Thursday, July 9, 2015

Exploring the Mainland of Greece

Greece is a favorite stop on many cruise boat itineraries  and tourist destinations. But most tourists visit  Athens for a  day or two and then venture out to the islands  of Mykonos  Crete or Santorini.  All wonderful places to visit, mind you, but this trip is about exploring parts of Greece that are often overlooked.

Rather than stay downtown by the Acropolis,  we stayed at the Semiramis Hotel in the suburban village of Kifissia  about 20 miles from the airport and 10 miles from the city center.

Semiramas is a very contemparary hotel  with 51 rooms mostly overlooking either the pool or the park across the street.  We are on the first floor with a balcony over looking the park , which we walked through several times while we were here.

The hotel is designed by Karim Rashid and feels like  a contemporary art gallery, with lollipop colors throughout and contemporary hotel technology (like artistic symbols to identify the rooms rather than room numbers) Its a hotel you will not soon forget.  Free wifi,  kid friendly, with several family activities on property,  a very generous daily breakfast buffet  tasty room service and many boutiques shops, restaurants  and coffee shops all walking distance from the hotel in  this upscale residential area of Athens.
rates range from 100 to 150 euros per night

This trip is being organized by Tripology Adventures and  it’s going to be an intriguing one.  We will be exploring the mainland of Greece, in 4 wheel drive vehicles.

Yesterday, after visiting the Acropolis and other historical sights of Athens  we gathered at the Alexandros Hotel and had a briefing from our tour guide about our upcoming trip

After  breakfast 16 of us got in 4 jeeps and headed out of town in a convoy.  We are being led by two guides in the lead vehicle, all in contact by two way radio.  Slowly we found our way out of Athens, onto the highway headed northwest and  stopped for lunch on the shore of Sea of Corinth in Aspra Spitia  (White houses).  What a setting for a restaurant with the sea breeze drifting over us as we enjoyed the Greek cuisine. 
 Here is an interesting fact I learned about Greece today,  Greece is approx the size of the state of Alabama  but it has approx the same amount of shoreline as the entire US.

Then we headed for Delphi for a fascinating 2 hour tour. Our tour guide was Penny Kolomvotsou. and when you go,  be sure to request her as a tour guide— she was outstanding.  (for more information on this see the accompanying article)

Day 2
After breakfast  we circumvented Lake Mornos,a beautiful alpine lake.—  up and down mountainsides on narrow windy roads some  blacktop, and some dirt roads that are cut through the forest and occasionally along mountainside cliffs.  It was so beautiful,we must have stopped over a dozen times just to soak in the spectacular views and take photos.
A coffee break in the quaint village of Lidoriki (pop approx 600) was one of todays highlights.  It’s  quaint and charming, just as you would expect a small greek town to be.  It seems as though there is a little surprise in each of these little villages.  Todays was a cab stand in the center of town. The cabs were 4 Mercedes Benz.   

We then ascended to a hanging church  for a  a picnic lunch   overlooking  Lake Mornos.  What a setting for a picnic
About 6 PM we arrived at our hotel in Elatou.  This village is so small that it may not exist if it were not for this hotel. 
We had a lovely dinner right here in the hotel

Day 3
Out the door at 9 am and we are now ascending through the Pinos mountains  to vast views over Lake Evinos.
 Todays little surprise was a coffee stop in Arachova  which introduced us to a tavern keeper who showed us how they make their own liquors and essential oils.  
   The beauty here never stops.  Our lunch stop today was at  Taverna Antigoni in the village of Kaliakuda   and it was wonderful

This trip is not only about the natural beauty of the countryside but is a greek culinary experience as well.   The food comes  non-stop,  delicious and varied.  As I look back on it, in these small towns, the last thing I would have expected would be to say “if this restaurant were in my home town, it would be a regular stop for me, but that is how I felt.  If you are a foodie, you are going to love this trip.  Two of the people with us own a restaurant in Northern California and it seems they were  inquiring about the recipes or figuring out what ingredients were in the meals.  I am sure that one or two of these dishes are going to end up on their menu.

Many of the villages we are visiting seem to be one step back in time. Most appear to be self sufficient,  raising their own small herds of sheep or goats  and small plots of land that grow most of  their own food.  I don't think we have seen a grocery store since we left Athens.   Several times we had to just stop on one of these mountain roads while a farmer who was out with his flock of sheep or goats  took his sweet time to move his herd out of the way. This would probably be very annoying at home but here its just plain charming.   In Arachova we even saw a little old lady walking her single goat on a leash.

This evening we ended up above the village of Karpneissi at the hotel Montana.  Our world has changed once again.  This is a town of approx 15,000 and  is actually a ski resort in the winter  Thus this is a resort hotel with 105 rooms and 23 suties, a spa, workout room and activity center for the kids.— They picked a wonderful place to stay for 2 nights.

Day 4
Today we are headed for Kremaston Lake and spent most of the day along the Trikeriotis River.  We stopped for a break on the bank of the river,  then had lunch in the quaint village of Helidona. Shortly after we stopped  at Prousous Monestary which  was the highlight of the day, built into a cliff  This will be nothing compared to the Monasteries we will see at Meteora.

Dinner  at No Timo. This restaurant was so small that our group of 16 pretty much took over the entire place.  When I asked our guide the name of the restaurant he said  “some of these restaurants are so small I don't even know their name.  I just know the names of the owners.”

Day 5

Today  Coffee  stop at Taverna Makkas—-  then lunch at Neromyaos  which means water mill.  This was a wonderful place.  The  Proprieter gave us a short cooking demonstration  on  their version of a burger mixing Beef, Onion, Egg, soaked bread, Parsley and Oregeno.—  and it was fantastic.   This Taverna is riverside and we ate outdoors right next to a small waterfall.   They keep a small fish farm so the fish is fresh.    Oregeno seems to be a staple spice here.  Earlier this year this place was completely flooded  and its already back in business.

We spent the remainder of the day on a spectacular dirt road climbing to a mountain pass just above the tree line at 5400 feet  with great views  of  lakes, streams and villages below. and even some left over snow patches from the previous winter. The  beauty of the  Greek Mountainside and these roads is truly something to behold.

At the end of the day we arrived in Meteora which I am anticipating will be the highlight of the trip.  The home of the Monasteries built in the rocks.  Toped off with a wonderful dinner at Panorama— at the foot of the  rocks of Meteora
(see side bar article)

Overnight  Hotel Famissi Eden 

Day 6
Its back to Athens with a stop for lunch seaside by the Agean sea and our farewell dinner in the center of Athens with great food and live music and dancing.

I have traveled the world and taken part in lots of organized trips  but this one is unique and fascinating.

What  makes this trip so wonderful for the family?

1. This trip is all about sharing a cultural experience with your family, that they are       unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
2. The wonderful emersion into the stories of Greek Mythology
3. The spectacular scenery and geography of  mainland Greece
4. You are connected to  a group but the family can all be in one car.
5. There are plenty of water activities available on the way  such as kayaking,  tubing, swimming, as well as plenty of kids activities at many of the hotels.

To arrange this trip contact:
Tripology Adventures  at
phone     720-316-6353. 

Get a photo of a car on the dirt road  from Anette  (give her a credit)


The Story of the Oracle at Delphi

In the Classical  era  (approx 600 B.C.- 400 B.C. Delphi was considered the center of the world  (at least the world as the Greeks knew it)  As the myth goes, Zues released 2 birds from the farthest points of the world and where they met, Zues declared as the center of the world and threw down a stone from the heavens, now called the Naval stone, right here in Delphi. People flocked  here not only because it was the center of the world but also because of the Temple of Apollo and eventually to consult the Oracle of Delphi at  Apollo’sTemple.  Just what was this oracle? No one spoke to the Oracle directly, they spoke to a preistess who was the intermediary.  There was a rock that emitted vapors that were known to create hallucinations and from this, people got their advice, usually about major choices facing them in life from the Oracle.  Was it religious?  Was it Political?  We don't know, but  one might assume that  consulting the Oracle was a way of confirming or not confirming ones belief in a major decision one was making.  Several people made multiple trips to consult the Oracle.  If they didn’t like what they heard the first time they just returned until they did.  So one could conclude that  it could have been a bit like the Wizard in the Wizard of OZ.   If you don't like the answer then just “ignore the man behind the curtain” I doubt we will ever really know. But hey, welcome to the world of Greek Mythology.
Delphi is now a Unesco protected site and definitely worth visiting.

One of the charming things about this trip, especially for kids, is the Mythology of Greece     Zues, Apollo,  and his many kids, mistresses and wives.   Our guide shared several of these myths with us.

From there we went a couple miles to the Amalia hotel, located just down the road, which is very contemporary and a wonderful hotel with a view of Mt. Parnasus  and the valley below.

The Rock formations and Monasteries  of Meteoria

by Larry Berle
Meteoria is about 6 hour drive north of Athens and the 2nd most visited tourist site in all of Greece.  There are 6 monastaries here  4 for monks and 2 for nuns.

98% of Greece is Greek Orthodox.  The first of these was founded in the 14th century by a couple monks who wanted a hermit like existence in order to be closer to God.  They set up homesteads in caves and little by little as more Monks were interested in the life style, a community of hermit monks began to emerge.  They began to build a very isolated Monastery where they  lived quietly  and spent 8 hours of everyday in prayer. In a couple hundred years the community grew to about 100 monks and the building of other monasteries in the community  ensued.    The access was almost impossible for the public as the only way to reach these bldgs was by a basket and rope  (they were pulled up by their fellow monks.) This is also how supplies and  food    got into the monasteries.  Steps to enter did not come until  1925, Electricity showed up some time in the 1980’s and running water showed up about the same time. This, of course, was followed by roads and tourists.  Today there are 3 monks living in this monastery and it is supported by tourism.   The only Monastery left in Greece that still does not allow tourists, to the best of my knowledge is Mt Athos, on the other side of Greece.