This story takes places in sunny and beautiful Greece, in the hot summer month of August. I had received an email from one of my best friends from college who had decided to take his summer vacation a step further and get married in Greece. A few quick emails and phone calls around the world and this were turning into a small college reunion of sorts. So, we all descended from far off places like Japan, Australia, America, India and not so far off places like Switzerland and Poland to the Greek capital of Athens as it prepared to host the 2004 Summer Olympics. What followed over the next 10 days can only be described as a near perfect vacation.
Athens was to be our first stop and border of entry into Greece. I flew in to Athens having flown my trusted KLM from New Delhi via Amsterdam. One of my college friends, Jeanne, met up with me in Amsterdam and we headed together to meet the bride and groom, Brooke and Michael. It did not take long for me to fall in love with the place. The people were genuinely friendly, the air felt fresh, the food different yet scrumptious, and the city simply vibrant. It was the perfect amalgamation of old and new, history and the present, centuries old culture and modern day life. Since I am a sucker for all things antique/old you can imagine my joy at finding the ruins so marvelously preserved all around - something I hope the monuments in India were.
Our first day was spent walking around the streets of Athens and discovering the Greek way of life. I love to aimlessly wander in a new city to get a feel of the place and in doing so we ended up spending a considerable amount of time souvenir shopping (never too early to start) and café hopping in Monastiraki, a centrally located square buzzing with tourist activities, and in Plaka, the oldest section of Athens. Our second day was filled being typical tourists. Water bottles in hand and heads covered to protect us from the sun, we walked around the city hitting all the major attractions: the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Athenian Agora, the Olympian Zeus Temple, the Odeon of Herode Atticus, and the National Archaeological Museum. What is so wonderful about Greece, not just Athens, is that there is history seeping out in every nook and corner. There are ruins and stories waiting to be told at every turn.
Naxos: An approximately five hour ferry ride from Piraeus, Athens took us to our next destination, Naxos, where more friends and family joined the group. If your budget permits try and get a first class ticket on the ferry. The seats are a lot more comfortable and indoors. Naxos will always be special because this was also the first time I rode a scooter. Yes, it was a gear less one and not too manly I suppose, but nevertheless it proved to be the best form of transport for the island. The island in itself comes alive at night, especially along the port with its many bars and cafés. One of the most prominent sites in Naxos is the Portara – The Gate of the Apollo Temple. Situated near the port it is visible from around the island and was supposed to be a temple for the God Apollon. Our time in Naxos was spent riding along the island discovering the small villages and beaches. It would be unfair to single out one beach as each and every beach in Naxos was unique in its own respect and should be discovered by each traveler on its own. During the day you are likely to find most people getting baked at the beach or recovering from their hangovers, but there is a much more laid back feel to this island. Naxos is an island that is touristy, yet doesn’t fall in the same category as say Santorin or Mykonos famous for extreme partying.
Amorgos: Finally we headed towards our final destination, all together on a ferry, to Amorgos. Something I did not realize till much later was the fact that quite a bit of Luc Besson’s movie “The Big Blue”, which happens to be visually stunning and one of my favourites, was shot in Amorgos. The island is a much relaxed and peaceful place, where Greeks and the French (partly because of the movie) go for their vacations. Part of the Cyclades group of islands, Amorgos has some of the clearest blue waters I have come across in the world. The beaches range from stony to sandy, each having its own identity and charm. The most breathtaking site on the island has to be of the cliff hanging Monastery of Virgin Chozoviotissa. It is simple one of the few places in the world that I have come across that have to be seen to be appreciated. Once again hiring scooters on the island was essential as they proved to be the ideal form of transportation. Amorgos is one island that I recommend everyone visits when they plan their trip to Greece. It is an island I hope to take my family to some day.
The Food: Greek food, which was relatively new to me, literally blew my mind. Souvlaki (Pita bread with meat, salad, sauce), Spanakopita (spinach, cheese, onions in a pie form), Moussaka (meat and eggplant baked layer casserole), Dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables and/or meat), Tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber sauce), gyros, baklava (nut pastry with honey on top), Halva, Marides (small deep fried fish that can be eaten whole), Kalamarika, and Ouzo are just some of the most amazing foods and drink available that I managed to try. One of my favorites was octopus, at least until I witnessed a local catching octopi and then thrashing them on to a nearby rock to what I can only assume stun them. It reminded me of the famous Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai, India where clothes are cleaned in a somewhat similar fashion.
Overcoming the Problems: The trip was not without problems, and when I think back they just brought a certain character to the entire vacation. These were moments of discovery for me and a sign of things I could handle, but then again when there is a problem there is always a solution.
Heat Rash: Greece was where I finally discovered that I am allergic to heat, especially when in contact with sea water. Although I swam in the sea in Naxos, it wasn’t until I reached Amorgos that I was suffering from this itchy and scratchy skin reddening heat rash. Rather than suffer the darn thing I figured that I already have it now, so how bad can it get and continued to enjoy the beaches. It wasn’t until I reached Athens on our way back that I was itching no more.The Room without an AC: An important aspect of booking your hotel room (or picking one up as you are greeted at the ports by local Bed & Breakfast owners) is making sure you have air-conditioning in your room. We made the mistake of not checking and being in need of cool air (a hot room didn’t help my “heat” problems) I ended up sleeping under the stars in the balcony (the night providing a cool sea breeze) while in Amorgos.
The Special Moments:
The wedding, the reason for this wonderful journey, took place on August 8, 2004. We took a bus to the Town Hall in Chora, Amorgos where we walked through the narrow streets throwing rice on the couple with Greek musicians leading the way as people peaked out of their windows offering their blessings. Eventually, we reached a little square, with a cafe, outside the town hall where the Mayor came and gave a wonderful speech about marriage before Brooke and Michael signed the necessary papers. This was also a special moment for me as for the first (and only, so far) time I was the ring keeper and one of the two best men. It was simply a day of pure unadulterated celebrations.
This little trip of mine will always have a special place in my heart. The trip was all about just being there and sharing moments and memories with friends. It was about sitting till the wee hours of the morning playing “Truth or Truth” (too tired to do a dare) with friends, or having the father of the bride, a tarot card reader, tell my future. It was about dancing till late in the hot and humid night, not bothered about your clothes dripping with sweat, and not caring too much about anything except enjoying the present. It was about riding a scooter for the first time and enjoy eating an octopus. It was about being adventurous, exploring new places, new cultures, and discovering myself. Mostly though, it was also about making new friends and strengthening old friendships.
This experience was submitted as part of the Mahindra XUV500 http://www.mahindraxuv500.com/ competition on IndiBlogger.