Memories of Greece Amongst the Snow

Walking about through the slushy sidewalks and salt-ridden streets of Washington, DC this time of year makes me nostalgic of the time I spent in Greece a year or so ago.

For every chilled passer-by here wrapped in woolen scarves and fleeced ear muffs I think of the locals walking the inner streets in the town of Mykonos, dressed in their traditional island attire, making their way to the local baker for their loaf of bread.

For every chain restaurant franchisee I pass by from the metro station to the office, I think of the local Greek cafe’s, serving local delights, lining the edges of the islands small inner harbor, in which the colorful local fisherman’s boats bob up and down in the warm Aegean waters.

For every chunk of rippled ice I see float by in the Potomac along the shores of the Mall, I think of warm breezes blowing across our ship bow as we sailed out of the caldera cliffs of Santorini.  The white-washed towns along the caldera’s edges almost appearing like snow-capped peaks rising against a deep blue sky.

Sitting at my desk, occasionally peering out the window over the street below takes me back to walking atop the Acropolis in Athens, and being both amazed of the view and absorbing the historical background of the fortified perch I stood upon.

It’s the brisk winter days like these in Washington, DC that make my mind wander back to Greece and the amazing vistas, warm sun upon my back, and the cultural richness that is,… well,  one of my favorite places to be.

Kalispera!

In Good Company: Greece

I have just spent a wonderful week with my family in Greece. My 8-year old daughter had said she wanted to see the acropolis and so we fitted in a stop to Athens on our European tour and made her wish come true.

Thanks to ATA’s longstanding partners and dear friends, Eleni and Themis Zachariou, we enjoyed the perfect week – balanced with a fascinating visit to the acropolis in Athens followed by some relaxing days on the island of Aegina close by. I have long known that Eleni is able to impart her knowledge of ancient Greek history with pride and enthusiasm but this time it was wonderful to watch my kids learning. Eleni teaches with grace and her information is conveyed in such a way that it appeals to all ages.

Despite the heat, and it was seriously hot, the children were enthusiastic throughout the tour of the acropolis – that lasted several hours. As we hopped from one patch of shade to another, Eleni interwove the facts about the building of the Parthenon with stories of Greek gods. It was fascinating. When we arrived in the Acropolis Museum for a late lunch my daughter announced ‘ why are we watching this film, Eleni already told us all this!”

From Athens we took a ferry to Aegina, where Eleni and Themis have created a delightful family home in the hills above the port – surrounded by olive groves and pistachio trees (the staple crop of the island). The island of Aegina is hardly frequented by tourists, it is more a retreat for Athenians and is somewhat stuck in time. The port is filled with fishing boats and farmers selling their produce along the quay and lined with tavernas and small shops and stalls, many selling pistachios. Its simplicity is a great attraction.

Apart from unwinding here for a couple of days, it became apparent how the Zachariou family continually strive to create an authentic experience, catering to the individual guests every time and adapting to the season you are visiting. We were taken to the best beaches and given a tour of the Temple of Aphaia; and a pleasure for my foodie family, we were served some delicious Greek food. There is nothing that beats a perfectly ripened tomato seasoned with oregano and olive oil and served with feta cheese. We were treated to many fruits and vegetables from their garden, but we were also taken to some local tavernas that are frequented by Greek friends. It would be hard to imagine a more quintessential Greek experience than sitting on the beach savoring octopus, fried fish and ouzo as the sun went down. We enjoyed every mouthful.

The Zachariou’s skill is not only in treating you to the sights and flavours of Greece but in making you feel a part of it, however brief your stay. Even with my relatively young children we slipped into the Greek way of life (taking a long siesta during the heat of the day and eating out late). On our last night we were fighting with the locals for a table for dinner at a very popular courtyard taverna at 10:30 pm. But it was worth the wait. The garlic sauce served with the fried eggplants was divine.

Eleni also made my children feel comfortable with Greek – teaching them the Greek alphabet and basic phrases. So much so that my children refused to have the volume turned down on the Princess and the Frog DVD they were watching, even if it was in Greek. Listening to the lyrical sounds of the Greek language was all part of the experience.

In one short week my family had been treated to a very authentic introduction to Greece and they could see why I enjoy programming tours to Greece, not least because of the warmth of the Greek friends I work with. Efharisto Eleni and Themis!

Emma Impavido
Senior Program Manager

Academic Travel Abroad

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Academic Travel Abroad and The Wonders of Ancient Greece.

Kalimera!  (“good day” in Greek)

Our group and the Parthenon

I recently had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Athens and the Cycladic Islands as a representative for Academic Travel Abroad with travelers from the Association of Yale Alumni and Smithsonian Journeys.  If you’ve never been to Greece or the picturesque Cycladic Islands, this is the trip to take!  We were accompanied by Eleni Zachariou, our Greek historian and local expert who added real value and distinct character to all the sights by giving us the historical background at each location.

Our tour started in Athens, where we visited the sights of the acclaimed Acropolis with the majestic Parthenon and Erechtheum temples and enjoyed a lecture by Elani which told the story of this location’s turbulent history through Greek, Persian and Mycenaean influences.  We then proceeded to the famous Greek Agora site where we were introduced to the extravagant complex that was once a thriving Greek marketplace where trade, entertainment and politics were daily cultural activities.

Chapel on Santorini

A picturesque chapel on Santorini

We were also treated to some excellent traditionally local meals throughout the small back streets of Athens while enjoying some time to shop and see more elusive sites along the way.  This was a chance to feel the very tangible energy that Athens has.  It was amazing.

On the third day, we drove to the port of Piraeus where we boarded our ship, the S.V. Panorama and set sail for the much-anticipated Cycladic Islands. 

Delos, the birthplace of Apollo, was an amazing landscape of ruins from 2000 -1500 B.C.  Mykonos was an island of quaint villages and amazing vistas of the Aegean Sea with tiny streets filled with friendly locals and enticing shops.  Naxos, the largest of the Cylcades islands, was covered in breath-taking views of mountainous landscapes and we had a unique opportunity to visit one of Elani’s friends who has refurbished a beautiful historical home on the hillside looking down over the island’s harbor.  Santorini is simply amazing.  An ancient volcanic caldera forms a partial ring of islands on which three beautiful towns line the cliff-tops and offer a photographers dream for finding that dramatic shot.  We rode the mules up the caldera’s rim and enjoyed a day of sites and shopping while basking in the warm Greek sunlight.

Our ship - the S.V. Panorama

The glories of modern and ancient Greece were  truly magnificent.  Between our boat staff, Elani Zacharriou – our tour expert and Marty Gane – our tour manager, we were professionally immersed into a culture and civilization that astounded us all.  The memories, experiences and friendships we all came away with from this tour will be something we will keep with us for a lifetime.

To see my slideshow from this tour, CLICK HERE.

Steve Muth
Creative Manager
Academic Travel Abroad 

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It just doesn’t get any better than this.

MaryBeth Mullen, Deputy Director of Smithsonian Journeys, took her son Jack on the Smithsonian’s Family Odyssey Through Greece trip earlier this month. She shares her impressions and experiences. To read about future trips in Greece aboard the Pantheon, please see: http://www.smithsonianjourneys.org/tours/ancientgreece2009/.

If you are interested in learning more about this family voyage and others, email MaryBeth at mullenmb@si.edu.

I just returned from Smithsonian Journey’s Family Odyssey in Greece, our family cruise in the Greek Islands! Our group of 19 parents and children enjoyed calm seas and warm weather on this incredible learning vacation. We began in Athens, and then boarded the Pantheon, our private yacht, for seven days of sailing in the Aegean. Following are highlights of our journey.

Exceptional Educational Travel: Our study leader, Eleni Zachariou, was a master. She is so well versed in ancient history that the stories just flowed and we were enchanted. Our youth leader, Eleni Premeti, captured the children’s imagination immediately. She told them stories about the ancient Greeks on Delos, led them on a charge of the fortress at Mycenae, home to Agamemnon’s Palace, and engaged them in the ancient work of Aristophanes through a short reenactment of his play, The Birds.

The Ship and Crew of the Pantheon: The ship was fabulous! Sparkling, clean, and relaxed. The Captain was very eager to raise the sails and allow us to swim off the ship, which was enormously popular with the children (there were safety precautions in place with one crew member in the zodiac watching the kids, and two other crew member in the water with the kids). We used tenders at several ports, which worked well with this group. Our hotel manager also played photographer. He took photos of the kids swimming off the boat, and photos of our passengers enjoying the views. We all enjoyed our “down time” on board this comfortable ship. There was some star gazing at night and it was amazing; kids also got a tour of the ship from the captain, he taught them how to tie a true nautical knot.

Shore Excursions: Our island shore excursions were well paced and meticulously timed. The sequence of visits worked well. In Delos, Eleni presented a content rich history on ancient Greek history. Our Naxos day was truly rich with several private home visits. Mykonos and Santorini included cultural tours, complemented by beach and swim opportunities. Upon arrival to Milos, the captain found a private beach for us to tender to where we enjoyed a swim. At Nafplion, we toured some of the most dramatic sites, the ancient theater and temples, followed by the play, the Birds, starring the kids! We all sat down on the large stones that were in a circle, then watched the children come out slowly in their costumes of wings and beaks and headdresses. They all had a role, and they performed beautifully. The final island visit to Aegina included stops at several temples and a very personal and welcoming lunch at Eleni Z.’s home. We all enjoyed a wonderful lunch and sweeping views of the surrounding olive groves. Eleni P. staged a treasure hunt for the kids by providing key words and descriptions of things learned on the trip while they ran all over the house and property to find the treasures.

LINKS:

Visit Smithsonian Journeys Website

Visit Academic Travel Abroad’s Website

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