ICONIC GREECE

Written by  Roberta Sotonoff

EUROPE GREECE
It is over 90 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The amazing Acropolis ruins glow atop a hill in Athens. I stand among them and close my eyes to ignore the sweaty crowds and imagine being greeted by some guy in sandals and a toga. I want him to tell me how these rocks were schlepped up this steep hill and carved into this magnificent, 5th century B.C city.

The Acropolis is just one of the fabulous attractions in Greece. To explore the country’s undulating landscape could take months. But if you have only a week, don’t leave without seeing Athens, Delphi and Santorini.

Athens
Your first stop will probably be the Acropolis. The Doric-styled Parthenon is dedicated to the goddess Athena. To the human eye, the Parthenon looks perfectly straight - an optical illusion. Its pillars are actually curved with some columns wider than others. But, like many ancient buildings, they always seem to be in the midst of renovations.
The Erechtheion, the structure with the scantily dressed, shapely ladies (Caryatids) balancing the Caryatid Porch on their heads, is considered Athena’s holiest shrine. On this spot, legend has it she won a contest against Poseidon. So, the city was named Athens. Note: These ladies are reproductions. The real Caryatids reside at the Acropolis Museum.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is tucked into the hillside. This semi-circular theater with Roman arches holds a variety of performances. Sadly, the Theater of Dionysus where plays like Media and Oedipus Rex were performed in the 6th century A.D. is mere ruins.
Catch a glimpse of the Acropolis during its days of glory at the Acropolis Museum. Statues are authentic and there is even an award cup from a marathon. The third floor murals make you feel like you are inside the Parthenon.
Travel from ancient times to the present at Syntagma (Constitution) Square (Central Square) and the Parliament building. Remember the anti-austerity demonstrations in 2015? They were here. So is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where the changing of the guard takes place. Dressed in beige dresses, white tights, shoes with pompoms and red hats, they stand like statues. Tourists pose with them. Every hour, they march like toy soldiers, kicking their feet high in the air and another group replaces them.
Nearby, the Panathenaic Stadium, reconstructed from an ancient Greek arena (329 B.C.), hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. A bit of trivia: Ancient Olympians uniforms were their birthday suits.
An Athens “must see,” is the Plaka. Located on the side of a mountain - many places in Greece are - this 19th century bit of Athens has several museums, monuments, Byzantine churches and even a Roman agora. Narrow, stone streets are lined with flowers, trees and souvenir shops. Grab a bite at the city’s oldest tavern, I Palia Taverna Psarra (1898). Sit on the tree-shaded terrace and enjoy succulent seafood and glorious views.

Delphi
About a three-hour drive from Athens, Delphi on the southeastern tip of central Greece. Dedicated to Apollo, it was once considered the navel of the world. In fact, there is even an oval stone (omphalos) that represents the bellybutton.
Following the Sacred Way path around Mt. Parnassus, notice the red stone Roman agora. Round the curve and travel upward to see the treasuries. Built by several Greek states, they served as tithes to the oracle and a commemoration of their victories. The path weaves up to the Altar of Apollo. Those pillars are part of what was once the Temple of Apollo. Here the Oracle made her predictions.
Legend has it that Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, would prophesize on the seventh day of the month. Her advice played a significant role during the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. colonization of Italy and Sicily.
It’s a steep trek the theater at the top but worth it. The mountain and sea panorama is jaw-dropping.
Many reliefs from Apollo’s Temple and a copy omphalos, the Earth’s navel, can be seen at the Delphi Museum. The museum contains a reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Apollo and a huge statue of the Naxian Sphinx, a mythical creature with woman’s head, a lion’s body and the wings of a bird.

Santorini
After trekking around Athens and Delphi, it is nice to chill out in Santorini. Whitewashed buildings and onion-shaped, blue-roofed churches cling to the soaring cliffs that face the Aegean Sea. Santorini is the iconic Greek isle. Picturesque towns like Fira, Ia (Oia) and Akrotiri sit on the edge of a caldera and from a distance look like frosting on a cake.
Cruise ships anchor at the capital, Fira. It’s a chockablock of shops, restaurants, galleries and some museums. To avoid the crowds, you must walk down to the water. Tread lightly to avoid the donkey droppings. From Fira, you can take a ferry to Nea Kamini, climb the 430-foot path and glimpse inside the sometimes smoldering, volcano cone.
Oia, or Ia sits on the north tip of the island. Not as crowded, its marble walk and many restaurants and shops reminds me of Dubrovnik without the castle.
Ia has a nice, quiet beach but the better beaches are at the south end of the island near Akrotiri. Red Rock Beach, with multicolored pebbles and red and black volcanic cliff backdrop is stunning.
At Akrotiri’s Apanemo Hotel, we enjoyed impeccable service. The hotel is reasonable and the view of Nea Kamini caldera is gorgeous.
Apanemo is near Ancient Akrotiri. Sometimes called “Greek Pompeii,” it was first settled in 3,000 B.C. A volcanic eruption in the late 17th century B.C covered it in ash. The small part that has been unearthed - houses, pottery and frescos - give you an idea of daily life.
There is so much to discover in Greece. The food is fabulous, the scenery awesome and so much history to learn. It’s a classic.
Note to travelers: If you stay on the island, you must rent a car and wing it. There are no real signs to direct you.
For more information, visit the Greek National Tourism Organization at www.visitgreece.gr

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