Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greece: Visit to Ancient Delos

When planning our trip to Greece we knew we wanted to see at least one archaeological site tied into Greek mythology. Lucky for us the island of Delos was an easy 1/2 hour ferry ride from Mykonos. We had never heard of Delos and were surprised to find it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important sites of ancient Greece.

History of Delos (according to Dave): Back in ancient times Greece had a tourism problem. Everyone wanted to go to Athens to see the Parthenon or Delphi to see the impressive temples and Oracle, but hardly anyone was visiting the islands. One day some scholars were chatting at their version of Starbucks and realized the birthplace of Apollo, son of Zeus, wasn't mentioned anywhere in their lore. They told their friends in the tourist board and the government. In need of a new tourist attraction, the government revealed to the public that Apollo was born on Delos - an island that was originally held underwater by Poseidon using a big chain. He cut the chain so it would rise to the surface to give Apollo's mom a safe place to give birth. To make the story more plausible the government purified the island by removing all bodies, building a massive temple, and banning death on the island. This created much buzz and many people visited Delos from all over the world and then decided to live on the small island with no water supply or natural resources.

Eventually Delos became a major center of commerce. Many multi-storied homes with fancy frescos and mosaics were found. Shops lined the streets everywhere. Temples honoring all sorts of gods were built and free worship was allowed (provided that all citizens participated in the annual Apollo Festival). In the last of the BC centuries the island kept getting hit by pirates and Romans. Eventually the whole population was wiped out. Folks came to their senses and realized Delos was not a great place to live without all the urban amenities. The island remained uninhabited, which helped to preserve the ruins for the French archaeologists that started their excavation work in 1873. For more information check out Wikipedia.

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Our trip to Delos had some problems. We bought a tour package which meant once we arrived on the island we would have a guided tour. Our guide coordinator had to have been on her first day of the job based on how clueless she was. We disembarked the ferry at 10:30 and were told the boat leaves at 1:30. Our tour would be slightly delayed because they were very busy due to the cruise ship traffic that day. "Go to the museum and your guide will meet you there at 11:15". We trekked to the museum, which occupied us for about 15 minutes. Our guide eventually showed up at 11:45. Instead of getting right into it and heading to the ruins, she pulled us to the side of the building to give us a 20 minute history lecture. Now we had less than 90 minutes to tour the site. Details were glossed over, she told us to read the brochure and look up things on our own in the map. Horrible.

The island itself was great. There were lots of well preserved ruins and mosaics still intact on building floors. Portions of statues were still standing and the words on buildings could still be read (if you know Greek). We weren't able to see everything thanks to the poor handling of our group, but we got the idea of what the place was about.

Dave forgot to pack a hat so he picked up this beauty in town

On the boat ride back we had the cheapest beers of the trip - 2.5 Euros.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mykonos Town which is actually called Mykonos

One of the most charming aspects of Mykonos was the main town. The “town” of Mykonos is named Mykonos or Chora (Greek for “town”). We learned from Wikipedia it’s a tradition to name the main town of an island after the island.

Mykonos town shared some similarities with Fira in Santorini. Almost every building was white with blue accents. Most of the main area of town was only accessible to pedestrian traffic. Many of the town’s streets were barely 6’ wide. Chora was the hub of the island – home to dining options, clubs, and bars.
Noticeable differences from Fira: Mykonos is not high up on a cliff so it had a nice working port area where fishing boats, tour boats to Delos, and cruise ship tenders docked. The charm of Fira was the cliff views and the caldera. In Mykonos the charm was in the windy streets and seaside cafes where the water could splash you at high tide. Since Fira (and Oia, a destination we visit later in the trip) were cliffside cities their streets were more-or-less linear. Chora’s streets went all over the place and many times we feared we’d never find our way back to a particular shop or restaurant. Mykonos, being a party island, had huge hoards of young people traveling in packs.

Sunset viewing is an event in Mykonos. One night we were able to convince a hostess to give us a small seaside table right along the beach with a great sunset view. We lingered over drinks and bread service in order to stretch out the time until the sun hit the water. Once the sky darkened after the sun disappeared we saw a shift…. The older folks and families like us were heading back up the hill for buses and cabs while the teens and twenty-somethings came down the hill in masses with some of the young ladies chugging from their personal bottles of white wine. Stay classy kids!

From a photography point-of-view Mykonos town is just awesome! There are the famous windmills, Little Venice (some folks from Venice occupied Mykonos for a time and built an area on the water in their architectural style), fishing boats, churches, narrow alleys, etc. The seaport in town was a crescent shape of land that was loaded with sidewalk cafes and gelato stands. This was a perfect place for an afternoon lunch. An added bonus was getting the water view perspective from our ferry to Delos.

Town was ten minutes from our hotel by car. On our first adventure to town we attempted to take the local bus. The stop was near our hotel. When the bus approached us it stopped about 100 yards past the stand, let folks off, and kept going. Defeated, we walked back to the hotel and got a cab. What the nice ladies at the hotel failed to tell us when advising on how to use the bus was that the bus continues past the stop, turns, then picks up the folks at the stop and heads to town. After that we relied on cabs and the free hotel shuttle.

Things we did in town: Dinner and sunset one night right on the shore close to Little Venice. We had views of the sunset, windmills, and Little Venice all from one table. The food was tourist class, but good enough for the table we had. After touring Delos we had some pizza and hummus at a seaside café overlooking the main port. Another evening we did some shopping and gallery browsing, had a cocktail at a Little Venice bar, and dinner at a pasta restaurant that had a man making the pasta outside on the sidewalk (street). We enjoyed a glass of wine after dinner at a café where the water lapped right up to the walkway. That was a fun place for people watching. We also discovered there’s such a thing as Ferraro Rocher flavored gelato.
Our table was right above the man
Overall, Mykonos, or Chora, or town, is a great destination. It’s a place that is meant to be explored, and yet at the same time, it’s a place to be enjoyed by planting yourself in a café chair and watch the world pass.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Greece: Mykonos Beach Time

We took a big green ferry from Santorini to Mykonos. The 2.5 hour trip made stops in Ios, Paxos, and Naxos. We spent an extra 10 Euro each for business class seats which gave us a more comfortable assigned seat and a private bar for the business class section. We were able to move out of our mid-section seats to window seats, giving us a great opportunity to see the various ports as we docked.
On Mykonos we were met by our resort shuttle and taken on the 15 minute trip to our hotel, Mykonos Grand, located on Ayios Yiannis Beach. The hotel was stunning with a modern casually-elegant decor. Lots of white marble mixed with fluffy and furry pillows and carpets. We were escorted to a desk and offered drinks during our personal check-in process. Once done, we were escorted through several buildings and sets of stairs to our room. Bread crumbs would be required if we ever wanted to find the front desk or lobby bar ever again.

The Grand features a very large salt water pool that was too deep for anyone to stand in with exception of a few feet from the steps. Both restaurants overlooked the pool. A few steps down from the pool deck (actually a lot of steps) was the beach and the resort's private chairs. Beach waiters were on-hand to set up chairs, open umbrellas, bring drinks, etc. Other daily services included frozen washcloths, afternoon ice cream, and sunglass cleaning. As mentioned in an earlier post prices at The Grand were a little high for drinks. When possible we played the beach arbitrage game and picked up beers for a Euro or two cheaper at nearby restaurants.

Ayios Yiannis Beach suited us well. It wasn't crowded, the water was usually clear, and there were two beach style restaurants we could easily walk to. It wasn't the biggest beach, but it was quiet. Perfect for relaxation. The beach was rocky...a very different experience vs. the Caribbean. After reading our Mykonos Guide App we expected the beach to look something like other Mykonos beaches:

Instead, it looked like this:

The water this time of year was not very warm. It took a lot of will to go farther out than knee-deep many days. At least it was calm. This allowed us lots of opportunities to just stand and watch the fish go by.

On our first night in Mykonos the neighboring beach bar Hippie Fish was hosting a wedding reception. The decorations were fantastic, including an entire candy room dedicated to the children. A few days later we dined at Hippie Fish and enjoyed a great sea view along with some shrimp risotto.

In the end the Mykonos Grand was a great choice: Nice quiet beach, great staff (we didn't even mention the included champagne breakfast buffet), beautiful rooms and common areas, and easy access to town. The multi-layered hotel helped us get some exercise built into our days.