Two countries have fascinated me for decades simply because of their sheer beauty, of course with tons of assistance from mother nature: Japan & Greece. All imagery that came my way seduced me with pictures shot by some awesome photographers, drawing me to the land. Which is why I decided it was time I created my own postcards from Greece. So must you. Don’t miss a trip to this ancient yet contemporary land and may I add, the best time to to get there is their crowd-free, mid-season months (Spring ~ April to June)
ROMANCE WITH A TIMELESS GREECE
So Greece was on my mind since I was 12 years, because the pen friend who lasted longest was Greek. In fact our letters to each other were more about the quirks that both our cultures had. And somehow I felt she (my buddy from Athens) seemed a mite wistful about the Greece of yore. So when I traveled there finally the 1st question I asked was just that. Did many Greeks miss the glory of those times?! Most felt it had moved ahead with panache. A few did reminisce though. Especially as the very present economic crisis and the richness both financially & philosophically that was the landmark of the Classical Age, didn’t quite gel.
But I saw a spirit of optimism. Felt energy in the marvels time had left behind. Felt much loved by the locals. And got the warmest embrace in the islands. In this quasi dream-real world holiday, I felt like their ancient Goddess of love Aphrodite was all around me, as was the God of the sea Poseidon. As for Zeus, I wish today for Greece to find its place of pride real soon. Be a lighthouse once again.
(Glimpse of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Goddess of courage Athena & constructed around 440 BC. A symbol of Classical Greece, it has seen many religions and is located in the Athenian Acropolis)
2-WEEKS OF CLASSICAL MEETS À LA MODE
My 2-week trip left me feeling quite nostalgic but upbeat. And it started at the capital. I didn’t realize that Athens (pronounced aah-thens) comes to life post 7.00. So I’ll start there.
It’s 7.30pm & I get off at Syntagma Square. Decide to walk through streets that take me far away from the hotel (which is close to the square & the smartest area to stay). On the way I see a cute souvenir roadside stall. The storekeeper asks me my nationality and then sends me 2 flying kisses. Aah! Greek men.
Athens is such a relaxed city. Outstanding street cafes. No one is in a hurry here. Idyllic and chilled. Musicians are performing on the street, a puppeteer enthralls, a mid-eastern kid playing the accordion and singing in Greek invites you with his cuteness, quaint stores on narrow streets, lots of smiling faces…and lots of open hearts. I loved seeing trigonometry/algebra in their alphabets & vice versa. Sigma, theta, delta, pi…math owes its revelations to ancient Greeks.
(Change of the Presidential Guards who stand in front of the Hellenic Parliament in Syntagma Square. They are quite a sight for their appearance and clothes complete with pleated skirts, leg tassels, synchronized movements & almost similar builds)
On a walk through the streets, you may feel like the buildings look understated & slightly dated . But then isn’t that the flipside of most ancient civilizations! Truth be told though, Athens is not about old buildings. Lots of graffiti maybe, but not old. That’s really where the crossover happens. A glorious, proud empire seen now only in pillars & structures preserved carefully in pockets of the city & museums. Mostly in the voice of guides. OH WAIT!! Marry that with a very modern Greece with some really cool fashion (Ermou Street), hangout bars (at Psiri/Gazi/Glyfada), the flea market (at Monastriaki), a pretty village like setting (Plaka), attitude and much more. Athens at the core of Greece (both ancient & modern) stands stoically in defiance of time, straddling both past & present much like the spirit of Rome & Delhi.
(Hoping to gather some wisdom standing outside the Academy of Athens)
So in the days that follow I take the journey to Delphi to meet the Oracle. Almost believing her to be still there. Hoping really. It depends on the story you carry. The culture you come from. If souls travel in your mythology, the Oracle is perhaps still there. Lose yourself and you can feel time travel.
AEGEAN SEA & THE ISLANDS
Of course the journey would’ve been incomplete without immersing in the waters. Without feeling the warmth of the gentle, much asleep volcanoes. So I take the waterway to Hydra (Saronic islands), a quiet island that’s a must see & stay. No cycles or vehicles are allowed once inside. You just walk or then ride on horses/donkeys. Breathe…deep breathe I did for lots of fresh air. At a set of tables, a happy old man singing and playing his guitar indulged me while I glugged my Ouzo (a local drink made from anise seed). Much like raki (Turkish), sambucca (Italian) and pastis (French). Awesome. Gorged on feta cheese & baklava too. (more on food, drink & the surprising Hydra soon).
(Snippets from a visit to the very idyllic Hydra)
(Visiting fishing villages & the many islands introduces you to a dominant color palette of blue and white, from the Greek flag)
And then finally the Cyclades. The visual delight of Santorini overwhelms the moment you see it even from a distance. I have a picturesque story to tell about this colorful place later. I made a couple of lovely friends there & it was terrific to watch the sunset together at Oia. While talking about every thing from migration, war in the Middle East, the genographic project by NatGeo & ofcourse how much we’d love a holiday home in one of the islands.
(Nature joins the dance of blue in Santorini)
You’d agree, there are some places that need to be visited more often. I’ve often felt that the 1st trip to any land is often packed with the ‘must-visits’ and hurried too. Greece though deserves an encore real soon. In lovely spring again, when the colors of the island homes get deeper & the weather soaks you in its soothing warm feel.
Till then, Afaristo Greece