Athens to Crete – Greece
One of the great advantages to not researching a tour beforehand is that they often deliver me to places I had no idea about and as a result impress me greatly, Meteroa is one of those places. Catching the train out of Athens and back into the incredible Greek countryside had already lifted my spirits and as we arrived at Kalabaka, we caught a glimpse of things to come. Rising up behind the town are huge, smooth rock formations that are impressive in their own right but as always with mankind it was decided they needed the human touch. A bus ride took us up into the rock formation and revealed the monasteries that sit perched high up on individual outcrops, built around 800 years ago. They are an impressive sight and were built to protect the monks from persecution. At the time, the only way up was using a rope ladder or rudimentary pullies and nets. Now of course, tourists flock to the monasteries that are almost empty of monks and nuns and although the location is insane, the buildings themselves become boring very fast, especially when the girlfriend is complaining about the wealth of the church during the Dark Ages as they simultaneously condemned every single act of a common citizen. Of course, she had a point. The monasteries and the churches within were splendid, but after tiptoeing between tourists and seeing the same thing for a third time we were happy to escape for a cold beer. As the sun began to set, we headed off to a viewpoint with 1 million other people and being my birthday, I was basically told I had to enjoy it, regardless of the prick with the drone flying overhead. Nevertheless, I can confirm that it was a stunning spectacle worthy of the fuss and provided a delightful end to a unique day.
Delphi was our next stop and was as equally impressive as Meteora as we wound back 2,500 years once again. The Temple of Apollo sits here although the site has been dated back to 4,500 years. Historical timescales in Greece are simply mindboggling and I have routinely found myself in museums looking aghast at something that is six or even 7,000 years old. Sometimes the ‘something’ looks like a stone and I’m sceptical that it’s anything more than just that however, many times I’m looking at something extremely human and delicate such as a clay figurine, pot, knife, sewing kit, etc. I now find myself walking around a museum which starts with the old stuff and gradually move towards 1 AD by which time I lose interest because I basically deem it as futuristic rubbish. Obviously it’s not, but a 4,000-year-old sword is far more interesting than a 2,000-year-old sword. There is so much stuff, especially pieces of pot and statues, that it can become very boring and unfortunately for the Greeks they haven’t learnt to tell a good story and make history fun, which is odd considering Greek mythology and all. All the museums I have visited are very much matter of fact, fun stories to accompany the facts are forbidden it would seem which is a shame because adding a few interesting stories would give everything a bit of context. The archaeological sites themselves are of course fascinating but largely a heap of rubble which is understandable considering their age and the fact that Greece isn’t exactly earthquake free, but my imagination is poor, and I struggle to reconstruct what may have been. The site of Delphi was incredible though thanks to its remote location and views, the amphitheatre, few tourists, and an excellent guide who communicated its history with great enthusiasm and simplicity for idiots like myself. If I had to choose Delphi or Athens, Delphi would be it. The splendid little town boasting many restaurants with incredible views of the valley used to sit right on top of the archaeological site before it was discovered. Years were then spent convincing the town to move down the road so the site could be excavated, a process the residents were reluctant to do until an earthquake convinced them otherwise.
Nafplio was a warning shot across the bow. A beautiful little town sat on the coast with an incredible fort commanding the skyline I was taken aback by the contempt shown by some of the locals. Contempt is too strong a word but the grumpy and lazy waiters in the restaurants was quite the surprise and our trip to an amphitheatre to watch a traditional Greek play was cancelled at late notice due to the actors going on strike. Luckily, we had a wine tasting booked! But even that was a bit of a let-down as we all took chairs in a classroom environment and the assistant poured miniscule portions of wine. The wine sensei was excellent and incredibly interesting to listen to, it would just have been much better if the event had been slightly more social and less formal as with all other wine tasting sessions I’ve been on. However, I must admit that my knowledge of wine is even worse than my knowledge of ancient history and so my lack of interest should be placed on me rather than others! Not to be outdone, Nafplio had its own ancient site to visit, Mycenae, dating back 3,500 years. More rocks arranged in various squares and circles, more incredible views, and another museum full of pots although the air conditioning was much appreciated. From Nafplio we caught an overnight ferry from Athens to Chania in Crete. More of a cruise ship than a ferry, we found plenty of places to eat and hit the jackpot with a plate full of gyros and a pint of beer for only €8, I couldn’t have been happier and celebrated with a couple of more beers before the ship finally set sail around 10pm. By 7.30am we were sat in a restaurant in Chania on a cloudy Sunday morning with almost no one on the streets. Breakfast was disappointing up until the point we received a complimentary shot of raki and a sweet dish, a custom that would follow us throughout our time on Greece. Our spirits lifted we went on to explore what in my opinion is quite a rubbish place and we ended up dozing and reading on a stony bit of beach under a tree on the edge of town. In need of food, we headed back into town by which time the place had exploded with tourists and restaurants overflowing with customers. Why all these people were here I have no idea. Yes, Chania has some pretty little streets and an alright harbour but from what I could tell there was little else. In a state of shock, we hit the emergency ‘go further’ button (work in progress), pushing through the crowds on the waterfront and up into the streets of the old town until we fell upon a picturesque little restaurant out on a narrow street and shaded by vines. The price of a Greek salad and house wine was excellent and so with little else to do we settled in for the afternoon, which I suppose is one good reason for visiting Chania. Greece has been an incredible country to travel up to this point although leaving more rural areas and heading to tourist centres naturally loses charm, but as we crossed to the south of Crete, there was one more surprise, the final calm before the storm that we all knew was coming.