So, we are back from Greece and we all lived to tell the tale. No one got lost, no one got hurt, no one stole a rock from the Acropolis - life is good!!
I have to say, these were the GREATEST GROUP OF TEENAGERS EVER! It was so much fun to take them on a trip like this. Well behaved, polite, mostly interested in what was going on, and no one got into too much trouble. Well, OK, that's not entirely true. There was the wadded up pieces of toilet paper out the hotel room window in Athens incident...but that’s another story.
The first day we arrived in Athens early afternoon. Our hotel was literally in the heart of Athens so we were very close to everything. We took a walking tour and saw the changing of the guards at Syntagma Square – I still don’t know why they wear pompoms on their shoes and short pleated skirts, but the kids were good enough not to laugh! We walked down to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch where we got a really nice view of the Acropolis. That night at our hotel restaurant we looked out over Athens and had an amazing, non-obstructed view of the Acropolis all lit up. Incredible!
On the second day we had a guided tour of Athens. We went to the Acropolis, finally. Here we were able to see storm clouds rolling in. We could hear thunder and see the lightening. This was not the most pleasant thing to witness since we were on top of the largest structure in the city with metal scaffolding all around! Beautiful and very picturesque. We also stopped at the Kalimarmaro – the ancient Olympic stadium that was built for the 1896 games. This is the very same place the ancient Panathinae, which were one of the first sports events in history, used to take place more than 3000 years ago. For the 2004 Olympics, it was the finish line for the marathon and archery events. It’s hard to believe that it fits 70, 000 people!
The next day we took a day cruise to the Saronic Islands of Poros, Hydra and Aegina. The cruise literally took all day. It was close to 4 hours to reach the first island! The boat supplied us with a full “Greek experience” with music, food and dance. It wasn’t hard to convince our students to be up dancing to traditional Greek music at 8 am! The cruise was wonderful. The islands were beautiful and we got lots of shopping done, especially in Aegina, which is famous for pistachio nuts.
Then we boarded to bus for our road trip around the Peloponnese. Our first stop was the Corinth Canal. What an incredible feat in engineering! I can’t describe it in words, check out the pictures attached. In ancient Corinth, first inhabited in 5000 BCE, we saw what remains of the Temple of Apollo, the ancient bath houses and fountains, marketplace, the Bema and we even saw an ancient game of “marbles” that embedded over time in the stairs leading to the marble paved Lechaion Road.
Next we went to Mycenae. This place has such a rich history that it’s difficult to mention it all. The ancient kingdom is linked to Perseus, Hercules, Agamemnon, Paris, Helen, and can you see where this is leading? Yes, the Trojan War. We saw the famous Lion’s Gate, The Treasury of Atreus and the famous beehive tombs. These tombs are enormous in size. We got to walk in to one and see the inside of the structure. Amazing! Our final highlight of the day was the Theatre at Epidaurus, an incredible structure with amazing acoustics. Someone dropped a coin on the centre piece of marble and we could hear it throughout the theatre. A few students entertained us with their beautiful singing – incredible sound. Definitely a “wow!” moment.
Next day we were at Olympia. First built as a sanctuary to Hera, then Zeus, it became the site of the ancient games. What an amazing place; very spiritual and serene. The starting line at the stadium is still visible and we had students line up to race. I could’ve spent an entire day here walking around the ruins of the temples, gymnasiums, and the Palaestra. It was incredible to see that these huge stones used to build the structures are just left where they fall after earthquakes, storms or just plain age.
We traveled to Delphi to see the Oracle, at the Sanctuary of Apollo on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. It was a bit of a tough hike up, but worth it. The museum itself houses some of the finest works that survive the classical era, since at that time gifts and offerings were sent to Delphi from all over the ancient world. At night it was arranged that the students could go to a local club and enjoy a night of dancing.
From Delphi we were led to one of the most spectacular geographical sites I have ever seen. The rock formations at Meteora are unparalleled. They rise from the plain of Thessaly in huge clusters. At the very top of most of these formations are monasteries that were built centuries ago by monks who were seeking to lead the solitary life of hermits. Their only way to receive goods to their refuge was by ropes and baskets scaling the sleek rock face. We were able to walk around inside two of the monasteries, including Ayia Triada that was the backdrop to the James Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Our return trip to Athens ended our journey.
In all, it was a pretty amazing trip. With so much history, I was truly in heaven. It really humbled me to think about the centuries that have past while these ancient structures remain and the millions of people who have walked there before me.