Tuesday, May 13, 2008


One of the nice things about living in Portugal is that we now have a few more holidays than the US. So we took advantage of some of my time off of work to do a European vacation…possibly the last time we’ll do a big trip until the little one is big enough to join us. We decided to go to Greece, one of the destinations we’ve both wanted to get to for a long time. And it turned out that spring was a great time to be there. We had lots of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s, and yet small crowds and off-season rates. The only disadvantage of this time of year was the water was a tad nippy, but we braved it anyway.

We headed to Athens for a couple of days, mainly to see the Acropolis. It’s a very cool cultural site to explore, being a large area of ancient temples, theaters, markets, residential areas, etc. And of course topped off (literally) with the architectural wonder the Parthenon. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to battle the crowds and heat when most visitors go in July and August. We also explored some of the cute neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis, but there doesn’t seem to be much else to Athens, which looks more like a dilapidated sprawling South American city than a European capital. So, after a quick 1.5 day visit it was off to the islands.

We flew to Santorini, which is an incredibly picturesque ancient volcano rim surrounding an enormous caldera submerged into the Mediterranean. We were told the power of this volcano when it went off about 1500BC was 40x that of Krakatoa, and I could believe it looking at the size. But the beauty of Santorini is in its whitewashed villages that cascade down the cliffside with amazing views across the caldera. It is also known for its much photographed white churches topped with blue domes. Our hotel room was literally a cave room that was built into the cliff, which is quite common (and great for keeping warm in winter and cool in summer). The old villages are lovely to explore as they are only big enough to move around on foot, no cars, and boating out to the currently active volcano to hike around and swim in the hot springs was great fun. But Santorini is really best for the cruise crowd that wants to stay for a day, take some pictures and shop. Beyond that it’s not as adventurous an island as we are used to, so we were off to Naxos for some additional exploration and beach time.

It was a 3-hour ferry ride to Naxos, our last stop of the trip. This more unknown island is actually quite big with a lot of little mountain villages to explore. The main town of Chora is very cute, right on the seaside, with some nice beaches nearby. This was a good place for us to wind down the trip with some exploring, biking and reading on the beach. The highlight, however, was stumbling into My Big Fat Greek Picnic. On May 1, a holiday throughout Europe for Labor Day or May Day, we were exploring the island by car and decided to visit a monastery. Since the gate was open, we did not realize it was actually closed for the day. But in the parking lot was a big family celebrating the holiday with a picnic. They invited us over and plied us with the most succulent lamb off the barbecue I’ve ever had, not to mention enormous amounts of wine (none for Katrin, sorry), dolmas, feta, etc…all homemade from the families lamb, goats, vineyard, and garden. They loved having a couple of Americans around and then started playing some traditional Greek music and dancing – holding hands and dancing in a circle, the men occasionally dipping and slapping their feet and knees. They got a big kick out of putting Caesar-like laurel wreaths on our heads and including me (Dan) in their dance. It was great fun and a very lucky way for us to experience Greek culture and hospitality up close and personal. Our goal should be to try to stumble into a group like that in every place we visit.

For a much longer pictorial tour of our trip, click here.

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