When traveling, some people like to do nothing more than do nothing.
I am not one of those people.
Yet despite my proclivities, the rather loose structure of our stay in Greece, coupled with the need to do things four-year-old appropriate, resulted in many days spent visiting, drinking coffee, and wandering around.
Which, coupled with the lack of Internet during the duration of the trip, was kind of nice.
But we did manage to sneak a few forays into some interesting parts of the old country. Here are a few of them.
Amphipolis is an ancient city in northern Greece, in the Macedonia and Thrace regions. The city played a pivotal role during the Peloponnesian War, acting as the center of the Athenian’s presence in Thrace. It’s strategic importance was due, in large part, to its position by the River Strymon, which opens up into the Strymonian Gulf and the Aegean Sea beyond.
And speaking of the Aegean Sea, did you know that its name comes from King Aegeus? Father of the mythological hero Theseus, King Aegeas threw himself into the sea when Theseus failed to return from his quest to vanquish the Minotaur in the labyrinth of the Cretan king Minos.
Oh wait! Theseus lived! So what happened?
Before leaving, Theseus promised to his father that, should he die on his journey, his men would return to Athens the flying black sails they departed with. But if he lived, they would fly white.
But ol’ Theseus, giddy from his triumph and his new babe Ariadne, forgot to change the sails. Oops.
Anyway, I didn’t get the chance to see Amphipolis proper, or the museum there, but I did see the famous Lion of Amphipolis, monument to one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted compatriots, the general Laomedon.
And we ate at a lovely seaside taverna serving local seafood. As a bonus, my son didn’t acccidentally kill me (yet).
In the town of Alistrati lie some of the largest, most stunning natural caves on the entire continent of Europe. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos in there. Like, any. Even with a phone. As such, you’ll have to take my word for it–along with checking out photos on the Internet by people who were allowed to take pictures of the caves–that they are breathtaking. I came here during my last trip to this region, and there’s a reason it was worth revisiting.
You enter the caves while walking down a long ramp through a red door that looks like a hobbit lives there and into an enchanting underground world that looks like another planet.
Stalagmites and stalactites that look like otherworldly mushrooms line the path like thick trees, some having joined together over the centuries. Other folds of rock look like cloth that had somehow calcified in undulating waves of stone.
I could go on waxing poetic about the caves, but without pictures to show you it seems almost cruel. I’ll leave you with a low-quality cave-selfie I managed to snap. You’re welcome.
Monastery to St. John the Forerunner
In the mountains on the northern side of a Lake Kerkini lay the town of Akritochori, home to a lovely monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist, also called the Forerunner (“Timios Prodromos”).
This lovely structure was built in 1981, based upon the Xenophontos Abbey on Mount Athos. So while this monastery is not ancient, it’s built in the ancient Byzantine style. Combined with the beautiful natural setting and view from the lake, it is quite breathtaking.
The inside is not too shabby, either.
The monastery is run by about 50 nuns. They are all incredibly friendly, and after walking among the church and the grounds, they invite you in for a friendly chat and make you coffee, tyropita, and koilourakia.
Of course, there’s a small shop, selling icons and books and other religious items. There are bracelets, at a cost of €3.00 (about $3.30 at the rate while we were there), you are supposed to wear until they break. I got one to replace my old bracelet.
My son wanted two, because why not.
On the way back, we stopped at the site of what used to be a restaurant until the economic crisis of 2010, which prompted the question, haven’t the years 1999 through 2017 been one continuous economic crisis in Greece?
A natural spring runs down from the mountains, even passing through the trees. The proprietor apparently used to catch fish from it and cook them for his customers. Sad that it’s gone; it seemed like a lovely place to have a coffee.
There’s a lot to do and see in Greece, even in more out-of-the-way, lesser-known places than you may have heard about. There also an awful lot to eat, but that’s a topic for another day.
I’m biased, sure, but Greece is a lovey country full of wonderful people, and I highly recommend you go while there’s still a Greece as we know it to visit; this, too, is a topic for another day.
Check out the first part of my travelogue here, and stay tuned for part three, where I’ll wrap it all up and explain why any of this matters.
And check out my Instagram here.