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Discovering the Treasures of Greece

My son, Gabe picked our destination so we would be discovering the treasures of Greece as a celebration for his 21st birthday.

A Personal Journey

As a passionate traveler who loves history, culture, and culinary delights, Greece has always held a special place in my heart. From the sun-kissed islands of the Aegean Sea to the ancient ruins steeped in mythology, Greece offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, rich heritage, and gastronomic delights that beckon travelers worldwide. But my son, Gabe – an enthusiast of Greek mythology, picked our destination. He decided we would be discovering the treasures of Greece as a celebration for his 21st birthday.

A Little Context

I love the idea of giving experiences as a gift. And nothing better than traveling to provide tons of experiences in a short amount of time. That’s why I told my kids they could choose one destination for a mother-child trip for their 16th birthday. Two years ago, my daughter Clara chose Paris, and we added Edinburgh, London, and Manchester to our itinerary. It was quite an experience, full of delightful memories. When Gabe turned 16, he didn’t want to travel with Mommy so, this trip was in the making for 5 years. To my excitement, last year he finally said yes!

Itinerary

To build our itinerary, Gabe made a list of all the temples and historic sites he wanted to visit. Then we ended up with Athens, Mykonos, Cape Sounion, and Delphi. Doing some research we found a travel agency – Trips2Greece, that was offering a package with almost everything we wanted. As they allow you to customize your trip according to your interests, we asked for some additions and then closed the deal with them. I usually don’t like travel packages but, after seeing how things work in Greece, I’m glad we decided to follow that route. Tourist guides have the right to always go first there. Our agent, Vangelis Aliagas, was very attentive and responsive. Everything went smoothly and well.

Mythical Marvels

Although I’m not a mythology lover, I’m a history enthusiast. Between Gabe and I, there was a good combination of motives and Greece is indeed a treasure trove of ancient wonders. Gabe’s list of sites of interest included the iconic Acropolis of Athens – crowned by the majestic Parthenon and the temple of Athens Nike, the mystical ruins of Delphi – home to the legendary Oracle of Apollo, the temple of Poseidon – located at Cape Sounion, the temple of Hephaestus – God of fire, metal and metallurgy, and the isle of Delos – where Appolo and Athens were born.

Acropolis of Athens

The first thing I learned was that the word acropolis means summit in Greek. The Acropolis of Athens is the highest point of the city. There is where the Parthenon, one of the most iconic and enduring symbols of ancient Greece, was built in the 5th century BC. The temple, constructed under the leadership of Pericles, was dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron deity of Athens. Another temple, the Athena Nike, was built later on the same site after Athena had won the battle against Poseidon. Another piece of knowledge for me – the word Nike means victory in Greek.

Architecture

The Parthenon exemplifies the architectural and artistic achievements of the Golden Age of Athens. Its construction utilized Pentelic marble quarried from the local Greek Mount Pentelicus, and its intricate sculptural friezes and pedimental sculptures depicted scenes from Greek mythology and religious rituals. Despite being partially destroyed and damaged over the centuries by earthquakes, wars, and human intervention, the Parthenon remains a symbol of resilience and endurance. Just don’t ever expect to see much on-site!

Construction Site

Parthenon’s architectural brilliance, cultural significance, and historical importance make it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece. That’s why there is constant construction in the Acropolis of Athens. Archeologists keep working to restore the ruins up to the 20% allowed by UNESCO. Unfortunately, only the outside columns and a small part of the pediments can be seen in loco. The British Museum in London houses the collection of original parts from the Parthenon, a fact that caused indignation in both my son and me.

Replicas

It’s quite irritating to think that the original sculptures and architectural elements were removed, or better said stolen, from the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. After surviving numerous wars throughout the ages, Thomas Bruce, who served as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century, shipped the Greek treasure to England. We can still admire major parts’ replicas in the Acropolis Museum, where there is an actual-sized Parthenon reconstruction. The museum itself is an archeological site and worth a visit. We enjoyed all the maquettes and exhibits.

Still in Athens

While in Athens we also visited the temple of Olympian Zeus, which was quite disappointing. Only 14 columns are standing, with no roof, and 2 are lying down. There is also scaffolding all around the standing columns. The arch at the entrance of the site, known as Hadrian’s Gate, is interesting though. The monumental gateway was erected in the 2nd century CE to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The Arch of Hadrian served as a symbolic entrance to the city of Athens.

In my opinion, the most interesting archeological site in Athens is the Athenian Agora – where the temple of Hephaestus is located. We can also see ruins of the ancient marketplace at the same site where once existed a library, the stoas, and various temples, alongside the altar of the twelve gods. Stoas were common architectural features in ancient Greek and Roman cities, accommodating shops and businesses, and serving as gathering places for social and philosophical discourse. You have to use the information signs and your imagination to picture it, as most ruins are just big piles of stones. The site is interesting regardless.

Other buildings that caught my attention in Athens were the Academy of Athens – the university, and the National Library. Those are stunning modern buildings with the same architectural elements as the ancient ones right in downtown Athens. Which has an interesting mix of ancient and modern architecture with beautiful gardens and stores. Athens’ urbanization reminds me of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Another interesting note on Athens is the vibrant nightlife – there are tons of cute restaurants and cafes packed with people until late hours.

Island Escapes

No visit to Greece would be complete without a journey to its enchanting islands. The gorgeous azure waters and the so charming, white-washed villages are such an incredibly beautiful contrast! The Hellenic Republic, Greece’s official name, is bathed by the deep blue waters of the Aegean and Ionian Seas besides the Mediterranean. While the exact number of inhabited islands is uncertain, due to different definitions and criteria, there are around 200 to over 300 islands in Greece. We chose to explore just two of them, the charming Mykonos and the rugged beauty of Santorini. Each offers its unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. 

Mykonos

As I love to be close to the ocean, Mykonos was my favorite. It amazed me how clean and nice the maze of alleys in the City of Mykonos was. We walked up and down numerous times and kept seeing different cute stores, shops, and restaurants. People actually live on the second floor of those buildings which makes the experience of walking in the alleys even more interesting. The small family chapels, a classic feature of the orthodox Greek tradition, are the cherry on top of the classic white with round edges 2 story buildings. The old windmills are another classic feature that adds a lot of charm to this island.

Mikonos also has many beaches, the most famous being Paradise Beach which we could enjoy for a few hours, during our island tour with Kevin, an excellent and incredibly polite guide. I was fortunate enough to do some grounding in the Aegean Sea and suntan over the tiny pebbles of Paradise Beach. Mikonos beaches are not stunning long beaches like Siesta Key or Copacabana but, they have their charm. What I loved the most in Mikonos was the vibe of the restaurants literally by the water with cozy pillows over their chairs. Having a chance to sit comfortably and enjoy beautiful scenery always fills my heart with joy!

One thing we missed in Mikonos was the excursion to the island of Delos. There are 2 trips a day leaving the town port to Delos but, I thought it would be part of our island tour and it was not. This was the only bummer in the whole trip. Gabe really wanted to visit the site where Athena and Appolo were born, but we could only see the island from the shore. Our guide told us that the ruins there are in better shape than the ones in Athens, which made Gabe even sadder. 

Santorini

I’m glad we added Santorini to our itinerary because I was intrigued by its geology. The city sits on top of a massive piece of sedimentary rock. Looking from the sea, at a distance, the city looks like vanilla icing on a chocolate cupcake. We visited the villages of Thira, Oia, and Kamari. Oia seems a little bit more sophisticated but, similarly themed as Thira, with classic white buildings wall by wall to each other. The views from Thira and Oia are stunning, especially the sunset, which we were lucky to witness on a clear day. Kamari is on the opposite side of the island, where the few beaches of Santorini are located and it’s a more traditional-looking charming beach town.

Cape Sounion 

Cape Sounion, where the temple of Poseidon is located, is an hour-and-a-half trip from Athens. I enjoyed the views as we drove along the coast and could see the various urban beaches of the capital. The same gorgeous deep azure sea that we see on the islands with a thinner, golden sand. Cape Sounion is a peninsula with a beautiful 360-degree panoramic view. It was cool to stand in the place where ancient Athenians used to mount guards to protect the city from naval invasions. The temple of Poseidon is in pretty fair shape. Worth the trip, especially for the panoramic views from the site.

Delphi

The bus trip to Delphi was long but very interesting. It took us almost one hour just to get outside Athens, then an extra 2 to get to Delphi. Athens is the biggest city in Greece with about 5 million people which is half of the whole country’s population so, there is traffic! The good news is that public transportation is as good as any other European metropolis. We took two out of five subway lines, and we could get around easily.

On our way to Delphi, I enjoyed seeing more than downtown and also the countryside. Just outside the city, you can see large crop farms nicely cultivated and also solar farms – lots of them. I was quite surprised because there is no recycling at all in Greece – which was shocking for me traveling to a first-world country. However, there are solar and wind farms. And the Greek mountains are so pretty! 70% of the country is just high rocky mountains.

Delphi is on a hillside and the archeological site is very interesting. The famous Delphi amphitheater is situated on the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus and is renowned for its stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape – the beautiful Greek mountains. It was built in the 4th century BCE and could accommodate up to 5,000 spectators, making it one of the largest and most important theaters in ancient Greece, pretty cool. From there, you can see the old trails people used to travel to Delphi zigzagging the mountains. The theater is in good shape and so should you, to be able to walk up there!

There is a winter village on the way to Delphi, where the Greeks go downhill skiing, named Arachova. We had lunch there in a very nice hotel after visiting the site and the museum. It was a long day trip but worth it. I used the bus trip back to finish the book I was reading and to also review my pictures and prepare some Instagram stories. No time was wasted!

Culinary Delights

One of the highlights of our trip to Greece was undoubtedly the food. Both Gabe and I are foodies! I was curious to try the typical Mediterranean diet and we were not disappointed. Greek cuisine is indeed a feast for the senses. But interestingly it is all about the quality and freshness of the ingredients. A simple Greek salad, that we can have anywhere, tasted superior there – bursting with ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, briny olives, and the original feta cheese, drizzled with fragrant local olive oil. Breakfast was also a delight, with real Greek yogurt, fresh-baked spanakopita or spinach pie, and sourdough bread. Gabe also enjoyed the souvlakis, gyros, and giouvetsi – a type of risotto with Orzo rice. Everything was very tasty.

Local Food

A special treat for me was Moussaka, a beloved Greek comfort food. The classic version is a hearty casserole made with layers of eggplant, minced meat (often lamb or beef), tomatoes, onions, and a creamy béchamel sauce. Seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices like cinnamon and oregano, moussaka is baked until golden and bubbling, resulting in a decadent and satisfying dish. I was lucky to find a vegetarian version that was quite a delicacy!

Another Greek favorite of mine is Dolmades – grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of seasoned rice, pine nuts, and herbs. They are typically served cold or at room temperature, accompanied by a dollop of tzatziki sauce – Greek yogurt with cucumbers and herbs. Again, nothing complicated but the quality and freshness of ingredients together with a variety of herbs make the Greek cuisine top-notch.

Blue Zones

The Greek Island of Icaria is one of the Blue Zones of the World. Reflecting on what I’ve seen from Greece and what I know from Dan Buettner’s research, it’s easy to understand why. The small hilly villages of Greek islands don’t have regular streets but alleys, and therefore few vehicles. People have to walk up and down steps and slopes to go places. Just by spending a few days there, I have to confess that the steps pumped my legs! The blend of local, fresh, mostly plant-based foods with striking natural beauty and good physical exercise can make anyone live to 100. 

Personal Reflections

Our ten days in Greece were not only an immersion in culture and history but also a bonding experience. I had the chance to let my son teach me all he knows about mythology, and I respect and admire his passion even more now. Whether savoring a sunset over the Santorini caldera or tracing the footsteps of ancient philosophers in Athens, we made priceless memories together.

Greece is a destination where the past meets the present, and every moment is infused with a sense of magic and wonder. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or a beach lover, Greece has something to offer everyone. I want to go back to visit Crete, Paros, the Thessaloniki peninsula, and, of course, Icaria. Exploring new places and tasting different cuisines feeds my soul and Greece has tons to offer. Every time I return from a trip, my heart overflows with gratitude! And this one was very special because it was my first trip alone with my son and we had such a great time that I’m hoping for many more!

Happy 21st birthday Gabe! I love you to the moon and back!

And remember, Good is what makes you feel well!

Anna.

Read more about the blue zones of Dan Buettner:  Blue Dot Grandma.

Anna Resende

Anna Resende

Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
Certified by IIN - Institute for Integrative Nutrition

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