Tag Archives: greece

Katakolon

Katakolon itself is just a little port town.  Nothing terribly special about it per se; numerous restaurants and shops line the main street where tourists can wander and stroll in search of gifts.  Olive wood in particular is quite popular there, and I might add very beautiful!

What puts Katakolon on the map as a port of call for cruise ships is that it is only about an hour drive to Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.  Olympia, as it is inscribed on the plaque out front “stood out historically as the most important Panhellenic religious, political and athletic centre of the ancient Greek world”.  It is rich in mythological tradition and was founded as the sanctuary of Zeus.  Structures include a gymnasium, greek baths, the Temple of Zeus, the crypt, the Temple of Hera and of course, the Lighting of the Olympic Flame.

While we had purchased tours for Ephesus and Santorini, we didn’t for Katakolon figuring it would be easy to just do our own tour.  In that regard we were quite right as the second we disembarked there were people lining the streets with signs for bus rides to Olympia.  We opted for one of the buses and headed out to Olympia.  Once there we immediately went to the ancient ruins.  My sister in particular wanted to see the ancient structure where they lit the flame for the Olympics.

Thankfully we had heard before leaving the ship that there was a possibility for rain so we brought a poncho and an umbrella (won during a round of Bingo on the ship- but more on that in the ‘cruise critique’ post).

We made our way to the ancient ruins which were just around the corner from the main street of the now town of Olympia, paid for tickets to get in the site and started to have a wander around.  By the time we were at the ticket office, it was gently raining.  No biggie.

By the time we were basically in the center of the ruins, it began to rain hard… Then about 5 minutes later (only about 20-30 minutes after we had entered) it started to pour down rain!!  And thunder, and lightning and more rain!!  For those who know me, you know at this point I’m in 7th heaven as I LOVE a good thunderstorm!!  However, it wasn’t just me involved.  My dad and sister were with me (my mom decided to skip the Olympia trip and stayed behind to shop in Katakolon) so I wanted to make sure they were being taken care of.  My dad was using the umbrella and my sister and I shared the poncho.  I kept snapping photos of various ruins under the poncho as we made our way around to ensure that we saw the site for the lighting of the Olympic torch!

Lighting of the Olympic Flame
Lighting of the Olympic Flame

At one point the rain was so heavy that we (and all the other tourists there) started to huddle under the trees for a bit more shelter… Not the best idea with lightning around, but hey, strength in numbers?? 🙂  The rain kept pouring but what made us all start to leave the site wasn’t the rain exactly, but that it was starting to flood!  The umbrella and poncho did little to really protect us as we were getting soaked from the feet up.  My sister and I, concerned for our dad, decided we’d better head back.  It took us probably 10 minutes to find a shelter where we could fit (most of the close ones were already taken up by tourists) and that wasn’t flooding out.  We only stayed under the shelter for a few minutes then decide to keep going back to town.  All three of us at a certain point just started walking through the water instead of trying to skirt around it, since we were already wet!

We finally got out and back to town, drenched and chilly, but generally in good spirits!  Since we kept walking to town instead of stopping longer for shelter, we were among the first people back to town, which gave us first dibs on chairs in a restaurant with lovely outdoor heaters!!!  We huddled around the heater, ordered some drink and food, and listened to the rain pour down all around us.

We thought it rather ironic that we had gone just the day before from a place that barely got rain (Santorini) to a place that was now pouring with rain, lol!!

One funny observation my sister made at the restaurant was from a picture in the menu.  It was advertising an Amstel natural brew Radler beer with the caption: “Natural Beer with non-alcoholic lemon”.  My sister then said “hey, look.  They have alcoholic lemons here!!” LOL!! 🙂

Alcoholic Lemons!
Alcoholic Lemons!

After enjoying our meal, the rain had basically stopped but as we only had about a half hour until the bus was going to pick us up again, we opted to hang around town.  Once on the way back the skies turned blue and remained that way until we boarded the ship again.  Go figure!  But there’s my reason to go back:)  AND we did at least get to snap off a photo and see the site of the lighting of the Olympic torch:).

Sunny Skies
Sunny Skies

On to Cruise Critique

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Santorini

I have a song working in my head that once completed will be published about Santorini, but well, for now it’s plain text:)

What a beautifully unique place!  Santorini as we know it today is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea that was formed by a large volcanic eruption that destroyed the previous civilization living there.  Now, it is the largest island of a circular archipelago that has remnants of a volcanic caldera.  The island isn’t your typical flat land island.  It is a mountain jutting from the sea with what looks like snow on top.  Upon closer inspection the “snow” are the little towns sprinkled along the top of the mountain.

Because of it’s volcanic history (pun intended) the land of Santorini is rich and fertile and very diverse!  Black lava rock, red clay and white pumice stone are visible around just about every corner etched into the land.  Homes in fact used to be built out of cooled black lava rock, which made them somewhat invisible to travelers coming by sea.  A clever way to be invisible to your enemy in my opinion.  However, in the 1930’s  the government made it law that each structure had to be painted white because it keeps the homes cooler and saves on energy.

While the Island itself is not all THAT attractive, the towns are absolutely adorable!!!  The rest of the island is rugged, rocky and not terribly interesting.  However due to the fertile nature of the volcanic rock, a large variety of produce are grown there.  The most popular of course, is wine:)  Part of the tour we took included a winery tour where we were able to sample the various wines and even purchased several to take back with us.  Growing grapes on Santorini is a bit trickier than one would think however.  Due to the ferocious winds Santorini is plagued by quite often, vines are not able to grow upright as in a normal vineyard.  Instead, people train the vines to grow in circular nests or baskets on the ground so they aren’t damaged by the winds!

Along with the hard winds, Santorini rarely gets any rain.  Water is a HUGE commodity and isn’t to be wasted at all.  The lack of rain is why their wines also have such a distinctive taste (the grapes are very concentrated due to lack of water).  The lack of rain has even inspired how the buildings are built.  One will notice 2 kinds of ceilings on buildings in Santorini: a flat roof and a circular or arched roof.  The flat ones are designed to collect rainwater that then gets funneled to an underground cistern, while the arched/circular roofs are the best design for buildings to withstand earthquakes… Yes, they have earthquakes too on top of the lack of rain and violent winds and there is still that volcanic caldron to think about… Sounds like a rough life to me, what with having to battle nature in so many different ways!

While wine, capers and olives are among the favorite products of Santorini, their favorite and most revered animal is the donkey.  They love their donkeys!!  Several statues of the honored donkey can be found in every town, and several times over.  They are working donkeys of course but are well taken care of and once they are of retirement age, they even have a proper retirement home for them to live out their lives.  Too cute, I love it!!  One of the ways to get back down from the town to sea was via a donkey ride:) I was absolutely on board to do that, however our tour guide made a mention that the donkey’s aren’t really a fan of it, so I decided to spare the donkey a trip down the rugged terrain (sigh).  Dogs are also very popular on the island and seem to run the place.  It reminded me of dogs in Costa Rica- how they do what they want during the day, but have a place and home to go to at night.

We wandered around Thera after our tour of Oia and the winery and stopped for some lunch at Arcobaleno.  The food was delicious and the view was unbeatable as it was overlooking the center of the archipelago where the volcano remnants remain.  I had a beer filtered with volcanic rock called Volcan while my parents and sister had wine.  And of course, since I was in Greece I had to have a teeny bottle to Ouzo to finish off the meal:)  From there we did some more shopping for gifts and such, had a pedicure at the Dr. Fish Spa where they use cleaner fish to nibble off all the dead skin, then had one more drink and a wee dessert (baklava anyone?) before taking the tram back to the loading area for the small boats to take us back to the ship.

Oh, one last interesting story about Santorini: the poor houses.  Wealth was signified not by the kind of house you had (large or small) but rather by how much land you owned.  So those who weren’t wealthy, instead of having homes on land lived in homes carved out of the rock along the top edge of Santorini.  Looking at the pictures of Oia and Thera, you can see how many of the homes are practically on top of each other and built right on the edge of the land.  These were the homes for poor people.  Today of course, these homes are worth millions of dollars… Go figure!

Oh, Greeks also love their churches.  If memory serves, people in the town were allowed to build their own churches and name them in honor of a Saint (each church was in honor of a different Saint).  While the churches weren’t used every day or week, when the day came around to honor whatever Saint was associated with their church, the church owner would give it a face life, clean it up and invite the town to the church to celebrate the Saint.  Lovely:)

Last, last thing… There are actually ruins that were discovered on Santorini from the previous civilization (the one wiped out by the volcano eruption) and it has been compared to Pompeii… We didn’t have time to look into that further but it’s certainly a reason to go back:)

On to Katakolon

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Venice

Venezia!  I’ve been there a few times before and each time not only love the uniqueness of it, but something new seems to happen every time I go.  This time, it was the flooding of the streets!  While we were able to avoid most of the flooding into the streets, it was still rather wet all around and they even had the planks around on standby just in case.  The second night I spent there we were all woken up at 3:45 by the flood warning siren, joy!!  I adore San Marco’s Square, as well as the church in the square with the most unique multicolored marbled columns and warped mosaic floor!  I adore how a city built hundreds of years ago on water is still standing today!  I adore its romantic history rich with courtesans, beautiful gowns and Carnival!

This trip was unique for me however as it really wasn’t as much for me as it was for my family… Specifically my mom and dad:)  You see, each hit a major birthday milestone this year (70 & 75) so my two brothers, sister and I all chipped in to do something a little extra special for them.  My mom was the one who actually found the trip: a 7 night cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean “Splendour of the Seas” leaving from Venice, Italy with port calls to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ephesus, Turkey; Santorini, Greece and Katakolon, Greece.  My mom obviously knew all of this information, however my dad was only told that the family had chipped in for a birthday cruise for only him and I to go on.  He had no idea that my sister and mom would be joining too…

For almost 3 months prior to leaving for the cruise my mom, sister and I exchanged probably about a hundred emails going over details and how we were going to spring the surprise on my dad.  There was a ton of confusion at first because the website for Royal Caribbean is absolutely bonkers!!  You would think that they would get it together and create a site that actually works!!  But no… It seemed that just about every day for almost a straight month something was wrong with our reservation because of that idiotic site.  But thanks to some nice customer service operators, things smoothed out well.

So the plan was for my dad and I to go to Treviso (where he has a cousin) and stay with them for a couple nights.  Then he and I would go to Venice where we would stay overnight the night before having to board the cruise.  My mom and sister were to arrive in Venice mid-afternoon) from the States the day before the cruise as well.  Then they were going to meet us “randomly” at a restaurant (one we would pick in advance so I could be sure that my dad and I would be there) and the surprise would be revealed:)

That’s how it was supposed to go… Now how it REALLY went is as follows:  My dad and I did go to Treviso to see family and were dropped off in Venice mid-afternoon.  Now, the WiFi in the family’s place wasn’t quite all there all the time… At some point in the morning before leaving for Venice I just happened to refresh my email and suddenly several emails showed up saying “flight was delayed”; “stuck in Heathrow”; “missed flight due to idiotic security people at Heathrow”; “trying to leave from Gatwick”; “hope to take the 4pm flight out”…

At this point I’m a bit panicked… I’m the only one who knows they are coming, so I can’t say anything to my dad about them being off track… They are supposed to be a surprise… But now I’m a bit worried because I can’t contact them…  I checked the airport site but had no luck with any information there…

We got to Venice where my first move was to get my tablet hooked to the WiFi so I could search for any updates… Nothing, nil, zilch… I still have to play it cool however so I spend the rest of the afternoon acting as if all is well (when really I’m a bit worried on what to do in case they didn’t show, lol!) strolling around beautiful Venice with my dad.  We walked quite a bit and opted to take a canal taxi back to the hotel.

Once there, we started to get ready to go out for dinner.  I shot off a quick email to my sister and mom, hoping they would get it, about where we were planning to go.  At this point I still hadn’t heard whether they had even made it on the 4pm flight to Venice!  Before heading out for dinner, I even filled in the hotel receptionist on what was going on in case my sister and mom stopped by there!

So off to dinner we went…  It was about 8pm at this point, and though Italian meals tend to take a bit of time, I was purposefully trying to drag this dinner out as long as possible.  9pm rolled around… “sure I’ll have another beer”… 9:30 came about… “Dessert?  Why not?”… almost 10pm was upon us…

At this point I was already out of reasons to stay any longer AND I was starting to wonder if they had made that 4pm flight after all??  For, if they had, then certainly they would have been in Venice and would have been able to make it to the restaurant by now!  I thought that I better not drag dinner out any more, but rather I’d better get to my email to see what’s going on…

Just as I went to walk out the door with my dad behind me, my sister came walking in the door!!  We saw each other, our eyes widened and we immediately did an about-face, her out the door, and me toward my dad so I could try to shield him from seeing her, lol!! Unfortunately he just happened to see her face as she was coming in and the gig was up!!  She came back in (on her own as my mom was hiding around the corner as a second surprise) to greet my dad and all the details started to come out as to why she was there.  Then my sister said “you wouldn’t believe the day WE’VE had getting here”… We??? my dad asked… Who’s we???  Lol!!  Ooopppss!!  So out the door we went and my mom came out of hiding, lol!!

So while it wasn’t exactly how we had planned the surprise, it was still a great surprise for my dad nonetheless:)  My dad said after the surprise that he had been feeling tired from dinner, but was now very wide awake, lol!  I’m just glad my sister and mom made it!!

In any event, the next day we all boarded the ship and waved goodbye to Venice as we headed out to sea.

By the way, I do have to make a mention about Hotel Canal in Venice… It’s located just across the street from the train station and both times I stayed there it was a very pleasant experience!  The staff were beyond accommodating, the location was unbeatable in my book, the rooms were very spacious (both times we ended up with a room that faced directly on the Canal) and while it could probably use a tiny facelift, I really enjoyed its old style Venetian charms:)

On to Dubrovnik

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