number sixteen: greece day 5

This post was written on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013. And one day I’ll post pictures…
Today’s port of call was the port of Katakalon peninsula, the “gateway to Olympia”. We did another excursion through the ship’s excursions, and this one was a bus tour to Olympia, the original site of the Olympics, and where they still light the torch each Olympics. The excursion included a guided walking tour of the actual archeological site, and then a stop at a local restaurant for some Greek appies and Greek dancing.

I was really looking forward to this one, to seeing Olympia (not so much looking forward to the Greek dancing). It was not what I expected…although I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. This was my first trip EVER to an ancient site. I guess one thing I wasn’t expecting was the amount of green space. The Greek have made a point of planting some of the same trees that would have been at the site in ancient times, and they now have a 200 year old grove of Cypress, maple and fur trees. I think I was expecting more concrete. But it was beautiful, and just so hard to fathom how old the structure is.

The guided tour was quite good, and as Mum pointed out, the crowds were fitting with how crowded it would have been during the actual Olympics — up to 45,000 people would come to watch (although we didn’t have nearly that big a crowd).

We spent about an hour at the site, and then left to go to the restaurant. This was a pleasant surprise. It was a beautiful building, with the most inviting pool I’ve ever seen (not part of our tour). We had a few snacks and watched the dancers. I wasn’t looking forward to this part because I thought it would be really hokey, but the dancers did a couple of numbers on their own and then started getting the audience involved (me and Mum included). It turned out to be a lot of fun.

After that it was back to the ship on the bus. We had a couple of hours before we had to leave, so Jan and I went shopping in the little town by the port while Mum went back to the ship to rest. I was able to easily spend another chunk of money. There are a lot of nice things here, and the prices are fairly reasonable. I should probably slow down a bit!

The shore excursions are expensive, but so far I’ve been really impressed with the tour guides. And both have been bus tours and I like how much country you see that way. But mostly it’s easy, which is what Jan wanted to have for Mum.

Jan and I did a run on the treadmill, we hung out on the deck as we left the dock, we’ve all showered and we’ll be heading to dinner soon.

I’m missing my family a lot…I got a texting package but the 10 hour time change makes it difficult to text much. Greg tells me everything is fine. I am definitely having a great time, but I really don’t like to be so far away from them. It’s easier when I’m off the ship and doing something so out of the ordinary as visiting Olympia.

The purchases for today were: Christmas ornaments, a silver bracelet for myself, t-shirts for the kids and Greg, and a hand-painted bowl (which I’ve ended up keeping).

number fifteen: greece day four

I’m a bit behind getting my Greece posts out…my last one had us on the ship on day three. Day four was our first port, the island of Corfu.

As I reflect back on this trip, I find that it’s difficult for me to put into words what I felt as I walked through the town of Corfu. This was my first real taste of Europe. I have been to Frankfurt airport several times now, but never out of the airport, and my brief time in Athens at the start of this trip doesn’t really count because I was jet-lagged and it was really just a stepping stone to the start of the trip. I know there’s a lot of diversity throughout Europe, but one constant is the history. Canada is such a young country comparatively, and it was such a novelty to be in a place with so much history. It was something I’ll never forget.

This post was written on Monday, October 14th, 2013 (with a few minor updates made tonight).
Today we visited our first port, the island of Corfu. We got off the ship at about 10:00 (such a reasonable hour!) and joined our bus tour. The excursion we chose was a 2.5 hour bus tour of the island, followed by an optional stop in the town of Corfu. If you took this optional stop then getting back to the ship was your responsibility, about a half hour walk or 10 Euro taxi ride.

The bus tour was excellent. The tour guide was informative and a good storyteller. The drive went through inland Corfu and then up a steep, winding highway to a small summit (Malahat-like in altitude). The bus driver was also good and not aggressive at all, thank goodness for me because the road wasn’t really a highway at all. At one point we went through a small village and the road was barely wider than a laneway. The bus’ side view mirrors were literally inches from the buildings, and the switchbacks were the tightest I’ve ever seen. It was similar to some of the New Zealand driving that Greg and I did, except that the Greek roads were in better condition, and there were guardrails (albeit awfully low ones!).

Our first destination was a small resort called The Golden Fox, right at the summit. There was a stunning panoramic view of the Mediterranean and a few small shops. We stopped there for about 45 minutes, which gave us some time to soak in the view and do a bit of shopping. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices. I picked up a couple of scarves (for my future reference, it was the pink one I kept for myself and the one I gave K) and a bunch of olive oil soaps. The soap was also intended for gifts but so far I’ve given only one away! Anyone want some?

We got back in the bus and drove down the other side of the summit (the tour buses are only allowed to go one way on this route because the road is so narrow — there would be no place for two buses going opposite directions to pass). The drive truly was beautiful, including the portions without a sea view. Corfu is considered the greenest of the Greek islands, and it’s lushness was very inviting. There were plenty of olive, cypress and eucalyptus trees, making for a much different landscape than I’m used to.

The bus made a second stop in old town Corfu, which is where we had the option to get off and make our own way back to the ship. We chose this option, and spent a couple of hours wandering around Corfu. The town was also very beautiful. Cobblestone streets, lots of alleyways, and cafes galore. I tried Greek coffee, which is unfiltered and very grainy. As my sister said, it’s basically like eating coffee beans.

We wandering through the open air market, which mostly consisted of fish so it was a bit smelly, but Mum and Jan both picked up some yummy candied nuts, one bag of which we quickly devoured.

We did some more shopping, and (again for my reference), I picked up a small mirror for Amy, a baseball hat for Elliot, and a purple scarf for myself.

We got back to the ship after a hot walk, went for a quick swim and enjoyed a drink on the lido deck. We all had turkey for dinner, made in honour of Canadian Thanksgiving. It was yummy.

Tomorrow we are going to Olympia, on the Katakalon peninsula, part of mainland Greece.