Jonna, Brianna and Alan's trip to Greece

As mentioned in our '11 Australia Trip page, Jonna and Alan promised their one nephew and two nieces that we would bring them each on a trip as they graduated from high school. This year it was our niece Brianna's turn. For a few years she'd wanted to visit Greece so the destination was set early. We scheduled a tour of the Greek islands through Bike Hike Adventures that give us quick visit in Athens but then send us out to the islands for a week of hiking, horse riding, mountain biking and sea kayaking. We then scheduled an extra week to for us to relax in the town of Paleohora on the island of Crete.

Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture.):

1) Our first order of business, after arriving in Athens early in the morning, was to check into our hotel. Luckily, it was located right at the base of the iconic Acropolis so we were motivated to get out and see the sights rather than tempting jet lag by taking a nap.

2) We took the subway to the center of the city and then worked our way back south through the Monastriaki neighborhood. One of our first stops was at the Central Market where various vendors, such as these butchers, were selling their products. We decided not to pick up a raw leg of mutton or a tuna filet for lunch.

3) One of the neat sights in Plaka district is the 11th century Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea. This beautiful, small church is in the middle of the busiest shopping and tourist area in Athens. We had lunch next door and it is amazing what a serene site this is right in the middle of such a chaotic mass of people.

4) While Jonna and Brianna were fell under the commercial aura of the Plaka and wandered into a shop to do a little shopping, Alan stayed out on Ermou street and listened to an excellent group of Greece street musicians. These guys had a steady audience arrayed in front of them and played surprisingly energetic music despite their acoustic instruments.

5) The streets in Athens are a fascinating place to take photos. The spectrum of sites runs from incredibly ancient ruins to shiny modern glass buildings, often right next to each other. Old neglected doors, like this one, might be a block away from a throughly contemporary fashion store. Sadly, one thing that does tie them all together is the ever present graffiti...

6) Brianna's first chance to see a truly ancient structure was our visit to the 1800 year old Temple of Olympian Zeus right in the middle of Athens. She was suitably impressed!

7) When Alan and Jonna were last in Athens, back in 2007, the new Acropolis Museum was still under construction so we were excited to finally visit it on this trip. We had a professional local guide, Calliope, that was provided by Bike Hike. She was quite knowledgable and was able to provide really interesting insights into the artifacts on display (as well as take a group photo of us!).

8) The upper most floor of the Acropolis Museum has reproductions of all the Parthenon sculptural friezes arrayed in the same layout as they would have been a top the Parthenon. Yet another Greek musuem with innovative and powerful methods of displaying their collection.

9) After touring the museum, we made the climb up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and the other temples on top, as well as the theaters on the southern hillside. Even when packed with tourists and covered with restoration scaffolding it is an amazing site.

10) The claim is made that from the top of the Acropolis you can see 1/3 of the entire population of the country of Greece. (The Athens metro area is home to over 3 million, while Greece as a whole has a population of 10 million). Whether it is true or not, the view is fantastic.

11) From the top of the Acropolis we decended the northern side into the scenic Anafiotika neighborhood. Houses built in the style of the islands, as well as colorful graffiti, made for a beautiful walk before decending back into the crushing tourism madness of the Plaka to find lunch.

12) We ended our city tour with Calliope at Syntagma Square. This large square, next to the Greek Parliment building, has been the scene of frequent protests during Greece's recent financial problems. Thankfully, the day were there it was empty (though there were dozens of heavily armed military police discretely positioned out-of-sight next door in the National Gardens. The soldiers, dressed in traditional uniforms, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

13) For our final day in Athens we again ventured out on our own to see more of the city's archaeological sites. We walked around the west side of the Acropolis to the Ancient Agora of Athens. The highlight of the park is the Temple of Hephaestus which is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the city.

14) After a great visit to Athens, the next morning we meet our guide Anna who would leading us on our trip out to the islands. First up was a high speed ferry from the port of Piraeus out to the island of Naxos. It took four hours, which included a stop at the island of Paros, which we split between talking inside and standing out on the windy deck enjoying the stunning views of Aegean Sea.

15) One of the themes of this trip was fantastic food. Lunch port side in Naxos city was typical: a fresh salid, delicious bread, olives and local soft cheese. That alone is enough to fill you up but then it was followed by saganaki (fried cheese), calamari, broiled fish and spanakopita. Yum!

16) Seafood doesn't get any fresher than on the Greek islands. These octopus were drying 5 feet from the water and 20 feet from the kitchen. Ingredients whether it was fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, diary products, bread or wine, were almost always local and very fresh.

17) Our first tour activity was a 2 hour seaside horse ride with Naxos Horseriding Club. The three of us weren't the only ones on the ride and we thought the big family sharing the ride with us were really obnoxious. Their loud, rude behavior ruined the ride for us but it still a scenic trip with some nice views back onto the city of Naxos. This was the only part of the trip that was anything other than incredible so it was good we got it out of the way first thing.

18) Dinner our first evening on Naxos was idyllic. A colorful sunset looking out over a quaint port enjoyed while eating fantastic food and thoroughly enjoying the company of our niece Brianna and our guide Anna. It doesn't get better.

19) I've mentioned our guide Anna already but our first hiking day showed the value of having a local guide. We took a taxi up into the hills of Naxos where Anna had the driver drop us off on the side of the road in what seemed the middle of nowhere. Then she picked up a nearby hiking trail which lead us into the center of the island. Along the way we saw a Roman aquaduct, two 2,500 year old Greek statues in an ancient marble quarry, visited a village for a snack in a charming family run taverna, climbed to the top of a mountain to see the ruins of a 1,000 year old Venetian fortress, walked through olive groves and goat herds and ended in a lovely little village where we visited a 120 year old citron distillery. An incredible hike!

20) With a little down time after our morning hike, Brianna decided to give wind surfing a try. Naxos has constant Mediterrean sea breezes so it is a popular place for the sport. Bri took a one hour lesson and by the end of it she was zooming across the water, making turns and tacking back against the wind.

21) The tour included mountain biking on Naxos but none of us are experienced mountain bikers. Instead of heading inland where the hills and mountains are, we convinced our bicycle guide Martin to do a more casual ride instead. We rode, slowly-slowly, half way down the western coast of Naxos to the beach town of Mikri Vigla (where we took a mid-ride swim!).

22) We enjoyed the bikes so much that when we got back from our official ride we checked out free beach cruisers and rode back to Agia Anna so we could catch a (quick) glimpse of a sea turtle that swims past the pier there every evening at exactly 5pm and sure enough it arrived exactly at 5.

23) That evening was another relaxing evening of great food and great company. We were joined this night, as we were on many others, by some of the ubiquitous feral Greek island cats.

24) Before leaving Naxos we made an early morning trip into Naxos city to see the town's archaeological museum. Clearly the museums on the islands work with more modest budgets than the ones on the mainland but the artifacts on display are no less interesting. These 5,000 year old Cycladic sculptures (which are really only about 12" tall, despite the perspective trick used in this photo to make them look the same size as Jonna) were beautiful and have a surprisingly modern look.

25) AAAaaaawwwwwww...aren't they cute? These kittens were hanging out at a restaurant just waiting for the breakfast crowd to arrive. Big green eyes mean more handouts from the tourists.

Go forward to the second '14 Greece Trip Photo Page.

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Alan Fleming