Planning your time in Greece – Part 1/2

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At one time, the Greeks thought that Delphi, located in upper central Greece was the centre of the world. Legend has it that Zeus himself released two eagles, one from the east, and the other from the west. These two eagles met at Delphi, forever marked as the centre of the world by the Omphalos stone, later housed in the temple of Apollo.

While this is just a pretty story, and the centre of the map lies further away, near Ankara in Turkey, Greece is truly the centre of the world as we know it in many other ways. Democracy, Literature, Theatre, Poetry, the entire Renaissance movement and the painters and sculptors we adore today like Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini – we owe all this to Golden Age Greece.

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A trip to Greece is nearly a pilgrimage for history and art buffs – so it was for me. But even for those of you who are not too crazy about these things, Greece has plenty to offer. The dramatic peaks of Meteora, the whitewashed houses of Santorini, the spectacular views of the coastline everywhere in the Peloponnese and the busy metropolis of Athens – Greece has something for everyone. Above all, the warmth and kindness of every single Greek I met, most notably our hosts in Athens and Kardamyli – Stavros and Stella, truly left us reeling. It is a country I would urge every one of you to visit at least once in your lifetime!

Because this is an extremely detailed, day by day itinerary, I am writing it as a two-part article. The first part will cover Athens, Delphi, Meteora and an island getaway. The second part will focus on a road-trip across the Peloponnese and will be published next week. Those of you with only about 7-8 days in Greece can simply get your flight back to your home country at the end of these 7 days, that is the first part of this article. Others, who have another week to spare should continue on to Olympia as I have described.

Planning your time

2 days: Focus on Athens.

4-5 days: Athens, with a side trip to Delphi, and one of the Greek islands. Santorini and Mykonos are popular, but I would also consider, Kos, Crete, Hydra and a few others.

5-8 days: Add a trip to Meteora. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Greece.

8-14 days: Add a road trip across the Peloponnese. I fall short of adjectives to describe this journey. If at all you can, add this to your itinerary.

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Temple of Hephaestus – Athens

Greece – Detailed Itinerary (Part 1)

Day 1

Fly into Athens. Most flights from India land in Athens around 2PM, and it will be about 4PM by the time you get through immigration, retrieve your baggage and go to your hotel or AirBnb in the city. If opting for AirBnb, stay with Stavros if his apartment is available. He has a couple of properties in town, one of them smack in the middle of the city, at a walkable distance from the Acropolis. Explore your surroundings, find the local bakery, get your Sim Card (we used Cosmote) and in general, get your bearings.

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Tomb of the Unknown Solder – Syntagma Square, Athens

Day 2

Spend the day exploring Athens. Do the Athens city walk, discovering modern Athens, the Greek Orthodox neighborhood and finally Ancient Athens. Your walk will take about 4 hours and end in Monastiraki. Grab lunch at O’ Thanassis, just off Monastiraki square. This is as much a Greek experience as the Acropolis is. 🙂 Sample their Souvlaki Sandwiches, Tzatziki (the best in Athens, except for what Stavros’ mother made), Greek Salad and wine by the carafe. On Sundays, the Athens flea market is housed on one of the side streets, definitely worth a visit for their souvenirs. In the afternoon, visit the Ancient Agora and the Acropolis. Both are usually open upto 8PM, so you can comfortably visit both the same day.

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Porch of the Caryatids – Erectheion, Athens

Day 3

Spend the morning visiting the Acropolis museum. In the afternoon, visit Central market, and then make your way to the National Archaeological museum. This one is a bit off the usual tourist beat, but you MUST, MUST visit this museum. It has artifacts discovered in various sites all over Greece, from Delphi and Mycenae to Akrotiri in Santorini, and is absolutely delightful to linger in.

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Bronze Statue of an Ethiopian Jockey on a horse – National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Day 4

I would suggest leaving your luggage with your hotel or AirBnb host at this point, and packing a small day bag with clothes for two days. It will save you a lot of trouble. Take the early morning bus to Delphi (7.30 AM). You can reserve your tickets in advance on KTEL. Spend the morning and early afternoon visiting the Archaeological site and then the excellent museum at Delphi.

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The Theatre at Delphi overlooking the Sanctuary of Apollo

In Greece, it is always a good idea to visit the museums attached to different sites. They usually have paintings/models of the site as it must have looked in its heyday, and various sculptures and artifacts discovered at the site itself. These will bring history to life for you. For example, in the compact Delphi museum, we saw the Acanthus column of dancers, which once held a tripod, a 4th century BC Omphalos stone and the bronze charioteer which once stood at the gateway to the theatre at Delphi. Without these images in your mind, it would be easy to dismiss any of the sites as “just more ruins”.

In the evening, take the bus or train to Meteora from Delphi and stay overnight in Kalambaka. This is the small town that functions as a handy springboard to visit the monasteries of Meteora.

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When it is about to rain & you realize that you forgot the umbrella!

Day 5

Meteora has six monasteries that you can visit, and each of them closes for one day of the week. I would suggest that you visit two monasteries, the Grand Meteora and one more that catches your fancy (Varlaam or Holy Trinity perhaps). More than that and I think they will get repetitive. Visiting the monasteries is only a small part of your trip to Meteora. Meteora’s magic lies in its soaring cliffs and the magical landscape and when you are in the monastery itself, it will almost feel like your are suspended among the clouds. It is no wonder the monks thought they would be closer to God here.

When in Meteora, stop everywhere, savor the views, feel the spirituality. Don’t worry about seeing everything. It is not important. Engage a local tour company to take you around. It is really cost effective, more so than hiring a taxi to and from Kalambaka. And, they are just so nice and proud about their heritage, it will fill you up with happiness being with them. This is the company we used for our trip to Meteora. Nikos and Mary were almost too good to us and I feel like they are old friends, although we only spent a day together. In the evening, take the train out of Kalambaka to Athens, and stay overnight in Athens.

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Day 6

Take a morning flight to Santorini. If it is your first time in Greece, you must definitely choose to go to Santorini to make sure you have no regrets later about missing it :). Santorini has two major centres – Fira and Oia. Fira is where those on a budget stay, Oia is where all the others do :P. We stayed at Sweet Pop, very close to the heart of Fira and a convenient base to explore all the other parts of Santorini.

On your first morning here, explore Fira and Firostefani. Visit the museum of pre-historic Thira, explore the cathedral and the cliff hugging streets in front of the cathedral. Walk the donkey path and maybe ride the cable car. Find the iconic shot of the three bells with the blue dome in Firostefani. More on finding the best photo shots in Fira and Oia in another article.

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Blown glass knick-knacks at Oia, Santorini

In the afternoon, go to Oia. The most impressive sight in Oia is the town itself, with its whitewashed houses and blue domes against the backdrop of the volcanic caldera and spectacular sunsets. Get lost with your camera, find that hidden alley or the quirky shop. Find your own picture postcard and spend some time with it. Late in the evening, when it is time for sunset, head over to Kastro and facing the windmill side, witness one of the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see.

Day 7

Start your day early and hike from Fira to Oia. This is a distance of about 9 km, and for most of the way, the path has incredible views over the coastline. The entire trip, to and fro, will take about 5 hours, with plenty of stopovers for photographs. Catch a bus back to Fira in the afternoon, and after you freshen up, visit the Black beach (Kamari or Perissa), Red Beach (at the Akrotiri end of the island) and perhaps sign up for wine tasting at one of the several wineries that dot the island. Santorini is famous for its Vinsanto and Assyrtiko wines, and you will enjoy great wine, cheese and views during your wine tasting. What more could you ask for?

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Kamari Black Beach, Santorini

Day 8

Catch a flight back to Athens, rent a car and drive to Olympia. This will take you most of the day, so when you get to Olympia, check into your hotel and relax. (Continued in Planning your time in Greece – Part 2/2)

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