September 22: Day Six

Coffee on a veranda overlooking the Aegean Sea. Conversations with friends about the previous evening. Anticipation of the day to come. What a great way to start a morning!

We met a mini-bus in the hotel parking lot for the short drive down to Amoudi Beach (remember backing down the final few hundred yards?) to board our sailing catamaran. Setting off for our five hour experience, we first visited the “old volcano”–the now-inactive site of a lava dome formed by the volcano that blew Santorini to smithereens in 1630BC. Anchoring, we jumped into the water and swam from normal Aegean temperatures into water heated by geothermal activity (slightly but noticeably warmer).

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Then a rather long leg to view the Red Beach (off limits because of landslides) and the White Beach (rough water that made several of the group uncomfortable) to, finally, an anchorage inside the protection of caldera at the south end of Santorini. We swam while the crew prepared a wonderful lunch of salad, pasta, shrimp, and souvlaki (pork and chicken). What a repast! Some said it was the best meal of the trip. Somehow I suspect it had less to do with the food than with the setting!img_1373  file-7file2-4file3-4img_5528

After some initial forecasts of rain, the weather turned out to be perfect. Really, it could not have been better. Glad I opted for the fair-weather option when reserving the boat!

At 3:00pm, we docked and took the mini-bus back to our hotel to shower, rest, and change into fresh cloths. We had 6:15 reservations for the Elea Restaurant at the very western edge of Oia–the better to see the sunset. Arriving at the restaurant and ordering our food, we watched not only as Helios dragged the sun into the sea at end of day, but also as all the hoi polloi (too cheap to buy a restaurant seat) pushed and jostled for a view of sunset from the sidewalk.

We had a magical day.

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September 21: Day Five

We had to get an early start today. The Ferry from Heraklion, Crete, left for Santorini at 9:00am. We needed to be at the ship by 8:00, so everyone ate an early breakfast and jumped in the vans by 7:30.

Ferrying between the Greek Islands is a luxurious experience–at least on the high-speed ferries. Seating is better and roomier than on an airplane, and you can get up, walk around, buy a coffee, and watch the views. Except in the roughest seas, the crossing is pretty smooth. It only took two hours to go from the port of Heraklion to the port of Athinios on Santorini.

We picked up our rental cars at the port (a van and two cars instead of the two vans we’d reserved–thanks for stepping up to drive the extra car Johnny!)–and made our way to Oia (pronounced EEE-yah). The Heliophos Boutique Hotel is located on the Aegean side of the Oia  promontory rather than the caldera side (anything on the caldera side in Oia is prohibitively expensive–e.g., $500-2000 per night!). But it is a lovely, quaint, traditional “cave-style” hotel with wonderful rooms. Heliophos Boutique Hotel.  And there are wonderful restaurants nestled close by.

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Checking in and unpacking, we grabbed some lunch (Krinaki Taverna) and then headed into Oia to do a little strolling and shopping and people-watching. Back to the hotel to enjoy (thanks Julie W.!) some summer sausage/crackers/apple slices/gouda cheese with some very good local Santorini wine, sitting on a shaded deck overlooking the Aegean. Magical!

Many of the group went to a restaurant just up the road (Mese Mese) and had an excellent meal. Then to bed to recharge for another fabulous day in Greece.

 

September 20: Day Four

After a leisurely morning, we piled in the vans and headed to Knossos–chief city of the Minoan Civilization. 2000 years before the birth of Christ, this city was flourishing and enjoying a level of wealth and comfort we would not imagine for ancient peoples. Palaces and temples, storehouses and art galleries, baths and civic buildings … the Minoans had it all.

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Meeting our guide Ariadne, we entered the site to gawk at sumptuous works of art, luxurious throne rooms, grand staircases, and royal chamber. Here are some examples you can use to gawk with us!

file-5file-6file1-4file1-3file2-1file2-2file2-3As we were finishing our tour of Knossos, the skies began to darken and swollen rain clouds moved in above us. It’s September as I write and there has been no rain in Crete since last April, so the land is parched and everyone is hoping for fall rains to fall. Well, they got their wish. Just as we were standing at Knossos’ “theater,” the rain began to patter and then dump. It came down in sheets and buckets. In seconds, we were soaked and running for the exits and the vans. All of us got a good drenching. But, because it was so hot, the rain felt great and actually came as a welcome relief to the heat of the past few days.

So we swam our way up into the hills surrounding Knossos/Heraklion for a tour of the Boutaris Winery. Though we had to sit in our vans for a while to wait for a break in the rain, and though the storm offered us not only rain but pea-sized hail, we finally managed to get inside and enjoy the shelter of this great winery and show-room.

First, a cooking lesson! The staff at Boutaris showed us how to make dishes such as stuffed tomatoes, Zucchini balls, and spanakopita. While the dishes they prepared were cooking, it was off to a tour of the Winery (though we passed on the rain-soaked vineyards!). We saw the vats where the grapes fermented, the barrels where the wine is aged, and watch a video on Cretan wines (or slept through the video, as the case may be … Johnny suggested later he enjoyed the car-chase scenes in the video, a sure sign that he enjoyed a good nap).

Then a return to the showroom for a tasting of several different wines made at the Winery–a white, rose, red, and dessert wine–and a “light lunch” (apparently, an oxymoronic term in Greece!). It was wonderful.

Saying “Adieu” to Ariadne, we drove back to the hotel, dropped off most of our group, while the remainder of us headed to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. What a great collection! Pottery. Statuary. Game boards. Tools (a 3500 year-old, two-person bronze saw!). A marvelous model of ancient Knossos. A grouping of fabulous murals. This is a great little museum. A collection of the highest quality but not so overwhelming as some of the mega-museums of Athens.

file3file2file1-1We returned to the hotel to pick up the rest of the group and then headed back into the medieval center of Heraklion to stroll, shop, and eat dinner. What a wonderful day! What varied experiences! We’re having a ball. Wish you could all be here with us.

September 19: Day Three

Sleeping late sounded good to some of our group. But others were ready to take in the mind-blowing National Archaeological Museum. We only had limited time. Talk about drinking from a fire-hydrant!

Breakfast and ready to go by 8:00. (OK, 8:15.) Dash to the Metro. Three stops to Onomia Square. Then a 15 minute hike to the museum. This is the largest, broadest, and deepest collection of archaic, classical, and Hellenistic Greek artifacts in the world. Marbles and bronzes, pottery and weapons, coins and medical equipment. It’s all here. We spent 1.5 hours looking at kore and kouroi, a magnificent bronze Zeus, the Antikithera Mechanism (an ancient celestial calculator?), the bronze “boy on a horse” (recovered from the sea off the coast of Artemision), the famous “Venus stepping into her bath,” the “Antikithera Boy,” and too many other masterworks to mention.

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file21file31Back to the Metro. Retrace our path to the hotel. Meet the group. Check out. Back to the Metro. Off to the airport. (That’s the sort of pace you have to keep if you want to see as much as possible!)

Next stop: Heraklion, Crete, with it’s Minoan treasures, Venetian fortress, and medieval town center. It’s just a 45 minute hop from Athens. Heraklion, the largest city of Crete, is a popular tourist destination … not only because of its climate and scenic views, but also because it is one of the cheaper Greek islands to visit (that’s comparatively speaking!). We picked up our rental vans, drove to our hotel, and checked in. Half of the group was exhausted and decided to call it a day (a swim in the Aegean sounded pretty good).

The rest of us met our guide Ariadne and drove into the city center to take the two-hour tour of this busy, commercial town. Lots of shopping. Lots of restaurants. But tucked between them all are some little jewels: the Church of St Titus (who first evangelized Crete–Titus 1:5) … a Venetian fortress and Loggia … a Byzantine Church of St Minos (named after the most famous king of Knossos, the nearby Minoan site) and an Ottoman era church of the same name.

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As in so many towns in Greece, the culture is very “outdoor” oriented, with families strolling, restaurants serving at sidewalk tables, and musicians filling the air with tunes. It was delightful and an experience so different from our normal routines.

Finally, we drove back to the hotel to join the rest of the group for a late dinner. Then on to bed in preparation for another event-filled day.

 

September 18: Day Two II

We’re just having too much fun! I can’t fit it all in one blog post!

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We had a short but inspirational visit to Mars Hill (the Areopagus).

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Then we toured through the Agora with all it’s religious, civic, and commercial buildings. Admittedly, there’s not much left now–mostly foundations and, of course, the glorious Hephaestion. But it’s fun to wander in the footsteps of Socrates and Pericles and Julius Caesar and Alexander … to see places where Paul would have stood to preach … to view the “Agora Prison” where Socrates may well have drunk the hemlock.

We went to lunch then (Sabbas for my favorite gyros pita) and a quick view of Monastiraki Square. I lost most of the group at this point (who wanted to return to the hotel to rest). So an intrepid few (Johnny and Tony and Tony and David and Sharon) followed me back to the Agora for a look at the Agora Museum (0ne of my favorite spots in Athens). Afterwards, the Shaubs peeled off for a little shopping, and the four guys stopped for coffee and a long chin-wag.

That evening, the group met for a brief commemoration of the Supper (the Shaubs led us in this).

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Then we headed off to Psara’s–one of my favorite restaurants in Athens. What a gorgeous evening! We met Konstantina from Aristotle Travels (who helped us with our arrangements) and enjoyed getting to know her better. We sat on Psara’s terrace with the Acropolis, Themistocles’ wall, and the Erechtheion looming above us. We ate until we could eat no more as the sky darkened and the lights illuminating the Acropolis came on and brightened. By the end of the meal, the Acropolis shone above us in all its glory.

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The “Acropolis Night Walk” is always a highlight of these trips. Walking around the pedestrian esplanade … strolling along the “Apostolou Paulo” and “Dionysius Areopagatou” (see the end of Acts 17) …staring up at the wonder of ancient Athens. We caught a very rare sight on this circuit–the moon rising above the Parthenon … something I’d never seen before. It was magnificent.

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20160917_205214_llsWell, with that, our second day ended and we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep and replenishment for the adventures ahead.

 

 

 

 

September 18: Day Two

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Funny … everyone was in a better mood today! A good night’s sleep does wonders.

We woke to a beautiful day–sunny and hot. Had a great breakfast at the hotel. Today is a big day. Lots of walking involved. Lots of incredible sights. We footed it from the hotel to the entrance to the Acropolis, climbed the Sacred Way, entered through the Propylaea, and walked among some of the most famous buildings in history.

If you haven’t been to Athens, if you haven’t seen the trio of fabled marble temples (the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and the Parthenon), it’s hard to give voice to the kind of impact these sights make. These are not just buildings. They are history in marble … a culture enshrined … pain and struggle turned into stone and architectural perfection. These are structures that have set the standard and been the model architectural monuments and government buildings all over the world. The White House in Washington, the British Museum in London, St Peter’s in Rome draw from architectural themes established at the Acropolis. It is the most influential collection of buildings in the world.

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After we’d drunk the dregs of Acropolis glory, we made our way (carefully!) down to the Areopagus (Mars Hill) and rested for a few moments in the shade, staring up at this unimposing hunk of rock. It’s just a rise situated beside (and dwarfed by) the Acropolis above and overlooking the Agora below. Yet the Areopagus is a significant historical site. This is where the council of Athens (the eponymous “Areopagus”) met. This is where the most powerful citizens of Athens gathered to discuss and deliberate.

And this is where Paul stood before the council and made his impassioned defense of the gospel of a risen Savior. We stood on the spot where Paul spoke and read the words of his speech:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

It is one thing to read this speech in a church building 5000 miles removed. It is another to read it in the shadow of the Acropolis, in the presence of the Areopagus, in the context in which it was spoken. Talk to any of the group. They will tell you how differently they heard Paul’s words because they were standing in his place.

This blog has gotten too long. Look at “Day Two II” for a continuation of the adventure.

Sept 17: Day One

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Again, a little catching up to do.

Tim’s Thread:

After climbing the daunting Ancient Thira site (see yesterday’s blog) and checking out the Thira Archaeological Museum in the morning and early afternoon, I headed back to Oia. I still needed to spend time looking at the hotel, thinking through logistics, familiarizing myself with the town layout, and confirming arrangements for dinner, hiking, sailing, etc. I spent a beautiful evening eating stuffed vine leaves on a restaurant mezzanine, watching the sun go down. Here’s a photo or two for you to drool over:

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I had an 8:45 am plane to catch in order to meet the group in Athens, so I had to make an early start. Up, shower, pack, drive to the airport, top off with gas, drop off the car. Good … an hour to spare. Wait! The check-in line for the Santorini airport snaked out the front door and down the side walk. This could be trouble. It nearly was. I barely made it on the plane in time. Fortunately I made it to Athens in time to greet the group as they stumbled off their flight from JFK.

Group Thread:

The group had an uneventful flight from Nashville to Athens, after some initial trouble getting Julie Woodroof’s passport scanned and bags on the plane. Uneventful or not, it is a long flight and the fatigue was evident in faces and posture when they came out of Customs and spilled into the Arrivals Hall at the Athens airport.img_5449

They were eager to get straight to the airport, shower and change, and begin the hard, diligent work  of trying to stay awake until a decent hour this evening. So we caught the Metro into Athens (about 45 minutes from the airport to Acropolis Station) and walked the few blocks to the Herodion Hotel. Since it was before noon, only half our rooms were ready. Some of us had to wait in the hotel bar (Coke Lights and lots of water) until (finally) we could drop our bags and grab a quick shower.

About 2:30pm we headed back out again, grabbed a gyros pita, and then toured the New Acropolis Museum. What a magnificent place! And that just describes the building (finished in 2009). The holdings inside are beyond magnificent. What’s an adequate word? Uber-magnificent? Hyper-magnificent? The collections of the Louvre and the Vatican are certainly broader. And even the National Archaeological Museum holds more and more diverse artifacts. But each of these collections represents holdings from all over the world (or from all over Greece). EVERYTHING in the New Acropolis comes from the Acropolis. The sheer scope of this collection, drawn from one, compact site, is stunning.

After drooling over the Sandal Binder and the Critios Boy and the friezes/metopes of the Parthenon, we paused at the museum mezzanine for a reviving cup of coffee and (again/always lots of water). There was some debate about next steps, the fatigue and jet-lag pulling the group towards the hotel and bed. But everyone gritted their teeth and determined to get through the next four hours so we could turn-in at a normal (?) hour and start setting our body clocks.

So a stroll through the Plaka, past the Kapnekarea (an 11th Century Orthodox church), up Ermou Street (the most expensive shopping in Athens!), to Syntagma Square. Then back to a quiet restaurant to enjoy a light meal of appetizers (stuffed vine leaves, kalimari, tzatziki, stuffed mushrooms, spanikopia, feta cheese and philo, meatballs, eggplant salad, olives, and bread) and wine.

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After putting it to a vote, it was decided to save the night walk around the Acropolis until tomorrow night (what a slaughter!). So wending our way through the happy crowds and the evening cool, we strolled back to the hotel, briefly touched on tomorrow’s schedule, and bid one another a restful evening.

A great first day. And some good portents for the rest of the trip. The group is willing, eager, and tough. We walked (according to my Health app) about 5.5 miles (13,315 steps!). And that was in a jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, state!

Ancient Thira–Santorini

The site of Ancient Thira is worth seeing. Although, to be honest, it’s hard work to get to! First, you drive a steep and narrow lane to get within striking distance of the site itself. I counted twenty-two “switch backs” and a great deal of elevation gain. (Planes landing at the Santorini airport were flying in well below me when I finally parked the car.) And NARROW. Much of the way, two cars could not pass at the same time. Only in Greece!

And once you get out of your car, there is still quite a hike involved. My iPhone “Health” app indicated that I’d walked over three miles and climbed thirty-four floors! To get to this site and tour it, you’ve really got to “want it.”

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Once there, the site is fairly typical of many truly ancient sites in Greece. No standing buildings. Mostly foundations and street grids. Some interesting carvings. A temple or two. Housing areas for the great and the small. Public spaces (like the Agora and a stoa or two and gymnasia). The site shows development from the first millennium (Greek temples) all the way to the 6th Century AD (a “basilica” or church).

What strikes you most, however, is the ancient obsession with security. This small city was built on a prominent peak that was imminently defensible. Just to get to it required a hike of several miles, all of it with a daunting uphill climb. Imagine carting food and fuel and furniture up this grade on a regular basis! Much less leading an assault against determined and fortified troops! It’s hard to describe the lengths and efforts ancient people undertook to ensure the safety of their cities and families. And it highlights, for all the angst and handwringing, just how secure modern life is compared to the ancients. They lived in a world where war, slaughter, and starvation were a daily and close-to-hand reality. It was WWII all the time and at their front door.

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Arrival at Santorini

I’m a little behind. After dropping off the rental car at the airport Tuesday afternoon, I took the bus back into Heraklion and walked back to my hotel where I rested and read for a few hours. That evening, I walked around the medieval town for a couple of hours, becoming more familiar with the layout and looking for a promising restaurant. In the end, I went back to the hotel and had dinner at their roof-top restaurant–a great and fresh seafood pasta with gorgeous views of Heraklion harbor and the 15th Century Venetian fortress standing guard over the port. (I was so involved with the food, I forgot to take pictures!)

The next morning (Wednesday), I packed up, checked out, and walked down to the port to catch the ferry to Santorini. The ferry left at 9:00am so, to give myself plenty of time, I had to make an early start of things. (Another wonderful breakfast: fresh-squeezed orange juice, lovely grapefruit, and strong coffee.)

Made the ferry in good time and settled in for the trip. The crossing from Crete to Santorini took two hours. (These high-speed ferries are huge BTW … you hardly know you’re on the ocean.)

When I arrived, I had to take a taxi from the port just to get to my rental car. (A hassle and an expense, but better than walking the long climb out of the caldera to the modern town of Fira and then hunting around for the rental car agency.) My car was not yet available, however, so I walked around for an hour and grabbed lunch. Here are photos of my tomato and cucumber salad and the view I enjoyed.

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And here is a video of the Santorini Caldera–a truly magnificent sight.

Finally picked up the car and headed to Oia. Driving in Santorini is a unique experience. People here seem to have no sense of personal vulnerability … or knowledge of road rules! Got to my hotel and promptly set out to walk Oia and get some sense of the place (I’ve never been here before.) What a beautiful town. And the views! Here’s a shot from my hotel balcony.

file-41And, finally, a panoramic video of the Aegean Ocean–again from my hotel balcony.