I swear I am actually a student! I just happen to go to a school that sends me not to one Greek Island, but to two! And all in the span of 10 days! CRAZY, right?. Our journey starts on the island of Andros, goes to Crete, and ends back at the Port of Pireaus outside of Athens.
ANDROS-The Perfect Get-Away
Andros is a large island about a two hour ferry ride from Athens, and it is gorgeous. I am eventually going to run out of adjectives to describe my experience because it was all so breathtaking. This was an optional trip, so only about 30 students and I went. The leader of the trip was my modern Greek teacher, Lida, who knew the island well because she went to the island for her summer vacations growing up.
Like most islands, Andros has a very mountainous terrain, which provides an impressive background for the small villages on the coast. The village we stayed in was literally right on the water, centered around a huge lighthouse on a rock in the middle of the sea. When you look at the village, all you see is red and white, for houses are all white with red roofs. On the road next to the coast are bars and tavernas, of which I can attest have very good seafood! Walk up the narrow streets, climb some marble stairs, and you’ll reach the main center, sprinkled with sweet shops, artisan stores, and tavernas covered with bright purple flowers. I fell in love with how quaint the center was, and I was surprised to see that it was still active even at 12:30 at night, with families still eating and kids running around: the perfect get away!
While there, we went to an archaeological site and learned a lot about the origins of this windy island. Fun fact: Ancient Athens was very hostile to Andros because it hosted Persians in their villages during the Persian War…bad mistake Andros! We went to the beach every day…and when I say beach I don’t mean the cold North Atlantic waters with seaweed everywhere: I mean warm, turquoise water so clear that you can see the bottom five feet in. Taking advantage of this, I used my goggles to see what exactly is in the Aegean. Well, I found lots of small fish, similar to mini bass, along with sea grass with small schools of baby neon colored fish. We swam to coves with stalagmites (of which I broke a piece off for a souvenir), rocks for cliff jumping, and on one beach to a massive natural rock formation in the shallow end of the water. Once dried off, we went to lunch for stuffed tomatoes and peppers, along with fresh fish and local cheese. To finish off the weekend, we went to a monastery on the top of huge mountain with a stunning view of the island. Small buses took us up the narrow roads on the extreme sides of the mountains to provide more beautiful views…driving like that is not for the faint of heart. After a tour of the monastery, we concluded by visiting an olive oil museum, where they used to make olive oil the old fashioned way. The owner of the house gave us a demonstration of how to make homemade olive oil. The process is very detailed…and actually involves donkeys!
CRETE-The Texas of the Aegean
Ever since my world history class in freshman year of high school, I have grown a desire to visit Crete, so spending four days with private (and free) tours of all the sites was truly a dream come true!
The Greeks call Crete the “Texas” of the Mediterranean because everything is bigger in Crete: the food, the amount of guns/knives, and the ego. It certainly seemed like a different country, and I LOVED it. Cretan culture is fascinating, and is a very passionate one due to its constant history of resistance against foreign invaders. This trip was mandatory and started with an 8 hour ferry ride, which was my first time sleeping in a boat cabin! The trip was built directly into my Art and Archaeology course I am taking. My professor, Prof. Steven Diamant, led truly inspiring on-site lectures at all of the ancient sites. While at these sites, he made me feel like I was actually there, recounting every detail of Minoan culture and analyzing every block of their architecture. Even though we woke up around 8 am every day, everything was worth it knowing that the remains of an ancient civilization from the 14th century BC is your classroom!
Ancient Minoan archaeology can pretty much be summed up with large palaces, of which we went to two: Knossos and Phaistos. Fun Fact: the Minoan village of the Knossos was the VERY FIRST EVER European city. So, I think that’s a pretty big deal. However, most exciting of all was when we got to the site of Knossos, guess what the Cretan workers there were doing? ON STRIKE. In response to massive job cuts, all the tourist sites closed that day. Well, I guess it’s all part of the experience!
In between these sites, we went to the beach at Matala, which grew famous for their coves in the bedrock where 1970 American hippies would camp out in! The coves were also home to some Roman burials, but I think the hippy thing is cooler. I tasted some traditional Cretan cuisine: Snails…which actually were delicious (very different from the French version), the Cretan gyro (bigger than ones in Athens), and LOTS and lots of Raki (Cretan “moonshine” like liquor that is now my favorite of all kind…it grew on me fast. Unfortunately it is illegal in the U.S.).
Lastly, we hiked the Samaria Gorge in the south side of the island. It was an 11 mile hike downhill with amazing views. On the way there, we passed field after field of olive trees (I mean, everywhere you look there are olive trees), and tons of goats! After the hike, we went for a quick swim in the Libyan sea, only 250 miles from Africa…certainly the closest I have ever been to Africa!
Once home, I uploaded the pictures from my camera. I ended up taking 800 pictures…a true sign of a good time! Hope these did my trip some justice!
Harry, I am so happy that you got to experience the places and cultures you have admired for so many years. Thank you for taking us along with you through your magnificent pictures and vivid descriptions.