Greece: It pays to wander

I’ve found on my travels that wandering—taking that extra step—usually pays off.

Greece was no exception.

Tuck that map into your back pocket, turn down some twisting alleyways, follow hand-drawn signs—and your gut. Venture back to that picturesque spot at dusk for different light—even if your feet protest every step of the way. Walk into that restaurant whose menu terrifies and excites you in equal parts.

You may never be here again and even if you are lucky enough to come back, you may return with limitations—mobility issues, a stomach that isn’t as strong as it used to be, children…

To quote the hit 1998 Disney Channel Original Movie, Johnny Tsunami: “Go big or go home.”

And it sure as hell isn’t time to go home.

_________

I’m on Santorini. Dad and I have just parked in Pyrgos—a relatively off the beaten track village whose medieval architecture rises up on a hill overlooking the entire island. It’s right around high noon and the sun is beating down relentlessly on layered whitewashed buildings and sparkling blue church domes. I’ve got sweat on my brow, I kind of need to pee, and my stomach is growling. But it’s not time for lunch just yet; it’s time for some ‘sploring.

Pyrgos

I leave dad at a shaded café table and start off up a narrow, winding staircase. I gain elevation, passing souvenir shops with cats dozing in their shadows.

Cat nap, Pyrgos

Soon I start seeing signs for “kasteli”—the remains of a Venetian castle that once dominated the island from this hill—written on the pavement in what looks like chalk.

Kasteli, Pyrgos

I climb higher and higher, making my way slowly up toward the sun. I’m out of the main part of town now. It shows—paint is crumbling, walls are eroding, scraggly weeds are poking up between stones.

A whitewashed staircase hugging the side of a building catches my eye. It looks private, like access was once forbidden, but there is no sign or rope barring my passage, so I put my foot on the first step. And then I’m on the roof. Of a church.

Church roof, Pyrgos

I descend and keep going. Fifteen minutes later and I’m on my third church roof. How many times have unholy feet like mine made this same discovery?

Pyrgos

It doesn’t matter because right now I’m on top of the world—white buildings roll down the hill to my right like foam on the crest of a wave. On my left, the ashy volcanic terrain descends away from the caldera toward the open Aegean.

On top of the world, Pyrgos

I try to capture this fleeting moment, but it’s gone before I start back down the stairs. I step inside this last church—cool like well water—where I leave an offering and light a scrawny, hand-dipped candle as thanks.

Skinny candle, Pyrgos

_________

I’m in Athens. It’s nearing the end of my first day here and I’ve climbed the Acropolis with thronging tour groups and wandered through the Greek Agora. I made it out just in time for the officials to close up the site at 3 p.m., which has apparently become common practice even though my guide book promised me the main attractions would be open until 6 p.m.

Agoraphobia, Acropolis, Athens

I wander through the Plaka district and do some light shopping before heading toward Hadrian’s Library in the Roman Agora nearby. I’m reduced to snapping photos of fragmented columns through the bars. The same story—that darned 3 p.m. closing time.

15h00, Closing time, Athens

History repeats at Hadrian’s Arch and the nearby Olympieion. So much for this combined ticket to Athens’ “archaeological park.” Crumbling ruins embedded in this dilapidated modern city.

Archaeological park, Athens

I resolve to make my way back to the hotel. Walking up the pedestrian street flanking the Acropolis, I see the sign for the Theater of Dionysus—another one of the sites included in my ticket. I walk up to the ticket booth and there’s someone inside! The site is miraculously still open! I flash my ticket and I’m in. I climb up the side of Greece’s most ancient theater and sit where, thousands of years ago, spectators watched debut performances of the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. I breathe in the history and the dust.

Theater of Dionysus, Athens

I continue west along the southern slope of the hill, my map of the site promising ruins of minor temples and other pieces of stone—all evidence of the cult devoted to the god of wine and theater. I notice that I’m following signs that read “Acropoli.” Reasoning that there must be a site exit nearer the entrance to the sacred hill, I continue along as the path gets increasingly steeper.

I reach a ticket booth and waltz through, assuming it’s the exit. The guard calls me back and demands to see my ticket. I produce it, she glances at it, nods, and waves me through. And there’s the Temple of Athena Nike and here’s the Propylaea. I’ve somehow made it back in for a repeat viewing. All I have to do is climb once more up the slippery marble.

Temple of Athena Nike and P

The site is all but deserted and the light is perfect. It’s the time of day when the cats slink out of their hiding places. The Parthenon seems to glow from within, lit by the setting sun. And all I can think is “jackpot.”

The Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens

Nope. It’s still not time to go home.

It's still not time to go homeClick here for more photos from Mykonos, Santorini and Athens.

Advertisements

15 comments

  1. Ethan · · Reply

    Wandering is the ONLY way to travel as far as I’m concerned!

    1. So true! It’s usually how you find the best things and have the most unforgettable moments.

  2. JenTee · · Reply

    I dream of Greece. So many blues and creams!

    1. Thanks for the follow! Greece was divine. I hope your wanderlust eventually leads you there!

      1. JenTee · ·

        Thanks! I am hoping to go if I get into Tapif!

      2. TAPIF + traveling is a marriage made in heaven.

  3. Ashley · · Reply

    heavenly! I’m dying to go to Greece.

    1. You would love it, but warning: it’s HOT. I almost died.

  4. Dreamy…

  5. […] two weeks in Istanbul and Greece, I’d repacked my bags for what seemed like the millionth time and boarded a Pegasus Airlines […]

  6. […] wanderlusting through Italy, Istanbul, Greece, Paris and England, it was time for an intensive three weeks vegetating in Hermosa […]

  7. […] I visited Athens in May, I got a refresher on the competition between Athena and Poseidon for patronage of the city. […]

  8. […] Sophie and I visited Nîmes the first full weekend of April. (In the weeks between then and now, I’ve toured Italy and explored Istanbul; now I’m island hopping in Greece.) […]

  9. Oh, I love the pictures, I love Greece and I love wandering, too! The pictures make me want to go to Greece immediately 😀

  10. […] energy I used to have and the sense of adventure and wonder that motivated it. The drive to keep wandering, to keep trying, to keep […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: