In the courtyard live an old olive tree Who has witnessed the change of the island. From the ancient ships from across the sea To battles fought on the beach’s sand, It has stood watching ages come and go. For its majesty, they built a courtyard To shelter its branches from Winter’s blow. The shade its leaves provide will act as guard For this simple table where we will dine On this culture’s culinary delights. We will toast her with our glasses of wine On how her, here now, makes the perfect night. I don’t know if this was our destiny, The pairing of us and our olive tree.
Greece has always been a series of islands off of a the mainland to Europe. They were tied together by a collection of gods though their ideals based on these deities might be viewed by the different cities. Back in ancient days, these small individual communities had a common enemy to the east called the Persians which eventually united them under a common cause, but before then they were loosely tied together through trade and location.
It is hard to travel through these islands and not think about their old way of life. It is hard to think that at one time, to the Greeks, this was the whole world, even though we look at it now as just a small little corner of the Earth. When you stand on top of one of these islands and look across the Aegean Sea to another island, we think of it as something just a short ferry ride or airplane trip between them, but if you think about how they viewed those other islands, it would have been a different community and would take a day to get from one island to the next closest one.
Though we can take this simplicity of life for granted, and think of those people who lived so long ago as being disadvantaged, it probably was not the case. The people still had art that is admired to this day, and they used that art to beautify their communities, much like we do today. People would still bustle around their cities, making sure that their daily chores were done and try to carve out a life for themselves, much like we do today. They would see outsiders with a cautious eye even though when they got to know them, they would realize that they are not much different than they were, much like we do. They would have friends, and families. They would work during the day. They would look to their loved ones to enjoy their evenings. All of this much like we do.
Though we would look back at those times as a time when life was made more difficult do to their lack of technology, they would not have seen it that way. They would have looked at themselves as the height of civilization, and would have lived a life of comfort. Yes, they would have a hard time if they were transported to this age just as we would if we found ourselves back in that age, but in reality, things would not have been that different.
In reality, nothing much has really changed. The traditions may have changed, and we may no longer look to the ancient gods for guidance to our ideology, but if you stripped away all of these cultural differences, you would still see a group of people, who at the heart of it all, still had the same major concerns that each of us as individuals also have. We are a group of people who find commonality with each other to make those strong connections that build up over a lifetime so that we can create the memories that give us a fulfilling life.
As I look back at my recent trip to Greece and the two islands that I got to visit, Santorini and Naxos, I can’t help to think about how much I owe to this ancient culture. But it is not just this culture that I should give tribute to. It is every culture that I have been lucky to have made contact to. It is this collective whole that makes up now just me, but every person who has ever lived on this planet. There is so much that we all have in common that if look past the superficial, we will be able to see it. Thank you Greece for helping me see this, and I hope that I can bring this attitude with me to every other place I get to visit in this world.
Until next time, keep traveling, and keep enjoying making those greater connections.
It is easy to forget the Santorini is a Greek island with a lot of history and archeological sights on it. There are so many other things to do on this island that this sometimes gets brushed under the rug to be forgotten about, but one of the must-do sights on the island should not be treated this way, the Akrotiri Ruins on the southern edge of the island.
Before the volcano of Santorini exploded leaving only a caldera behind, Akrotiri used to be the prominent city on the island and a major trading center in the Aegean Sea. Despite its growth, it eventually fell victim to the volcano and was buried under hot magma to preserved for ages. It has since been rediscovered and archeologists are slowly digging it out giving it a feel very much like Pompeii in Italy. The biggest differences being that this sight is centuries older than the preservation next to Mount Vesuvius, and they have only uncovered about three percent on this vast city.
They have already found some amazing art and vases that have been left behind. Because this is an active archeological sight, many of these priceless artifacts are brought to the museum in town to be put on display so they can finish uncovering more of the town. Despite this, there are still a lot of pieces that are there to look at, and add to the flavor of making the trip out there.
The real draw though is the opportunity to visit an actual archeological sight and look at the architecture from a period of time when it was still being developed. You also have the opportunity to walk through the ruins and feel what it would be like to live in this city so many centuries ago. There is actually a lot to see for them only uncovering such a little bit of the town, and you can see why this was one of the major trading posts in this part of the world.
So, if you make your way out to Santorini island and have a few days out here, the Akrotiri archeological dig should be one of the sights that you make time to see. It might take away from the wine tasting, walking the caldera, and eating amazing food in one of the most dramatic cities in the world, but it is worth the trip. It is only a half an hour bus ride from Firi, and they will be back to pick you up right around the time you finish your exploration, so there is no reason that you shouldn’t go.
I knew that a large portion of Greece was a collection of islands, but I did not know that each island had its own flavor and character. I know that it does not take a huge leap of logic to figure that out, but it is not something that most people would think about until they find themselves traveling between them. I also thought that I would spend my time on the coast of these islands hanging out on the beaches, but when I got to Naxos, I realized that it would be great to spend a day on the interior of the island and explore what it had to offer.
There are many small towns in the interior part of the island with two of the more exciting ones being Chalki and Apiranthos. Both of these towns have their own charm, and are fun to wander through. Chalki was a town that was inhabited by Crete refugees many years ago, and they brought their knowledge of marble working with them. The town is basically made of this marble, and it makes for an enjoyable day to walk through the town and marvel at the architecture.
Apiranthos is more built up than Chaki and sits in a valley floor. At first look, it might appear to be like any other small town in Europe, but its real charm comes in the old downtown area. There are great walking streets with nice restaurants, galleries and shops. But the real appeal of this town is getting out of it. There is a hiking loop that goes for six-and-a-half kilometers. On it, you will be able to find some historic places that you would expect to find on a Greek island though most of them a Greek Orthodox in nature and not the more historic Greek gods that first come to mind when thinking about this country.
That does not mean that there are not plenty of these features left from Ancient Greece on the island. There is the Temple of Demetrius which has been turned into a museum. If you want to go there make sure that you go earlier in the day because they do close up early in the afternoon. We had made it there at 4 o’clock after touring around the interior of the island and they were locking up, but looking at for a distance it looked like a place worth visiting. If you want to look for something free, there is the unfinished statue of Dionysus. It sits in the same place where they were working on it and it is a huge piece of marble that weighs over 60 tons. It is not hard to find and sit only fifty feet off of the side of the road.
Basically, anywhere you go in the interior of Naxos island will surprise you. It is worth renting a car for a day or two if you are out here and checking out all this island has to offer. It is not just beaches and a big city on the edge of an island. The island is filled with culture just waiting for you to voyage out to find it.
One of the greatest appeals of the island of Naxos is the fact that the major city on the island faces to the west, giving people who visit the perfect opportunity to watch the sun set every evening. For those of you who followed my blog during the time I was trapped in Thailand knew that I spent a lot of my time out there searching for the perfect sunset. So now that I am on another island that offers the same feature, of course I would take advantage of it.
The perches that a person can find in this city are countless and each one gives its unique perspective. I was lucky enough to have found one in the little apartment that we rented while we were out here. It has a beautiful roof patio that gives that perfect view over the ocean. There are a couple of buildings in the way, but it still made for the perfect opportunity for pictures.
Most visitors like to head out to the peninsula at the tip of the island to get the perfect picture there. Not only does it get you away from all of the modern buildings, but it also offers the perfect structure to take the pictures with, Apollo’s Temple.
Of course the perfect shot that everybody tries to obtain is the sun sinking below the horizon while being framed by the forgotten door way. I don’t know what this is like during the height of tourist season, but I suspect that you will need to get out there early if you wish to position yourself for the perfect spot to get that picture. I was lucky enough to be out here during the offseason, and did not have to fight for that spot, but the wind still likes to whip over this little plot of land and makes it really cold. If you find yourself out here during the same time, I highly recommend dressing in warm clothes because you will need them while you are watching the sun set.
Some people still find the perfect spot along the coast for their picture. There a lot of those little spots as well. No matter where you go to get that picture, you will not be disappointed because Naxos has plenty of great places to get that amazing sunset snapshot.
Naxos is not as touristy as some of the other Greek islands, but that does not mean that it is not worth the visit. It is known more for the agriculture rather than the wine, sights or nightlife that some of the islands that are known for, but the dramatic arrival from the ferry port lets you know that you are still in for a treat by visiting this island. As soon as you exit the ferry, you can’t help to look to the left and see the ancient marble doorframe that stands on the edge of the coast. It has been standing there since 430 B.C. when the tyrannical ruler of the island of Naxos commissioned that it be built to create a temple for the god, Apollo. The temple never was finished, but the doorway still remains.
Getting closer to it shows that a little of the foundation was laid as well, but it is more interesting to see the history of architecture by looking at the doorway. It is a simple design that came around long before the Roman arch. It does not mean that it is any less powerful than the Roman arch; it just means that they have not come up with the more elegant design yet. The doorway had still stood the test of time though because here it still stands despite the rain and wind that constantly batters it throughout the centuries.
This is not the only historical place right off from the ferry either. In 1490, a Venetian came out to the small island and decided to build a castle on the top of the hill that sits right outside of the port. Of course, the centuries of weather was not as friendly to this castle as it was to the doorway, but the people of Naxos have come back and restored it to its former glory except now it is a place for families to live, as well as restaurants and shops.
It makes a great place to wander through. They call it the labyrinth, and the name is well deserved. There are a ton of twists and turns with each one giving another surprise. It reminded me on a mini-Venice and a great way to spend the afternoon was spent wandering through it narrow passages. You can easily get lost among them, but you know that you won’t get too lost because there is not that much space to get lost in.
Basically, Naxos is not the island that hits you in the face with its touristy ways, and for that reason many people might dismiss it as a place not worthy of your time. When I first arrived on the island, I fell into that camp, but I have come to find out that there is a certain amount of charm with the island that will grow on you, making it worth your time.
If you are spending time in Oia, a great way to spend the day is to take a quick fifteen minute bus ride to the main town of Fira, and hike along the ridge of the caldera back to Oia. It is about a 15 kilometer hike, and with all of the sights you will see along the way, it will take a little over fours hours to do.
When you get off the bus at Fira, you basically head north through the town of Fira. It is similar to Oia with a bunch of restaurants, cafes, and shops, and though the views are still dramatic, I like the feel of Oia a little bit more.
That does not meant that there still is not a lot to see in the city, and you will spend a good first quarter of the hike hanging out in this town. The path is pretty easy to follow. You just stay on the main drag, and when you hit the Blue Note restaurant, you take a left for the rest of the way. If you are worried about making a wrong turn here, there is a sign that points you to Oia, and tells you that it is a ten kilometer hike from this point. It is also a good spot to stop and have some gelato from the Blue Note. Tiramisu, and raspberry and cream were my favorite flavors. It is also a good place to go to the bathroom because you won’t see many more of them along the way.
Though you never really leave civilization behind, after Blue Note, the buildings become fewer and further between. I was lucky enough to be out here in the spring and the explosion of wild flowers added a new surprise once we left town. The downfall of this is the wind and cool weather. Bring layers if out here in the spring because it can get cool on top of the ridge of the caldera.
Being in the city is really cool, but looking back and seeing the whole white expanse of them is also dramatic. There are basically three cities that you will see along the route, and each of them offers their own beauty. The first two blend together and are a great place to stop for lunch before making the final trek.
Oia is the third city and it pops in and out of view as you continue your hike. It is also a great reference point if you take this hike later in the afternoon so you can watch the sunset while making your way to that final city. The hike here gets more hilly with pushes uphill and steep downhills. Also the path turns into a path of loose volcanic rock which makes hiking go a little slower.
There are still hints of civilization along the way. There are time that had me wondering why they had built these structures in more isolated places. There were a couple of churches along the way at the top of the hills that took some effort to get to, and with no obvious road to get there. It made me wonder what kind of services they had there and who were the people that joined the congregation.
There are also a couple of vineyards carved into the hills along the way. It is a nice reminder of what is waiting for you at the end of the long voyage, and it is also nice to know that the land on the island of Santorini is used to the best of its advantage.
Eventually you will get to that final descent that will take you into Oia. It creates some amazing views from atop this perch, and it is also around this time of the hike that you start to feel the strain for the long hike. But you know that it is coming to the end.
The paved path also returns at this point as well, making the end of the hike more comfortable. It is a great way to see a lot of what the island of Santorini has to offer, and a great way to spend the day. If your a photographer, it is a must do experience. Most of the path is safely away from the dangers of the road, even though there is a short hike along the road, but it is not more than 500 meters long. It is a highly recommended experience, and if you find yourself out here, I hope you take the opportunity.
I’ll admit that the only really thing that I knew about the small Greek island of Santorini I learned from the board game by the same name. I never played the game, but it looked really pretty with all of its white buildings with blue domes. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the island that I learned where the inspiration for this game came from and I knew in an instant that I would have to make my way there someday.
Santorini was a volcano at one time that had a massive explosion that left the island as a caldera looking out over the sea. A couple of the cities on the island were destroyed and there are a couple of place where you can go look at these ruins that outdate Pompeii, and have the same eerie feeling as it.
But it is the recent cities that have been built on top of the cliffs that are the real treat of this island. The buildings all have a similar feeling to them, and they are painted white with blue highlights. It isn’t just the city of Oia on the northern edge of the island either. It is every place where people have settled, whether it is on the caldera side or the seaside. It gives the city a utopian feel that is fun to stroll through and just marvel at the beauty of it.
I know it all started with a board game review that I saw on YouTube, and looking at the little city that white an blue pieces of plastic could make, but I am glad that I came across that video because it has led me to an amazing island out in the middle of the Aegean Sea where I can experience that Greek lifestyle.