Women Travelers: The Wonder of Greece

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis………, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world

like blue mantles beneath the stars.”

Robert E. Howard

 

A Paradise for Women Travelers

 Located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, the country of Greece has charmed tourists for centuries. Upon her ancient shores one will discover a world of lustful satyrs, frolicking woodland nymphs, and immortal deities. Standing proudly atop elevated pedestals, these mythical figures peer down at those who pass by, inviting wanderers to enjoy the abundant gifts that only Greece has to offer.

The land of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle  is one of opalescent sunsets, painted in muted strokes of soft pinks and pale oranges, floating lazily above crystalline waters. It is a place that warms the soul, much like a fire crackling in the hearth on a cold, snowy day warms the body. Possibly, the spell under which visitors fall has been cast by the mysterious Pythia, that priestess who speaks for the god Apollo. One can imagine the oracle sitting in a trance inside her dark cavernous world at Delphi, smiling as she watches visitors fall in love, not with each other, but with the captivating magic that Greece weaves.

 

Resting in the shadow of the Temple of Poseidon with the Aegean Sea behind me.

Resting in the shadow of the Temple of Poseidon on the Aegean Sea.

 

Safety Checklist for Women Traveling Solo

Some travelers question the safety of touring Greece because of its fiscal problems and the protests that have resulted. Although a friend accompanied me during my visit, as a retired woman who often travels solo, I would not hesitate to return to Greece alone. This short check list of safety precautions will allow women travelers to feel secure no matter where they might go.

  • Investigate the safety of your destination at The U.S. State Department.
  • Check out travel forums which provide safety tips for women travelers touring your destination of choice.
  • Do not leave your hostel or hotel after dark without a companion unless there is an emergency.
  • Carefully read the reviews for the hostel or hotel that you have selected. Be sure that it is close to the sites you wish to see. By doing so, if you are away after dark you can return safely by taxi at little cost.
  • If you arrive at an unfamiliar destination after dark, do not take the metro or bus from the airport. Take a taxi. This will give you a sense of security until you become familiar with your surroundings. For women travelers, dragging luggage up a dark unfamiliar street in a foreign city can be extremely frightening.
  • Be constantly aware of what is going on around you.
  • Whenever possible, travel with a friend or trusted companion. Plus, when two or more women travelers are together, they seem to have much more fun.
  • Keep your passport with you, and always carry emergency contact information in case of an accident or illness.
  • Purchase travel insurance before your trip.

 

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Touring With a Friend Makes Women Travelers Feel Safe

 

Athens:  The Home of the Goddess 

 Arriving in Athens on a hot summer day, everywhere I looked I discovered archeological sites where excavations are still ongoing. Massive blocks of stone forming sacred sanctuaries for ritual worship of the Greek pantheon cast their stark morning shadows over me, a mere mortal of the 21st Century. The shadows taunt visitors, reminding us that a thousand years from now our names will be long forgotten. Yet, the world will still sing the praises of Pan, the god of the rustic, untamed wilderness. The multitudes will still recall the beautiful Aphrodite who was birthed in the depths of the ocean. Mythology, so formidable that is has survived into the technological era was visible on t-shirts, bells, coffee mugs, toys, paintings, and hundreds of other objects for the traveler who had a few Euros to spare.

I selected as a memento for myself a silver pennant imprinted with the face of one of the lesser known deities. Months after my trip to Greece, I can still clutch it tightly and envision the spectacular view at the top of the Acropolis overlooking the city.

 

 

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Athens, the Perfect Getaway for Women Travelers

 

 

The Acropolis Complex

The historic sites of Athens are too numerous to describe in detail. One can tour ancient Angora, with its 5th Century B.C. Temple of Hephaistos, the Olympian god of fire. Then, only a short distance away, he or she can visit the Erechthion dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. A trip to Athens would be incomplete without seeing the classical Greek Temple of Zeus with its Doric architecture which took laborers almost seven centuries to complete.

However, the site that is the main focus of most tourism is the stately Parthenon at the top of the Acropolis. Climbing the steep hill to the ruins of the temple is exhausting on a hot summer day. Yet, the moment one stands in the magnificent limestone temple, he or she will suddenly realize the skill and stamina possessed by those long ago Greek laborers who cut, hauled, and lifted the Pentelic marble to form the massive columns high on the top of the Acropolis complex. I was in awe at the love and devotion that the ancient Athenians must have felt for their beautiful Athena, virgin goddess of wisdom and of war.

 

 

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Syntagma Square: The Changing of the Royal Guard

After touring beneath the hot sun, visitors find cool relief in the New Acropolis Museum which is located only a short walk from the Parthenon. For only five Euros, a weary traveler can wander for hours among the five floors filled with more than 4,000 artifacts.

Finally, when evening arrives, the National Gardens provide an unexpected respite from the busy, bustling streets. The gardens are a cacophony of natural beauty, within which unearthed Greek ruins have been strategically placed. One who enters the gardens will experience a sense of calm. Here, tourists walk shaded paths, sit beside tiny ponds, and watch birds alight on faded  mosaics and small columns crafted by ancient artisans.

Before one leaves the city, he or she will delight in visiting the Syntagma Square, location of the Hellenic Parliament Building. This is where the ceremonial changing of the Royal Guard (Evzones) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier takes place every hour, twenty-four hours each day. The guards show no reaction at all to the many distractions  around them. They stand motionless for an hour, their eyes staring straight ahead. Then, with clockwork precision each guard begins, like a marionette moving in extremely slow motion, to change his position. This fascinating ritual takes place, no matter the severity of the weather, in honor of Greece’s deceased warriors.

 

 

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The Changing of the Royal Guard

 

 

Plaka: The Realm of Dionysos

Travelers who enjoy shopping will want to spend an afternoon and evening in Plaka. This village filled with stone streets covered by a canopy of rich green leaves, provides the perfect ending for a fascinating trip to Athens. In Plaka, excited tourists discover unique boutiques, dozens of cozy restaurants with friendly staff, pots filled with colorful cascading flowers, and scenes perfect for photographers to preserve lasting memories. Delicious Greek food such as the vegetable and meat dish moussake, the Mediterranean vegetable dish briam, and rich honey and nut filled baklava are served by smiling Greek waiters. In the shadow of the Acropolis, visitors sip their wine and their thoughts drift lazily.

Once again Greece, the cradle of democracy, holds visitors bound in her trance. The financial world’s ongoing debate concerning debt, budgets, and austerity measures become unimportant. In Plaka, that seductive god of wine and pleasure, Dionysos, has taken charge.

 

 

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Restaurants With Great Food and Service in Both Plaka and Santorini

 

 

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Santorini: The Land of the Minoans

After spending several days in Athens, my companion Nancy and I traveled on the Blue Star Ferry to one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greece, the island of Santorini. Getting to the ferry took little effort. First, we took a bus to the Piraeus Ferry Port. There, we purchased our tickets for 20 Euros each. We were already aware of the island’s beauty and familiar with its history. Yet, neither of us dreamed that in Santorini we would be confronted with a mystery. Were we actually visiting the location of Plato’s Lost Island of Atlantis?

Santorini lies between the countries of Greece and Turkey. In the early Bronze Age this land formed a circle around the island of Delos. Believed to have been the birth place of the Greek god Apollo, Delos was considered sacred ground. No woman was allowed to give birth there. Those who were approaching death were ferried to another island where they would live out their last remaining hours.

Settled by humans in the late Neolithic Era, by the early Bronze Age Santorini was the home of thriving Minoan communities and port. The Minoans strange beliefs included the  worship of a snake deity and the practice of human sacrifice. Records tell us that these people were war-like and often in conflict with other nearby civilizations.

 

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A Santorini Sunset Captured From the Roof Of Our Hostel

 

 

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Santorini Is A Calm, Soothing Adventure for Women Travelers

 

The South Aegean Volcanic Arc

Santorini is the most well-known of the many islands in the Hellenic Arc where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates collide. Today the island is a fragment, smaller than its original size. Long ago it was shaped like the top edge of a huge cauldron. Often referred to by its Spanish name, a caldera, this is where the pressure that builds up between two tectonic plates will eventually be released. If today one could see the volcano which lies beneath the shimmering waters of the Aegean, the top would appear in the shape of a large pot with its sides partially collapsed. Santorini is simply the remaining parameter of a partially submerged caldera.

Touring the caldera by catamaran cost approximate 100 Euros. Fortunately, the staff at our cozy little hotel, the Reverie, made the arrangements for us. We had been informed of the excellent customer service visitors receive when visiting the island. Still, we were unprepared for the degree of personalized care that we were given.

Visitors who take the catamaran tour float in the center of a cauldron, over the top of a sea-filled volcano. They are surrounded by spectacular cliffs of deep orange and red that stretch 300 meters into the sky. Mesmerized by water so clear that sometimes the seabed beneath it is visible, one suddenly is reminded of the true grandeur of the planet on which we live. At times I felt that I was in a dream so beautiful that I did not wish to awaken. As I relaxed on the catamaran, my cares seem to drift as far away as the Pleiades, that cluster of stars known to the people of antiquity simply as The Seven Sisters.

 

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Santorini Akrotiri Archeological Digs

The archeological artifacts unearthed beneath solidified ash at Akrotiri, a once thriving community on the island, revealed multi-story buildings with up to fourteen rooms on each floor. Brilliantly colored frescos depicting religious rituals and seafaring scenes remained intact on still-standing walls. Rooms with vertical shafts designed to allow sunlight to enter, paved streets, an extensive drainage system, and pipes for both hot and cold running water all were indicators of an advanced society. Yet, there were no human remains to be found. This led archeologists to believe that something had caused the inhabitants to sense danger and desert their community in haste.

 

 

Akrotiri Fresco

Akrotiri Fresco

 

The Minoan Eruption

 Study of this volcano reveals eruptions every tens of thousands of years, the last of which was recorded in 1950. During the late Bronze Age, before the Fall of Troy, the volcano awakened. The catastrophe is believed to have occurred in 1630 B.C. Known as the Minoan (or Thetan) Eruption, it was six times the magnitude of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883. It released fourteen cubic miles of magma.

Archeologists theorize that the eruption and its accompanying tsunami destroyed the Minoan civilizations of Crete and the surrounding islands. It is also believed to have caused parts of Santorini to sink into the depths of the sea, thus creating the caldera. Depositing deep thick layers of white pumice and volcanic ash, the eruption lasted between 48 to 64 hours.

When at last the volcano returned to its ancient slumber, satisfied with the destruction it had wrought, only the part of Santorini that we see today was still visible. The discovery made at Akrotiri has led some to believe that the mystery of Atlantis had finally been solved.

 

Plato’s Dialogues

It may never be proven that Atlantis actually existed. However, in his dialogues, the “Timaeas” and Critias,” Plato tells this story of Atlantis.

“Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent . . . But, there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune. . . the island of Atlantis . . .disappeared in the depths of the sea.”

According to this Greek philosopher, the information about Atlantis was revealed to him during a conversation which occurred circa 400 B.C. among Critias, Hermocrates, Timeas, and Socrates. At that time, the historian Critias told of an unfinished poem he had previously read. It had been written by Solon, an Athenian statesman known as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. Solon’s poem was based upon information given him by an ancient Egyptian priest. It placed the lost island near the Pillars of Hercules. The pillars, which the Athenians believed held up the sky, are mountains at the edge of the Greek mainland.

Women Travelers of the 21st Century

There are many sites that have been suggested as the location of the lost civilization. Yet, whether the story of Atlantis is fact, myth, or legend may never be learned. I decided that the mystery was really not so important to me after all. Lying upon the catamaran, my thoughts traveled back to an earlier time. I thought of my maternal ancestors, those hard-working women to whose lineage I take pride in belonging. For them, sailing on the clear azure waters of the Aegean would have seemed a dream too impossible to imagine.

Yet here I was, inhaling the  same breath of air that once flowed through the lungs of the seagoing Minoans of old. And as the sun glistened down upon the Aegean, I could envision the Pythia smiling in her other-worldly wisdom. That ancient Oracle of Delphi no longer needs the god Apollo to whisper in her ear. It is abundantly clear to her that the Grecian enchantment is no less powerful today than it was in the 4th and 5th centuries before the birth of the Christ child.

 

 

Suggested Resources

How to Get From Athens to Santorini: The Idiots Guide

Sinking Atlantis: The Fall of the Minoans

History of Santorini 

Visiting Santorini

National Geographic: “Atlantis” Eruption Twice as Big as Previously Believed

Santorini (Thera) Volcano

Plato’s Timaeus: A Description of Atlantis

History of Minoan Crete