Chronological Story of the holiday

Click on the small pictures or their captions to see larger versions

Week 1. Mainland Greece

Getting there, and wandering in Athens

April 13-14 Frankfurt

We took a Lufthansa flight from Toronto to Athens with a change in Frankfurt. There should have been ample time for the connection to the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Athens, but the plane was over an hour late leaving Toronto, and we had to run from one end of Frankfurt airport to the other, which is a long way. It did not help that the signs were a bit misleading and we found ourselves going through exit procedures in Terminal B when we wanted to go to Terminal A, and we had to go through the entry controls again to get back into the airport proper. But we made it, just as the boarding queue was nearly finished. Luckily we had our boarding passes already completed in Toronto, which saved a lot of time, and we made it to Athens on schedule.

Looking northeast, coming into Athens. Delphi and Mount Parnassus are just off the picture to the left. beyond the Gulf of Corinth. Epidauros is just off the picture to the right, as is Aegina..

April 14 Athens

At Athens airport there were no immigration or customs controls, because Greece and Germany both signed the Schengen treaty, meaning that the Greeks accepted our entry into Germany as a valid entry into Greece. There was a huge crowd milling around the baggage caroussels, with baggage from 2 or 3 planes being loaded on each. On the other hand, it was quick to get a taxi, despite a long queue for them. Taxis and customers line up together, and customers going to similar parts of town share a taxi, all (apparently) paying the full fare.

A main street in Athens, with the Akropolis in the background.

Our hotel (Novotel Athens) was a few blocks north of Omonia Square, in a part of town that was a bit run down, but we could walk (see left picture) down to the more touristy area near the Agora, and around the Roman Forum (right picture). There, when it was dark, we had a delicious meal outdoors in a romantic setting overlooking the forum, and looking up at the floodlit Erechtheion on the Akropolis (which you can see at the top of the picture at left--click on it to see a bigger version), and looking down into the partially lit Roman Forum. The table, though, was on such a big slope that I was worried that the food or drink might decide to slip off! It didn't. Many of the restaurants in the area were on streets open to motor vehicles, and noisy, but this one was quiet and nice, on a pedestrian-only street. Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel. It felt quite safe.

April 15 Athens

3600-year-old frescos from Knossos
Mycenean Gold--The "Mask of Agamemnon"

In the morning we had a long visit to the National Archaeological Museum, which has a fine collection of material from Mycenae, Knossos, Old Greek, Roman Greek, and even Scandinavian Bronze age. We had lunch in the Museum cafeteria, and before we left, we bought a replica of the undeciphered Phaestos Disk, which we then carried around for the rest of the trip. Later, we found that there were many places to buy replicas of this particular tablet--especially in Phaestos, which we visited April 24.

Looking at a menu in the Plaka

After a short lunch in the Museum cafeteria, we walked over to Syntagma Square, and wandered through the Plaka and behind the Akropolis. Near the Akropolis entrance, we climbed a red marble rock by way of some very slippery stairs (I hate to think what they would be like when wet!) to get a good view of the ancient Agora of Athens.

Finally, after dinner, we met the tour group (42 people) and the tour director. An English guide by the name of Lynda talked to us about Athens, and the Greek tour director, Poupie (short for Calliope) discussed what we would do and see on the bus tour.

The Bus Tour proper

Sunday April 16, Corinth, Mycenae, Epidauros

Corinth Canal, showing fault slip lines

We had a wake up call at 6:30 so that we could get out of Athens before the main rush hour. We drove around the shore of the Saronic Gulf to Corinth, passing the island of Salamis, where the Greek navy under Themistocles defeated the Persians under Xerxes to end the Persian threat to ancient Athens. When we got to Corinth, we stopped at the canal bridge for a view and refreshments. The Corinth Canal is a short but very deep cut between the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of Corinth, avoiding the passage around the Pelopponese. One can see several faults in the canal walls, showing how the fault had slipped many times during the period in which the sedimentary layers were deposited.


Corinth: Temple of Apollo with monolithic limestone columns

The first ancient site we visited was Ancient Corinth, a Roman site a couple of km inland from modern Corinth. Click here to see a very interesting Web site describing the archaeolgy of Corinth. The site was filled with poppies and daisies in full bloom. One of the interesting items there was a Greek temple with monolithic limestone columns about the size of the Stonehenge stones (most temple columns were made by stacking metre-high blocks on top of each other). There is a Venetian castle on the hilltop overlooking the Roman site. In Ancient Corinth, we were shown a road in reasonably good condition that used to lead 1.5 km down to the sea. The road had been bordered by rows of shops and a colonnaded portico. St. Paul preached and sold tents there. According to Poupie, the Corinthians were good, tolerant people, and had as a main principle that people should enjoy themselves rather than to try to control what other people do. In the whole trip, I found that of the people we were told about, the Corinthians and the Minoans were the two that appealed to me. All the others seemed to put war and domination first, with the happiness of their people being a much lower priority.


On the way to Mycenae, which is not far south of Corinth, Poupie told us the story of the House of Atreus (Agamemnon's family). It is a story full of intrafamilial betrayal and murder. Just before we got there, having digested the stories, we passed a campsite with the sign "Family Camping Atreus", which at that moment seemed a somewhat questionable choice of name!

Mycenae was a leading city a the time of the Trojan war (ca 1200 BC), and visiting the site, one can see why. It is on a hill that dominates what may then have been a sheltered inlet that would have been a main trading harbour for trade to the Pelopponese (If you click on the panorama, you can see an impression of where the sea may have been. It shows the way the fortress dominated a probable harbour). Now the inlet is completely silted up and the sea is some 5 km away. The fortress is sufficiently ruined that it is hard to visualise how it must have been. Nevertheless, it was quite a thrill to walk the road Agamemnon and Achilles must have walked on their way to attack Troy.

Speculation on the background of the Trojan war. Could there have been more to it than to avenge the seduction and elopement of the Spartan Queen Helen? The panorama of the view from Mycenae may tell part of the story.


From Mycenae we drove via Nauplia (Navplion) to the great theatre of Epidauros. This is quite a distance from the port town of Epidauros, which we saw a couple of weeks later, on Orthodox Easter Sunday. The theatre holds 25000 people, but the acoustic are so good that from the most distant seats it was easy to hear Poupie talking in a natural voice, and to hear a key she dropped onto the sand floor of the orchestra. In a Greek theatre, the "orchestra" is where the players act, and the "stage" is where the machinery is housed and where the actors change clothes. The theatre is remarkably well preserved, and is still used regularly. Poupie said that when they played Lysistrata there a couple of years ago, they covered the orchestra with a map of Bosnia.

Nauplia (Navplion)

The Harbour and Venetian Castle at Navplion
We were not the only tour group at the hotel in Nauplia

We stayed overnight in Navplion at the first of a series of Amalia hotels. Amalia hotels seem to have in common a huge marble lobby in which sounds echo wildly. They are good hotels, quite comfortable and well appointed. But before we got to the hotel, we visited the harbour, to see the modern (i.e. Venetian, 16th c) fortifications. Navplion is where the fleet assembled to go on the Trojan war, and from where the Argonauts sailed (Jason and the Golden fleece--but see King Midas for a possibly related story).

Some random observations on Mainland Greece

Continue the story: April 17, Olympia by way of Arcadia