Like discarded toys of epic proportion, toppled ruins and fragments of the past scatter the rocky islands and countryside. Monumental artefacts constructed in honour of the gods, lie broken and crumbling under the feet of millions of sightseers. Romantic notions of ancient history and myth are carried away on the wind as the night falls and the lights come on. Rhythms, aromas, and wild laughter fill the streets, tavernas, and village squares. Greece has grown from the cradle of Western civilization, to the playground of the new millennium.
A thousand Greek-sounding names-all too familiar-could be elicited while attempting to gloss over the classic history of Greece. Even an attempt to sketch out the highlights is folly given the mind-numbing number of events chronicled in the annals of Grecian conquests. The drama played out between so many nations in this small corner of the world is indeed intriguing. But, best left to those who seek a more definitive understanding of the wars, chaos, and scholarly exploits of the Hellenistic people of the region.
In case you didn't already know, Greece is located on the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula and shares borders with Albania, the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria, and Turkey. To the east, south, and west respectively, are the Aegean, Mediterranean, and the Ionian seas. A couple of thousand islands under Greek sovereignty are scattered over these waters. Athens is the capital city.
Surf, sun, and fun are the main ingredients to a vacation in Greece. Add to that a healthy blend of historical sights, culinary delights, and a host of people overjoyed and anxious to share. Bake on the beach until golden brown or, shake vigorously from dawn to dusk. Top it all off with a sprinkling of off beat and / or classical excursions soaked in plenty of photo opportunities. And remember: no matter how you vary the recipe, your Greek holiday is bound to serve up fantastic memories.
It's big, it's boisterous and it's grimy, but it's a great place to wallow in the unique Athenian lust for life. Everywhere-in the cafes, parks, pedestrian streets, public squares, and markets-people demonstrate an animated passion as they express themselves. Forget the smog and concrete miasma; focus on the gritty charm peeking out from under the eaves and around the corners of blind alleys; the shouts of street hawkers and market touts are in perfect harmony with the horns and the rumble and roar of city traffic; that's not a decrepit old building! It's a neoclassical mansionA^...just a little dusty is all.
There are a lot of hills to climb if you want to escape street level decibels and soak up a little history at the same time. (The Acropolis, where you can visit the Parthenon, is just one of them-comes with a great view too.) The port of Piraeus is now amalgamated into the mega-metropolis along with close to four million people. All the best tourist haunts are located within a relatively small area surrounding the business district of Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Square). Plaka, the old Turkish quarter, is to the south, hugging the base of the Acropolis. Plaka is packed with tourists during the high season and for good reason; it's full of character and pretty to boot. The market district of Monastiraki is found to the west. Thession/Psirri is nearby as well, should you care for chic bars and cafes. For more of the same, plus equally trendy boutiques, art galleries and people, visit Haritos Street near Kolonaki. Looking for something sleazy and cheap? Head north to the zone of Omonia, the notorious hangout of pickpockets, prostitutes, and bus stations. If you're just looking for a good dinner however, somewhere close to your hotel, tucked away on a side street is an excellent taverna where locals are regulars and the owner doesn't stand on the street trying to lure you inside. Athens has a lot to discover; not all of it has been swept under the rug.
A rocky, dry, barren, and usually windy Cycladic island, Mykonos bears the dubious distinction of being the premiere gay destination of the Mediterranean. You don't have to be gay to visit Mykonos and have a great time; in reality, there are far more singles that are heterosexual co-existing peacefully and with tolerance. With over 14 popular beaches, you won't be bored with lack of choice when it comes to sand and surf. As for the nightlife: If you are gay, you already know where to go. If you dance to a different tune however, there are quite a number of nightspots ranging from those that feature loud music and wild dancing, to those where sunsets and classical music are the prefect compliment. Unless a few cruise ships are in the harbour disgorging passengers for a few hours, don't expect much activity before one or two in the afternoon. Consider a typical day: Wake up for some beach time late afternoon; shower and a nap; sunset stroll; dinner around 10 pm; hit the bars; hit the sheets (at sunup); repeat. Of course, if that isn't what you came for, you could always visit the 400 some-odd chapels or hang around the waterfront trying to look busy or amused.
Ancient Delphi is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It is situated in a superb natural setting believed by many to be among the most spectacular of all Greece. A short three-hour drive from Athens brings you to the slopes of Mount Parnassos with the Gulf of Corinth visible just beyond the sacred Plain of Itea. In ancient times, the Delphic Sanctuary was considered the center of the world. The oracle was abolished by Theodosius about 385 AD. Several sacred wars were fought over control of the sanctuary and at one time, over 3,000 statues were contained within its precincts. With the dissipation of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity, its decline was ensured. Also celebrated at Delphi were the Pythian Games, one of the four great national Greek festivals, held at first every 8 years, but later every 4 years. This coupled with the fame of its oracle, attracted international favour. Competitors and visitors came from far and wide.
Three hours will acquaint you with the ruins but six are recommended for a thorough exploration. The weather can change quickly so a windbreaker is handy to have, even in August. The hilly terrain suggests sensible shoes although paths are well tended.
Corfu is the northernmost of the idyllic Ionian group of islands, which are lush compared to the barren Aegean islands. Vestiges of Venetian culture can be found here along with distinctive European and British influences. Mountainside monasteries, unspoilt villages, ancient olive groves, delicious wines, white beaches, and blue waters count among the charms that beckon visitors to the region. The capital and largest town is the port of Kerkira, on Corfu.
Santorini, the most Southern of the Cyclades and about 200 nautical miles from Piraeus, is one of the most romantic spots in the world. This is where one finds the blue-domed roofs, dazzling white walls and black-sand beaches depicted in the quintessential postcards of Greece. Santorini owes its crescent shape to its volcanic origins. The island grows exceptional grapes that produce excellent wines-stop by the wineries for a free wine tasting. Fira is the picturesque town that requires a lot of climbing up and down wide steps during explorations. Sensible shoes are a good idea. A number of good museums offer a glimpse into the past. Santorini has a significant nightclub and bar scene. At night, the town is lit up and your ears will no doubt guide you to music venues of choice. Ancient Akrotiri is the best preserved of all the prehistoric settlements discovered in Aegean. It was the center of an advanced civilization, which reached its zenith about 1550 - 1500 BC, a period known as Late Minoan IA.
Whitewashed walls, deep blue sky, olive groves, fig trees, azure Aegean waters...the heavenly Dodecanese Islands have all this and more. In this diverse group of islands, you can experience traditional life without the trappings found in most other tourist destinations. This Dionysian group of islands is perched on the easternmost edge of the Aegean. It is a place where ancient history greets out at you at every turn, from crumbling fortresses of the Crusades to early relics dating back to the 14th century BC. A great island as well to indulge and relax in the bar and beach scene of the big resorts.
Elounda, on the island of Crete is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Once a small fishing village, Elounda retains a certain charm, offering an appealing mixture of old and new. It has an attractive harbour surrounded by cafes and bars where you can sit and watch the world go by. A lively nightlife is ensured for those seeking entertainment. The nearby sunken Greco-Roman city of Olous is a regular attraction for snorkelling enthusiasts. The peninsula provides some attractive, secluded coves with crystal-clear water. Nearby excursions include: the Venetian fortress on Spinalonga Island, a former leper colony; the Minoan palace of Knossos and the Heraklion archaeological museum; the coastal town of Sitia and nearby Vai Beach, famous for its palm forest; the mountain village of Fiesta; and the Samaria Gorge.
One way to visit Meteora is through Kalambaka. All the way from Trikala, small side-roads lead to many villages and old monasteries. Best known among these is Vytouma Monastery, on a picturesque landscape near Peristera village at the foot of Mt Koziakas. The monastery is known for its hand-woven fabrics, especially sacerdotal robes. The small town of Kalambaka is built at the foot of the majestic grey rocks, at the point where the Pinios River flows down from the Pindus range. In Kalambaka, one should not miss the cathedral church of the Dormition of the Virgin (built in the first half of the 12th century). The interior contains many paintings, and in particular frescoes by the Cretan monk Neophytos, son of the Cretan hagiographer Theophanes Strelitzas Bathas. The marble pulpit, marble chest, and synthrone in the Sanctuary are remarkable. The chapel of All Saints, with its 18th century wall paintings, and the church of St John the Precursor (Prodromos) built with materials from an ancient temple andbearing Roman inscriptions on its walls, are also worth a visit.
Ancient Olympia, dedicated to Zeus, was the birthplace of the Olympic Games and is arguably one of the top three most important archaeological sites in Greece. It remains an enchanting destination set among undulating hills. For centuries, the ruins of Olympia lay hidden under 12 to 15 feet of mud and sand because of nearby rivers over flowing their banks. Previously, earthquakes and plundering thieves devastated the sanctuary, which used to house over 3,000 statues of champions.
Olympia was not a city, it was sacred precinct and home to an exclusive society of priests, where temples, treasuries and other buildings necessary to the conduct of the games were erected. It slowly became a sanctuary, which housed many treasures of Greek art. In the center was the Altis or temple, dedicated to Zeus whose gold and ivory (chryselephantine) statue was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was designed by Pheidias, who also designed the interior of the Parthenon. No one alive today knows what the statue really looked like, but Pausanias' written description still exists. The statue's frame and center was made of wood, covered with gold and ivory, and stood 36 feet high.
The first conclusive surviving list of ancient Olympic Game contestants and winners is from 776 BC. Ancient Greek games were not team contests; they were about individual strength and skill. The four-year period between the games was called an Olympiad. Homer never mentions the Olympic Games but most historians agree that the Games go back beyond 776 BC, and all concur that there were many other games held locally throughout Greece as well. In spite of all the squabbling and bloody wars between the city-states, or more likely because of them, the Olympic Games were held with unfailing regularity. During the period of the games, a truce prevailed throughout Greece. This was known as the Olympic Truce or Ekecheria.