Nov 12, 2013

A Grecian Holiday!


This September, we went on a dream vacation... a full 10 day hiking holiday in Greece. We ate great food, walked a lot and had loads of fun during these 10 days. It was like a trip down the history books lane, what with every corner of Greece reminding us of a little something we read back in school. Pythagoras, Delphi, Parthenon were just some of the historical aspects that we enjoyed while in Greece!

God, I need to backup a bit and go from the beginning... I've been like this ever since I got back from Greece. You ask me a question, and I start rambling about how nice a holiday it was there.
Sometime ago, I read an article on The Hindu Metro edition about someone's cycling holiday in Tuscany. I read the entire holiday, took note of the website given in the article and mentioned to a friend sitting beside me that someday I'd like to go on a holiday like that. She laughed at yet another item being added to my travel-wish-list, and said I could do all that if I find someone who can plan it all for me. Obviously, I couldnt do it all by myself, she said. As discouraging as they might be, I saw value in what she said, and decided to go with someone experienced. Thats when I realized I had taken note of the company mentioned in the article - The Active Holiday Company, and decided to get in touch with them, when I was ready for a holiday.

After searching through their list of holidays for over a month, and mulling on leave dates with the husband, I finally narrowed down on a hiking holiday to Greece, and got in touch with folks at The Active Holiday Company. Gauri & Uday , the founders of this company, promptly got in touch with me, read my zillion emails patiently, gave me all the suggestions they could, gave me an itinerary that I loved and even helped me through the visa process.
You see, I did not want to go with a pre-decided holiday, and had a list of other places that I wanted to visit in Greece, all of which were addressed in this new custom-made itinerary. And since this was an activity holiday, 5 hikes were baked into the itinerary.
 

Yes, as usual, the husband didn't get involved in any aspect of holiday planning and left it all to me... someday I'd like to travel with a person like me, who would plan all details of a vacation, and all I have to do is to just show up, and of course, pay! :-P

Only after we reached Greece and started our first walk did I realize how well planned the holiday had turned out to be. Every night was taken care of, every hotel knew we were arriving, every walk had enough details given and every place was what we expected it to be. And considering that we were given enough information about various travel options within Greece, we could get a flavor of the life the locals live.

We travelled in metro trains in Athens; took city buses in all the major cities - Athens, Chania, Delphi, Fira, travelled in ferries when we were island hopping from Athens - Hydra - Athens, Athens - Santorini, Santorini - Crete; and even in taxis where required.

We had not opted for meals in any of the hotels, and so had plenty of opportunity to eat the local food, plenty of it, all fresh and yummy at every place we visited. I can say this with authority now that as far as food is concerned I dont think I will get better vegetarian food anywhere in the world outside of India! Yes, Greek food is awesome. Greek vegetarian food is heavenly, and Greek ingredients are out of this world. I could not get enough of the olive oils, olive pates, tzazikis, feta cheeses and roasted vegetables, so much that I carried most of them back home. I am going to do a full feature on Greek food on my food blog, The Meal Algorithm, very soon.

Talking about food to eat in Greece, I cannot forget the awesome hospitality extended by the Greeks. They were in financial troubles, petrol is super expensive in Greece, they clearly were trying hard to make ends meet with the meagre sales they were making in the markets and the heavy taxes they were paying, but had the adorable Greek pride on. There wasn't a single negative word spoken about the country, or a single remark at how they were doing. To the outside world, they were perfect and gracious hosts.

Every meal is served with a on-the-house dessert of grapes or a shot of Mastiha, a liqueur made out of a tree resin, one of the most heavenly drinks I'll ever have or Raki, a fermented liqueur made of honey. As far as alcohol is concerned, I think the Greeks have mastered it all. They have an alcohol derived out of every edible and yummy ingredient. Ouzo made out of fennels, Mastiha from the tree resin, Honey raki, Tsikodia from some spices , Peppermint liqueur ... you name it and they have it.

I tried capturing a bit of Greece through my lens, and am quite happy with my pics. I carried a Canon Rebel Xsi throughout the trip, and shot most of these pics using the standard kit lens, in landscape mode. I, of course, did a lot of reading up, because I was apprehensive about the harshness sun can create in the pics, and was so glad that they all came out perfect! :-)

Here's my short take on each of the places we visited -
Athens - A beautiful, quaint capital city. You can finish sightseeing this entire city in 2 days, if you plan it right. We took a walking tour through the major sightseeing spots in the city and ate only in the restaurants in Monastiraki square, the most happening place of Athens. Seeing the Parthenon is an unforgettable experience.

The Temple of Zeus in Athens
Parthenon
Hydra - One of the most beautiful islands in Greece. If you've been there, you know how tough it is to say this statement, but in my experience, this is true. Its your first introduction to the azure skies and white houses, and its also an island which has absolutely no vehicles on it, and a port full of eateries. A ferry from Piraeus will get you to Hydra in less than 90 min. We did a 8km walk on this island over a day trip and thoroughly enjoyed it.


The main port of Hydra, in a 'C' shape

Another mini-port in Hydra

Delphi - If you are a science student, you MUST visit this place. If you are a history student , you MUST visit this place. Oh, what the heck, if you've been to school, you MUST go here. Its a very little and beautiful town, with ancient ruins. Plan to stay overnight, and visit the ruins once more before you return. The European trail E4 goes via Delphi and walking a portion of it is a good experience.

Temple of Apollo, also where the Navel of the earth is!

Temple of Athena

Santorini - Out of all the places I've visited in Greece, this place is the one that we looked forward to the most, and the one that has disappointed us the most. Yes, it is beautiful. But its not something you wont see anywhere in Greece. Its extremely crowded in every place in Santorini - Fira and Oia, and the hotels obviously have seen a lot of tourists to be genuinely nice to you. Sightseeing doesnt have a lot to do there, except for that one most photographed church in Oia. Had it not been for the 10 km walk we did from Fira to Oia, we would've been very very bored for the 3 days we spent there. If this isnt on your bucket list, give this place a miss and go to other nearby islands like Paros or Naxos.


The two ends of the caldera on Thira, the biggest island on Santorini.
On your left is the town of Akrotiri, and its Oia on the right

There you go! Now that you've seen this church,
you can safely give Santorini a miss! ;-)
Crete - The largest island in Greece, and the one where the density of the olive trees is the most, this place stood up to everything that we read up on it. My next visit to Greece will definitely be to Crete, and to the charming town of Chania. We did the tough 16 km hike in Samaria Gorge which was deeply satisfying on a personal level to both the body and the eyes. This place is one heck of a natural beauty. Extremely beautiful, especially at the end of a tiring walk ;-) Also, lying down on the beach overlooking the Libyan sea made me feel quite accomplished! ;-)


The gorgeous town of Heraklion!

The Venetian harbor and lighthouse in Chania!

Ah, the joy this sign gave us. The end of the 13km walk inside Samaria!

This marked the end of the 16km walk inside Samaria.
Over to the Libyan sea from here

Greeks believe a lot in the concept of evil eye, which I found quite nice actually, which is why I carried back lots of them for friends back home. Little signature bottles of Ouzo, olive oil soaps and olive oil bottles make other awesome souvenirs - not very expensive, but still feel like a bit of Greece in your pocket.

If you are planning to go on a zara-hatke holiday, have time to spare, and the patience to train for it (oh yes, some basic training is required. I don't recommend a direct couch-to-16km-walk approach myself), then I strongly urge you to go on an activity holiday like this... will make you feel rejuvenated, accomplished and happy for years to come. And yes, I definitely am visiting Greece again (given that I only want to see a dozen more countries to tick them off my bucket list, I will be visiting each country I've been to, atleast one more time! ;-)) and this time, I will do more island hopping!

Some of the common sights in Greece...

 
A regular run-of-the-mill street!
Not everything is white and blue in Greece
Kafka-esque moments abound!
Some graffiti on the walls!

3 comments:

  1. Superb writing! I aspire to write like you someday. And awesome photography!

    You mentioned the travel company and its founders gauri and uday. Isnt that the same gauri who wrote "wise enough to be foolish" whose review you did so beautifully for your last post?
    Did you get to meet the author in person?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Manu, for both the good words on writing and photography! :)
    Yes, its the same Gauri. During my interaction with her for the holiday, I also found out that she is an author, which is also why I attended the Hyd launch of her book and read it right away.
    Yes, I got to meet her in person. Very down to earth person, just like any of us! :)

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  3. You have a professional writing skills. I have never seen such good manners in writing in a long time. Thank you for posting the awesome pictures. Greece is really beautiful.

    Best Regards,
    Finn Felton
    Kopi Luwak

    ReplyDelete