I’ve just started to read Lawrence Durrell’s The Greek Islands and it is very apt because he starts the first chapter by describing the traveller ‘slipping southward along the heel of Italy, as if down a Christmas stocking full of small treasure-towns’. Durrell suggests getting the ferry from Brindisi, which is near the bottom of the heel, whereas we left from the middle of the calf. He also suggests Corfu as the first Greek stopover; we arrived further south onto the mainland at Patras.
So we made it to Greece! The boat trip could have been better – a very small cabin on Minoan Lines compared with our cabin on Irish Ferries and it was about three times the price, but Lenny was happy to be in the cabin with us and it was a nice smooth crossing. The three hour drive across the northern Peloponnese with the blue Gulf of Corinth on our left, and the green mountains on our right, along with the sunshine, was a nice welcome to the country.
We had eaten en route but found that there were some nice bars right beside our hotel so we decided to go for a drink. I’d been to Athens before with Frank and was pleasantly surprised by it. There is a great social scene any night of the week with a fantastic choice of eateries, bars and cafes. On top of this cool vibe going on in the city there is of course the magnificent Acropolis standing high above. Certainly, it’s a place to consider for a city break. There are also some nearby islands such as the beautifully peaceful Hydra (where Leonard Cohen bought a house in 1960) if one wanted to combine island relaxation with a city break.
We drove up the mountains of central Greece to Delphi the next day. Frank had spoken enthusiastically of Delphi in the past, having visited during one of his archeology digging summers in Greece. He certainly hadn’t oversold it. Even without the famous archeological site, the setting itself is a wonder. All around us were mountains with spring blossoms and colourful wildflowers (spring is a great time to visit here for this reason). These swept down into the valley below to the Gulf of Corinth. The sweet sound of birdsong heightened the sense of being in nature. Higher up, not too far away were the snow covered peaks of Mount Parnassus. Here you can ski – there were wooden alpine-like chalets for skiers and quite a few shops selling ski gear. It seemed strangely out of season but apparently ski season hadn’t ended yet! I overheard a waiter later telling his table that you can ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon!
Delphi town itself is small and quite unremarkable. In hindsight we would have stayed in the bigger town about 10 minutes before Delphi called Arachova. It had more character and lots more to choose from when it came to eating out. (We stopped there for lunch on the way back to Athens the next day so did get a bit of the flavour of the town). Our ridiculously cheap hotel was quaint and our room had a little balcony with breathtaking views of the whole valley.
As dogs are not allowed into archeological sites, we left Lenny behind and walked to one part of ancient Delphi. What is unusual about Delphi is (a) where it is situated and (b) it wasn’t a town in the normal sense. It was a place of worship – a sacred sanctuary for all of the Greek city states. The Greeks considered Delphi the centre (the navel) of the world. Warriors and heads of states would make pilgrimages here to consult the Oracle – the Pythia (priestess) on important matters such as should they go to war, or before founding a colony. Each city state had a temple built here or sent votive offerings of great value. It served as the major site for the god Apollo – there is a huge temple dedicated to him. Delphi was also the site for the Pythian Games – athletic games that were a precursor to the Olympic games and were a huge affair. The large stadium can be found at the top of the pathway that winds up the hill. Between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning we visited the whole site and ended the visit at the very impressive museum. It contains an abundance of treasures and artifacts discovered during the excavations of the site.
After a walk with Lenny through somebody’s land (he had to go back on his leash when we met a goat herder and heard the goat bells nearby), we left Delphi, Athens-bound. We were getting an overnight ferry from the port of Piraeus to our final destination, Chania, Crete. Let’s see if Anek Lines would prove to be any better than Minoan Lines.
On arrival in Athens that evening, we found we had a few hours to spare so we parked in Piraeus, hopped on the metro, and 15 minutes later got off at Monastiraki, in the heart of the city. We starting working our way uphill though the streets and steps filled with cafes and people chatting and drinking. Soon we could see the Acropolis overhead. If we continued walking uphill we would reach the entrance to the Acropolis but our mission was to fill our bellies so we stopped at one of these busy spots and got a seat outside. We ate some good mezze and enjoyed the music from the band that just started playing Greek trad behind us. It was nice to soak up some early evening Athens atmosphere before boarding another overnight ferry.
Well, if we thought the Minoan ferry experience was poor, it was a dream in comparison to the shambles that was Anek. First, there was the parking fiasco. I think the lads were competing to see who could squeeze the most cars into their area. Lenny and I were kicked out of the car so that Frank could manoeuvre in between a few cars. At the same time, more cars were being ushered in on top of us.
Our cabin was actually very nice. Modern, double bed, and plenty of space. Lenny was to stay in the kennels. That’s when the fun started. Nobody seemed to know where the kennels were. We were sent up three floors, then down four floors, out onto the decks, down through different corridors looking for exits onto the deck. Every time we met an Anek employee, we got different instructions. It wasn’t a case of language breakdown because there was as equally frustrated Greek couple with a very large dog trying to do the same. Then Lenny peed and we were told dogs weren’t allowed in this area! We were scolded by someone for not having our tickets on our person whilst moving around the ship, even though we showed him our room key! We reached breaking point so brought Lenny back to our cabin to stay with us. If we had decided to do that from the start everything would have been fine because it was time for bed now and in the morning we would be in Chania.
Getting back to the car when the ship arrived at port was another case of poor communication, so we stood in a stairwell for an hour before being allowed into our garage.
That’s it for ferries and cars for a while and good riddance! First stop: a bakery for some spanakopita (spinach pie) and fresh orange juice; second stop: the beach while we wait for check in time at our apartment.