The Sky merged with the great lake as if they had always been one as we flew towards the european continent. it felt as though our entire lives had been spent inside one giant fishbowl, one beautiful blue fish bowl.
I found it quite captivating to see from the sky the land colonized by men below. Each plot a different shade of green and brown, separated in squares that further reminded me of how man has evolved since their first agricultural revolution to the world of cities and machinery we know today. We hadn’t even made it out of Canada and I was already thinking far too hard for a ten-hour flight on the history of mankind. Greece would only stimulate that eagerness to explore history and myths deeper as the ruins of ancient civilizations waited for us on the other side of the Ocean.
I wouldn’t sleep on the plane that flight due to forgetting a pillow and the chill of being thirty-thousand feet in the air. The sky was dark for most of our flight as we flew against the night, but as the sun crept into the horizon the first glimpse of Europe I received would be that of France lit up by a city of stars and the big dipper hanging overhead. It was a phenomenal feeling to know the only thing between us and Greece was Italy.
We landed by 10 am EEST, seven hours ahead of what we were used to in Northern Ontario. The excitement of being at the starting line of our new adventure took the edge off of the jetlag and lack of sleep. There wasn’t a moment to lose and so we headed off in our little white Nissan Micra that we rented at the airport and began the interesting process of trying to find our way to downtown Athena (Athens). We got lost, a few times, but the locals were incredibly kind in directing us. We got a kick out of how many locals would say “You follow my directions ten minutes, then you stop, you ask someone else again.” It took us an hour or so to find our way to the downtown core, slowly figuring out how to decipher the letters and sigmas that were similar but different to those we use in English.
We found ourselves slightly overwhelmed by a culture shock our first day in Greece, however, we pressed on knowing we were here for adventure and to learn. Downtown Centre, Athena is a buzzing place of vendors and delicious smells, symbols hanging from nearly every shop believed to be protection against the evil eye. Everyone is a salesman here from old women to young children, selling art, carpets, jewelry, and busking for change. The streets are alive with music and there is hardly a street you could walk down without meeting a cat or two. Each cat has its own territory mapped out and despite the way they remind us of our own domesticated house cats, I learned the hard way that these cats are wild and only some will let you pet them.
We spent two days in the city of Athena, eating gyro and feta cheese, drinking wine and local beer and hiking under the hot sun in search of ruins. There is certainly no shortage of history in Greece, every city and town we visited had wonderful stories in the remnants of old. We climbed to the top of the temple of Athena Nike, protectress of the citadel and Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War. From here we could see the enchanting city of Athens below, it was strange how I found the feelings of awe for a new place aligning with my thoughts of how while every city holds its own unique attributes, they are still very much the same no matter where you go. People below are living their lives in the same way we are living ours, speaking languages that suit them, growing plants from the balcony of their second-story apartments and attending college or university to help them reach each aspiration they hold in their hearts. I believe seeing it the way I did actually helped me to enjoy the trip even more than I would have had the thought never crossed my mind and I spent the whole trip in rose-colored glasses. Especially being someone who has always fantasized about travel, the grass is always greener on the other side sort of mentality, it was really humbling to remember why happiness is a journey we face inside of us and cannot be achieved by what my mother-in-law calls geographical cures.
Two days in the city was enough for us before we set off into the countryside ready to explore the West coast of Greece. We spent our third night in Korinthos, in a shabby hostel that really made me appreciate the bed I have at home. This was a pit-stop town we visited for the purpose of being close to Ancient Korinthos, one of the first city of ruins we would visit on this archeological fan journey. It was a nice city, however, I found Michael, my love’s voice telling me again and again that I wasn’t allowed to take the stray dogs home from another country, especially when we live in a one-bedroom apartment with two cats. I only resented that rule for a few hours, as two precious stray dogs followed us up and down the streets of Korinthos hoping for treats that I did not have, and love which I did have!
We floated in the Gulf of Korinthos, saltwater relieving us of gravity. Sedimentary stones, conglomerates, and beautiful mineral rocks pushed by the waves to the shoreline waiting to be examined by young eyes. The beach was full of straw umbrellas and a bartender visited us in beach chairs with chips and refreshments. The mountains tiptoed across the water far off in the distance, slinking up and down in the heat as if they wished they were waves as well. I had a lot of rocks collected at this point to bring back to friends I hold dear at the local flower shop, only the prettiest ones I could find of course!
We explored Ancient Korinthos driving up the winding roads to the top of a mountain and while the main castle we wanted to see was closed by the time we pulled ourselves from our beach chairs, we still found plenty of ruins below.
Our fifth night was spent in a hostel in Argos, we were greeted at the bell counter by a Dothraki sized man with long black hair and a Tool tattoo taking up half of his right arm. He and Michael took a liking to one another right away bonding over mythology, rock music, and Norse Runes so I jumped on inviting him to share a couple of drinks with us that evening. Happy to oblige we would meet at 9 pm.
Michael and I climbed another mountain to the first real castle we would enter, our first attempt up this was not on the road but instead parked on the side of the mountain and walking straight up, what would have been a very long endeavor of round spiked plants stabbing at our heels. These plants were small but significantly mighty, breaking through skin nearly every poke. It felt like a reenactment of the Lion King when Simba runs off to the desert through a field of cactus and the hyaena attempt to chase after him but end up howling as they are repetitively stabbed by nature in her most pointy.
We retreated. Mostly because we heard a siren and thought we must have parked in a bad place, secondly because I am an unapologetic wimp and refused to get stabbed anymore. We drove the rest of the way up.
The reward at the top was well worth the spikey adventure below as we watched the sun fall beneath the mountains from Larissa Castle. The sky a shade of purple that had me feeling like I had fallen from the ledge of the stone walls and into the song Dreamweaver by Gary Wright.
We made our way down from the mountain and headed back to our hostel where we would meet with our new friend for a night of celebration and laughter. We were a few drinks down when I told our new friend and a friend of his that he brought along that I was a little nervous coming to a bar with strangers in a strange country, even having Michael by my side the whole time. Our new friends laughed and teased that they were going to sell our organs on the black market, our Dothraki friend making maniacal fingers and saying in a rediculous voice “Things are getting creepy”. Their choice in jumping right to the black market pretty well cemented our friendship with them as we decided to continue celebrating and stay another night in the city of Argos!
Our next day was a lazy one, neither Michael or I wanting to be active, but outside was where the food was and I had decided that since we were on vacation I wanted a massage! I will share one piece of advice for anyone who, like myself, enjoys a deep tissue massage. Do Not Get A Deep Tissue Massage On Vacation!
I was in a lot of pain for nearly three days. After those three days, my back did, however, feel better than it has in a long time. I will be sticking to relaxation massages while on vacation from now on.
From Argos threw Tripoli, to the far Western Port of Kyllini we hopped on a boat and headed for the Island of Zakynthos. We stayed here for two days exploring and enjoying the island, deciding to keep the visit short as it was a very tourist-heavy location and we much preferred to drive through the mountains and along the water stopping for food in the smaller, more scenic towns along the way. Zakynthos was incredible, nonetheless, we rode horseback through the mountainside and into the ocean, kayaked through the blue caves, and swam in the Ionian Sea, where I found a Starfish that I made sure to release back into the ocean. It was during our kayak session through the blue caves that we were visited by the friendly brown head of an endangered Sea Turtle. I treasured this moment especially as I am very passionate about animals and it is my personal belief that to have any positive experience with a wild animal is a blessing. I try to always recognize these moments as a healing experience of my own soul. I believe that animals expose themselves discreetly to those who are on the right path, as a symbol of shared respect from one living creature on this planet to another. I have always enjoyed the way an animal can instigate deeper thought and force me to slow down to appreciate a moment.
We stayed in a semi-sketchy hostel in Zakynthos with bug nets covering a glassless window. Roosters screaming through the night and utilities that flooded every time we used them. I was a tad heartbroken to be in here after driving down from a mountaintop that held the oasis we would have stayed in had I not absentmindedly left our booking incompleted. I was exhausted overall and I was not doing a very good job of hiding it so I was incredibly grateful when Michael took the reigns booking our hotels for the rest of our trip. He got us on a beautiful boat back to the mainland, we then drove towards the town of Sparta, where I was promised that a real, comfortable bed was waiting for me.
We headed for Sparta stopping only in the town of Olympia. Here we were able to visit the Archeological site primarily dedicated to Zeus, God of the sky, Father of Gods and men. This site was not only home of the Temple of Zeus but also the first place the Olympics were held. Ancient Olympia was the largest site we visited on this trip, coupled with its two museums that held original stone carvings that told the story of the trials of Hercules. We spent the afternoon under the scorching sun sweating and gulping backwater until our canteens ran dry. The site was the best we had seen yet and leaving seemed to be a shame but we had high hopes for the road ahead and we were not disappointed as the mountains seemed to grow larger and larger the closer we crept to Sparta in our little Nissan.
We completely skipped out on touring around Sparti our first day there. The moment we saw our hotel we decided to stay in and relax, booking the room for a second night. Golden stones were the building blocks of this glorious location; a real bed beckoning me to sleep forever under a soft comforter surrounded by fluffy pillows, a pool with cool water to relieve us from the incredible heat, and Mountains Gandalf! It was a sight for sore eyes for the girl who used to be a gigantic hippy before learning to love the comforts in life such as warm housecoats, bubble baths, and a stable home to return to after every adventure. As we walked up to the entrance, my jaw still slightly agape, Michael asked me “So, are you overwhelmed? Underwhelmed?” I’m not sure if I even responded. Definitely overwhelmed, all I asked for was a real bed, and this placed felt like we had shifted from the slums to royalty overnight. We celebrated finally having a restful night with wine and ice cream.
Staying in Sparta was by far one of the biggest highlights for both Michael and I. It was here we saw the statue of Leonidas and visited more archeological sites, however, it was a local who advised us to visit the next town 5miles over called Mystras Castle town. Mystras was built on the side of Taygetos Mountain with historical buildings riding their way to the very top, churches from the era in which Greece transitions from worshiping their original Gods to being influenced by Roman Catholicism. The churched while built in a much closer era to our own than the Ancient runes we had been hunting, were among the only buildings we saw that were nearly perfectly intact and still in use.
Inside these churches, images of angels and depictions of holy men with halos circling their heads stretched across every wall and onto the ceiling. The stone walls holding tight to each image defending them against the wears of time.
Climbing Mount Taygetos was by far the most exhausting while simultaneously one of the best hikes of my life. I was worn down not because It was the tallest mountain I had ever climbed but simply do to the immeasurable heat and long-time injury on my right knee that both had me struggling to walk properly. We ran out of our water before reaching the top and began hopping from shade puddle to shade puddle. It was the motivation of refusing to go home without having climbed to the top and the encouragement from Michael that kept me moving forward. Each stop inside the many old cathedrals made any struggle a minor detail as we admired the architecture and work that went into creating these beautiful buildings and stared out at the landscape embracing the uplifting feeling of being high up above the beautiful town of Mystras.
Exploring the castle meant for us that we needed to get to the highest point we could, looking over the edge opposite to the city and seeing the fellow mountains and cliffs circling the world around us.
Incredible landscapes always make me feel as though the breath has been taken from my lungs, nature around me having such a bewildering effect on my awareness.
We left Sparta well-rested, headed back for the city of Athens. Nearing the end of our journey there were three days left until we would fly home and we wanted to make sure to say goodbye to our friends in Argos as well. We made a point to stop by for a visit but packed up with enough time to be in Athens and checked into our hotel before nightfall.
From the top of our hotel, you could see the whole city of Athens below and a nearly direct view of the Temple of Athena. We had the fantastic pleasure of becoming friends with our lovely waitress, with a great taste in music and an incredibly kind personality. She was working at our hotel as a co-op placement, her courses similar to my own in ecotourism. We spent the night enjoying fireworks on the roof as the city was getting excited for the full moon ceremony that would take place the very next night.
During the time spent in Athens at the beginning of our trip, Michael and I found ourselves partial to one particular Greek Resturant called Pantheon. It was by far the best food we had the entire trip and we became good friends with the owner and our server while we were there. When we returned after our time away they gave us both fantastic hugs and food, spending the evening sitting with us to enjoy a laugh, insisting that when Michael and I have children we must bring our children to Greece to meet them!