Italy & Greece, Part 3

The third and final post about our European adventure! When I left off, we were getting ready to board the ferry to Greece from the Port of Ancona in Italy. The ferry takes 24 hours to travel from Ancona to Patras and makes one other port stop on the way. We boarded around 5:30 p.m. and didn’t get off the ship until about that time the following day. There wasn’t much to see or do on the boat – it did have a couple of restaurants so we had food options but that was about it. Most of the scenery is the Adriatic Sea but we did pass by Croatia and Albania although we had no idea what was what from the boat.

Greece was one hour ahead of Italy, making the time difference seven hours ahead of Indiana. Once we disembarked, we got on a bus for our hotel in Olympia that night. Dinner was included at the hotel and quickly proved that the food in Greece was 100 times better than the food in Italy. We had a variety to choose from – Greek potatoes (one of my favorites), cheese pie, spaghetti with a Greek style meat sauce that I thought was better than other spaghetti sauces I’d had, plus several kinds of meats.

Our first full day in Greece started out with an early morning tour of the Olympic Ruins. We had a local guide who started the tour very early – in fact we were the first group in to the archaeological site. Also joining us on the tour were several town dogs that roam freely in all the cities in Greece. All of Greece, dogs and cats wander in to restaurants and businesses, people feed them and no one bats an eye. I’m sure in America, the health department wouldn’t allow that!

We spent a few hours in the ruins and checking out the two museums before heading back to the hotel for the bus to take us to lunch. As we were leaving, all the cruise ship tour groups started pouring in and throngs of people were everywhere. We were especially grateful to our guide for getting us in there before all of them!

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Lunch was ridiculously good – we had another buffet with lots to choose from. I had gyros, a orzo pasta salad dish, some roasted zucchini and carrots, more of the spaghetti and a dessert that tasted a lot like an elephant ear. Greek singers and dancers entertained everyone while eating. If you ever go to Olympia, be sure to eat at the Touris Club.

From there, we crossed mountains by bus to get to our hotel in Nafplio, Greece. A small town on a gulf just off the Mediterranean Sea. We rested for a bit at the hotel and enjoyed the free wifi (we’d been unable to get a signal for about a day) and then walked down to the waterfront. A castle built by the Ventians overlooks the town and you can actually climb up to the top but we decided not to attempt that since the stairs are very steep and also marble. Two people in our tour group did and got some amazing pictures.

Dinner that night was included and the best dinner of the trip. Like Italy, the included dinners that weren’t buffets were served in courses. The first course was a Greek salad, then the second course was a stuffed tomato dish. It was the best thing I ate the whole time and ended up getting it again in Athens. I looked up how they prepare the tomatoes and found you slice the top off, scoop out the insides, leaving a tomato shell. Then you stuff the shell with some precooked rice mixed with the tomato insides and spices and bake in the oven for about a half an hour. They were also served with some potatoes which delighted me.

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The main meat course was supposed to be lamb and that’s what almost everyone got. Our tour guide called ahead to tell the restaurant how many people wanted lamb and how many wanted chicken but when we got there, they didn’t have enough lamb so they were asking people to switch. I thought I’d be nice and get roast beef instead because I don’t really care for meat that’s on the bone but after tasting Adam’s lamb, I should have stuck with that. It was really tender and seasoned well and came with more potatoes. (Can you tell I am kind of obsessed with the potatoes?) Mine was good but came with fries and let me tell you, the Greeks don’t understand how to cook fries. They are limp, bland and need salt badly. The roast beef was good but the lamb was much better.

Our final course was some kind of a cake topped with either ice cream or yogurt. It was a little dry but the ice cream helped it out a lot. There was also lots of free wine for the table and I tried white wine for the first time. I thought it was incredibly disgusting and never want to try it again 🙂 We did a little shopping on the way back to the hotel and saw lots of cats!

The next morning, we were up early for another archaeological tour of the ancient ruins of Mycenae. At these ruins, there’s a huge tomb you can enter that’s believed to be the tomb of Agamemnon. It’s a very remote area built in to the mountains and you can still hike to the top for a great view of the surrounding valley. You can see a large castle off in the distance and generations of the same family for thousands of years. Once we’d completed our tour there, we stopped at a business for a pottery demonstration then had lunch in the small town outside the ruins. We both got souvlaki chicken on skewers.

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From there, it was off to Athens for the final part of our Greece tour. The bus stopped to let us off to walk over the Corinth Canal. If you are of Christian faith or just enjoy history, you might also remember that the Apostle Paul journeyed to Corinth and wrote his letter to Corinthians there.

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There were no more stops until Athens and we arrived there late in the afternoon. We were on our own for the evening and within walking distance of the Acropolis, so we went to the shopping and dining area below the Acropolis for dinner and ice cream. The restaurant owners in Athens were extremely annoying – they would run out in to the street with a menu and start telling you everything on it in an attempt to get you to eat there. We got really tired of being harassed but every single place did it until finally we just picked one to eat at. After dinner, we tried to walk all the way around the Acropolis but it started getting dark and some of the people hanging out seemed shady so we went back to the main area and got some ice cream before turning in for the evening.

Our final day in Greece started with a tour of the Acropolis. It was another highlight of the trip and the view of Athens from there is quite impressive. About 5 million people live in the city and the total population of the country is 10 million, so as you can imagine it’s very crowded. The government will only issue residents plates for their cars for 6 months out of the year and the rest of the time, they are supposed to take public transportation to try to help alleviate the traffic problems. Streets are very narrow and drivers are aggressive. There was also a trash strike going on, which actually lasted two weeks – thankfully we arrived right at the beginning because it got really bad after we left and was becoming a health concern.

We also thought it was interesting that our tour guide kept talking about how wonderful their free college is – you can go to about any college you want if you have good grades – yet she also talked about how upset people are with the government because of the financial collapse a few years ago. The birthplace of democracy is literally broke because they strayed from a system that worked in favor of a government that taxes you and gives you handouts from birth to death. Their income is taxed at a flat rate of 34%. When you eat in restaurants, the food seems reasonable but then EVERY ITEM you order off the menu has an added 24% tax that’s not included gratuity. It’s insane. And yet, they’re still broke. (Sorry for going off in to politics a bit 🙂 )

Anyway, the tour of the Acropolis was followed by a city tour that included a stop at the first modern Olympic stadium, the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and a drive by of the university and Greek National Library. For lunch, I had more stuffed tomatoes and for dinner, we got gyros which were the best gyros I’ve ever eaten. I got a pork and a falafel gyro and the tzatziki and tahini sauce they put on them was so, so good.

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Our very last day was traveling home – and we almost didn’t make it! We flew home on Air Canada and they couldn’t find our flight reservations when we went to check in at the airport. They could see them in there but for some reason we weren’t booked. All this had been done through the travel company, so I don’t know what happened but thankfully, after about an hour of several people trying to help us, we got re-booked on the flight home. We were on our first plane for 11 hours with no entertainment. Apparently you had to download a special app to watch movies on your device and we had no idea, so I finished my book, listened to music and played games on my iPod. Adam slept most of the time – this flight wasn’t full so we had the seats to ourselves and could stretch out a bit. When we got to Toronto to switch planes, we had to go through US Customs there and it was ridiculous. The first layer of security was like normal TSA security. We thought we were done but then we went in to another area where they wanted you to scan your passports. Our wouldn’t scan for some reason so we proceeded to a kiosk where we entered our info. Then we went to another “holding” room and had to wait to go to the gate until our names flashed on a screen. But before you could get to the gate, there was a line to go through where you talked to a customs agent. They kind of yelled at us because our passports didn’t scan and then made us fill out a customs form. After that part, it was no problem but some people got pulled out of line for a fourth level of inquiry.

The Toronto airport was pretty inefficient and our gate was practically in a basement that was under construction and there was no air (just like Europe!). Our flight got delayed, of course, but we finally made it home to Indianapolis nearly 24 hours after leaving Greece. It was a wonderful time but as always, you’re glad to be back in your own bed, especially after two weeks

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