Archive for November 2009

 
 

Blog #9 WHY LESS IS MORE

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We planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

 

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

 

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

 

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands.   A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

 

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

 

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

 

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

 

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

 

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level.   Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

 

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

 

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.

e planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands. A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level. Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.