they didn’t know what to do with it. It was also really interesting because it was created about 1000 years BEFORE what we know as Greek mythology was really founded, so their creation myths and gods/goddesses are all different. Pretty cool.

From Mycenae, we took our bus a short drive away to visit the ruins of an old burial tomb, the Tomb of Agamemnon (the king of Mycenae), which was looted, leaving not much left, but it was incredible because it was made around 1250 BCE and those rocks looked VERY heavy.

From here, we headed to Epidauros. Epidauros was absolutely fascinating – it was an old “healing town” or a town dedicated to surgeries and medicine, so people came from all over to get healed. There was a big theater, which is still entirely intact, and it showed the genius of ancient Greek engineering – someone standing in the middle could drop a coin or talk in a normal voice and even the people at the very top could hear everything. It’s said that on a good day, with no-one blocking the acoustics, you could hear a whisper from the top. I can definitely see that being the case, because our guide was talking quietly WITH tourists blocking the acoustics and talking, and we could still hear him. Later, we visited the healing center and got to learn about the customs (as well as excavation efforts), which was interesting as well. It’s hard to explain just how good the acoustics are, without having someone witness it in person. Our tour guide was talking in a LOW VOICE from the center, and we could hear it from the top. He dropped a coin, and everyone could hear it, no matter where we were in the theater. It was incredible.

From Epidauros, we headed to Nafplion, where we hung out for a few hours. Unfortunately, Mattie and I couldn’t find any gluten-free restaurants, so we ended up wandering around for a long time to find one but had no luck, so we ended up going to the same restaurant everyone else went to. I ALMOST rented a motorcycle (it was SUPER cheap) but there was a minimum of 24 hours that you needed to rent, so I couldn’t do it, since it would have only been an hour and a half-ish. Mattie got gelato and I had a little milkshake thing, then we headed to the bus and back to the hotel in Vrachati, where a lot of people went swimming for a long while. Lots of fun and games with good friends, then we all headed to dinner and headed to sleep.

On the 28th, we started off by heading to Olympia. Unfortunately, the day started off fairly badly – I lost my camera battery in the hotel room (not sure where it is, at all), plus my headphones broke, and my phone wouldn’t charge. However, Olympia and the rest of the day changed all of that. We learned all about the ancient competitions and various other tidbits of information regarding the area, as well as how it’s influenced the modern Olympics and how the Olympic Games have changed from the original. We also got to see the ancient ruins of the Temple of Zeus, where the COLOSSAL Zeus of Olympia used to be – technically bringing me to have seen 2/13 Wonders of the World – the Zeus of Olympia (technically, which was 1/7 of the Ancient Wonders of the World) and the Colosseum (which is 1/7 of the Modern Wonders of the World).

After the first part of our guided tour, we got to go out to the Olympic stadium. Of course, a lot of us ran (I mean, you have to!), which was pretty cool. I mean how many people get to say they ran on an Olympic racetrack, let alone THE Olympic racetrack?

We had a little bit more of the tour inside the museum, where we saw some pretty cool art, such as sculptures of Nike (the goddess of victory – pronounced NICKY, not N-eye-key).

After the ruins of Olympia, we wandered around for a little while and picked up some food for the ferry ride the next day, as well as lunch, and got some gelato. The town was also really not-touristy, but there were lots of celebrations – it was a holiday for Greeks (prior to Carnaval) so there was a lot of cooking of meat and locals centered around spits.

From there, we headed to a little area outside of Olympia, where a generous family that ran an olive oil production company invited us (for free!) to see how it’s produced and taste olive oil. I wasn’t really expecting all that much, but it ended up being really interesting and we got free food and some delicious olive oil! We learned how to properly taste it, as well as how to pick out imperfections in olive oil (apparently plastic bottles are really bad for olive oil, and you should only buy oil from dark tinted glasses or stainless steel if you want good olive oil). Since it was a day of celebration for the Greeks, they also gave us free wine (along with the huge amount of food and olive oil). We got to taste some really rare olive oil (Olympia variety), lemon, sage, and basil flavored olive oils, and we got to know what kind of olive oil is healthiest and tastiest (early season extra virgin olive oil). The people working were SUPER friendly and a ton of fun – we even got “certificates of graduation” for olive oil tasting, and the woman who ran it – her daughter, who was around probably 12 years old, was super nervous to speak English but ended up warming up to it when we were just joking around. It was really cool to see her try to pronounce our names and get encouragement from her family and us. Anyways, after the olive oil tasting, we took some pictures and a lot of people bought the olive oil, and we headed to Patras, to get on a day-long ferry to Venice.

We finally got into Patras and we boarded our ferry to Venice after a few hours of waiting around in the harbor. The ferry was a lot smoother than the one from Italy to Greece, which was nice. Pretty much as soon as I got on the ferry, I knocked out.

Friday the 1st, I woke up really late, since our room had no natural light, so it was pitch black even at 11 am. I got ready and spent most of the day wandering around the ferry, tanning, and listening to music. Unfortunately, my music app uninstalled/offloaded due to lack of space on my phone, so I had to resort to buying wifi to listen to music on Youtube. Not as bad as it could have been though. Anyways, the day was spent exploring, talking, playing card games, and snacking. A really relaxing day, despite being in the middle of the Adriatic Sea on a ferry. No itinerary and the first full day of relaxation in the entire two weeks. It was pretty nice, to be honest! I caught up on rest too, which was much needed. In the evening, we headed to dinner, and I got a dinner voucher from our RD for helping out with stuff the night before, so I had a really good steak meal. We ended up speaking in German with Dzhravko, our bus driver, for a long time, and we taught him some English (he doesn’t speak much English but wanted to know about our homes and stuff, as well as words for things such as “judge,” “ticket,” etc. – words that don’t come up often but we were talking about getting tickets and speed limits and stuff so they came up anyways). It’s really cool to see him practice his English, because the students are all really encouraging – even with things like “That was great,” he’s a little hesitant, so we all reassure him he’s right. And likewise, he helps us out with German! He’s a really cool guy, and I’m gonna be sad to see him leave and not have him guiding our bus tours in the future. We bought him a “Number One Bus-Driver” mug at a rest stop later in the trip. It’s a lot of fun having him around because he seems to be enjoying the trips as well, whether it’s in Vienna, or Paris, or Italy and Greece. I also got a little bit of information about Serbia (he’s from Serbia, from Novi Sad; he left Serbia before the war, to move to Austria with his family, which was lucky because Novi Sad was heavily bombed in the 1990s and left without communications, water, or food), since I want to visit Serbia while backpacking – he said Belgrade is safe and very gorgeous, so I’m pretty excited.

After that, we talked with Frau Mag. Weiler (a.k.a. Eva, since that’s her name) about a lot of stuff as well. It was a really pleasant evening filled with good people and good conversation.

After that, I headed to bed pretty early.

In the morning, we woke up to hop on a different boat to head to Venice. I talked with Kaitlyn (RD) for a while about doing grad work in Europe – apparently it’s cheap in Austria, but completely free in Germany! At the Universität Salzburg, a lot of classes (most, actually) are in German, as would be expected, but you need to have B2 language proficiency to take most of the classes. I’m at B1 moving on B2 at the last time I checked, so hopefully B2 will come soon. Anyways, we hopped on the ferry to Venice, where we had a guided tour.

The tour wasn’t all that great, to be honest – a lot of information that wasn’t very interesting or important, so most of us weren’t really “all ears.” However, after the tour, we had two hours to wander around the city! It was Carnaval, so there were lots of people in extravagant outfits. However, it also meant that some streets were blocked off, which, combined with the already crammed alleyways of Venice, made it a little hard to go anywhere.

Here are some pictures from during the guided tour:

After the guided tour Mattie and I wandered around for a little while, checking out the Rialto Bridge, getting lunch, then getting gelato and going to check out San Marco. I even found my old Airbnb, from memory!

Here’s Haley dancing on the street

Here’s a picture of San Marco from last time I was in Venice, to compare it to the pictures above of San Marco.

Thanks to Mattie!

After wandering around for a little while and after Mattie found some street art and souvenirs, we headed back to our meeting point. I took some more pictures along the way:

And with that, we took our boat back to our bus, where we headed back to Salzburg.

We ended up stopping somewhere in Kärnten to get dinner, but almost everyone ordered off of the kid’s menu because the food was pretty pricey, but I’ll never turn down a full meal of goulash, so that’s what I had.

And with that, Spring Tour was over. Two exciting, whirlwind weeks with fantastic people and wonderful memories. Again, one of the longest two weeks of my life, but I’d say probably some of the best. I really, really needed this trip and enjoyed getting to know the people on the trip more.

The song is “The Great Escape” by Far Caspian!

What’s coming up in the future? Well, not really sure. I want to get out to Sweden/Norway/Finland at some point so I don’t have to get to those while backpacking, so I might try for that on the long weekend, since I’ll have my Eurail Pass.

Well that’s all for now.

Με αγάπη από την Ελλάδα και την Ιταλία/
Con amore dalla Grecia e dall’Italia/Mit Liebe aus Griechenland und Italien,

Cal

PHRASES:

Efcharistó (pronounced with German soft “ch”) = Grazie = Danke = Thanks!

SONG:

“The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron and Wine. Really relaxing and calm.

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