Greece

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Please just let us leave!

Published January 8, 2016 by jillamatt

If you have read about our Santorini experience (Santorini or Bust(Ed)! part 1 & part 2), you likely won’t be surprised that we had no qualms with leaving. 

Don’t get me wrong!  It’s an absolutely STUNNING place, and I would still be dying of curiosity of what it looked like in real life, if we hadn’t have gone there to see it, especially since we were already so close. 

But, when we woke up the morning of our flight, we just REALLY wanted to get the heck off that island!

The day we were leaving Paros Island, to come to Santorini, we asked the ferry company what the schedule was like back to Athens. 

We had 2 options. One of them was a 14 hour ferry ride, arriving in Athens at around 8:30pm, and the other was an 8 hour ride, arriving at 11:30pm. 

We discussed the options, and quite frankly didn’t like either one. The 14 hour option left first thing in the morning, meaning a whole day spent on the ferry, and the 8 hour option got us in very late at night, making it awkward to get to our Air BnB that we had booked. Plus we would be flying out at 8:00 the next morning, and already knew we needed to be on the metro by 5:30am. 

I pulled up cheapoair.com on my mobile, just to see what flight prices might be as an alternative option.  I found a flight through Ryan Air that was going to cost us collectively about $60 more than if we were to take the ferry. We felt at that moment that it was a justified expense, and would get us in to Athens at 9:30am, a much more appropriate arrival time, and only a 50 minute flight.   Sweet deal!  We were stoked with our decision, and I booked the flights right away. 

So, the morning of our departure from Santorini, we had to fork over another 15 Euros for an airport transfer through our hotel. A taxi MAY have been cheaper, but likely not, and the bus…..well, we didn’t exactly trust the bus schedule anymore. Again, it was an inflated price for the length of the trip, less than 10 minutes. 

Now, we do realize that we weren’t exactly on Santorini during an ideal travel time. Although the off season is nice for lack of people, I can imagine that things run a lot more smoothly when it’s high season, and also not the Christmas season. I’m quite sure that it would be a wonderful vacation destination, although likely still quite expensive.  We just chalked up everything to another learning experience, and will try not to make the same mistakes again. 

Either way, we were off to the airport!

We arrived in plenty of time and immediately saw our line to check in. We approached the desk and the lady asked for our boarding passes. I said I didn’t have them as we had booked online with my cell phone. She told us that an email had been sent telling us to check in online and that it was mandatory. You either needed to have a printed boarding pass from your computer, or you can check in with your mobile, and just show her the boarding pass on your screen, and apparently that is good enough. (However, we later learned that ONLY European Union citizens are able to do the mobile check in option with Ryan Air.)

Now! I have traveled on many different airlines (but as stated before, not in many years), and had never HAD to check in online before. Often times you can do it IF YOU WANT TO, and that is what I assumed the email was all about. Quite frankly I didn’t even read it. 

She also informed me that we hadn’t paid for our checked luggage. Okay……guess I missed that memo as well in the booking process. Whoops!  She crossed our name off of some list, filled out some papers for me to give to the airport services lady, and then directed us to her desk.  

We arrived at the counter and gave her our paperwork, still stunned with what the heck was going on. This certainly was not anything I had experienced before. She typed some stuff in a computer, and looked up to me. 

“That will be 224 Euros.”  She said. (PS. This equals $360 CAD!)

Whaaaaaaaaattttttttt??????   I think my eyes literally bulged out of my head. 

“What???  How much did you say??”

She repeated the number and then went on to explain that the “printing” of the boarding passes would be 50 Euros each, and the luggage was 62 Euros for each checked bag. She also told me that the instructions were very clear on the email that I should have gotten. 

I looked at Chris who was now red with anger and completely beside himself. Who am I kidding?  We were both beside ourselves with anger. What the hell was it going to take to get us off of this, what we had now deemed,  godforesaken island???

After a brief discussion about forgetting the flight all together, and catching the ferry instead, I sheepishly slid my VISA card across the counter at her. She HANDWROTE 2 boarding passes for us, happily charged our card and we proceeded to our gate. 

Not much was said between us getting to the gate and getting on our flight. We were both exhausted and stunned with the crazy turn of events that the last few days had presented, and couldn’t help but think we had somehow been punished for not sticking to our original plan of going to Peloponnese. However, what was done was done, and we were just happy to get off the island, and continue on with our journey. 

 

Goodbye Santorini!!!

 We had a spectacular flight to Athens and I marvelled at the views of the islands below. I couldn’t help but think that we would have to return to Greece some day to see more of what this country is about. But would need some time to recover from this trip, that’s for sure! 

Such a spectacular view!

   
We spent the night in Athens at the Air BnB I had booked while on Paros.  It was located in an entirely different part of the city, and it was a much calmer and more peaceful neighbourhood than what we had experienced in the down town section, close to the Acropolis.  

The Monastiraki metro station.

  

Lots of plant life on the balconies in this area of Athens.

  

Lots of trees and a much quieter neighbourhood.

 Having timed our journey on the metro from the airport after arriving from Santorini, we knew that we needed about an hour and 10 minutes to get back to the airport the next morning. 

Our flight was at 8:20, so we figured if we caught the metro around 5:30, we would get to the airport close to the recommended 90 minute advance arrival time. 

Unfortunately, we underestimated our walk to the metro, and also stopped to grab a coffee, so we didn’t get there until about 5:50. We bought our tickets, good for 70 minutes, and we were off. 

We caught the train, and started the process of heading to the airport. Our one train change went smoothly, and we knew that we were on our way. 

However, about 5 stops away from the airport, our train stopped, everyone got off and the lights turned off. ‘Ummmmmmmmm…….okay, I guess we better get off as well.’ I thought. 

Chris WAS NOT impressed as we stumbled off with our bags, completely confused. To make matters worse, when we exited the train, a digital sign hung above us announcing that the next train for the airport would be there in 24 minutes!

Ack!!!!  Now things were getting worriesome!  It was now 6:30, and we had another 15-20 minutes to go on the train before we got to the airport. We were both annoyed by these changes in our plans, but at that point there wasn’t much we could do about it. Trying to catch a cab would likely take longer, and we didn’t want to start trying to find alternatives. 

Chris was incensed!  I don’t think I have ever seen him quite so angry!  We both felt that if we missed the flight because of this, we would start swimming to Italy!  By now we wanted out of Greece so bad, it wasn’t even funny. 

And to top it off, our 70 minute tickets that we had purchased, would be expired by the time we got to the airport. I couldn’t help but think that that would be the real icing on the cake!  But, in the state I was in, I wouldn’t wish trying to deal with attempting to charge me for an invalid ticket, on my worse enemy!  I briefly thought about running up the stairs while we waited, to purchase tickets that would lengthen our validation time. But I dismissed it hoping that if in fact we got asked, they would let us off due to this unexpected turn of events. 

We sat and sat and stared at the digital clock, counting down the minutes one by one. Of course, it wasn’t exactly 24 minutes, and the clock would jump from 9 minutes, to 10 minutes, and then back to nine again, and so on. I think it finally arrived at about 5 after 7:00. 

We finally borded the train and proceeded to the airport, with much relief that we were finally on our way.  However, after about 5 minutes, the train stopped and sat in the dark tunnels, somewhere under Athens, for what seemed like eternity, but was likely only 5 minutes. 

Chris and I just kept looking at each other in disbelief, but encouraging ourselves to take deep breaths. We had a plan to move as fast as we could towards the check in counter, as soon as the train stopped. 

I don’t even know exactly when we got there, but we jumped off that train and took off as fast as our legs could carry us, with the huge backpacks on our backs. By then I had reasoned that what will be will be, and we just needed to move!

We checked in and got our boarding passes from the electronic kiosk, then proceeded to the counter to check our baggage. Of course, there was a fee (although thankfully we were now flying with Aegan Air), and I slid my Visa card to the lady, not even wanting to know what it was costing. However, she did announce that it was 30 Euros each. 

I said that was fine, and felt like saying we don’t care anymore, JUST GET US OUT OF HERE!!

She said “This charge is only  good for one way.”  We laughed and both exclaimed at once “Oh we only intend to go one way!”

By then we were not only officially done with Santorini, we were absolutely FINISHED with Greece altogether!

She told us boarding was at 7:40, at which time I let out a bit of a laugh because guess what!?  It was 7:40 right then!!!

We zoomed off to our gate and cleared security with ease, thankfully!  We arrived as they were announcing boarding for first class. We had enough time to hit the bathroom and that was it!

As the plane took off, we high fived each other and celebrated the fact that we had made it!  We were getting the heck out of there, and were bound for Italy. A whole new adventure awaited, and we knew that it was all downhill from there!

Next up we spend 4 nights in Northern Italy to spend New Years with a good friend from Canada!

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Santorini or Bust(ED)! Part Two.  

Published January 6, 2016 by jillamatt

We awoke early the next morning, determined to make the most of our second day touring around Santorini. Having booked the rental car would allow us to freely see everything that we needed to. 

We got our car around 8:30, with no problems, but when we were about to drive off, the attendant explained the gas situation to us. 

“Yes, the gas is on empty, but you only need 10 litres to drive around the whole island.  So put that in and you will be fine.”

At least that is what I thought he said, Chris thought he said 10 Euros, which, we both decided would likely make more sense. The gas was 1.69 Euros/Litre, roughly $2.50 Canadian. YIKES!! Either way, it was not the typical rental agreement where you just fill it up when you are finished. 

We filled up first with 10 Euros and the blinking empty indicator bar moved up one notch. Good enough, as long as it stayed there, we felt comfortable that we wouldn’t run out. Chris had decided the night before that I was to be the one to drive. He doesn’t do the whole ‘erratic’ driving thing well, and we had seen enough of the crazy driving going on while we walked around, to make him realize that I would be more likely to maintain a cool head, and get us off the island without some sort of road rage incident. 

Our first destination was the famous Akrotiri  archeology site. An ancient Minoan civilization site that was believed to have been buried in volcanic ash in the 17th century, perfectly preserving the structures and artifacts that the citizens used at the time. The really cool thing is that not one human remain had been found, which means they had a very organized evacuation planned, before the volcano fully erupted. 

I had read about this in our Lonely Planet guide.  The words used to describe it were “Gob Smacking”, and I was very excited to see this spectacle. It was REALLY the only sight that I had pre-planned seeing while on Santorini. 

We wound our way through rolling fields and along the edge of the Caldera, taking in the scenery. Signs directed us easily to the site, but when we arrived it looked very quiet, and I realized that it wasn’t open yet. 

There was a gate with a sign so Chris went and looked at it. He came back to the car and announced, “It’s closed on the 25,26,27th.”  

“Oh no!”  I announced, immediately followed with, “Oh, wait!  It’s the 28th!”

He looked at me perplexed and returned to the gate. “Oh, it’s closed on Mondays.”  He said on his return. 

Aaaaaargh!  How annoying!!  I was so sad to not be able to see this ancient sight. I creeped the car out of the parking lot thinking “Now what?”  I felt like a rug had been pulled out from under me. I drove slowly, staring out the windshield with a mix of utter astonishment, and total disbelief of our terrible luck. To top it off, the gas indicator had resumed its blinking ’empty’ status already, which made is both very uneasy.

 This initiated the first of many discussions about whether or not we thought we had put in enough fuel or not. We tried to calculate how much we had put in compared to litres back home, and how many days that would have lasted etc. It was decided that at some point, we should put 5 more Euros in, which would bring the total LITRES added to nine, a happy medium considering neither of us were 100% sure what the rental guy had said. 

Hmmmmmm okay, moving on. 

We followed the road back out and went to another town called Pyrgos. I had read that it was a village worth seeing, and we wanted to find a coffee shop or something that was open. 

Pyrgos is perched on the top of a hill that is capped with an old Castle at the top. We started to ascend up some stairs from the road, and were greeted with incredibly cute and quaint little walkways winding their way up the hillside.  

The alleyway we walked up at Pyrgos.

 People lounged outside their homes, along the passageways, and it was impossible for us Canadians, who have the luxury of huge yards and much privacy around us, to not feel like we were somehow trespassing. We would say hello in a shy quiet English, embarrassed to still not know the Greek version after our two week Wwoofing stint.  

A lady sits on the stairway in front of her house.

   

   

The tunneled entrance to the castle.

 
They didn’t really seem to care that we were there stomping around in their village, but they certainly weren’t into making us feel welcome either. Like I said, it did feel like some sort of strange trespassing.  

Reminds me of Middle Eastern architecture.

   
 We made our way up to the top where the Castle was located, and took in some fabulous vistas below.  

Looking North on the island. Oia is in the far distance while Fira is mid island.

 After going back down and having some coffee (and Ouzo for Chris) we decided to go to the very Southern tip of the island, where there was a lighthouse, to look at the view of the Caldera from that vantage point. As we were still a bit bummed with missing Akrotiri, we just sat in the car and ate a snack, taking in the view, and didn’t even hike out to the lighthouse. Which I now regret a little.  

Looking North along the Calderra edge

 I think it’s safe to say at that point that we both felt a little deflated. It was 11:00 in the morning, and without being able to see Akrotiri, there wasn’t a ton left for us to do with our day. 

The mix of emotions was very strange indeed. We jumped from sadness and frustration, to immense gratitude for what we were looking at, to regret for possibly missing something special in Peloponnese. 

We sat and stared at the view for a bit and then headed off to Kamari, and the sight of Ancient Thira. This was to be another popular archeological sight, located on the steep slopes of a mountain near Kamari. I had also learned that Kamari had black sand beaches from the lava rock, always worth checking out. 

Because it is located at ocean height, and on the opposite side of the Caldera edge, Kamari itself is probably one of the more popular beach destinations. It wasn’t much of a surprise that the town would be pretty quiet at this time of the year, clearly not beach weather. 

We drove through town pretty quickly and pulled up to the beach to get out and take a look at the sand, and stretch our legs for a bit.  

Black sand composed of many different bits.

 We were part of only a handful of people wandering around, and the beach front buildings were completely borded up and much to our disappointment, the mini golf was closed, which would have helped us to at least kill some time. 

We could see the spectacular sight of where we were to go to see Ancient Thira from the beach, and I eyed up the steep switchback road with much intrepidation, I must say.  

The dark green section is the scary switchback we are about to drive on.

 We knew that before heading up that road, we DEFINITELY needed to put the 5 Euros of gas in. We proceeded to the nearest gas station and the attendant literally squeezed the pump for 30 seconds, and we were done. To our utter disappointment, the blinking empty light did not go away, but we felt a bit better about the situation anyways. 

We headed over to the start of what may be the scariest road I have ever driven on. Of course, the sign at the bottom announced that we were entering Ancient Thira, and that it too was closed on Mondays. Neither of us were surprised by this, but the road was open, so we proceeded up anyways. 

At the start, the road had a small 2 foot high median at the edge, which made us both feel a bit better. The switchbacks were literally stacked on top of each other, and there was hardly any room to pass, had another car been in sight. Thankfully we only came across one other vehicle, and it was at the top when we were leaving. 

I hugged the cliff side as tight as I dared, and Chris mentioned a couple times that he was concerned about our tire getting caught in the foot deep gutter that ran down that edge. Although that would have sucked as well, we both agreed that the alternative on the outside edge was far worse. Especially when we reached the top 1/4 of the road, and there was no median, and the asphalt was crumbling away on the side, falling into the abyss below. “White knuckling it” doesn’t even begin to describe what my body was doing. Maybe more like “entire body seizing up from utter fear” would be more accurate at this point.  

  

A taste of the switchbacks nearing the top.

  

The bottom portion heading up. Notice the nice wall on the outside?

  

Somehow we made it up to the top, mostly because turning around WAS NOT even an option. The top platform was pretty much just big enough to hold a few (like 4) cars, and I was incredibly thankful, again, that we weren’t fighting traffic and many other cars that I am sure the high season brings with it. 

We got out of the car, after checking the parking brake about 4 times. We walked up the hill to the gate of Ancient Thira, just to see if we could see something. Of course, we couldn’t, but my body was happy to relax a bit and my shaking had subsided somewhat.  

Thank goodness for small cars! This is the top.

  

Looking West to the Calderra.

  

Looking East over Kamari.

 The views below were breathtaking, and we could see Kamari and the East coast below us, as well as the Caldera edge and the rest of the Island beyond. We took a few minutes to capture some photos, and then decided to head off. 

As we discussed leaving, my body automatically resumed its seized up state, as I realized the going down part may be incredibly scary, likely scarier in fact. I put the car in first gear, and we slid down the mountainside like a slug sliding off a plant, barely breathing, let alone talking, the whole way down. 

By now, we had officially seen everything we needed to. The only road we hadn’t been on was the alternative route (the one the taxi didn’t take the day before) to Oh Yeah (fuc?ing Oia!) that ran along the east side of the island.   We thought we “may as well” take the road, and see if we could find a place to stop for lunch on the way. By now it was about 1:00, and we were both getting hungry. 

We passed through Fira, and followed signs pointing to the East, that said Oia. We got about 3 km when we came to what looked to be a happening town that may have an open restaurant. We parked the car and walked around for a bit, not finding anything. We finally ducked into a little convenience store and asked if something was open. The young girl inside said “No, only in Fira there are open restaurants.” 

Oky doky!!  We headed back to Fira for lunch. While there, we ate in a beautiful spot with a lovely courtyard. We discussed the possibility of just dropping off the car and wandering around Fira some more, and not bothering with the other road. As we ate I just got more and more frustrated with the whole scenario, and finally said that we have the car, we may as well use it to see whatever else there is to see.  

The beautiful restaurant we ate at.

 We set off again on the road to Oia. We wound and twisted our way through lovely green fields, and caught glimpses of the Aegan Sea to our right. 

At some point, we were following a car, probably a little too close. It wobbled slightly to the left and by the time my brain had a chance to react, a pigeon walked from the ditch, DIRECTLY INTO my front right tire. We felt the bump, bump and I looked in my rear view mirror to see a burst of white feathers erupt from the back of the car. 

“Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh” I wailed, immediately putting on the brakes, frantically trying to figure out if we should stop, or keep, going or what. 

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!”

“What do I do?  What do I do?”  I said over and over. 

There was a car behind me that was also following quite close to me, close enough in fact that he likely got a puff of white feathers all over his windshield. He had stopped and pulled to the side of the road, and was now getting out of his car to go check on the situation. As it was a pretty narrow road, I felt that it wasn’t smart to stop, we were already 100m or more away, and hopefully the other guy would make sure it was out of its misery, if nothing else. Although, based on the whole scenario, I don’t think there was any suffering going on.

“Why, why, whhhhyyyyy did he do that?” I asked the universe (of course referring to the pigeon, and already deciding that it was clearly MALE.)

We decided that it MUST have been suicidal!  What else would possess it to do that?

“Wwwwwaaaahhhhhhhhh” I continued to wail. Still completely shocked and horrified by the whole situation. I couldn’t help but think if we would have just dropped off the darn car, the poor pigeon would still be alive (although if it WAS suicidal, I’m sure it would have found another innocent bystander to successfully horrify!)

We continued to drive the coast line to Oia, then headed straight back to Fira, completely defeated and OFFICIALLY DONE with Santorini!  We just wanted to go back to our room, and curl up in little balls, fly out the next morning, and be done with it!

We dropped off the car in Fira. Of course the guy wanted to turn the key to look at something…….the blinking gas light perhaps??  Still not sure on that one. Either way, they asked if we were sure we were finished, as it WAS only 3:00 after all. 

“Oh yes, we are finished!”  We both announced with much gusto. They tore up our damage deposit slip and we were off. 

As we walked away I mentioned something to Chris about the fact that I supposed there were no pigeon feathers stuck to the undercarriage, or I’m sure they would have inquired about it. 

We decided that the sun was shining, and we may as well take in the stunning views of the Caldera once again. We headed out there, and were thrilled to find that more places were now open, than had been on the weekend. We managed to sit on a balcony with a spectacular view, and we had a drink and let the warm sun shine down on us for a while. Not much was said between us as we both just stared at the view and contemplated what had transpired over the last couple days. 

 

Enjoying the warmth of the Santorini sun one last time.

 
I think the sun helped to cheer us up, as we had regained a little bounce in our step as we left. Or maybe, it was just the booze. Either way, our mood had improved and we were already starting to recover, mentally,  from our crazy Santorini adventures. 

We walked back towards our hotel and found a great dinner spot that we hadn’t gone to yet. This place turned out to be the cheapest, and best spot that we had been to since arriving on Santorini. By now we had over spent our budget by a lot, and we were very happy to save a bit of money for our last night (but of course also wishing we had found it sooner.)

Just around the corner from our hotel was a little convenience store. As we walked by, I decided that we needed to get something to help us forget the crazy day that we just had. We ducked in quickly, and came out with a tiny, cheap bottle of Ouzo. The plan was, in my words; “We are going to go back to our hotel, and we are going to drink this and celebrate that WE CAME to Santorini!  And we are going to be thankful for this trip!  And we are going to put this whole crazy show behind us damn it!!”

As we rounded the bend, we were presented with the mostly full moon, left over from Christmas. There was a small pullout off the road, a concrete wall to lean on, and a spectacular view before us.  As the moon glittered off the ocean, we stopped, drank our tiny bottle of Ouzo on the road side, and marvelled at the spectacular place we were in, and how lucky we were to be alive!  

But wait!  We haven’t left Santorini yet!  Stay tuned……..we are not quite finished. 

Santorini or Bust(Ed)! Part One. 

Published January 4, 2016 by jillamatt

Santorini was interesting to say the least! I will put in a warning here that both parts 1 & 2 will likely be long and epic recounts of our visit.  But, I can also assure you that they will be interesting and entertaining reads!  

———–

Our initial plan after Wwoofing on Paros, was to head to Peloponnese , another area of Greece, to stay with a man that we met through the Couchsurfing network. We had been in contact with him from Canada, before we left, and had planned to either stay with him a couple days before Christmas, or a couple days just after. He has an olive farm, and it was harvest season. Although it wasn’t a Wwoofing arrangement, we told him that we would be happy to help him on his farm solely to learn about harvesting olives. 

As the holidays drew nearer, we became more and more concerned with travelling by bus, or by any means for that matter, during the hectic holiday season. We had visions of 4 hour bus rides with standing room only, or just madness trying to get on buses that were already full. We were both quite concerned with getting back to Athens, and then not being able to get to our final destination. The online bus timetables were very hard to figure out, and the website itself warned us that schedules changed all the time, and were unpredictable. 

With only 3 days to spare, and no information to find on length of travel times to get to our destination, we decided to head to Santorini, a fairy tale island that I had seen many pictures of, and a very popular tourist destination, almost year round. Plus, it was only a 2.5 hour ferry ride away, and we had managed to secure a hotel room for $34/night through Air BnB.   

Our ferry route starting from Paros on the top left, to Santorini at the bottom.

 
    

The day we arrived was absolutely spectacular!  The sun shone bright and we had wonderful views of the magnificence of the island as we pulled in on the ferry. As many of the main towns are built atop the rim of a Caldera, the buildings drip impossibly off the edge, like icing sliding down the side of a cake. 

Initially the white tips far above us looked like snow capped mountains. As we got closer, individual structures came into focus, and many of us on the ferry marvelled at the magnificence of it all.  

Snow capped mountains?

   

The hotel offered us a free pick up when we arrived. The road to the top of the Caldera was pretty awesome. It is a series of switchbacks that lead higher and higher, and it seems that the road was as significant of an engineering feat, as the buildings that hung off the cliff side above us.  

The view of the road from the ferry.

  

Looking out the back window.

  

The ferry we came on below.

 As we had arrived at 3:30, we were very eager to drop off our luggage, and get out to Fira, the capital city of the island. It is here where the majority of the fabulous spectacle resides. We walked the 20 minutes into town, took a left when it looked like we were close, and were greeted with a spectacle indeed.  

  

Hard to describe in words!

  
 Tiny little passageways wound their way up and down stairs, and around bends as we wove our way through the town. Each buildings roof became the foundation for the one above it, or it became a large patio or pool, where you could sit and while away the day, staring at the fantastic scenery below.  

We were greeted by these church bells as we approached the edge.

    
 Around every corner, a new and equally incredible view would simply take our breathe away. We were both equally ecstatic, in that moment, that we had made the decision to come to Santorini, instead of heading to Peloponnese. 

As it was Boxing Day, many places weren’t open, and we weren’t sure if it was a slow season thing, or a Boxing Day thing, but the sun was starting to set and we had really only found one restaurant that was open, and that had a view of the Caldera and the setting sun beyond. It was definitely on the expensive side for us, but we rationalized that it was the Christmas season after all, and maybe we deserved to spoil ourselves a little, and for a moment, forget about our low budget travelling goals.  

We really found the perfect spot!

  

The name of our restaurant shaped out of Oregano, on a plate of authentic Greek Moussaka.

 
The meal was fantastic, and we had Ouzo and wine, and marvelled at what an amazing place we were in. The sun set turned out to be the best one that we had for the three nights we were there, so we definitely nailed the perfect spot on the perfect night. 

The next morning we had a bit of a late start (likely due to the Ouzo and wine the night before), and headed out for breakfast around 10:00. It was a bit of a challenge to find something open, as now it was not only still technically the holidays, but it was Sunday. Many bakeries were open offering up delectable treats, but unfortunately I am allergic to wheat, and it’s just not worth it for me to eat it when we are trying to have a good time. It really does have the capacity to put me in the foulest mood, and I’m quite often not satisfied until everyone around me is in a bad mood as well. Doesn’t exactly make for holiday fun, if you know what I mean!?

We ended up finding a nice place serving omlettes, and we both left satisfied. We happily walked off into Fira, to catch the bus to another cliff hanging settlement called Oia, the second largest community on the Island. 

As we had two days to explore, and Fira is pretty much the mid point, we decided to do the North end, mostly Oia, on day one and head South on the second day to take in many other sights that we wanted to see. Having had a late start already, we were happy that we only needed to see Oia that day. 

We walked for about 10 of the remaining 15 minutes into Fira when we realized that we had left the passports in our hotel room. 

Now!  Call me paranoid if you must, but there is ONE THING that you do not leave lying around when you are travelling, and that is YOUR PASSPORT!  We both felt that we really needed to go back and get them. Unfortunately, this set us back quite a bit in our day, and it ended up being, unbeknownst to us at the time, the decision that really messed up our plans. 

We went back and grabbed them (yay!), and then set off for the bus stop near our hotel. When we had been given the ride from the Ferry to the Hotel, our driver had shown us the stop and told us that the bus will take us to Fira and Oia, and it comes every half hour. Okay, good enough we thought. We were sick of walking, and a bus sounded like a good plan. 

We got there at about 12:10, so I figured that we had 20 minutes to wait for the bus. There was a paper schedule hanging on the pole, and sure enough, it looked like buses ran every half hour. We sat and waited, and waited, and waited until finally it was 12:40. I looked at the schedule again, and finally deciphered that the bus we were trying to catch, was only going to get us to Fira anyways, and we would have to pay again, and catch a second bus to Oia, once we arrived there. The schedule I was looking at said that the next bust rom Fira to Oia was at 1:00.  I realized that if we started walking, we would make it to that one.  My suggestion started our first argument of the trip, as we were both a bit frustrated with the situation, and Chris felt that I was just being impatient. However,  we ended up walking to Fira, but not without some name calling first. 

We walked as fast as our long legs would carry us, and made it to the bus station at 5 to one. We walked over to the empty ticket booth, thinking we needed to buy a ticket there, but were instead presented with a CURRENT bus schedule that said the next bus to Oia was at 2:30! It was a MUCH more condensed version of the schedule we had seen earlier, clearly one for the holidays, or the low season, we aren’t exactly sure. To top it off the last bus to come back from Oia, looked to be 4:50. Our day of exploring was now getting shorter and shorter!

Wow!!  We were really not impressed by now. Not too mention that the whole time we walked the strip that the “every half hour bus” was supposed to run on, it never passed us once. AND if the passports wouldn’t have been left in the room, we would have been able to catch the 12:30 bus (or so we thought at the time.) Aaaargh!  

We both took deep breaths and decided that maybe we should look around Fira a bit more, and get a coffee or something to kill some time. 

Right next to the bus station was the taxi stand. We thought it couldn’t hurt to ask them how much they charged to take us to Oia. We asked one of the drivers and he said 18 Euros, roughly $27 Canadian. Eeeeek!  Compared to the 1 Euro bus fare, we didn’t want to spend that much. I told the man we would take the bus, and he replied “bus every 2 hours.”  

“Ya ya we know.”  I said over my shoulder as I waved back at him. 

So, we meandered around Fira some more, had a coffee and headed back to the bus station. This time there was a man sitting in the ticket booth. Always a good sign!  We asked him for a ticket to Oia and he announced proudly that the next bus is at 3:30!  WHAAAAAAAATTTTTT?????  He told us to look at the schedule again, and clarified that it was Sunday. 

There in the VERY bottom, teeny, tiny corner was the, even more condensed, Sunday schedule!  And it did in fact say 3:30. Oh man!  Oh man, oh man, oh MAN!! We were beside ourselves with frustration!  A whole day wasted, one of only two on the island. It was very aggravating!  

I decided that I wasn’t having any of it!  As stated before, I am terrified to miss something, and we were going to see Oia if it was the last thing we did. DAMN IT!!  

We marched off to the taxi booth, and took the damn taxi after all. I gritted my teeth the whole ride I’m sure. The taxi driver tried to tell us that he would drive us back for the same price. “What time do you want to be picked up?” He asked. 

“No thank you, we will take the bus back at 4:50.”  I quipped. 

He chuckled and said “okay.”  I’m sure full well feeling the wrath of my bitter mood. 

We arrived in Oia, or as Chris would call it “Oh yeah!”  Earlier in the day when our hostess at the hotel asked us where we were going that day, I said “Oia” (pronounced oy ya). 

Chris said “No she wants to know where we are going.”  

I again said “Oia.”

Chris repeated his sentence “No, she wants know where we are going.”  

Finally, completely annoyed at him I basically yelled “YES! WE ARE GOING TO OIA!”  

Apparently, he kept thinking that I was just saying “Oh yeah,” each time, which would have made no sense what so ever. But alas, the name was born, and it has stuck ever since. 

And it’s kind of funny because we happen to say “oh yeah” ALOT. So now pretty much every time we say it, we remember Oia. Which, definitely comes with some mixed feelings all round. 

After a measly 10 minute drive, we arrived in Oia, being dropped off at the same place as where we were to catch the bus. I immediately overheard tourists discussing the bus schedule, and I noticed them looking at the wrong section of it, not the Sunday schedule. I went over to point out that there was in fact a Sunday section, and read the schedule again. According to THIS schedule, the last bus went back at 3:50. Huh??  We were sure the man in Fira had told us 4:50. However, it was clear that we best be there by 3:50, just in case. 

Okay, this meant that we had an hour and twenty minutes to see the place. We set off, still annoyed (however, I wouldn’t say more annoyed, as I think we were at the maximum level of annoyed was at that point, and anything else just started to seem ridiculous and ALMOST laughable,) to see what we could of Oia, in such a short time.  

We headed towards the Caldera and were presented with a very similar view of what we found in Fira. Mostly white buildings spilled off the Calderra edge. However, there was a VERY distinct difference, it was absolutely dead!  Nothing was open and very few people were walking around. Soooooooo, pretty much nothing to see or do anyways.  

At least there were Donkeys to see!!

   

Very simlar views, but pretty awesome none-the-less!

 AWESOME!  We had gone through ridiculous grief to get here, and there was nothing to see or do anyways!  However, we did find ONE restaurant that was open, and we were both hungry, so we decided it best to avoid getting the ‘hangries’ on top of it all. 

Once in the restaurant, Chris recognized a family sitting down, that had been on the ferry with us when we got to Santorini. It turns out they were American, so we sat down at a table near them and started chatting with them. I mentioned that we had had a bit of a frustrating day and told them about our difficulties with the bus schedule. They were anxious to know when it went back, so we told them that we were ‘pretty sure’ it was 3:50. 

They informed us that they had hiked to Oia from Fira, on a trail that ran along the rim of the Calderra. We had known that this was an option, and had briefly discussed walking there earlier in the day when the bus schedule kept getting later and later, but we weren’t sure how long it would take. I asked them, and they said it was roughly 2.5 hours. We looked at the time and decided then that we would walk back. We felt that we had come all of this way, and dealt with so much frustration, to see nothing, that we may as well make something out of it. We had water, a headlamp and good hiking shoes on, so we were set. 

After the Americans left the restaurant , an Asian  man sitting behind me had over heard our conversation about the buses. He showed me a picture that he had taken on his iPhone of the ORIGINAL schedule that we had looked at at the first bus stop that morning, and asked me if I could decipher it for him. I was quick to let him know that that one wasn’t the right one, and the last bus from Oia was at 3:50. He thanked me profusely, and I felt VERY satisfied that I had AT LEAST helped some other travellers get back to Fira that day. 

We set off on our hike at about 3:30, knowing full well that we were in a bit of a race against time, to avoid walking mostly in the dark. 

The view of the calderra edge.

Looking down on that day’s ferry headed back to Athens.

The dark part is solid lava and the green is lichen growing on top of it.

 We were immediately presented with absolutely stunning views of the steep Calderra edge. We kept a brisk pace, but stopped periodically to take pictures and marvel at the scenery. We climbed three separate mountain peaks (about 100-120m climbs), and on top of each one was a small church. All but one, had no roads to them, and they were clearly still in use as they were very well maintained. We were totally impressed that people would climb the hills to go to church.  

Tired of working out the lower body:)

  

Oh Yeah!

  
 The majority of the walk was uphill as Fira’s elevation is quite a bit higher than Oia’s.  By now we were announcing “Oh yeah!”, each time we started to ascend again, which was generally followed with some mumbling rendition of “fuc$king Oia.”

In general we were quite light hearted about it, and despite getting very tired, and having sore feet and legs, we were happy that we had decided to walk back. At least we accomplished SOMETHING that day!  We found out later that it was a 9.7km hike, and we finished it in roughly 2 hours!  Yes, we were motoring! 

Looking back to where we had come.

  

Some sort of bunker??

  

Ya, I don’t think Chris will fit in that door!

 We arrived to the outskirts of Fira just as it got dark enough to need a light, so we were safe and sound with the lights of the streets to guide us the rest of the way. Our sole mission was to get to a restaurant. Our feet were aching and our lunch had worn off. We were going to eat, and then get a good nights sleep for our big day of sight seeing the next morning. WE were going to get an early start and NOT make the same mistake as we had that day. 

In fact, as we passed through Fira, we passed a rental car place with an open door and a man sitting behind the desk. We decided on the spot that NO BUS SCHEDULE was going to impede our plans the next day!  We would show them!  We would be IN CONTROL of our getting around!  

There was one car available and it would cost 30 Euros. Done!  We paid a small deposit with a promise to be back when they opened the next day to pick it up. 

We had a nice dinner close to our hotel, and after fell into a very solid, deep sleep. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear about the rest of the Santorini story. Yes, the epicness continues……….

Free to roam…..Lefkes to Prodromos & Antiparos Island

Published December 29, 2015 by jillamatt

As stated in my previous post, we weren’t expected to work everyday while with Jim and Irini. In fact, Jim made it clear that we needed to take breaks, and that our stay was not all about work. 

We managed to make 2 day trips out and about to see what the area had to offer. 

—Lefkes to Prodromos—

One Friday morning we started looking at bus schedules for the following day, because buses were the best alternative for us to get around. 

Our new friend Tara, a fellow Wwoofer, was leaving on Sunday, and we wanted to be sure to spend a day hanging out with her before she left. 

Tara has biked 8000km in 6 months across Asia and is now headed to Africa! Follow her incredible journey on her blog: Follow Margo Polo 

She has 70 kgs (154 lbs) strapped to that bike!! This is the day she left us to go explore Africa!

 As we read the schedule, we realized that there were very few buses on Saturday and much more on Friday. Irini suggested that it was a nice day, and we should just go that day, instead of waiting till the next. Sounded good to us!

We headed off to a town located in the centre of Paros called Lefkes. Jim had told us that it was a neat mountainside town so we decided to check it out. Before leaving, they also told us about an old trail called the Byzantine Trail, built 10 centuries ago during the Byzantine Era. The section from Lefkes to Prodromos is the most preserved section of a large network that used to connect many of the villages on Paros. And the good news was that we could catch the bus from Prodromos, and it was all downhill!  Perfect!  

Starting in the mountains at Lefkes.

  
 

Ending in Prodromos, closer to the Sea.

  
 We poked around Lefkes for a bit, then decided to find the trail and start heading down to our
potential lunch spot. We looked around for the trail head, referencing our large scale map that we had, hoping for a clue.  

This was such a steep grade, the photo doesn’t do it justice. And YES! this is an actual road cars drive on!

  

Teeny tiny stairs!

  

Little passageways with Bouganvillia.

    
  

Kind of Flintstone-ish.

 
We finally came across 3 construction workers working in the town square. I asked if they spoke English. The answer did not surprise me “a little bit.”  One of them said shyly. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter who we ask this question to, the answer is always some sort of shy rendition of “a little bit” to “yessssss??”, to my favourite taxi driver response “sommmmmetimmmes.”  We always giggle and then ask them our question verrrryyyy slowly, and most of the time they know a great deal more than they think they do, and we are always impressed. 

We showed our map to him and while pointing to the trail I said “We are looking for the Byzantine Trail?”

He knew what we were asking, but he just couldn’t seem to form his words right. For at least a minute he struggled for the words to tell us how to get there. We heard “left” many times, and there was lots of pointing. But that was about the extent of it. Finally he motioned for us to follow him. We literally walked 15 feet, and he pointed to a sign IN ENGLISH pointing to the Byzantine trail, that we had actually already walked past once. HA!!  We thanked him profusely, and went on our way. 

The trail started out amongst the tiny corridors of Lefkes, wound its way between buildings impossibly perched on the hillside, and then finally emerged below the town,showing us the valley below. It was a bumpy old track, and we discussed how difficult it would have been back in the horse (donkey) and cart days, to get around.  

The bumpy trail.

  

Emerging from the narrow valley to witness the view below.

  

The final approach to Prodromos.

 We wandered along the trail, checking out the plants, and stopping for photo ops whenever we would round another corner and a new, and seemingly improved, vista would present itself . We marvelled at the terraced hillsides around us, and envisioned what life may have been like here 1000 years ago. 

We all started to feel pangs of hunger about 3/4 of they way down. Jim had told us that there was a restaurant next to the central square in Prodromos. We were all quite concerned that it may not be open as it’s not exactly the tourist season. 

As we approached  the beginning of the village, there appeared on the side of a building, a neat little map of the town centre, and it had English on it! Clearly someone had thought this through!  We wove our way through the narrow winding streets, and came out exactly where we needed to.  

We loved this persons style!

  

More georgeous little streets.

  

A fun little stone mosaic on the side of a house.

 
YES!  The restaurant was open!  

Lunch was lovely. The waitress, and I’m sure, Owner, knew just enough English to provide us with the options available. We had no idea what the prices were, but it was a modest little spot, and we couldn’t imagine it was too expensive. Besides we were HUNGRY!  (Turns out the price was just fine.)

We ordered some local Paros wine to share, ate 2 plates of Cheese Saganaki (fried cheese, and my new favourite thing!), and other traditional Greek dishes. 

Fun Fact: Wine is so abundant in Greece, restaurants often have their OWN wine that they make, and when they say house wine, they REALLY MEAN house wine!  (Plus it’s usually cheap!)

Chris had an incredible Greek Salad that was topped with heaping scoops of the yummiest feta cheese we have ever seen. It was like they had used an ice cream scoop to scoop it, and it’s consistency was halfway between that of ice cream and whipped butter. It was the creamiest, yummiest, cheese we ever did see!  And we all had to get in there and try it! 

Feta to die for!

 We wandered around Prodroms for another couple hours until our bus came, and we were whisked back to the safety of Living in the Garden, Jim and Irini’s oasis. 

—Antiparos Island—

The idea of our journey to Antiparos Island, the neighbouring island to Paros, was sparked when we learned that the ferry runs every half hour, and that there was quite a quaint and unique village over there to see.  

 We also had another reason.  After much deliberation, we had finally decided to stay at Jim and Irini’s for Christmas Day, instead of joining the throngs of people who would be travelling around prior to the holiday. As they had Christmas plans already, we decided to cook our own Christmas dinner in our adorable cottage kitchen. 

That meant we needed some supplies, so we decided to make Antiparos our grocery shopping mission as well. 

We caught the ferry across to the island at about 9:30am. The tickets were sold once you stepped on the boat, and the man we bought them from attempted to communicate the return schedule to us while we stared at him dumbfounded, clearly not understanding his broken English. He finally just ended up showing us the copy hanging on the wall behind him. Apparently in the low season they only run every hour instead of half hour. 

Now, we live in a ferry dependant community on the West Coast of Canada. One would think we should be sick of ferries. But, for some reason, I LOVE being on ferries. I don’t know if it’s the being on the water thing?, or the not being in a car thing?, or what exactly makes me love them, but I get giddy with excitement pretty much every time I go on one. We went up top to sit outside, and I immediately ran around and snapped pictures with reckless abandon. (But for some silly reason did not get a pic of the ferry itself.) The ride only lasted 10 minutes or so, then we were free to roam. 

   
    

A happy traveller!

  Right away, we were greeted with a very cute and quaint waterfront promenade, that despite the off season, still had a few restaurants open and a couple grocery stores. 

 

Antiparos waterfront.

 
In behind the waterfront was a lovely little village that was mostly pedestrian only. We saw a couple mopeds zip by, but we were told that it’s likely not allowed in the summer months, when there are hoards of people walking around. Many artist boutiques and high end shops lined the main thoroughfares, but unfortunately they were closed for the off season. 

We stopped in a small coffee shop to get a bite to eat. Even though it was only about 10:30 in the morning, we noticed Ouzo on the menu, and thought it was high time that we tried some real Greek Ouzo. Besides, it was almost Christmas, and surely 5:00 somewhere??

 

Ouzo!! It was really yummy!!

 We strolled through town and came out the other side at a rocky headland and a little beach. Here, I finally dipped my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, or more precisely, the Aegean Sea. 

   

Brrrr it was a bit chilly!!

 
Heading back through the village to find a place for lunch, but taking a different route than we had coming out (because exploring every nook and crannie is so much fun!), we came across a centre square with a church and an old castle.  

 As we rounded a corner, and came face to face with the church, 2 monks came walking out, creating a stunning picture. I quickly fumbled for my camera, but it was too late, they had ducked into another doorway. A few minutes later, we came around another corner, and again, they popped out of one doorway, and dashed into another, before I could capture them.  

Stairs up, inside the castle walls.

  

The church and the original sight of the monks.

 
We climbed up on top of the ancient structure in the middle of the courtyard, and took in the views from above. From up there I could hear people talking below. I knew it was those monks, but couldn’t get a good look at where they were. I was obsessed!  At this point I had made it my personal mission to capture those darn monks on camera, if it was the last thing I did! 

From above.

  
We came back down from up above and rounded a corner near the bottom of the stairs.  By now I had my camera in hand and ready to go, and lo and behold, there they went again, popping out of a doorway, and rounding a corner. I was quick enough to get a shot (only of one), but without the dramatic church background, it didn’t really do it justice.  However, I was somewhat satisfied, so we went on our way.  

Got ya!

 As fate would have it, a little while later, we looked back and there they were walking behind us, totally innocent, and completely unaware of my perverse need to get a good picture of them. I stepped aside and pretended to look at my iPhone for a while. They passed us and I FINALLY got my picture. But alas, STILL not as good as what I had seen earlier. I guess some pictures are just meant for our minds. 

  

This cute old guy had his tractor cart full of produce. Maybe he was delivering it?

  
 

A greek parking garage.

 
 

Colourful fishing boats.

 

We wound our way back to the waterfront, had some lunch, and bought our Christmas dinner supplies. Our day on Antiparos was nice and very peaceful, but, I have been told that the island is turning into a sort of small version of Mykonos or Santorini. Apparently Sean Connery and Tom Hanks have houses there, and, if this is the case, it likely won’t be a cute quaint little place for long.  Best to check it out while it still retains its charm. 

Next I will be blogging about our time in Santorini. Despite its beauty, we have very mixed emotions about this place. Our travelling bubble of happiness and complete ecstasy burst a little bit. So to give you a hint of what’s to come, I will be naming the post Santorini or Bust(ed)!

Idle working days on Paros Island. 

Published December 25, 2015 by jillamatt

Capturing an experience such as this, is difficult to describe in words. However, I feel it necessary to spread the joy that we have experienced, and so, I will give it a whirl. 

Our Wwoofing (see my last post ‘Gone Wwoofin’ to learn about woofing) hosts, Jim (from England) and Irini (from Greece), are fabulous! They have been sculpting the land they live on for 15 years.  And when I say sculpting, I mean sculpting! With the help of numerous Wwoofers, they have turned a hillside of prickle bushes and scrub brush into a venerable landscaped oasis. 

Jim, Irini and their dogs. Taken circa 2013

 
Brilliant plants, constantly bursting into various colours, line impossibly adorable pathways, that lead to even more adorable cottages. We have spent the last two weeks absolutely in awe of the utter beauty around   us, that looks like it has been dropped from the heavens.  

Just one of the beautiful cottages to rent, and the one we were fortunate enough to call home for two weeks.


 

The closeup of ‘our cottage.’

 
 

Gorgeous handbuilt pathways run every which way!

    

Yes, thats a Rosemary bush! And there are many more like it!

 

More adorable cottages, more adorable pathways!

   
On a daily basis, we inspect the plants, and constantly find something new that we didn’t know existed before.  Some days I feel like Alice in Wonderland, completely aware and wide eyed, discovering new and exciting plants and nooks and crannies, around every corner. 

   

Aloe Vera!

  

  

 Yes, there has been work. But it’s been the sort of work that provides so much reward.  At the beginning of our time with them, I asked Jim what he expected in terms of how many hours we needed to contribute in a day, in exchange for our accommodation and meals. We are both very honest, hard working people, and the last thing we want is to be taking more than we are giving.

Succulents bloom everywhere!

Bouganvillia cascading from above.

Yes, that is a Geranium, planted in the ground and huge!

 Jim’s answer wasn’t exactly cut and dried. Instead of demanding 5 or 6 hours per day, Mon-Fri,
with weekends off, he attempted to explain his philosophy while successfully sidestepping my question. 
It became clear to us, quite quickly, that Jim does NOT do the nine to five routine. He is more free wheeling and doesn’t conform to any sort of “societal standards.”  

So, it was no surprise to me to hear his philosophy on the whole Wwoofing process. His philosophy, in basic terms, is that humans are meant to interact, learn things from each other, inspire each other, help each other, lean on each other. We are meant to cooperate as a community. We are meant to trust in each other, see the good in each other, celebrate each other’s talents, and help each other to improve. 

He really wants nothing more than to see people learn and grow, as they contribute to the improvement, and overall vision of his property.  And his hope is that they will take their learned knowledge out into the world, to positively contribute to the growth of humanity. 

He and Irini, have created, from scratch, a place where people can come to explore themselves. Whether it be through Wwoofing, as a guest, or as a paid customer in the cottages, they encourage a space of personal freedom, inspiration and growth.  

The oasis from above

 While his property isn’t technically a “farm”, and we haven’t learned much about what we set out to learn originally (about growing different foods in other parts of the world), we have come away completely inspired, and better as humans than when we arrived. If it wasn’t for some amazing travelling that we still need to do, I would be super excited (and still will be at the end of the trip), to get home and tackle my yard!

They operate the development of the property using perma-culture techniques. Everything that is pulled out of one thing, is used somewhere else. We started out constructing a pathway, and my thoughts were that we need to get it done as quick as possible, which is the hurried, more corporate way of things. However, we spent more time sifting the soil, removing rocks, combing through massive piles of rocks, to find just the right one to line the path, and getting everything ‘just right’ before moving on to the next step. 

For example, the stones we pulled out of the surface of the pathways that we built, were piled up to be used to build walls, or become filler for areas of the property that needed to be raised up a bit. Like I said, everything is used, nothing is wasted.  

Before

After

In progress

 

After. Jim had previously constructed the round concrete bits from leftover concrete used for larger projects. I was happy to put my mosaic skills to good use.

 
Jim made it clear that slow, intentional steps, are more important than rushing about, and doing things hastily, therefore possibly creating problems in the future. He also assured me that if he felt our work wasn’t a fair exchange, he would let me know. Good enough. 

We worked away on an area of the property that started out as a few small plants (and when I say small plants, I mean massive Rosemary bushes,) and ended up as a sculptured garden, with pathways and rock walls, ready to be transformed into another garden oasis. Jim was pleased with our work, and we are thrilled with what we accomplished. As a first Wwoofing experience, we both couldn’t be happier with the results! 

 

Before

 

After

  
Our work days ran from approximately 9:00 or 9:30, and ended pretty much when we had finished a section of what we were working on. Sometimes it was 4:00, other times it was 2:00. As long as progress was made, everyone was happy.  

I think everyone is happy!

 Our evenings were spent in Jim and Irini’s house, sometimes with other Wwoofers, around the fireplace. Here, many philosophical conversations were held, as we imparted our individual views on the world to each other. Incredible meals were constructed by Irini (and sometimes Jim), and we generally followed that up with a movie or tv series of some sort.  

Not alot of room for Humans in this house! :). They like to relax by the fire as well!

 Our accomodations were spectacular!  Normally, Wwoofers stay off the main house, but because another girl was there before us, we were able to stay in our own guest cottage. Let me tell you, it may well be the cutest fairy tale cottage that I have ever stayed in! 

Stairs up to the bedroom, stairs down to the kitchen.

Looking down on our living area and the entrance.

I can’t imagine Hansel and Gretel having a cuter kitchen. Can you?

 In the summer (but also year round if necessary), these beautiful cottages are rented out to vacationers and the like. It’s called ‘Living in the Garden’, and let me be the first to tell you that, YES, you will be living in the garden! 

(Click here for their website and to book a stay.)  

Because they are both artists themselves, they have a special knack for attracting similar craftsmen, that are doing artist retreats, or who come to help with working on the property, in exchange for the chance to work on their art and become inspired. They are open and welcoming to many different arrangements, because, as Jim insists, their aim is to inspire. 

Jim, himself, is currently creating the most magnificent Men’s rings from scratch (but will also do Women’s by request), which, in his words is “managing to finance our way through the diabolical Greek economic crisis.”  His years of craftsmanship are paying off, and he feels extremely lucky to be able to survive in the hard economic times that the entire country is facing.  

 

Visit his Etsy shop here!

Our days on Paros were not all filled with work, we did a couple excursions to explore this island, and also a trip to Antiparos, a neighbouring island. But those stories will have to wait for another post. 

For now, I would just like to wish everyone an amazing Christmas!  We are so very thankful to be exactly where we are, and hope that happiness and joy is finding everyone, today and always.  

  

 

We are off to Santorini tomorrow!  Can’t wait to see this amazing spectacle. 

Gone Wwoofin’!

Published December 22, 2015 by jillamatt

For a while now (at least 5 or 6 years) I have had a dream in the back of my mind. The dream was to be a Wwoofer.

“A Wwoofer?” You ask. Yes, a Wwoofer! 

The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and you can find the main website here. Many countries have their own sites, but the main site provides information and access to all of them. 

Basically, being a Wwoofer, means that we are working as volunteers, in exchange for accommodation, food and an opportunity to learn new things. As Chris and I are very interested in growing our own food, and becoming more self sustainable, we felt that Wwoofing would be a good opportunity to see how things are grown around the world, and again, to meet the locals. 

Once we knew what part of the world we were heading to this winter, we started to research opportunities. We “applied” to a few different spots, but Jim was the only one that had indicated that he needed people, and had room for us. Some replied that they already had enough Wwoofers, and others didn’t need anyone for this particular season.  But, Jim did, and he lives on Paros Island, in Greece.   

  
‘Okay, cool’ we thought, ‘guess we are heading to Greece!’And so, the time had come, and our wwoofing was about to commence. 

We awoke early to take the metro from Athens to the main ferry terminal of Piraeus, to catch the 7:30am ferry. Because we live in a ferry dependant community on the west coast of Canada, catching ferries is pretty normal for us. We knew the ferry was about 5 hours long, but we were not prepared for the price. 

We had been warned by other travellers that the ferries were expensive, but we guffawed at that thinking ‘ya right, they can’t be more expensive than BC Ferries!’

Well, I’m here to tell you that indeed they are. Our walk on price (for both of us, one way) was 69 Euros, $107 Canadian! 

Now, I acknowledge that they travel much farther than ours, but WOW!  I couldn’t believe that with the economic hardships going on in the country, that people could afford to travel on them at this price. I have since learned, from my Wwoofing host, that the government is raising prices of EVERYTHING (including ridiculous property taxes), to try and pay off the debts they have incurred to other countries during this crisis. In Jim’s words, “The situation is a complete mess, and they are nowhere near resolving it.”  (On the other hand, as stated before, we have seen no signs of any sort of economic hardships.)

I must say though, the ferry was lavish!  We rode up ESCALATORS, inside the boat, as foot passengers, carrying us to the main floor. Everywhere you looked there were nice comfy chairs to sit at, complete with tables. There was a tiny section of row seating, but most seats were little clusters in various little lounges.  There was even a business class upstairs!  Very posh! 

This is the sight that greats you at the top of the escalator. This is clearly aimed at Tourism.

    

NOT the direction we were heading!

 The trip was uneventful, but rougher than our boats go out in. It was a sunny day but the winds were whipping the sea up, and we bumped and jostled along for about 4.5 hours.  

A live life jacket demonstration!

Our little corner that we occupied for the ride.

 I can tell you one thing, I don’t think the Greeks do well on the ocean. Many were laid out on benches and the floor, and I heard the lovely sounds of someone “losing their breakfast” in the ladies washroom. Eeek! Thankfully we both have sea worthy stomachs, and arrived to Paros feeling fine. 

 

No escalators to get off. Walk ons do it the same way as home.

 In previous email communications, Jim had told us how to get to the village closest to them, Alyki. We caught the bus after bumbling around at the automatic ticket kiosk, and again looking like stupid tourists, as a huge line up of locals formed behind us, waiting with gritted teeth I’m sure. I told the driver about 5 times that we needed to get off at Alyki. He nodded that he understood, no problem. 

We meandered along in our bus, winding in and out of tiny streets, seeming too small for the bus to even fit on them. Outside of the towns, the landscape was dotted with square, buildings everywhere, and they were all white with blue doors and window frames. I found out from Jim that painting your house these colours is the law! Can you imagine?  As a house painter in Greece, I would be incredibly bored! He, on the other hand, has somehow skirted the law, and is remote enough in the hillsides that he is pretty much doing what he wants. He said they bugged him for a while, but have pretty much given up now. 

As we rode along my mind started to conjur up nasty thoughts. I started thinking about how far in the middle of nowhere we had come, to meet strangers, and basically live with them for two weeks. 

Before leaving home, a friend had made a joke about us coming all the way to Greece and ending up in a cult. At the time, we all laughed at the silly idea of it, but in that moment, as I watched the coast line zip by, my mind was jumping around to ‘What if?’  

It is laughable really, but alas, this is the reality of this sort of travel. You REALLY have no idea of what you are getting yourself into for the most part. You just have to have the utmost faith in humanity, and the courage to try new things and meet new people. 

After a few stops and buzzing through some small villages, the bus driver announced “Alyki Beach.”  

Hooray, we had made it! We hopped off the bus, eager to meet our hosts that were coming to pick us up. However, there was no one there. 

We unloaded our packs from under the bus, and grabbed a seat on the stone wall next to the beach. We waited with anxious intrepidation for someone to drive up and grab us. Several cars went by and we stared and analyzed each one, and they stared warily back at us, likely wondering who these two idiots were, that were visiting out of tourist season.  

The quaint streets of Alyki.

  

Alyki beach, waiting for our ride.

  
 
  
Finally, after what seemed like a long time (but was likely only 10 minutes,) a little tracker popped around the corner, driven by a cute Greek lady. She pulled over and jumped out, and with an adorable smile announced “I am Irini.”

And in that instant, I knew, that everything was going to be just fine.  

Stay tuned for stories about our Wwoofing experience!

A Small Taste of Athens

Published December 20, 2015 by jillamatt

After hearing some different stories about Athens, from various people who had been there previously, we were actually pleasantly surprised with the city. 

It’s no secret that Greece is going through incredible economic hardships, but there aren’t really any visible signs of it, at least not to they eye of a passerby. 

We had the odd beggar wanting money for this or that, but you encounter that abundantly in Canadian cities as well. We never REALLY felt targeted as tourists, and we were able to safely meander the streets and take in tourist sights, and the local markets alike. 

Having only one day in Athens meant that our priority was to visit the Acropolis. I had read in my guide book that the Acropolis literally stares down on the entire city of Athens. Much to my disappointment, when we exited our hotel in the morning, I couldn’t see it anywhere. We were located smack dab in the middle of a jazillion high rises, so it took some effort to snake our way towards it, before we finally caught glimpse of this famous spectacle. 

 

Looking up to the Acropolis.

 
Perched on top of a magnificent marble mountain, it really does look over the entire city, like some sort of guardian taking care of the people. We referenced our map and wound our way through the streets until we came to the base of the entrance. 

   
   

Narrow steets and pathways wind their way up to the base of the Acropolis.

   I must say, the Acropolis is not for the faint of heart. A steep hillside rises up to the base, and then stairs provide access to it. There is no wheel chair access (unless you take the cage lift up the rock face), and I can imagine, for many elderly people, and those not in the best of shape, it could be a difficult climb. Not too mention when you get to the top, it isn’t exactly a nice flat surface that you can stroll around on. Jagged marble, it’s rough edges rounded off over centuries of wear, juts out once you leave the proper pathway. More than once I almost tripped on my face as I gawked at the immensity of the Parthenon, while still trying to walk. Not a good idea!  I finally suggested that we take a seat on one of the nearby benches, and just sit and look for a while.  

Stairway to the entrance.

  

First glimpse of the Parthenon.

  

The light glistens off the shiny, worn down marble at the summit.

 The Parthenon, meaning ‘virgins apartment’, was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, by the people of Athens.  It took 15 years to build (starting in 447BC) and is built entirely of Pentelic Marble. The 17 pillars were absolutely awe inspiring! They are officially Doric columns, and are slightly narrower at the top of the pillar, than they are at the base. The base measures 1.9 metres across, and they are 10.4 metres high.  Truly massive!  They have been fluted all the way up, providing an even more incredible definition to what is already pretty incredible to begin with. Obviously there are other buildings on site, but the Parthenon was by far, the biggest spectacle of them all.  

With the man in the foreground, this gives an idea of the scale of the pillars and the structure itself.

    
 I think what struck me the most about it all, was the fact that they are continuously restoring it. It’s been ongoing for a long time, AT LEAST since the early 1900’s. I can imagine that people are spending their whole lives work, helping to recreate a piece of history. 

I was also struck with HOW they are managing to fit new pieces of marble, into old pieces of marble, lift it up, keep the structure secure…….all of it is just so mind blowing. The pictures will show you just how accurate this procedure is.  

New marble in white, meets old marble in yellow.

  

Men working on the pillars with power tools. Not exactly like they did 400+BC.

 
We walked around up top, investigating all that we could. We stopped at a lookout spot and gazed out over the incredible sprawling city below. We felt the rush of adrenaline as we craned our neck over the rock wall, that one must have felt, being important enough to stand up there and gaze out over the “commoners”. I envisioned cobble  stone streets, donkeys pulling carts, bright and colourful displays of vegetables being sold in the streets, and far, far less buildings. As it stands now, there are buildings as far as the eye can see, like a gentle white wash covering the land and hillsides.  

 We meandered down from the upper portion, eager to get a taste of the quaint little streets that we could see from above, and literally stumbled smack dab into the Acropolis Museum. And we are so happy that we did!  It is a site to behold in itself.  

   
The floor to the entrance, and parts of the floor inside the doors, is made of a thick plexiglass glass, that allows you to see the excavated, original, architectural sites below. Frames of stone buildings could be seen 10-12 feet below our feet, and it really gave a sense of what the scene would have been like 400+BC.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures inside. 

We meandered through many relics that had been excavated from the Acropolis site that rose above it.  Impossibly intricate carvings dotted the landscape inside, and many bits of ancient pottery, tools, and vessels lined the cases on the walls. 

After watching a short documentary on the basic history of the Acropolis, we made our way upstairs to bear witness to the ‘piece de resistance’. The upper floor was an exact size replica of the top of the Parthenon, basically the part that is no longer visible on the real thing. Having been smashed to bits by various vandals and wars, I am assuming it was in many pieces, but they have managed to recreate what it would have looked like, had it been standing. Plaster has been used to fill in areas that were no longer, but the parts that were original, were a thing to behold. The carvings from marble were unbelievably detailed, and I can only imagine that 100’s of workers must have been working on it, for it to be built in 15 years. 

We left feeling so very lucky to have bared witness to such an incredible engineering, artistic, and simply stupefying marvel of the ancient world. 

As we had stumbled across a couple markets in our way up, we were eager to get back to those and check them out. The Monastiraki flea market was at the base of the Acropolis, and although mostly tourist driven, it was an interesting sight none-the-less. Little shops led from from the level of the narrow alleyways, and small staircases carried you up or down to tiny little shops with eager vendors manning them. We stopped for a little bite to eat with one of the street side vendors, and ate the most amazing food. Chris had a real Greek gyro, and I had some pork souvlaki with the most incredible tzaziki that I’m sure I will ever taste. There is nothing like the real thing!! 

Yummy!

  

Eager for food!

   

One thing is for sure in Greece. Wine is cheap and readily available!

  We also were eager to bear witness to more of a locals market. We had seen one in our way to the Acrpolis, and were able to find it once again. Here we found an incredible abundance of fruits and vegetables, eggs, olives, olives and more olives, and a couple incredible antique stalls. Two that come to mind were literally piled so high with different antiques and trinkets, that if you pulled something out from the bottom, you were likely to be killed in an avalanche of stuff. It was unreal! 

  

Yup, those are olives!

  
 

Perfectly stacked Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts.

 
 

A little bit of everything, literally, and this is just the outside!!

 
  We walked along one of the main streets called Ermou street. Along it we found many coffee shops, furniture shops, restaurants and just interesting things to look at. We stumbled into one of the coffee shops and had “Greek Coffees”, the Greek equivalent to the Turkish coffees we had in the Istanbul airport. This time we were wiser, and left the coffee grounds for the compost pile!  

We buzzed our way back towards our hotel, and our afternoon was rounded out with a stop in an incredible patisserie. The smell that was emitting from this shop was to die for, and we knew that we would not be leaving without buying something. We managed to find some simply adorable mousses (meese??), and scurried back to our hotel room to devour them.  

 
We ventured out a little later on for dinner. The receptionist pointed us to a traditional Greek restaurant that was located about 10 blocks away. We had a great dinner that was capped off with a complimentary serving of local Raki. The waiter said it is also made with grapes, but it is incredibly potent!  We prefer to call it the local hooch! 

RAKI!

 
**I apologize for the delay between posts. My access to wifi has been limited, and is unreliable when I do get it. **

Up next, we zip off to The Island of Paros!

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