Day 11: Santorini, Greece

Today we celebrated our second Easter (Greek Orthodox) on the beautiful island of Santorini (named for St. Irene.) We were mostly in the picturesque town of Oia which, for me, was the quintessential Greece with its bright white homes with blue roofs clinging to the tops of the cliffs like snow. This is where Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed. Oia is tiny, with cute shops, a bookstore built into a cave, and unique coffee shops mixed in with the beautiful homes. We had an amazing day here.

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Day Ten: Ephesus, Turkey and Patmos, Greece


We spent the morning in the ancient city of Ephesus. I had been before and it was just as magical the second time. The reconstructed buildings are beautiful and to think that Paul spent time here, preached here, and had to make a hasty exit makes the Bible come alive. My students really enjoyed it. 


     In the afternoon we explored the island of Patmos where John wrote Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. If this island is prison, sign me up!!! It’s gorgeous! I loved the classic white houses, beautiful views, and ancient windmills. I know his exile wasn’t his choice, but he could have done worse. We saw the cave where John lived and dictated the scripture and slept. Again, the kids talked about how touched they were at seeing the place where John actually was. We celebrated one Easter weekend in Rome, and now we are celebrating a second Easter, the Orthodox one. I can’t think of a better way to mark this important holiday than being in these sites of Christian martyrs where believers have made pilgrimages for thousands of years.  (We couldn’t take pictures inside the cave where John lived because it’s holy, but this mosaic is above the entrance.)



We also visited a school/factory/store where the owner is trying to keep alive the tradition of Turkish carpet weaving. It takes one person six months to make a small, less-intricate carpet. It’s so labor intensive!!!! The weavers get frequent breaks and are paid well, but this makes the carpets very pricey. Jim built the salesperson’s hopes, but also disappointed him. 

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Day Nine: Greek Island Cruise

It’s not a secret that I’m not in love with the idea of cruises, but this is the first time I’ve actually taken one. I guess it just confirmed my suspicions. My biggest objection to huge cruise ships is that it is so harmful to the local culture. All traveling breaks down culture and makes the local population cater more toward tourists, but I believe cruise ships do this more efficiently. In Estonia, they had all the trappings of a cruise-tainted country (streets composed solely of souvenir shops, little train running through the town, prevalence of English instead of the local language), and the locals almost couldn’t enjoy their own city between the hours of ten and four because so many tourists clogged the little streets. In some places the towns have become a Disneyland version of themselves to the point where they now can’t survive without the cruise ships. When I travel I like authentic experiences, and I feel that the cruise industry is harming the authenticity of the local culture. 

I sound like a spoiled brat bogged down with first world problems, but I’m not quite done complaining yet. I don’t know if this cruise is typical, but I really don’t like all the wasted time. The embarkation process took over an hour. Then we waited for our cabin to be ready. Then there was a lifeboat drill (another hour almost.) Then there was a meeting about procedures and activities on the ship. Every time we leave the ship or get back on there are huge lines to wait in. It’s too many people for me in one small space. So, I’ve tried it, and I see why others like it, but it’s not my cup of tea. The cruise was the most stressful part of the trip for me with the students because they were all over the ship, and if they didn’t show up, it was hard to find them. My greatest fear was that I would be on the ship with one of them left on a small island after the “all aboard.”

Also, if it’s stormy on land, and you are in a hotel, you can still go to a museum or a local cafe, but on a boat in bad weather you are stuck. This is what happened to us today. We were supposed to see Mykonos this afternoon, but the sea was very rough and we were unable to land. This was extremely sad for the people who had booked this cruise specifically to see the Good Friday procession on the island. 

The kids loved the ship: the karaoke, the tea and cookies time, the entertainment in the different lounges, and the great views. I discovered that many of the ways I relax are based on having internet (for which you have to be the likes of an owner of a successful Silicon Valley startup to afford on board): studying French, talking with Baby Lydia via FaceTime, reading blogs, watching Netflix, listening to podcasts or news. I wished I had planned ahead better and downloaded a book. I finished the book I was reading and then my two favorite ways to relax became sleeping and eating.  

That’s our ship in the picture below. 


 Cruises have fancy food in great quantities.  


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Day Eight: Athens


I felt like I was herding penguins all day at the Acropolis because it was so cold, and some of my students didn’t bring proper jackets and shoes. The ancient monuments are so beautiful. The Parthenon is an optical illusion–the pillars are not evenly spaced as it appears, but rather are spaced to appear square. If you extended the lines of the Parthenon two and half miles, the lines would join at the top to form a pyramid. It’s so ironic that the Greeks were the most advanced civilization in the world, and now they are in extremely dire economic straights. 

I was surprised when I went to the pharmacy and the grocery store at the low prices–less than a dollar for 24 Advil and a whole bag of fruits and vegetables for under three dollars. They are a society that as a whole puts family and faith first. 


At the Acropolis museum one thing stood outthey really want the Elgin Marbles that were once part of the Parthenon back from the British museum. Greeks believe they were stolen from the country, and are part  of the history and culture of Greece. Period. It does seem fair that iconic artwork where there is no dispute where it cam from should be returned to the country of origin.  






We spent the afternoon at the Plaka- the Athenian marketplace. The vendors were not high pressure, had cute things to sell, and there were darling side streets with beautiful views of the city. 



We also saw the changing of the guard at the palace. 





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Day Seven: Delphi

Today we toured the archeological site of Delphi. Because it’s a newer site the excavation has just barely started. It was a place where people came to seek wisdom from the Oracle of Delphi, because Heaven and Earth were the closest there. The Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world, and they came to worship Apollo and gain wisdom from his spirit.  It was a steep climb, but worth the view. They should call them something else besides ruins because they don’t seem ruined to me, but rather evidence of something very beautiful. 




We stopped at Monastery of Hosios Loukas where St. Luke (the gospel writer) is buried. The old brick buildings were so beautiful and the grounds were thankfully devoid of tourists and  peaceful. We even saw the monks preparing for Good Friday services. This may end up being my favorite part of the whole trip.



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Day Six: Delphi

Delphi–named for the place where Apollos rode the delphini (dolphins) is a darling little town about three bus-lengths long. On the way there we stopped at a darling restaurant at the foot of the Parnassus Mountains where the kids could play on the beach.  



As we were driving it started SNOWING!!! The kids went nuts with excitement and the bus driver stopped to let them play in the falling flakes.  



We learned about Aristotle, Jacquie Onassis, Pythagoras and more Greek heroes as we journeyed.  


We also learned that the origin of the X and O that we use to mean “kiss” and “hug” comes from St. Anthony who was crucified on a cross like an X.



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Day Five: Pompeii

It’s exciting to see the wonder in the eyes of my students as they visualize the ancient city of Pompeii come to life as it was before Vesuvius erupted, preserving the lavish lifestyles to be uncovered hundreds of years later. I’ve seen it before, but not with these kids, and that’s the joy for me. They were impressed that the city was brought back to life and, since the digging continues, more remains to be uncovered. Ancient ruins have a special beauty for me–from Balbeck, Lebanon, to Hieropolis, Turkey, to the Anasazi in Arizona to the Celts in Ireland–each has a unique artistic personality. The people are gone, but their art, the expression of who they are, remains.

We drove to the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi and now we are on a night ferry to Greece. (I find the Italian city names so romantic: Amalfi, Palermo, Napoli.) The kids were told to pack carefully so what they needed was on top because the ferry rooms would be so small. The funny thing is that the ferry rooms actually had more space than their hotel rooms! That’s how small their rooms are with four kids! The rooms have windows so we can see the Greek islands we are approaching. The hallways were a little sketchy at night with people who didn’t buy rooms laying down blankets and sleeping outside our rooms. The girls had to stay in their cabins.

The kids are great travelers. They don’t complain, they are appreciative about everything and kind to each other. Their eyes sparkle if you ask them if they are having a good time. It’s also great fun having Molly along. She looks like one of the kids, so even though she is a very competent, capable grown-up, she is often lumped in with them. She’s been a tremendous help and a joy. I never get enough of my own children.            

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