Glories of Greece

Glories of Greece

All things beautiful

Glories of Greece

A solo trip was on the cards for long, and I finally mustered the courage to go ahead, allaying fears of loneliness and boredom. The destination was Greece.

My first evening in Athens began on an off-beat note as I went on a walking tour of the unexplored parts of the capital with Demetra Papaconstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist from ‘This is Athens’, a group of volunteers committed to promoting tourism.
The walk began at Syntagma Square, also called the Constitution Square, in honour of the Constitution that the first king of Greece, Otto, was forced to grant after a military uprising in September 1843.

Overlooking the square is the 19th century Old Royal Palace, which is now the Greek Parliament. For the next two hours, we walked around the illuminated Acropolis Hill — which presented a beautiful spectacle at night — and Plaka, the social melting pot of Athens. While the old Plaka area has little shops peddling local ware on narrow streets, the new extension is a world apart with a wide cobbled walkway offering top international brands.

Land of the gods

The second day was devoted to a city tour, starting with the Kallimarmaro stadium, which was constructed in the ancient times to host the Panathenaic Games, in honour of Goddess Athena, the protector of Athens. In 329 BC, the wooden seats were replaced with fine marble, while in 140 BC, the seating capacity was increased to 50,000. The stadium fell into disuse for many centuries, until it was renovated to host the first modern Olympics in 1896.

We then passed by several important landmarks like the national library, Temple of Zeus and the Parliament building. Though these structures are of great historical importance, they pale in terms of architectural splendour when compared to our own monuments like Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Vidhana Soudha, Central Library or even the Town Hall.

Our next stop was at the Parthenon on Acropolis Hill, which was severely damaged during the Morean War in 1687, and bears no resemble to what is projected in tourist brochures. The government has now undertaken an ambitious project to restore all destroyed monuments to their original shape.

Greece is best explored by foot and a short walk downhill took us to the Acropolis Museum, a modern structure which stood out like a sore thumb amidst the ruins around. The museum holds some of the most valuable artefacts of Greece from the prehistoric times, but they are no match to the intricate work seen at Belur, Halebeedu or Khajuraho.
In the afternoon, I joined a group of tourists visiting the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. While the 70 km drive by the Mediterranean offers a visual treat, the exhilarating view from the 444 BC temple which sits on a peninsula can turn even an unromantic soul to a poet.

The third day in Greece saw me on a six-hour cruise to Mykonos, with most of the time spent on the ship’s deck admiring the beautiful ports on the way as the cool sea breeze kissed my face.

Island treasures

Mykonos is a picture postcard island known for its pristine beaches, the most famous being Paradise, Kalafatis and Kalo Livadi. Measuring barely 14 by 10 km, the island is inhabited by about 10,000 people, most of whom live in the main town, Chora.

However, Mykonos’s claim to fame is its fairy tale township Little Venice, which sits pretty on the beach with the calm sea water gently lashing its walls. It is a maze of criss-crossing alleys where whitewashed shops, houses and quaint churches run into each other. The path measuring no more than five feet resembles a galli in India, except that it is spotlessly clean, with even the cobbled footpath painted.

Towards the other end of the town are the iconic 16th century windmills which were in use until the middle of the 20th century, to mill wheat. There are 16 such windmills spread across Mykonos, which is also called the island of winds.

Little Venice is lined with tavernas, as the Greeks call them, offering an impressive range of food and a spectacular view of the sea. Like the Indians, the Greeks are also fond of kababs, the hot favourite being souvlaki, comprising small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer. Vegetarians can feast on a variety of salads starting with the Greek salad, baked vegetables or the delectable yemista — tomatoes stuffed with rice and herbs. Greece also boasts of several traditional sweet dishes, but the king of desserts is the baklava, a sinful pastry made of filo, filled with nuts and held together with honey.

Apart from the beaches and Little Venice, another star attraction is the UNESCO-protected archaeological site of Delos. The evenings are generally spent watching the sunset as the blue waters of the Mediterranean turn crimson. Mykonos also prides itself as the party destination of Greece, attracting DJs from across the world. Mykonos is said to be one of the most romantic islands in Europe and offers a perfect getaway for honeymooners.

After two nights in Mykonos, the next port of call was Santorini, a journey of two-and-a-half hours by a high-speed ferry. Santorini was once a single island which was destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption around 1613 BC, creating several splinter islands and a lagoon measuring 12 by 7 km. As the ferry approaches the island, you are dwarfed by a 1,000-feet-high volcanic cliff that cups the small port and the lagoon on three sides, offering a mesmerising sight. The port carved out at the bottom of this sheer cliff is an engineering marvel.

A steep drive takes you to the mainland. The towns of Fira and Oia precariously cling to the slopes of the cliff, and their whitewashed buildings can be mistaken for a snow-capped mountain from a distance.

The next day, which was my sixth in Greece, was spent visiting a few islands on a traditional wooden boat. The tour first took us to the Santorini volcano, a huge mass of lava deposits. The volcanic hill with its huge craters resembles the moon’s surface. A 30-minute walk from the picturesque Erinia harbour takes you to the top of the hill which presents an exhilarating view of the sea around.

The boat then proceeded to Palea Kameni island known for its hot springs, an indication that the volcano is still alive. We were later dropped off at the beautiful island of Therasia for lunch, before sailing to Oia, where the rest of the evening was spent watching an amazing sunset.

The following day, I took an 11-hour cruise back to Athens, en route Bengaluru. Greece is for those who love sailing and walking. In one week, I had spent over 24 hours on the sea, while I lost count of the number of kilometres I had walked.

In the end, I enjoyed both, my holiday in Greece and my first solo trip. Travelling alone affords you a chance to make new friends, introspect over life, explore places at your own pace, do your own thing, and above all, it unshackles you from your travel group or companion. Sometimes, you are your best company.