We’re in Greece!

We have been desperate to hit the road again, but it was not an easy decision to travel internationally during Covid. Canada still has non-essential travel advisories in place, which means if things flare up and borders close, we are on our own. Travelling by plane carries an element of risk, as does staying in hotels and Airbnbs. We are decidedly in the higher-risk age group. And yet…

Greece has maintained very low Covid numbers and when cases started to climb recently, officials clamped down immediately with curfews and hefty fines and jail time for egregious offenders. The government has put strict protocols in place in all public spaces, and will cover costs if tourists should become ill. With tourism down by 70%, this is a small window for travelling in Greece without being besieged by hordes of other tourists. Social distancing is actually possible. So is getting a table at a restaurant.

Once we discovered that a company called MediPac offers travel insurance that covers Covid, we were in. We flew quite seamlessly with Air Canada from Nanaimo/Vancouver/Toronto/Athens. If only flying was always this pleasant. No crush of cranky economy passengers waiting to board. No middle seat companions on any of the flights and since the Toronto-Athens flight was just one-third full, we each grabbed a full row to stretch out and sleep.

Upon arrival in Athens, we zipped through customs in minutes and walked through this empty airport to catch the metro to downtown.

Travelling by metro was also easy, although with reduced seating, we stood for the 45-minute ride. Seats are cordoned off for distancing and everyone wears masks. I’ve never thought of Greeks as being particularly compliant people, but boy, there is no fooling around here. Mask-wearing is non-negotiable and is required in all public indoor spaces – period.

We are in Greece for six weeks; beginning our trip with a few days in Athens, then flying to Crete for 18 or 19 days. We’re playing it a little by ear from there – planning to visit Santorini, then back up to the mainland to drive around the mountain villages and seaside towns, with a brief stop in Hydra before heading home again.

It feels wonderfully normal to be travelling again, although we have noticed two distinct differences from past trips. Fellow tourists are almost overwhelmingly a) European and b) young. So far we have not fallen into an easy banter with anyone except for bored waiters. Tourists are keeping to themselves.

Athens is much nicer than we had imagined – cleaner, quieter, less chaotic and very walkable. However, with the exception of a very few parks, there is a noticeable dearth of green space.

We’re staying at an Airbnb in the Plaka neighbourhood, which is a charming older area close to the Acropolis, with twisty narrow lanes, bougainvilleas and tons of cafes and tavernas.

Our first night in town, we were feeling spacey from 24 hours of travel and grabbed the first tourist-y restaurant we saw, lured in with the promise of “drinks on the house.” Most restaurants will give you something complimentary – ouzo, dessert, fresh fruit – which I find touching and remarkable in cash-strapped, tourist-hungry Greece.

We kept it simple with a Greek salad and souvlaki and for a tourist restaurant the food was surprisingly good. It was lovely to sit outside and let it wash over us that we were in Greece.

We were fading fast and when we asked for the check, our waiter appeared instead with two more drinks. “On the house!,” he announced to my rather ungracious, “oh no“. ( We did manage to finish them.)

We discovered that central Athens is compact, made up of several fascinating neighbourhoods and is extremely walkable. This sweet little part of town, called Anafiotika, is just up the road from our place.

It is a cluster of about 40 whitewashed homes that lie right in the shadow of the Acropolis. It is just beautiful and unlike the rest of Athens – more reminiscent of buildings found on the islands. Although it is touted as a tourist attraction, I felt a bit uneasy walking through such a small, intimate neighbourhood. These are people’s homes and we were walking within inches of their open windows.

We spent the day exploring and enjoying the many contrasts of Athens. It is a city steeped in history, but also shaped by modern influences.

Greece is famous for its many stray cats – this little one lives around the corner from us, and is obviously well-fed.

The Monastiraki Flea Market is what I wish I could find back home. Every conceivable treasure, piece of junk or genuine antique can be found here, although many vendors appear to have lost their mojo.

Just around the corner from the dusty old relics of the flea market came high fashion.

A Gaga-worthy gown for the alternative bride.

The neighbourhood of Psirri is known for its lively atmosphere and sense of style. We stopped for lunch at a cafe which had hung laundry across the street as a design feature.

Our lunch was made all the more memorable by Stephen’s gusher of a nosebleed, which is off-putting at the best of times, but particularly troublesome during Covid. Stephen is prone to nosebleeds in altitude and extremely dry air, and we think that all the plane travel with a mask on, combined with a sudden drop into 30+degree heat, may have brought it on.

Our server handled us with great tact and empathy, providing yards of paper towels.

If you look carefully at the photo below you’ll see my friend, clutching an ice pack.

We came upon this crazy sight – a “Mary Poppins” tea party/fantasyland cafe embellished with an eye-watering amount of fringe, flowers, and froth.

Athens has a significant street art scene, and although we did not make it to the more bohemian neighbourhoods, we still stumbled upon some notable examples.

An upscale shop sold curated pieces – tea towels, mugs, T-shirts – with quotes from famous Greek philosophers. I’m not sure that I agree with any of them, especially Socrates. “I know nothing?” What a distressing realization to come to – surely a few things have stuck by now? Still, they bear discussion, and beat the heck out of talking about Trump.

A typical example of the little architectural surprises that lie tucked away down side alleys.

Our friend Joe has a keen appreciation for ancient Greek history, and he advised us to brush us a bit before our trip, as it would be otherwise overwhelming. – very good advice indeed. I am woefully ill-educated about Greek history and mythology, and so will not attempt to give you any background on ancient Greece. There is such depth of info available elsewhere – I’m bringing you our experiences and observations.

Obviously the Acropolis and numerous other sites in Athens are the whole point – they hold a command post from many vantage points in the city and inform the tenor of the town. It is decidedly a cool thing to walk in modern-day Athens with the juxtaposition of the Hadrian’s Arch against a flow of cars and motorbikes.

This morning we sat in a shady cafe with our iced coffees and looked out over the Roman Agora. The metro tracks run right in front.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, tucked in from a major thoroughfare.

Yesterday we devoted to the Acropolis Museum in the morning and the Acropolis in the afternoon. The museum is sensational – filled with hundreds of statues, many of them almost intact, and thousands of pieces saved from the excavation at the Acropolis. The exterior is all the more remarkable because it had been fully excavated, and then it was decided to situate the new museum on top of the site. Giant round concrete pillars were carefully placed and the excavation site was then filled in with gravel and sand to protect it while the building of the museum took place.

We took our time trekking up to the Acropolis; even at 5:00 p.m., it was still hot and sunny. We passed the Theatre of Dionysus on the way up and had the good fortune to listen to an orchestra warming up. We’re not sure if there was a performance later – it seems unlikely, although there would be lots of room to distance theatre-goers.

On the last leg of our trip up the hill, we followed behind a gregarious and chatty Frenchwoman, who carried on a steady commentary.
As we reached the summit, she announced, “Et voila!”

The Parthenon is the focal point of the Acropolis, and it is in a steady state of restoration, which distracts but does not take away from its grandeur.

Lesser sites include the Temple of Athena Nike:

The 360 degree views from the Acropolis are stunning and the Parthenon is such an iconic image; it would be impossible to come to Athens and miss seeing them.

But both Stephen and I came away feeling a little underwhelmed; we were more taken by the juxtaposition of ancient ruins like the Agora while wandering around the city than by the Acropolis itself.

I have to confess that I have a very short attention span for tramping around ruins in scorching sun, or for admiring ancient exhibits in a museum. I stare and stare at crumbling rock or pottery shards and I just cannot conjure up images of life thousands of years ago.

Tomorrow we fly to Crete for at least a couple of weeks and we are so looking forward to experiencing that side of Greece – the mountain villages, hiking trails through gorges, the olive groves and the amazing beaches.

44 thoughts on “We’re in Greece!

  1. Alison and Steve September 13, 2020 / 8:47 am

    We are reminded of our time in Athens and in Crete two years ago and the nostalgia is overwhelming. We loved Crete and know you will too. We admire your bravery in deciding to travel at this difficult time. Stay safe and well.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:11 am

      This trip reminds me of our first driving trip through Mexico. The beheadings, the disembowelled bodies hanging from bridges, the corrupt cops on the take – our first few days were spent in the shadow of those fears. We weren’t guaranteed to be safe, but we abided by a few simple rules and our fears fell away. This is the same – the risk is not gone, but we’re trying to travel appropriately and stay safe.

      Like

    • lucinda September 21, 2020 / 8:48 am

      Love seeing your posts, we were there several years prior to meeting you in Baja, loved crete and visited many of the same places. Make sure to see Meteoria mountains and monasteries if you get back to the mainland. We were there for another rare medicaine and flew south to Santori to escape it. Took boats from there to Crete, Rhodes and some tiny islands….lots to see and do for sure. Miss it, as we were there this time of year also. Many of the shops had closed as tourist season was over….not sure how that is now as there probably was not much of a tourist season and places might be staying officially open to get as much business as possible. Have a great adventure.

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      • leavingourselvesbehind September 21, 2020 / 9:14 am

        Cindy! How great to hear from you. Yes, for sure, we have Meteora on the list – we plan to spend about two and a half weeks going to Meteora, Delphi and then driving the Peloponnese.
        It is impossible to see Greece in one trip – we had no idea, beyond the islands and Athens, what incredible sights were here.
        We were told that the islands pretty much closed up shop by the end of October, but since their season only started in July this year, they may try and extend it. So far, everything is going full gear.
        Do you and Bob have any trips planned this winter or are you waiting to see what unfolds with Covid? Thanks so much for getting in touch.

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  2. Sharon errington September 13, 2020 / 8:52 am

    You guys totally amaze me, so glad you were able to continue what you love to do. Great pictorial

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  3. ANNE September 13, 2020 / 9:07 am

    What a great time to travel. Enjoy the quiet. Love the post.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:13 am

      It is a great time to travel, if you pick your spots carefully. Looks like France and the U.K. are still a problem, but so far, Greece has managed well.

      Like

  4. Nancy Huot September 13, 2020 / 9:08 am

    Thank Gawd you are traveling! Something for me to dream about instead of what’s in Nestor’s flyer.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:14 am

      Nancy – you always make us laugh! Although you can’t argue with a sale on peaches.

      Like

  5. Jim and Sheila September 13, 2020 / 9:21 am

    We can now live vicariously through your travels. You have already brightened up a smokey and gloomy day on Gabriola. it is wonderful to see blue skies and sunshine. We love Athens and Greece, so we know you will enjoy it! Already looking forward to the next blog.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:16 am

      Thanks you two. The skies were just starting to get smokey when we left – it sounds pretty dire right now.
      We’re really looking forward to our first swim in Greek waters!

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  6. linda ogle September 13, 2020 / 9:45 am

    Now you’ve done it. I was content, even relieved , that there would be no pressure to travel this year. But once Jon sees this…? And I have to admit to the power of this seduction myself. Although I agree with you about heat and ancient ruins. That glimpse into life in ancient times ain’t a pretty one. Your trip over sounded much like our experience going to Gabriola -but not like returning. We await further travel accounts with baited breathe.I stll smile at the memory of our breakfast in your beautifully decorated apartment – a lovely send off home. Hugs to you both. Linda

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  7. jon david snipper September 13, 2020 / 9:52 am

    So glad Athens appears much more interesting than I had suggested. Sounds like it is definitely worth more than a couple of days. Hope Crete works out well and really looking forward to hearing about it with your usual verve and terrific photos. I have lots of photos from my trip there many years ago, but taken with a non digital camera so no id of where the photo is taken and didn’t keep a diary so couldn’t help. But with more than 2 weeks there you should be able to cover a lot of territory, unless you fall in love with a particular spot and linger for a while.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:22 am

      That’s what we’re wondering, as everyone we know who has been to Crete just loves it – we want to leave it open. I think there is no denying the appeal of Santorini, but in recent years it has been so overcrowded, touristy and expensive, as well as being under siege from cruise ships. We wonder if this is a great time to visit before it ramps up again.

      Like

  8. Danielle Van Praet September 13, 2020 / 10:23 am

    LUCKY GUYS!!we had to cancel our Scandinavian trip!!
    Crete IS BEAUTIFUL!! Especially Sania!!
    Happy Travels
    Danielle

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:24 am

      Thanks Danielle! So sorry about your Scandinavian trip. We arrive in Chania tomorrow for six days – we’ll do day trips from there before exploring the rest of the island.

      Like

  9. Bridget Montgomery September 13, 2020 / 10:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this remarkable experience! Your photos and descriptions have me breathless! I never wanted to travel to Greece until now! I look forward to your amazing journey ❤

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:27 am

      Oh I can’t believe how much there is to see in Greece – we would need 10 lifetimes. Originally we had planned a trip to Malta, Greece, Turkey and Morocco, but only Greece appeared to have low Covid numbers. I hope you plan a trip here one day!

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  10. Rohana Laing September 13, 2020 / 11:46 am

    great to read your post, especially since I am not able to return to Mexico this winter. I was in Athens in the mid 60s and remember wishing later that we had gone to the Greek Islands, Now that I love to draw and paint in charming villages, Greek islands are on my bucket list, and you seem to be going at a great time when there are no hordes of tourists! do you mind if I do some drawings from some of your photos? the one on this posting that most interests me is the one from ANafiolika. I am still living in Chemainus, too bad I didnt get to see you before you left the island. I wish you safe and healthy travel! and thanks again for allowing me to travel vicariously! love from rohana

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 13, 2020 / 11:55 am

      Hi Rohanna – I was wondering if you would be able to return to San Miguel this winter, but it looks as though Mexico is still in a bit of a mess, doesn’t it?

      I am so excited to be going to a few of the Greek islands – I can imagine that a painter would go crazy there. Of course, thank you for choosing any of my photos to paint from.

      We will have to get together after we’re back and our quarantine is over.

      Take care,
      xo Ginny

      Like

  11. Sue Custance September 13, 2020 / 12:28 pm

    Cool! We were suppose to be leaving for Italy on Thursday but canceled. 😢 we loved Greece so much. We did similar circuit. Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos and Athens…loved it. Enjoy ❤️🥂

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 8:06 am

      Oh Sue – how disappointing. It was such a different thing to plan travel this time – pay a bit more to book a flight that offers full credit, only book accommodation that provide generous cancellation, etc. With one eye on the trip and one eye on the door, so we were prepared to have to bail, but it would have been so crushing if that had been the case.
      There are so many islands to choose from and so little time. I remember how much you loved your trip here. I don’t think yo can do Greece in just one visit – already I am hoping we will be back again.

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  12. glenna rebick September 13, 2020 / 12:31 pm

    Wow! just wow! While in Greece, If you should happen to find yourselves on the island of Naxos , a dear friend Yiannis Vassilas , from Baker Street Bistro days , has a renown gem of restaurant / farm / winery called Axiotissa.

    Happy travels. Admire your quest and bravery and pleased to read about your adventures from my balcony in Toronto. Fondly Glenna

    On Sun, Sep 13, 2020 at 11:28 AM Leaving Ourselves Behind wrote:

    > > > > > > > leavingourselvesbehind posted: ” > > > > > We have been desperate to hit the road again, but it was not an easy > decision to travel internationally during Covid. Canada still has > non-essential travel advisories in place, which means if things flare up > and borders close, we are on our own. Trav” > > > >

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 8:47 am

      Glenna!! How great to hear from you. I wish we were going to Naxos, it looked beautiful. Naxos, Paros, Kefalonia and Corfu on on the list for the next trip.
      Honestly, Glenna, I think it takes more courage right now to stay put and be terrorized on a daily basis by everything that is going on back home. We are escaping…hoping to return to a saner world.
      Please give big hugs to Alvin, Kael and Terra! xo

      Like

  13. Lyn Morris September 13, 2020 / 1:19 pm

    Thanks for keeping me on hour blog address. I so enjoy your pictures and diary. You two are amazing. Stay safe and keep on enjoying while you can.
    Love Lyn Morris, Langley, B.C.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 8:48 am

      Thanks so much Lyn – I really appreciate your interest. We feel so lucky to be here. We’re staying safe.

      Like

  14. Heather Scott September 13, 2020 / 1:59 pm

    You’re travelling again! How exciting! Exciting for those of us less adventurous, as well, because we can do it vicariously! I happen to think you picked a great location to begin your travels once again. So much history! Your pictures of Athens were impressive … so much colour and those blue skies! Looking forward to hearing about Crete next. Stay safe

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 8:59 am

      Thanks Heather – I think we are lucky with our choice of Greece. Also it is so much more beautiful than we had even imagined. We just arrived in Crete, and we’re staying in an Airbnb tucked away in a little rabbit warren of alleyways. Luckily all roads lead to the sea, so we can’t get lost.

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  15. Joan Fisher September 13, 2020 / 2:41 pm

    Omg, you two are amazing! Not sure I have what it takes to get on a plane right now, but happy you do. Greece is right at the top of my bucket list. I’m sooooo jealous. You are very brave, I must say. I would love the opportunity to see it all with so few people around. Sigh! Pictures are beautiful and I can’t wait for the next chapter. Enjoy, be safe, and continue taking pics. Hope Steve is feeling ok after that wee episode. Poor guy.

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    • Elaine September 13, 2020 / 9:03 pm

      Hi: Nice to hear you are on the road again. Great.
      Are you planning a visit to Meteora? Did you have time for the Byzantine Museum in Athens,
      maybe not. Keep safe.

      Like

      • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 1:27 pm

        Hi Elaine

        Yes, for sure we are looking forward to Meteora.We’ll be in Crete for about 18 days, then on to Santorini, and after that, we’re renting a car and travelling the Pelopponese, but beginning with Meteora and Delphi.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 9:03 am

      Joan, I’ve been thinking about you and wondering how your family in Hong Kong is doing. (I’ll email you later). We were disappointed to not travel to Nova Scotia this summer, but that “Maritime Bubble” helped keep you all safe. Next summer…
      I suspect the travel scene will remain quiet for at least another year, so maybe next spring or fall. We sure won’t scratch the surface in just six weeks – we’ll have to come back.
      Steve is doing just fine, thanks – he needs to get that out of his system every once in a while.

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  16. Shelley Tillemans September 13, 2020 / 10:03 pm

    Hi you two! Greece is a very distant but still vivid memory for us (we’re talking about the 70’s!). You cannot go wrong there. Indeed, this is the time to see the places that would usually be crowded, but I hope you’ll get to some of the lesser known though equally worthwhile islands to explore. There are so many! Is there anywhere more vicerally perfect?

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 9:05 am

      Shelley, you’re right – being here is like being inside a postcard. We’re planning on another trip to visit a lot more of the lesser-known islands – they are quieter at the best of times, so this is a good time to hit up the big tourist spots.

      Like

  17. Nancy Jarrell September 14, 2020 / 4:36 am

    Thank you for choosing a destination in my bucket list..looking forward to Santorini…
    Stay safe.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 9:09 am

      Nanc, you’ll just have to get here (maybe next year) and get to Santorini yourself! We’re being careful, but it helps that most everyone else here is being responsible as well. It feels safe, but more importantly, it feels like life.

      Like

  18. Cherryl Reed September 14, 2020 / 11:01 am

    How refreshing to get to travel with you two, I so enjoy hearing your well worded tales and seeing the photos! This one especially, as I was doing well with the restrictions, just playing with my “covid family”. With all this time now I’m getting things out of my studio space in the house to a boutique/workshop space outside. One person at a time will call and come with mask. I enjoy the company!

    But now with this smoke heading into almost a week, your blog was such a delight. My freedom to go outside and breath toxic smoke was getting me down.

    I also am anticipating your next one. I lost out for a while when I changed my email address and will go back to the one’s I missed. But for now, it’s harvest time!

    Be well and wonderful, as usual…Cherryl

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind September 14, 2020 / 1:34 pm

      So nice to hear from you Cherryl!

      The smoke was just starting when we left – a hazy day or two, but I hear it has become quite horrendous. Hopefully it will rain soon and clear things up a bit.

      Good to hear you have been weathering Covid well – what else can we all do, right? I asked a young man at the Acropolis Museum how he was doing with the mask (he was outside and looked so hot and tired). He hesitated and responded quite stoically, “I don’t like, but it is necessary.”

      None of us like, but this is necessary – good words to live by for now.

      Like

  19. Virginia Ronning September 14, 2020 / 12:58 pm

    If you make it to Santorini, Gin, please pop into a friend of mine who is a wonderful potter. Galatea Popageourgeo

    Like

  20. Linda & Gary September 15, 2020 / 9:26 pm

    Hello guys! So happy all went well! Just found your email at my old, old email address. Could you update me please to…

    lindawhitely47@gmail.com

    Loved reading about your adventure so far! And it is great the crowds are small!! It will be great to hear your impressions of Crete. Awesome you had positive experiences in Athens. Keep having a wonderful time, & stay safe!! Big hugs.

    Like

    • leavingourselvesbehind September 16, 2020 / 7:14 am

      Hi Linda and Gary

      We just got back from Efalonnisi Beach on the south coast – just gorgeous. In spite of the horror stories about driving in Greece – it was pretty easy – there’s a system!

      I’ll change your address – talk again in a few days.

      Like

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