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The Backroads of Greece

Our road trip through Greece was an experience that I’ll never forget. In only one week, we stayed in seven different cities on the mainland of Greece. And we didn’t stay in any well-know commercial hotels but chose rather small boutique bed & breakfasts that reflected the character of each city. We explored monasteries, museums, natural monuments and ancient ruins; dined at trendy and authentic Greek restaurants; shopped for unique handcrafted goods; saw some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen in my life; and once the jet-lag finally wore off, we enjoyed sleeping without being woken up by our kids.

We were six people and rented a large SUV. It was immediately clear that our expectations of a large SUV was not the same standards in Greece. Picture the six of us — including my in-laws, a Greek couple, my husband and me — smashed into a small Nissan station wagon with all our luggage. As residents of Greece, the Greek couple (friends of my in-laws) acted as our personal tour guides. I had no clue what they were saying majority of the time but one thing I noticed is they spoke to each other by constantly shouting. I’m not sure whether they were arguing or just communicating normally, but they were definitely the stereotypical Greek couple like something out of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. They both smoked like chimneys and the amount of second hand cigarette smoke I inhaled made me smell like an ashtray everyday. However, aside from that, they were very kind, funny and I’m thankful to them for putting up with all our American demands.

We began our journey in Xylokastro, a small quaint beach town on the Gulf of Corinth. This town had its charm with trendy restaurants, coffee and souvenir shops, ocean view hotels and a long boardwalk along the aqua colored sea. It made me wish Huntington Beach would have more shops and restaurants along our boardwalk — it seems totally possible with our wide beach, but California is too bureaucratic to make a reality. In the summer peak season Xylokastro is known to be a busy tourist destination but it was completely dead during our one night stay.

Our journey then continued to a city called Chalkida which had much more action, shopping and tourist attractions than our previous location. We stayed in the beautiful home of my in-laws friends right on the cliff overlooking 180 degrees of Aegean Sea. That evening, we ventured into the city where we enjoyed an entertaining nightlife, cruised the pier and felt like real locals amongst the crowd.

The following day, we made our way to Aráchova and explored the archeological site of Delphi. Aráchova is a small mountain village and ski resort in the winter. We stopped for coffee and lunch as we were on the way to Delphi. Rich in history, picturesque architecture, cobble stone streets, authentic handcrafted souvenirs and a breathtaking panoramic view, this village is possibly the most unbelievable place I’ve ever visited. It was so unique and beautiful!

After spending some time in Aráchova, we continued driving up the mountain to Delphi, an archeological site from 4 century BC which was once considered to be the ‘center of the ancient world’. Home to the Temple of Apollo and a wise oracle, the ancient Greek people pilgrimaged to Delphi to seek advice and guidance during political crisis. Delphi was also home to a large Ancient Greek theater where they held various meetings to discuss important topics. Being in the presence of these ruins evoked a spiritual energy inside me that I can’t even describe. Below the site is a museum that preserves all the precious artifacts found from the ruins. Bucket list item for sure!

After visiting Delphi, we made our way to Kalambaka, a town in central Greece known for the Meteora monasteries located nearby. Meteora is a rock formation that’s famous for large and extravagant Orthodox monasteries. There are six monasteries, all built on enormous natural rock pillars and rounded boulders that overlook the local area. It was extraordinary! We hiked to the top of four of them and toured the inside. Little vegetable gardens, old wooden churches, gold icons covering the walls and a breathtaking 360 degree view of the city describe the fascinating lifestyle of the monks who live there. The monasteries were originally built during the 14th century to protect themselves from the Ottoman invaders. I’ve never seen anything like it!

From there, we drove to the city of Ioannina located on a large lake called Lake Pamvotis. Ioannina came to prosperity during the Byzantine period when many wealthy families fled there following the downfall of Constantinople. With lots of history, Ioannina had a well preserved castle and fortress that we explored. This metropolitan city was very busy with people. It had a fun nightlife and many alley ways closed off to cars for shops and bars.

Throughout the road trip, we also stopped for lunch and coffee in other small villages… Trikala, Metsovo, Lake Plastiras are a few of them worth mentioning. Along the drive, we experienced the beautiful countryside, saw hundreds of isolated churches, olive, grape and cotton farms and lush green mountains. We truly absorbed the land, local Greek life and culture. But as the road trip came to an end, we finished off the trip with one last night in Athens. I have actually visited the Parthenon and acropolis museum before but wanted to see it again before we left back home… it may be a long time until we return to Greece. One day in the future, we will definitely bring our children on this exact same road trip when they are older and can remember everything.

I want to thank my amazing in-laws for convincing me to embark on this adventure, a spontaneous decision which we would have never planned ourselves. In addition, thank you to my wonderful parents for loving on our babies while we took this much needed break. We could not have done it without you guys!

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