Travel review: Rocky mountain high at Delphi

I had no idea why I was going to Delphi.

To be honest, it just seemed to me like something everyone did when they visited Greece.

But, now that Scoot Airlines had opened a new, cost-effective service between Australia and Athens, a trip to all the wonders of ancient Greece – including Delphi – suddenly became a reality.

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In retrospect, I’m pleased we made the effort to take a bus 180 kilometres from Athens to the foot of Mount Parnassos.

And I understand why Delphi sanctuary and stadium are the second most popular attractions in Greece – behind the Acropolis.

For a start, the location is awesome – a modern town, the ancient ruins and a museum overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and the Phocis valley of olive groves.

The ruins hug the mountainside so tightly that they appear to have been carved into the earth.

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In ancient times, Delphi was considered the centre of the known world; the place where heaven and earth met.

According to mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe. The eagles met at Delphi, which therefore became the navel of the world.

As we walked through the sanctuary, the monuments included columns of the ruined Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided.

This priestess was the most famous fortune-teller of ancient Greece, even though many now say that she was high as a kite on fumes rising from a crack in the earth.

Our path through the ruins wound on past a large theatre, the Athenian Treasury, Sibyl Rock and the Stoa of the Athenians – to name a few of the highlights.

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At the peak of the ruins, there is an ancient stadium, where the Pythian Games were held every four years. These Games were one of four precursors of the modern Olympics.

Male athletes at ancient Greek Games competed naked with their bodies oiled – and I suspect that Sue wanted to check that none had been left behind.

But the rocky path to the stadium had been worn smooth by footsteps over the Centuries – and, after several near-slips, we decided to call it quits and head for the museum.

After lunch and a beer at the nearby tavern, we headed about half a kilometre away to see probably the most photographed of the ruins of Delphi, the Tholos. This is a circular building that was constructed between 360 and 380 BC.

Then it was back to Athens, with a greater understanding of the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, and its significance.

Note: The writer was flown to Athens courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

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Destination review: See the lost city

If you’re planning to visit Athens, don’t miss the ancient city beneath the ancient city.

Remains of streets, houses, bathhouses and workshops from about the 7th to the 9th centuries AD can be seen below the Acropolis museum in the Makriyianni area of the Greek capital.

The ruins of the ancient settlement were uncovered during initial construction of the museum, which opened in mid-2007 within walking distance of the iconic Acropolis.

 

In what was initially considered a controversial move, the museum was constructed above the ruins in a way that allows visitors to look at the ancient Roman and early Byzantine foundations.

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We’d already been to the Acropolis, the symbol of ancient Greek civilisation and one of the most visited places in the world – and we then walked down the southeast side of the hill.

We turned off Dionysiou Areopagitou Street onto the glass walkway that leads to the museum entrance.

Looking down through the glass, we could see the start of excavations of an ancient urban settlement.

Then we came to a large viewing hole cut in the walkway to better display well-preserved remains from the 7th century AD.

These included a large circulat foundation of a Byzantiine tower, into which people were throwing coins like a wishing well.

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The Acropolis Museum, Athens

The glass floor continues into the museum proper to allow visitors to view even more of the excavations.

We checked with staff and were told that, by sitting the museum on pillars, the contemporary building deliberately floated above the Makriyianni foundations.

When excavations are finished, it’s hoped that museum visitors will be able to learn about the history and religious significance of the Acropolis at the same time as understanding the daily lives of people who lived in the shadow of the temples.

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The Acropolis

The museum itself displays more than four-thousand objects from the Acropolis, covering periods from the Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece.

It is a well-designed modern museum, with an easy ‘flow’ of exhibits, plenty of seating and a video area on the top floor. The interior escalators make the building particularly assessible and the large windows offer an excellent views of the Acropolis.

Because the museum is so centrally-located, it is close to most of the main attractions in Athens and is easy to find.

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That area of Athens is named after Ioannis Makrygiannis, a general in the Greek War of Independence, who once owned a house and land nearby.

Note: The writer flew to Greece from Australia courtesy of Scoot Airlines, on its Sydney-Singapore-Athens service.

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A blue and white paradise

The ‘first impression’ can be particularly important for a hotel.

Our reaction on arriving at Hotel Aethrio, on the Greek Island of Santorini, was an unrestrained “Wow”!

White stone fence, blue gate, white-and-grey cobblestones, blue window surrounds, white stone buildings, blue sun roof – and a sparkling blue swimming pool.

Now that’s what you call street appeal!

We couldn’t wait to enter the hotel, perched high on an escarpment amid the scenic beauty of Oia village.

And we weren’t disappointed! The warmth of the welcome we received was matched only by the Santorini sunshine.

Our host led us to a fully equipped, two storey cave apartment in a prime position overlooking the pool and sunset deck. A wonderful few days had started.

Here’s our full review of the Hotel Aethrio:

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem-free?

A: Yes, online booking of Hotel Aethrio couldn’t have been easier. After comparing prices and location, we used the hotel’s website to book.

Q: Does the Hotel Aethrio have street appeal?

A: The hotel is off a narrow laneway, but Martin greeted us at the bus stop and carried our bags to our apartment. All we did was marvel at the beauty of the area and the hotel itself.


Q: Is the hotel close to facilities etc?

The Hotel Aethrio is within easy walking distance of the heart of Oia. As we had a fully equipped apartment, we walked to local bakeries and supermarkets to buy ingredients for our meals, coffee etc.

The location is less than one block from the bus terminal where coaches run regularly to the island ferry port, airport and the tourist shopping and restaurant hub of Fira.


Q: How did check-in go?

A: Smoothly. The reception staff were professional and fast – but thorough.

Q: How was the room’s accessibly for seniors?

A: Unfortunately, there are no lifts in a cave apartment. However, if you are able to cope with a moderate number of stairs, the atmosphere makes it all worthwhile. The curved cave roof and cool walls need to be experienced to  be fully understood We loved it all.



Q: Were the rooms big enough?

A: The rooms could not have been better. They were spotlessly clean and large. There was plenty of wardroom space, and the downstairs area had a stove, kettle, plates, cutlery, lounge and TV.


Q: Was the bed comfortable?

A: It was comfortable and, as the cave apartment was completely insulated from traffic and other noise, we slept soundly

Q: Were there adequate charging points?

A: We had seven electronic devices, including phones and camera equipment, but our Hotel Aethrio apartment catered for this with ease. As well as plenty of power points, there was one either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks.


Q: Was there free wifi?

A: Yes. There were strong wifi signals in our apartment and in the pool area. Top marks for this.

Q: Were other facilities adequate.

A: Yes. Although we didn’t use it, the living room had a big screen TV  –  and the pool was beautiful.

Q: Was the bathroom to the expected standard?

A: Certainly. There was a large shower recess and a roomy vanity area. As with the rest of the Hotel Aethrio apartment, the bathroom was spotlessly clean and equipped with luxury toiletries.

Q: Did you get breakfast?

A: Breakfast was included in the room rate. There was a well appointed and modern eatery and the food couldn’t be faulted. It was first class.


The breakfast area, bar and, in fact, much of the main part of the hotel was a former sock factory that had been beautifully rebuilt for its current purpose.  There was plenty of space and some of the factory’s former machinery was on show, which gave an interesting touch to the room.


Q: How was the hotel’s service?

A: The Hotel Aethrio staff were friendly, efficient and particularly professional.

We were given valuable information on local bus routes and the best places to view the famous Santorini sunsets.

Nothing was too much trouble for the hotel – and staff certainly looked after us.


Q: Was there anything you didn’t like about your stay?

A: No. We decided to stay at Oia, rather than Fira township and review the Hotel Aethrio after readers mentioned its great location, facilities and service. They were right. This is a hotel that is doing everything right.

Duration of visit: three nights

Q: Would we return?

A:  Without hesitation.

Special mention: the hotel’s swimming pool and sun area is superbly presented and looks awesome.

 

 

 

Greece Santorini hotels

Scoot to Athens, where mythology and selfies meet

Athens was a great choice of destination for the first Scoot Airlines service into Europe.

The Greek capital is an absorbing place: a tapestry of old and new, where people stand in ruins more then 2,00 years old and take selfies.

Sitting on a coastal plain and built around seven hills, Athens is a whirl of sight and sound that melds the facilities of a modern, vibrant metropolis with breath-taking ancient scenery.

The past is important to Athenians, as it surrounds them in every direction, but the city’s heart pulses with the trappings of a modern European capital – high end fashion stores; coffee shops – and immaculately-dressed beautiful people.

Scoot also chose a perfect destination for a gateway to the stunning Greek Islands – and the rest of Europe. If you fly into Athens in the Scoot Dreamliner, it’s a simple matter to move onto the Greek Islands by ferry or air – and to fly to other European countries

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Athens is also a wonderful destination of its own. 

Outstanding sights include the famous Acropolis hill and ruins of the  Parthenon temple; the Acropolis museum; Syntagma Square and its Parliamentary guards; the vibrant central shopping area; National Gardens; outstanding churches; and ancient Delphi where the famous Oracle once handed out advice.
It’s possible to walk up Acropolis Hill and wander among the ruins of the Parthenon, before visiting the Acropolis Museum to se artefacts uncovered at the ruins. This is a tremendous experience that allows you to step back in time to the majesty that was Ancient Greece.

If you visit Syntagma Square, traditionally costumed evzones (guards) of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier change every hour.

On Sunday at 11am, a whole platoon marches down Vasilissis Sofias to the tomb, accompanied by a band. 

When the guard is changing, they ‘march’ in slow motion, with a synchronised goosestep-like stride. And they wear wooden shoes somewhat like Dutch clogs, decorated with a Pom Pom. 

Here’s a further sample of our photos of Athens:

Temple to Diana, Delphi

Decision at the theatre

Sue in the fashionable Ermou

Athens suburbs from Acropolis Hill

Ancient bank building, Delphi





If you’d like to see Athens for yourself, check our review on the ScootBiz premium service from  and Singapore.

Or see our review of Scoot’s 787 Dreamliner.

Note: our review trip to Athens was courtesy of Scoot Airlines but, as always the reviews are our own thoughts.

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Scenery blows us away

The Greek Islands certainly know how to make an impression.

After spending three days based in a beautiful cave apartment at Santorini – and another day island-hopping by ferry, it’s hard to think of anywhere more stunning.

Italy’s Amalfi Coast had always held that title in our minds, but the Greek Islands are certainly a contender. 
The contrast between harsh, wind-swept volcanic hillsides and white-and-blue painted clifftop villages could not be more marked.

Add the sparkling clean blue waters of the Aegean Sea and the intensity of the famous sunsets and it is an intoxicating mix indeed.

In Santorini, the final rays of the day – sweeping over the Caldera – bath everything in pink and promote a feeling of wellness and awe. 

So what if Santorini is tourist central. Crowds don’t detract from the amazing views of this slice of heaven. 

Watch for the upcoming review of our Santorini hotel, the Aetherio apartments at Oia.
Travelling through the islands on a Blue Star ferry, we were also blown away by the beauty of both Paros and Naxos.

Here’s a selection of our Greek Islands photographs:

Late afternoon sun over Naxos

Old port, Fira, Santorini

Santorini sunset glow at Oia

Church bells, Oia, Santorini

Paros

The famous Santorini sunset

Fira, Santorini


Oia, Santorini


If you’d like to see this stunning scenery for yourself, check our review on the ScootBiz premium service to Athens from Australia and Singapore.

Or see our review of Scoot’s 787 Dreamliner.

From Athens, it’s an easy matter to visit the Greek Islands by air or ferry.

Note: our review trip to Athens was courtesy of Scoot Airlines but, as always the reviews are our own thoughts.

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Scoot service introduces us to wonderful Crete

After finding the Scoot Airlines service from Australia to Greece was ideal for senior travellers heading for Europe, we decided to test the island of Crete as an initial destination.

Soon after landing in Athens in a Scoot 787 Dreamliner, we hopped a domestic flight to Heraklion, the administrative capital of Crete.

After finding the Scoot Airlines service from Australia to Greece was ideal for senior travellers heading for Europe, we decided to test the island of Crete as an initial destination.


Soon after landing in Athens in a Scoot 787 Dreamliner, we hopped a domestic flight to Heraklion, the administrative capital of Crete.

It was our first visit, but we had an itinerary mapped out;

* checking out the ease of Heraklion Airport and ferry port – including their transfer links

* examining the city centre’s pedestrian access

* visiting Heraklion’s huge archaeological museum.

* travelling into Crete’s mountains to the famous massacre village of Anogeia.

* seeing the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos, about five kilometres from the city.

* visiting the Agios Titos Church.

We achieved all of this during our brief three-day stay in Crete, but the biggest impression caught us totally by surprise.


The people we met in Crete were among the friendliest imaginable.

Strangers approached us in taverns, thanked us for visiting their island and insisted on paying for our coffee.

If we puzzled over directions in the streets, locals would immediately stop and offer help. And the staff at our hotel – the Atrion – were delightful. Nothing was too much trouble and everything was done with a smile.

Bus drivers politely offered advice at our handful of faltering Greek words delivered with an Australian accent.

And when we once accidentally overpaid a taxi fare, the driver handed back our money and explained that the fare was actually much cheaper.

Crete is wonderful land and there’s a lot of which it’s people can be proud. But, from our brief stay, it seems the island’s greatest asset is the warmth of its people.

And, did we mention the food?

This was another surprise: Cretan food is an explosion of taste – similar in some ways to the traditional Greek cuisine, but with its own variations and recipes developed from the island’s distinctive natural environment.

On our first day we called into internationally-recognised restaurant, Pesketi – and we’re delighted to find a table without reservation.


The food was incredible: we shared a Cretan salad that was to die for – and then we tried pork strips suspended on hooks over smoking herbs. In a word: incredible!

This was followed by Pesketi’s own honey, cream and nut desert, all washed down with white wine from the vineyards of Crete a a cleansing liqueur.

The centre of Heraklion is a vibrant mix of modern restaurants, fashion shops and traditional street stalls.

Cobblestone streets meander Italian-style from square to square, between fountains and through architecture that reflect the city’s Turkish past.


In the busy 25th of August Street we gazed at beautiful Neoclassical buildings in Heraklion. they housing banks, travel bureaux and tourist shops.

Locals explained that 25th of August Street may have been first cut by the Arabs in the ninth or 10th centuy – and has always been the main thoroughfare of Heraklion, linking the town centre to the harbour.


During the city’s Venetian period (13th-17th century) it was called the Ruga Maistra (Main Street), while in Ottoman times it was known as Vezir Tsarsi (Vizier’s Market) after the Vezir Mosque.

The modern name of the street is due to a tragic event. On the 25th of August 1898, a mob slaughtered many Christians, including 17 British soldiers and the British Consul.

Midway down this impressive pedestrian street, we were stopped in our tracks by the simplistic beauty of the Agios Titos Church.


Probably the oldest church in Heraklion, this building was erected in the 10th century, but later became a mosque. Re-built in 1872, it contains the skull of Saint Titus, a disciple of the apostle Paul.

The excavations of the Minoan palace of Knossos is easy to reach by bus; fascinating to see; and perfectly complements Heraklion’s huge archaeological museum.


If incredibly old civilisations are your thing, then you will certainly get your fix at Crete.


We found the transport links to and from the airport and ferry port to be excellent – and ideal for all travellers – including seniors.

Bottom line: we loved Crete, its people, attractions and it’s food

Watch for our upcoming review of the Hotel Atrion, Heraklion.

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Crete

A culture forged in pain and sorrow

“The blood in these streets made us who we are”.

These words might have sounded fanciful in any other place – and coming from anyone else.

But we were sitting outside the tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete, a village destroyed three times in its turbulent history.

And the speaker was the contemporary Cretan singer, songwriter and author, Loudovikos ton Anogeion.

Tavern owners, Barbis (left) and Yarnis (right) watch modern-day teller of the Anogeia story, Loudovikos, (second from right)

Credited with describing Anogeia as “the first place you meet when you descend from heaven,” Loudovikos was explaining how tremendous suffering had shaped the culture of the village.

Anogeia was twice destroyed by the Ottomans in 1822 and 1867 – and then by the Germans in 1944, in retaliation for resistance activities.

“Pain and sorrow is the heritage of Anogeia, but so is resilience.

Tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete,

“In World War II, people were massacred here and almost every building was destroyed, only to be rebuilt.”

To underline this point, Loudovikos played his song The Colour of Love, which beautifully explores the theme that you cannot love if you have not suffered adversity.

Creativity borne from ashes

If resilience and fiesty independence are in Anogeia’s DNA, so too are creativity and artistic expression.

 Loudovikos is only one of a disproportionate number of talented musicians to emerge from the area onto the Greek and world stage.

The village is also known for its folk art, including a weaving industry developed largely by the widows of men killed in the World War II massacre.

Whether this burst of creative spirit is a direct cry from the bleeding heart of Anogeia’s painful past is up for speculation

The church of St John the Baptist, Anogeia, Crete

The concept of the ‘Tortured Artist’ has long been debated in society and many books have been written on the subject.

However in Anogeia, where stories of pain are still raw,  the people have a deep respect for its story tellers.

Loudovikos simply picked up his phone, hit a few numbers and I was talking the mayor of the village.

He spoke in glowing terms of the singer songwriter’s mission to explain the collective community spirit of Anogeia and how that spirit has been shaped by a past as tragic as anyone could imagine.

Anogeia’s mayor also stressed that confronting the horrors that happened in the village was considered a key part of the process.  

A simple yet moving memorial – featuring an Unknown Soldier statue – stands in the centre of Anogeia

The exact order given to German forces in 1944 is engraved in marble on one side of the memorial.


Each August, Anogeia also holds a day of remembrance, featuring community activities centred on the memorial.

Residents are also quick to point out that  Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German commander who ordered the razing of Anogeia, was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and met a grisly end.

Anogeia sits at an altitude of 738 metres in the Idi mountain range of central Crete, an area dominated by Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island.

It is a charming village, with a cobblestone Main Street and an array of taverns, coffee shops and cafes where friendly locals gather beneath spreading trees and grapevines trailed across trellis.


Despite Anogeia’s treatment at the hands of foreigners over the centuries, the residents are welcoming and quick to offer the hospitality for which Crete is known worldwide.

During our talk with Loudovikos, the owners of the tavern Skalomata insisted that we sample the local cheese, Rakki, fruit and bread.


Anogeia is connected by public bus services from both Heraklion and Chania Crete’s two biggest cities.

We caught the bus into the hills, leaving Heraklion in the early morning and weaving through the awakening suburbs until we reached the narrow, winding road into the rugged mountains.


It was easy to see how the terrain  helped Crete’s famed resistance fighters to ambush and harrass both the Occupying Turks and Germans.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airways.

Crete