Tag Archives: travel

Welcome to BEAUTIFUL Santorini, Greece!

Ever been kicked by a donkey? I have!

Santorini was one of my absolute favorite ports of our entire trip, and also one of the most memorable.

This was the only time we had to take a tender (smaller boat) from the ship to the dock. Not only did our group get separated (my dad on one, the other 5 of us on another), but it started POURING rain and we were on the top deck. Luckily I had an umbrella, but it didn’t cover my camera bag too well! Our boat happened to take about a half hour just trying to dock because of the choppy water (my dad waited at the dock for us).

When we finally disembarked (if that term can even apply to small boats), we found that there were three ways to get up to the town at the top of the cliff: a cable car with an hour-and-a-half wait in the rain, donkeys, or walk up 800 steps. This choice was another in which we all differed. My boyfriend’s dad and his girlfriend chose to WALK UP. I thought they were insane. The rest of us chose the donkeys.

We had to wait a short while for the little burros, and we weren’t allowed to carry an umbrella while riding. So if you think we were already wet just standing in the rain, imagine riding WET JACKASSES. I was just about the last person to start up the hill with Toula (what I named my donkey–after Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding), but my little lady HAULED ASS (haha–pun!) up the hill, passing EVERY donkey that was in front of us, not caring to clip corners. And because the stairs they were climbing were wet sometimes their hooves slipped off the edge, causing little terrifying jerks on what should just be a bumpy ride.

So it’s Toula and I against the world, I stroked her and cooed, “Good girl! I think I can! I think I can!” all the way up. Until we had about 100 yards left to climb. There was a herd of other donkeys to the side, and Toula decided she wanted to stand directly behind them and NOT MOVE. I can’t say I blamed her, but I had hoped she could have picked a better place to stop because one donkey (let’s call him Dr. Evil) did not appreciate Toula getting all up in his hind quarters. And the kicking began. But Toula didn’t feel a thing! Know why? Because that’s where MY SHIN happened to be! So I tried to scramble to get off (not so easy to get a small girl untangled from the stirrups and off a big donkey). After that I had to haul my own ass up the rest of the way. Climbing the wet steps. Where the donkeys do their business. Which is being washed down the steps. I was wearing flip flops. And you know what? I was laughing the ENTIRE way up! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of that fustercluck since it was raining too hard to get my nice Nikon out. While the walkers beat us to the top (expected when one of them is a MARATHON RUNNER), we definitely got the better memories!

The town of Santorini was beautiful, and we walked around a few of the shops, but eventually we took a city bus to the small town of Oia. If you’ve seen photos of the white-washed buildings and the domed roofs of Greece before, this is EXACTLY where those photos were taken. Oia was absolutely stunning. We walked through small alleys, catching glimpses of the sea below the cliffs. The buildings were stark white, with gorgeous blues and pinks to accent. I would LOVE to have a vacation home here.

A little history: Santorini was once an active volcano known as Stongyle, or “round island,” but a massive explosion in 1628 BC blew it apart. The event must have been felt all over Europe! A huge chunk of solid rock shot straight up in the air, landing with such violent force that is spawned a catastrophic tidal wave. Many scientists believe the eruption wiped out the late Minoan civilization on Crete–70 miles away!

Although it looks like several separate islands, and each individual islet has its own name, Santorini is really a single land mass. The watery separations are just the places where the volcano rim is submerged.

Fun facts: The volcanic explosion on Thira (Santorini) in 1628 BC is believed to be the largest such even in recorded human history. Also, if a word has a ‘oh’ in it, it is probably of Greek origin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Welcome to Argostoli, Greece!

Although we had absolutely no idea what to expect at the second Greek port of our trip, we really lucked out finding some cool things to see.

We managed to rent two small cars–impressive, given the huge language barrier–and drove to the other side of the island. This was more difficult than you’d think since the road signs had Greek letters all over them, which we couldn’t even begin to pronounce, much less understand! It was a beautiful, mystical-looking island that was very mountainous and green, with fog rolling in between the peaks.

Our first stop was Melissani Lake–and underground lake! Currently it is actually an open-air cave. Hundreds of years ago the roof caved in, which is how the lake was discovered. It was slightly overcast when we were there, but the water was so pure and teal I could have gone for a swim if it wasn’t too chilly outside! Once we walked down to the water level, we got in rowboats and our guide paddled us around, seamlessly switching between Greek and broken English, trying to describe the geological phenomenon. While the tour didn’t last long, it was definitely a sight not to miss!

After that we stopped in town for a quick lunch and ate at Captain Corelli’s–right in the harbor where the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz) was filmed.

Our last stop was Drakena Cave, a huge cavern full of all the- ites–both stalact- and stalagm-! This cave wasn’t connected to a series of caves (like Kartchner Caverns in Arizona), but was still great to see.

While Argostoli wasn’t our most exciting port of call, I would definitely stop there again to explore a little more!

Fun facts: Cephalonia’s name honors Mythological hero Kefalos, who sought refuge from Athens on the island.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Welcome to Corfu, Greece

Corfu was our first stop in Greece on our Mediterranean cruise. We didn’t sign up for any excursions, but we really should have! We pretty much just walked around the city, which was packed with small shops and peddlers (is that even an appropriate modern-day term?). Wear dark sunglasses, or if they catch you looking they’ll be all over you to buy something. There was a lot of beautiful silver jewelry available–I even bought a necklace with a traditional Greek design, but I was so uncomfortable bartering! (Which is odd since I have no problem with it when buying purses on Canal Street in New York!). A lot of what was available was typical tourist fare, but you gotta wonder what they think American tourists must be after–there were A LOT of raunchy souvenirs–right out in the street for kids to see! Beer bottle openers shaped like mens’ private parts, shirts with cartoons and sayings that made me blush (especially when traveling with my parents and my boyfriend’s family), and more unspeakables. I’m no prude, but I certainly hope most American travelers in Corfu are just as disgusted by this stuff! At least in America that stuff would be kept at the back of a Spencer’s store!

We did, however, have a lovely traditional Greek lunch at a cute little cafe (sensing a theme here? Cute cafes are everywhere). I’d been waiting a long time to try an authentic Greek gyro! It was delicious–though I think I still like the gyros I can get a mile away from my house is Phoenix a whole lot better!

If I were to go to Corfu again, I’d definitely do my research ahead of time to find some cultural event or something.

A little history: The legendary “island of the Phaecians” (The Odyssey by Homer), mountainous Corfu is names for the nymph Kerkira (daughter of the river Assopos). Much Corfu architecture is Venetian-, French-, or British-influenced, rather than the iconic white-washed buildings and blue domes (which you’ll see in a later post).

Fun facts: In Corfu (also known as Kerkira), it is rude to wave open-palmed. Also, a traditional Greek proposal method calls for tossing an apple to one’s intended bride (no apples were tossed to me during our trip).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Welcome to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Our second stop was the city of Dubrovnik on the coast of Croatia. Never in my life did I think I would be traveling to Croatia, but it was a beautiful place. We walked around the walled city, looking at the churches and other historical buildings. And although I had wanted to try authentic cuisine in each port, Croatian food didn’t sound too appetizing, and we all ended up ordering an Italian dish at lunch–maybe next time I’m in Croatia I’ll be brave enough!

There were many alleyways, and the laundry was hung out to dry between buildings–very charming and picturesque. I told my parents I’d be hanging my laundry out the window in the front of the house. The idea was not well-received to say the least. (I figured I could have “show” laundry so no one would actually be looking at my real clothes and unmentionables–like I have “show” towels in the bathroom–but that’s just so it looks cleaner all the time). I also can’t imagine tourists stopping by my house to take photos of my laundry.

We walked the perimeter of the city on the top of the wall, taking in all the views of the Adriatic Sea and the hundreds of red-roofed buildings within the walls. I bought both a watercolor picture and a small oil painting as souvenirs–and we’ll soon learn that I went a little crazy buying art throughout the trip!

However, probably the most meaningful part of our visit to Dubrovnik was seeing the ruins of the 1991-1992 siege of the city by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). For seven months the city was under heavy artillery attack–with no military to defend itself–because the JNA claimed that Dubrovnik was historically part of Montenegro. It was interesting to see ruins among the rebuilt structures within the city–and very poignant to think this all happened in our lifetime.

A little history: At one time, Durbovnik used to be an island, but residents filled in the narrow channel between the island and the mainland in the 13th century and built the reclaimed area in to the landmark Placa. The intact medieval walls and historic core have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Fun facts: The independent state of Dubrovnik was the first to recognize the United States of America when it declared independence from Britain. Also, Dubrovnik was the only major European port that did not recognize slavery or allow slave ships to dock.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Welcome to Venice, Italy

Venice was the first stop on our Mediterranean cruise. When we arrived, we went straight from the airport to the ship to check in (which took hours), and we had to fill out a form with very personal questions (about constipation, etc.). Then we grabbed some drinks on the boat, then headed into the city. We did pretty much what you’d expect for our first time in Italy–we ate! We found a cute cafe right on the Grand Canal with a view of the Rialto Bridge and ate authentic Italian pasta.

We walked around the city, winding our way through alleys and over bridges–stopping for gelato, of course. We took a gondola tour through the city as well, and saw beautiful palaces (most of which are now government buildings or banks) and famous landmarks (ahem–Marco Polo’s house! Our gondolier even started calling out “Marco…Polo!”). Getting into the gondola was very unsteady, and we had to arrange ourselves around the boat so we wouldn’t tip. Many of the bridges were very low and the gondolier had to duck under–but that never stopped him from singing! (Or from yelling at the other gondoliers in Italian).

Unfortunately we had to be back on the boat early in the evening, so we didn’t get much time in Venice. But we got a little “sampler” and I know I’ll be going back one day!

A little history: Venice is comprised of 117 islands and 150 canals–complete with more than 400 bridges to cross them. The city began as a place of refuge from 5th century barbarian invasions, but eventually developed into a powerful city-state in Italy.

Fun facts: St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) floods more than 35 times per year–4 times the 1970 rate. Also, there are fewer than 20 licensed plumbers in the city of Venice!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized