Though Greece's international image has taken a beating in recent years, the country's place as a magical tourist destination remains unchallenged. Here's a look at five attractions outside of Athens that ought to be on your travel bucket list.
Greece was always an impressive country to visit, the Cradle of Democracy and all that. When we visited Greece in 1984 it was proud of its monoculturism; it didn’t have illegal aliens and all its citizens were of the same religion and background.
Our guide referred to the 1964 case when a young woman, Kitty Genovese, was stabbed in New York City and, mortally wounded, cried out to neighbors in her tenement for help as she was dying. The man who murdered Ms. Genovese was sentenced to death in June 1964 and is still in prison, aged 80, and this year again has been refused parole. “That murder would not have happened here in Athens,” our guide told us. “We Greeks relate to each other and if we heard a woman cry for help, say, in an apartment building, we would all be down at her door to help, perhaps because we Greeks are a curious, even nosy, people.
OK, understood, but Greece has surely given the European community something to think about as it tried to manipulate its debts. I recall about five years ago when this loan was provoking interest in the press, one reporter had the initiative to study the list of citizens who admitted they had a swimming pool in their yard and had paid for that extra in the Athens city tax. The reporter then hired a helicopter and counted the number of swimming pools in Athens. He gave up after 8,000! We remember, too, when their marble monuments were crumbling because of acid rain and pollution — at a time when the Greeks would not agree to have their automobiles smog tested or restricted in Athens – but what they did agree to crept into the European press: their wish for the United States to provide and pay for a huge protective dome over the Parthenon. So they do have issues but what we must say is visiting this country has been one of the greatest thrills in our life. Greece is glorious.
We would hate to be stranded in Greece as independent travelers while the EU tries to solve Greece’s issues. Although we’ve driven a rental car across Greece, if we went back now we’d want a solid tour company with adequate bonding such as Insight Vacations with whom we are going to Poland this summer. Insight’s Glories of Greece tour has exceptional prices.
Insight’s map reminds us of what lies outside Athens: the Top Five of Greece
The Corinth Canal and the actual documented spot where St. Paul stood in his Address to the Corinthians.
The Corinth Canal, four miles long and 75 feet wide was created in 1893 to reduce sea travel around the peninsula by 185 miles and 24 days of hard dangerous sailing. The need for a canal to allow ships to reach the west coast of Greece without rounding the treacherous south shores of the Peloponnesian Peninsula had been recognized since Biblical times, almost 2,000years ago, when Paul addressed the Corinthians from a rock (even today identified as where he stood) sailing ships were rolled on to massive tree trunks on the east coast of the Corinth Peninsula and the ship was dragged to the west shore to avoid the dangers of rounding the point by sea. Passengers had to wait on land for this to be accomplished. It was, in a way, the first shore excursion for people on a cruise and local authorities provided a temple with its goddesses to keep the males entertained. This is why St. Paul chose to scold the Corinthians!
The lost city of Mycenae intrigued archaeologists on of whom, a keen amateur, felt the secrets were in homer’s poetry and he was right. Images: Mycenae and, on right, the symbolic Lion’s Gate where unfortunately the lions have lost their heads. Insert: Death Mask Agamemnon. And almost on your doorstep sprawls Epidaurus, the first great medical complex in the world. Its vast auditorium, and museum of tributes brought by those made well by its attributes are on display including a statue of Asclepius, the god of medicine with, accurately, the profession’s one-snake-only symbol.
Nearby lies Mycenae. It predates classical Greece by 1,000 years. One of the first places in ancient Greece to reveal its riches to archaeologists. The Lion’s Gate, now headless symbols, had guarded the house of Atreus for more than 30 centuries til the great Heinrich Schliemann stunned the world in 1874 by digging here, convinced Homer was as much historian as poet. Almost immediately he discovered royal tombs and the famous death mask now on display at the National Museum in Athens The mask is now known to be more than 400 years too old to be “the death mask of Agamemnon.”
This attractive seaport clinging to the cliffs above one of the most photographed islands in Greece (with its Venetian fortress of Bourtzi) reminds visitors the history of Greece encompasses the story of the sea. Greece conquered the known world with massive armies and great fleets. Its proximity to Olympia would already have those making a second visit to the Peloponnese Peninsula salivating at the thought of again visiting the greatest museum in Greece outside the National Museum in Athens
The site of the first Olympic Games and in 1894 when the games were re-discovered remains a charm for every athlete who kneels down at the mark in this flat dried up field full of ruins and dreams of the past, a past when only male athletes competed and in the nude and if any women were found observing on the high ground they were hurled from the cliffs to teach them that life was dominated by males. The ruins are not due to the passage of time but because, in AD 426, when the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II ordered this pagan sanctuary destroyed his Christian Empire obeyed with extraordinary zeal. Although Theodosius died aged 49 he remains the longest-reigning Roman emperor. The Olympia museum has varying rules regarding photography and we were nearly evicted for photographing the 490 BC helmet of Miltiades, the winning general at the Battle of Marathon.
A holy place where the bronze statue of the Charioteer was found, where a temple had its goddess, an Oracle who could proclaim an evasive future to persons as confused as she was by fumes, probably of carbon monoxide, emanating from fissures in the rocks. The hallucinogenic diet for those attending also helped.
And if we are going to talk about rocks what were more stupendous, more awesome than the rocks near the village of Kalanbaka on which monks dedicated to a life of privacy and reflection built the monasteries of Meteora?
For our more detailed story with more images at this website click here.
If you were driving yourself at this point you are only about 150 miles east of the island of Corfu but if you wandered north you might find yourself in Albania and you’d still need a boat so be happy you are safe in your Insight coach. Instead, on your way back to Athens be pleased you are stopping at Thermopylae, that place where, in 480 BC, to Hollywood’s recent delight, 300 Spartans under King Leonidas in one of the most magnificent battles in history famously delayed a vastly superior Persian Army a glorious yet mere footnote to the forever staged Greco-Persian War.
Greeks in the countryside including widows who will wear black until the day they themselves die. Bottom left: Greek children. Right: monument at Thermopylae
One charm from touring with a coach company is it provides you with a bilingual tour director who is more than willing to jump off the coach to help you talk to locals and get permission for photography. Such ability gives you some feel for a country. Parts of Greece are still agricultural. And their uncomplicated people stand as a contrast to Leonidas in the nation’s monument at Thermopylae.
Photography by the authors
The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel and cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.