One of many delicious and distinctive Greek meals shared on the road.
What happens when, quite unplanned, your Greek Islands tour group turns out to be eight well-traveled women? In fact, a powerhouse mix of a lawyer, a psychologist, a naval nurse, two school teachers, a pharmaceutical company senior executive, and a journalist, all guided by a Byzantine iconographic historian and icon artist named Vicky. Well, things just get funnier. The journal proves it!
Hellenic Adventures Inc., a small-group cultural tour operator specializing in Greece, Italy and Turkey, has hit upon a trick for building community spirit by creating a group journal of every trip. Each person is responsible for one or two days of homework in rotation (depending upon the total days of a tour and the number of tour members).
No rules, just record what catches your attention about the day. Some people on our island-hopping exploration wrote a page, others three or four; some were precise and fact-oriented in their record keeping, others were more poetic and whimsical. Bottom line, everyone took the assignment seriously, while still remembering to inject plenty of humorous moments into each day’s log.
On the island of Leros, choppy water kept the fishermen and tourists on shore.
Without exception, curiosity got the better of all of us as we were tempted to look back over our fellow travelers’ comments once that simple coil notebook passed into our hands. And it was amazing how much more attentive to detail participants became the moment “their” day began! After the tour, the notebook went back to Hellenic Adventures’ headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota to be transcribed into a typed and bound memento for each participant. Here are some edited extracts from the 20-page journal of the “Saints, Knights and Ancient Mysteries: An Island Tour”:
Small town streets and houses encourage neighborliness.
“Gathering in Athens, we came from up to ten time zones away and all showed signs that we had definitely checked through each one of them!” Pat
“When I spilled Vicky’s wine at the table, she quickly announced it as a sign of good luck, dabbed her fingers in it and rubbed the wine behind her ears! We all followed her lead by anointing ourselves liberally from the puddle and went away smelling like a winery.” Jo Ann
“Checking into the Athens airport for the 40-minute flight to Leros, our first duty was to weigh our luggage, and, alas, we were over the limit. Pat was mostly at fault because her suitcase was loaded with history books on Greece, Italy, Egypt, etc. Oh well, it could have been worse – we could have been asked to weigh ourselves!” Kathy
“The Owls” wait for the ferry from Patmos to Rhodes.
“Leaving Patmos by ship, we were told to pack a small overnight bag for our sleeping cabin as larger luggage remained several decks below stored with the vehicles. We are departing earlier than planned because a 24-hour general strike is scheduled throughout Greece, and we want to make the 8 ½ hour run to Rhodes before that happens. The ferry is late, now expected at 1:30 a.m. Judy remarked that we already seem to be closing up a lot of places on this trip! Vicky has nicknamed our group the Owls (after the goddess Athena’s friends) because we seem to come out at night – and, of course, because we are all very wise.” Alison
The austere but orderly Street of the Knights, Rhodes.
“Our first day exploring the medieval battlements of Rhodes we crossed the outer moat and entered the crusader-built city through one of its massive gates. We then walked along the beautifully restored Street of the Knights (of St. John) where only they were allowed to live, and on to the portion of the town inhabited by the common folk. We stopped for lunch at Alexis Fish Restaurant and managed to eat incredible amounts of fabulous food – shellfish, lobster, fish, eggplant, Greek salad – and to drink even more incredible amounts of Greek wine (except for MarJane who enjoyed her Pepsi as usual).” Sally
Crusader battlements above Lindos, Rhodes.
Faced with climbing a great many stairs at Lindos up a steep hillside to the ruins of a crusader fortress and an excavated Greek Temple of Athena, four of our members chose to hire donkeys for a ride to the top: “Pat and Kathy were in a race with their donkeys while Jo Ann and MarJane opted for a more leisurely ride – perhaps because Jo Ann sang The Red River Valley to her steed. She says she has serenaded animals the world over with that tune.” Judy
“While exploring the Cretan countryside, we visited the sad and beautiful cemetery at Suda Bay where hundreds of Brits, Aussies and ‘Kiwis’ were buried following the famous World War II Battle of Crete. The 60th anniversary celebration having taken place earlier in the day, there were wreaths and flowers everywhere. We witnessed three fighter planes flying over the cemetery several times in the ‘missing man’ formation. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole group.” Pat
World War II cemetery at Suda Bay, Crete.
Our Casa Delfino breakfast courtyard in a restored 17th century Venetian mansion at Chania, Crete.
“Driving through Crete’s remote mountainous heartland where some of Greece’s highest mountains revealed several snow capped peaks even in late May, Vicky captured our interest by describing the distinctive character of the men who live in this region. They tend to be good-looking, friendly, brave, even heroic. However, if one offends or crosses them, they can be unforgiving and dangerous. We stopped briefly at a tiny village coffee shop overlooking the beginnings of the Imbros Gorge, keeping a curious eye out for these legendary men. On our way again, poor Jo Ann realized she had forgotten to pay for her coffee and wondered if a ‘contract’ would be put out on her. Vicky reassured her that the mountain men of Crete have bigger fish to fry!” Kathy
“Our midnight arrival on Santorini was as exciting as any daytime entry. After docking face first, we streamed off the huge ferry, wheeled suitcases in tow, together with hundreds of other foot passengers. We could just make out Santorini’s famous cliffs in shadowy outlines, topped with clusters of lights identifying several towns spilling over the edges 1,000 feet (300 meters) above. As cars and trucks poured off the ferry and began their laborious climb, they showed us with their headlights the switchback road in alarming detail even before we ascended it in our own waiting minibus.” Alison
Overlooking Santorini’s famous sea-filled volcanic crater, whitewashed villages decorate 1,000 foot cliffs.
“Vicky phoned ahead to ensure that our visit to the spectacular excavations of Santorini’s Akrotiri would not coincide with hordes of tourist busses from cruise ships as they anchored for a few hours most days in the crater. After all, we did classify ourselves as travelers, not tourists, and thus celebrated having the place virtually to ourselves! We marveled at the advanced architecture of this site buried under volcanic ash during an eruption about 1500 B.C. – a perfectly preserved town with underground plumbing and sanitation systems and solidly constructed multi-story buildings with carefully laid out streets.” Sally
“We enjoyed dinner at Santorini’s Taverna Pirgos, midway along the island. Leftheris’s long arm was noticeable yet again, as the owner of Hellenic Adventures had personally ordered the menu of appetizers and snapper by phone from his Minneapolis headquarters. I wonder if he also ordered the snifters of Cognac which were mysteriously slipped into our places at the end of the meal?” Alison
(Good Health!) Whether you are looking to relax on the beach, go sightseeing or enjoy a lively night, holidays in Greece offer everything you could want.