April Was All About Greece

During the month of April I spent lots of time in Greece. Randy went back to the States for a couple of weeks to get our taxes in order and to connect with Josh, our home, the fire department and his woodworking shop. While he was gone I took another bus trip with friends from school. This was a two day trip in early April to Thessaloniki and Meteora. There was not nearly as much time spent on the bus as there was when we went to Sarajevo. Thank goodness!

When we arrived in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, the first place we visited was the White Tower which is the symbol of the city. As you can see we climbed to the top of the tower. The White Tower was built as a fortification in the 12th century and was later used as a prison and a scene of mass executions during Ottoman rule. Ugh!

 

 

This is called the Arch of Galerius and was built in the 4th century. It is engraved with scenes of victory (not sure what that means exactly).

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We came across this shop as we walked around Thessaloniki. Does that mean pot is legal in Greece?

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The flowers were in full bloom while we were in the city and absolutely gorgeous. These flowers were outside of a house of worship built by the Romans in the 3rd century.

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Can you see from this picture that I am wearing my backpack wrong side out? The zippered part is against my back. This is how I wear my backpack whenever I am in a big city. Sometimes I wear it in the front too but that seems awkward. While I was in Thessaloniki, someone attempted to get into by backpack but they were unsuccessful. Thank you, God!

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This is our tour guide, Clevis. Dana wanted to have this picture taken to show how tall Clevis is and how short she is. Notice that she is even standing on her tippy toes. Clevis is Greek but lives in Albania. It was wonderful to have an English speaking guide for this tour. Clevis speaks Albanian, Greek, English and French fluently. He has just completed his Master’s Degree in archeology and is giving these tours on the weekends to bring in extra money until he figures out exactly where he wants to live and start his career. He already knows he will not be living in Albania because there are no job opportunities. Very sad! Many, many young Albanians are leaving the country because there are such limited job opportunities here.

 

 

After we left Thessaloniki, we drove about an hour south and spent the night in a hotel located in a small beach/fishing town. Here we have stopped at the Aegean Sea to watch some of the fishing boats come and go. Can you tell how crystal clear the water is in the lower right hand picture?

On my run the following morning I came across this gorgeous church. Running along the beach is always a treat!

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Look what is ahead as we drive down the highway! We are full of anticipation as we approach Meteora which is  located in central Greece.

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Wow, wow, wow!

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There were originally 24 monasteries in Meteora built during the 14th century as a way for the monks to protect themselves from the ongoing raids by the Turks. Now there are six monasteries, four of them are for monks and the other two are for nuns. Each monastery still has between 3 and 10 monks or nuns that live in them. All the monasteries are part of the Greek Orthodox Church. Originally the only way to access the monasteries was through a series of ladders that were lashed together or by a net that was lowered to bring supplies or people up. In the 1920’s stairs were carved into the side of the mountains to make it easier to reach the top. If you look carefully at the picture above (or perhaps zoom in) you will see a monk dressed in black standing on the balcony. It is not usual to see one of the monks or nuns so we were fortunate to have a sighting.

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We only had time to go in one of the monasteries, the Monastery of the Transfiguration (the Great Meteora). Our friend, Joe is pointing out that no pantaloons are admitted. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you did arrive at at the monastery with shorts on, they had skirts you could borrow.

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The steps going up to the monastery.

Inside the monastery.

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The view from the top of the monastery.

 

Views of another one of the monasteries, the Monastery of Varlaam.

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A group picture of the teachers from ACT who were on the trip. Meteora is one of only a few places in Europe that I have felt like I really want to return to someday. I would love to visit some of the other monasteries and do some of the hikes in the area.

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On the bus ride back to Tirana from Meteora we were stopped by the police two times. Also when we crossed the Greek-Albanian border there seemed to be more scrutiny than at other borders. When I presented my American passport to the Greek authorities I was immediately sent through without a problem. When an Albanian presented their passport, it took much longer and they were frequently asked many questions. It became obvious that the Greeks don’t care for or trust the Albanians. We found the same thing to be true in Athens and Santorini. When we were in Italy and Austria we did not notice the anti-Albania feelings that were evident in Greece.

The third week of April our friends, Laurie and Andrew Saunders arrived from the States for a 12 day visit. We have been friends with Laurie and Andrew for more than 35 years. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ We met them when we lived in Springfield, Missouri and Laurie and I were pregnant at the same time. They are definitely lifelong friends! We spent the first three days that they were here showing them Tirana and Kruje.

Our next stop was a flight to Athens where we stayed for 4 nights.

The day and night view from the balcony of our Airbnb apartment. We loved it!

 

Stepping out on the apartment balcony and looking down there was a red tent which was where we ate several meals while in Athens. The picture on the right shows some of the many, many police officers that patrolled the city.

On our first full day in Athens we took a walking tour of the Acropolis with Katrina, a guide through Airbnb Experieinces.

Socrates was imprisioned in these caves but continued to teach. He later was poisoned and died here.

The lovely 16th century Church of Ayios Demetrios.

Cats, cats, cats! Athens is full of cats!

The tomb of the unknown soldier outside of the Parliament Building. We were there during the changing of the guards.

Laurie and I took a cooking class at the Greek Kitchen and loved it! There were about 10 people in our class. We started off by going to the meat market, cheese shop, bakery, fruit and vegetable stand, etc. We then prepared the food with the help of the instructor and finally we enjoyed eating what we had prepared. Delicious!

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We are on our way to the National Archeological Museum. Laurie and I smiled when seeing our guys looking so similar from the back. ๐Ÿ™‚

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I am not a huge museum person but I did throughly enjoy seeing the Greek artifacts dating back 3,000 years ago.

Rick Steves has a free app that can be downloaded and then you can listen to a variety of  audio tours. The audio tour for the Archeological Museum was excellent!

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This was my favorite piece of artwork in the museum. It is titled “Bronze Statue of Horse and Jockey” and is from 140 B.C. The Greeks loved their horse races. This statue may have celebrated a victory at the Olympics. The boy has the features of a non-Greek and is probably a mixed race Ethopian. Can you see the spurs tied onto his bare feet?

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Athens has an up-to-date Metro system that is inexpensive, easy to use and efficient. Unfortunately one day it was extremely crowded on the Metro and we had some money stolen. When Randy and Andrew got off the Metro they both realized that a total of 250 euros was missing from their wallets. Randy had 3 fifty euro bills in his wallet. Someone reached in his pocket without removing his wallet and removed the cash. Frustrating and depressing!!!

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On our last full day in Athens we climbed to the top of Acropolis Hill. Here we are by the Parthenon which was finished being built in 438 BC after less than 10 years of construction. It was originally built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Over time it has served as a Christian Church, a Mosque but is now simply an archeological site.

More views from the Acropolis…

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Randy and I really enjoyed the Acropolis Museum. The most powerful part of the museum for me was learning about how many pieces of Greek art were taken (or stolen) by other countries and these countries STILL have them today and do not plan on returning them to Greece anytime soon. One example was a British ambassador named Thomas Elgin who in the early 1800’s decided to remove pieces of the Parthenon and have them shipped to London. They are still held in the British Museum. It amazes me that a country can take another countries artifacts and simply keep them as their own. It does not seem right.

This huge rock marks the spot where the apostle Paul spoke. The picture above gives the verbiage of his speech (in Greek) along with the date in the corner. The content of the speech he gave is recounted in Acts 17:16-34 and is about Saint Paul’s missionary career.

Athens is covered with graffiti which is problem that the Athenians are well aware of and working to eliminate.

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Dinner under the Acropolis.

The Greek Orthodox Holy Friday tradition is for a cross (with lit candles on it), followed by an empty coffin, followed by a priest and a group of three young children dressed in gold capes to parade down the street. There is a small group of people singing during the procession. Literally hundreds of individuals follow with their own candles. The procession ends at the church where some prayers are said. Laurie and I decided to join the procession. The whole experience was so interesting and powerful.

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Our next stop in Greece was Santorini. It was a five hour ferry ride from Athens to Santorini. We found the ferry to be an enjoyable and relaxing way to travel.

The ferry is arriving in Santorini. The ship holds 1,000 passengers and 200 cars.

 

Dinner and a gorgeous sunset on our first night in Santorini. The small spoon is because Randy asked to have only a small bite of the dessert I ordered so the server presented him with a small spoon for his small bite. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

This was one of my favorite activities in Greece. Randy and I took a 10 km hike from Fira to Oia on Santorini island. If you kept walking the whole time the hike should have taken a little over two hours. It took us four hours to complete because we kept stopping to admire all the gorgeous views along the way. Also every once in awhile we came across a charming Greek Orthodox church painted in the traditional blue and white. Santorini has fairly arid climate but for whatever reason this year they had a very wet spring which meant that there were lots and lots of wildflowers along our hiking trail. Soooo beautiful!

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Yay, we have finished our hike and arrived in Oia, gorgeous!

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Oia is a beautiful small town that is almost overrun with tourists for seven months of the year. Many, many of the tourists come off of cruise ships and visit the island for a short time. I think the sign above is a reaction to all the tourists.

 

We climbed down, down, down these 200 plus steps to get to our dinner by the sea.

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Still walking down…

 

Dinner this close to the Aegean Sea was a treat and well worth the walk down.

Flowers of Santorini…

 

We stayed at a place called iSuites that had a total of 4 two bedroom villas. It was a bit further from Fira than we had anticipated but it was a quiet, calm setting, very nice! The weather was really too cold to swim but I had to at least spend a short time in the pool.

 

On our last full day in Santorini we went on a food and walking tour of Fira with a host named Aristotle. We found him through Airbnb Experiences. It was a bit more expensive tour but well worth it. He took us to many out-of-the-way restaurants and spots with beautiful views. We had Greek coffee, Greek wine, Greek beer, souvlaki, moussaka and other treats. Yum! Another fun part of the tour was that we went with two other couples from the Toronto area. It was enjoyable getting to know them.

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Beautiful views around Santorini.

The stunning Catholic Cathedral…

The doors of Greece…

The five islands of Santorini on a map and shown creatively through art.

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Good friends!

We had not anticipated renting a car but then we found out how limited the public transportation is on the island. In addition there were a few very expensive taxis. We ended up renting this little red convertible Fiat that Randy said was a pain to drive but as a passenger, it sure was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Our last night provided us with this gorgeous sunset. Loved, loved, loved it!

If you are still reading this very long post, then you deserve a medal. Thanks for your interest in our travels while living in Albania.

This month we are looking forward to my brother and sister-in law, Tom and Anita, coming to visit. Then at the end of the month our younger son, Josh comes to visit. Yay!! Can’t wait to share Albania with them!

19 thoughts on “April Was All About Greece

    1. Olivia, thanks for reading my blog. I remember reading your blog when you were in Australia. We cannot wait to attend your wedding in July!!! I am sure you are well organized and ready for your big day! Looking forward to your parents visit next week. Yay!! xo

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  1. Totally enthralled with this post from Greece. We have been to Santorini and Athens and this brought back so many memories.. Wondering how long you and Randy are staying in Albania. Are you there in 2020? May have to come check it out.

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    1. Hi Holly, Glad you enjoyed my post about Greece. Randy and I will be in Albania until July, 2020 when we will then return to the States so I can resume my teaching career in Fairport. Yes, you should definitely plan on coming to visit. xo

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  2. As always, your pictures are gorgeous, especially the ones of Santorini. My association with that place is through Yanni’s music. He wrote a piece of music about Santorini and in concert he talks about how beautiful it is. Now I can appreciate that! Thank you so much for sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. So glad you liked the Greek Orthodox pictures! I remembered that you grew up Orthodox but I could not remember if it was Greek or Russian. Another interesting point that we learned about the church while we were in Athens was that many, many Greek Orthodox people eat no meat, milk or cheese for 50 days before Easter. I know in the States the number of days is usually 40 plus many churches in the U.S. eat only fish on Fridays but then maintain a regular diet for the rest of the week. Also, in Athens, the church bells rang frequently throughout the day on Good Friday (they call it Holy Friday) plus you could see many people coming to and from the many churches all day long. Many businesses and public monuments had reduced hours or were closed on Good Friday. Overall, our impression was that the Greeks practice their religion (at least on Good Friday) more than we do in the States. That is probably more info than you wanted or needed but since I found it all so interesting I thought I would pass it along. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Hope you and your family are doing well!

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  3. Sarahโ€ฆ.how long are you and Randy going to be in Albania? In 2020? I am planning on going to Morocco next March and would love to swing by and see you guys if still there. NO Fred. He is done with this kind of traveling. I just love the places that you are seeing with all the old stone and history. You seem to be getting to the heart of the Old County which is what I enjoy most. You must be loving every minute of your time there and hoping that you get down to S.A. to see Elizabeth and Ben and all the little people. Claire and Matt just closed on a house in Rye, NY yesterday so that will be my new place to visit. Fred and I are heading there in June to see Margot AGAINโ€ฆ..They were all her for a week at Easter. Very special. Love, Holly and Margot.

    >

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    1. Yes, yes, yes please come visit. It would be good to see you and share Albania with you! We were in South Africa for two weeks at Christmas time. Loved it! Glad to hear that Claire and her family are moving to NY, so much easier to visit baby Margot. xo

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  4. Hi Sarah-I’m lost–thought Randy was back at end of March. Bet you can hardly wait to visit Hilton, Clarkson, and my old town of Dale, NY ! I continue to enjoy your mailings-thanks-Jim On Thu, May 9, 2019 at 2:37 PM Teaching in Albania wrote:

    > Sarah Williams posted: “During the month of April I spent lots of time in > Greece. Randy went back to the States for a couple of weeks to get our > taxes in order and to connect with Josh, our home, the fire department and > his woodworking shop. While he was gone I took another bus ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jim, Randy spent the first two weeks in NY so he did not go with me to Thessaloniki and Meteora but he came back to Albania in time to go to Athens and Santorini. Thanks for reading my blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

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