Tag Archives: Architecture

Travel Guide: Athens and Delphi

Don’t spend much time in Athens, they said. There’s not much to see there, they said.

But I loved Athens and wish we’d been able to stay longer! Then again, I studied history in university and taught history until last year so I’m a little bit biased. We were also in Athens in October when it was far emptier of people than it would be during high tourist season. The temperature was also quite cool, which was nice coming from Singapore.

Upon arriving from Santorini late in the afternoon, we headed straight for the Acropolis. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sun cast long shadows on the stone. We entered the Acropolis at 4:15pm and were escorted out when it closed at 6. That’s the one downside to traveling in the offseason – limited hours for many sites and museums. But nearly two hours was enough time, especially because of how empty it was! Many of our photos had no other people in them!

We were already excited on our way up . . .

and then we just stood at stared at Parthenon and ruins around it.

The Erechtheion is really interesting because the statues are copies (the originals are in the museum) in the condition of the excavated originals. so I didn’t actually know until visiting the museum later.

I was also excited to see the Temple of Athena Nike because I remembered studying it in art history in university.

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The view from the highest point in Athens (the literal translation of Acropolis is “high city”) was incredible, too.

And we had to sit in the stadium before we left!

Then we visited the Acropolis Museum, home of most of the original statues and artifacts. The floor is glass so we could see the site excavation, which was really neat.

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The coolest part of the museum was the top floor, lined with three walls of windows looking out to the Acropolis, housing the original sculptures and frieze from the Parthenon laid out in the dimensions of the actual building.

In terms of its vibe, Athens feels a bit gritty and rough around the edges, like its residents have something to say that only they can understand. And there are amazing views of the Acropolis all around the city.

There are cool hidden gems that I wish we’d had more time to explore and pretty awesome graffiti that seemed a bit more like vandalism than street art.

Athens has a number of neighborhoods full of restaurants and cafés, which is another reason to come back. We saw a few areas that looked really interesting from the windows of our bus ride to Delphi (more below) but spent our evenings in Plaka where we were staying. There was plenty of deliciousness there, including the best ice cream I’ve ever had, so next time I’ll have to see what’s elsewhere, too. And I haven’t had ice cream since.

We were staying basically across the street from Hadrian’s Arch . . .

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. . . which is located right next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Unfortunately, we could only peek through the gates because closing time in the offseason is earlier than was we read online.

The morning of our only full day in Athens, we took a free walking tour with an incredibly knowledgeable guide who literally walked us through the history of Greece from ancient through modern times. (I even made an account on TripAdvisor to write Michael a review when he said that’s how the company determines who gets tours.) It was very cold that day so we looked for sunny spots to stand in at each place we stopped.

We visited Hadrian’s Library . . .

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. . . Monastiraki Square and flea market . . .

. . . and the Roman Agora.

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For lunch, Michael recommended Bairaktaris Taverna in Monastiraki. It was great and definitely the most local of our meals. And what an experience! The restaurant was large and crowded with tables covered in green-and-white checked cloths. There were large framed photos on the walls and beams leading up to the ceiling of people enjoying their food. At least two walls contained a wide variety of Christian art and the kitchen itself seemed to exist on one long counter at the back where we were sitting and another counter towards the front that may have also been operating a takeaway window. There were tables outside, as well. And to top it off, a three-man band was playing Greek folk songs and a very elderly man, possibly the owner, clapped along every so often. The place has been around since 1879 and it felt like we’d walked into a large family party.

I made the mistake of smiling twice at a line cook, once when I heard him singing and once when I saw him turn a mixing bowl into a drum, and after our gruff yet warm server brought us dessert and mastika on the house, he sent over a plate of lamb kebabs. Adorable, but I’m a vegetarian. (And I instantly had visions of having to break that to him on our third date.) What a country.

After our tour, we continued to follow Michael’s recommendations and went back to visit the Ancient Agora. We started in the museum, which had some interesting artifacts from the site and then walked around. It is really so cool to wander through something so old.

The reason we only spent one full day in Athens was because we wanted to visit Delphi, which was a wonderful day trip. Along the three-hour drive through Mount Parnassus and its environs, our tour guide, Effie, told us in English and French about the city of Athens, pointed out geographic areas of interest, and talked about the lifestyle in the small towns we passed.

When we arrived in Delphi, Effie provided a fascinating history of the oracle and Ancient Greek politics and explained architectural and archaeological features, as well as changes to the site over time.

Effie took us through the Delphi Archaeological Museum, as well. While I could have spent more time there it was good to learn from someone with deeper knowledge than what was written on wall placards.

We stopped for a late lunch at a taverna with beautiful views of the mountains . . .

. . . and then spent a few minutes in the ski town (yes, the only one in Greece) of Arachova.

Then next morning, before we were ready, it was time to go. And we agreed that we’d have to come back.

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Travel Guide: Santorini

One of the perks of being an international educator is the time and opportunity to travel. This October break, we scooted off to Greece! (Literally – Scoot is the name of the budget airline that provided an eleven-and-a-half-hour direct flight with food, water, blankets, or entertainment not provided but available to purchase. But it got us to and from Greece for under SGD550, so I’m not complaining.) Upon landing in Athens, my girlfriends and I switched terminals and then boarded our 45-minute flight to Santorini. (Olympic Air is a budget airline so we got those little cleansing towelettes and two snacks – Greek hospitality is just so lovely.) We were staying in Oia,  the town you probably picture of when you hear “Greece”. It is simply stunning.

Oia is pretty at night, too . . .

. . . and it has a fantastic bookstore, Atlantis Books, which we visited and purchased from twice. The exterior should give you a hint at the wonder of the interior. Books in all languages stacked floor to ceiling, hidden behind the staircase, and available to borrow and trade on the upstairs patio. Small signs and notes with suggestions from the bookstore employees. Just the best.

Watching the sunset is a popular activity in Oia, and considering how crowded the western part of town grew in October, I can’t even imagine how it would be during peak tourist season. It was cloudy every night, though only once during the day, so many of our fellow viewers were disappointed but I thought the clouds made for some really beautiful pictures. And just being there with good friends was easily the best part.

We took a few adventures from our first base in Oia. On our first full day, we spent five hours on a very fancy catamaran with a delightful crew, unlimited beverages, and delicious lunch. The weather was bright and sunny but slightly chilly so they even made us coffee!

We stopped at the hot springs, where I actually got into the very chilly water . . .

. . . the Red Beach . . .

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. . . and the White Beach. Snorkeling was an option but it was cold! And I was perfectly happy to bask in the sunshine and chat with the crew. I miss being on boats.

The next day, we walked down the steps of Oia, from the top of the volcano to the water, to check out the seafood restaurants at Ammoudi Bay and go on our next adventure. I’m a vegetarian but one of my friends was really excited about the sun-drying octopus and booked us a seat for dinner at a restaurant that turned out to be delicious.

We waited at Ammoudi Bay for a ferry to take us across to Thirasia, another of Santorini’s islands. My brother recommended that we go and it was really cool to be able to share travel experiences and advice with him. He told us to walk up all the stairs . . .

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. . . and eat at the restaurant at the top where an elderly man greeted us, singing and grilling fresh fish. So we did!

And then we wandered around town, which was eerily empty. It felt like a combination of an abandoned film set and a ghost town. In addition to the people running the restaurant, we saw three construction workers, one elderly woman, and another woman running the town’s only other restaurant (it was actually called Different Restaurant because it’s obviously not the one, but the different one). My pictures are a little weird and grainy, which accurately reflects the strangeness of the town but is actually because I mistakenly used the wrong setting.

The part of the town near the water was more like a boardwalk of restaurants and again, this was low tourist season. Empty.

Our last full day in Oia was probably my favorite day of the whole trip and that’s because it was the greatest adventure. It’s pretty common for travelers to hike the path between Fira, Santorini’s largest city on the eat side of the island, to Oia on the west. We’d read that the path is mostly downhill, not terribly strenuous, and difficult to lose. Great!

But not so when you go the other way! Of course, we learned this hiking the other way, from Oia to Fira, and it was challenging in parts, a little scary when we found ourselves on the side of a cliff in gusts of wind, and a little more scary when someone we couldn’t see started hunting birds. But we made it!

We left Oia at 7am, which is before the sun rises and before anything is open. It was so cool seeing the streets dark and empty, lit by streetlights.

There were some signs along the 10.5km route . . .

. . . but also a critical point that was difficult to navigate coming from Oia. Turns out we did have to go behind the desalination plant on the edge of the cliff. Found that out after realizing we were on a road curving the wrong way and had to hike up a hill behind a hotel to reorient ourselves. And then, under a menacing sky and loud gusts of wind, we traversed the beautiful, sometimes desolate wilderness that is the edge of the caldera.

No matter how tiny or empty the landscape, though, Greece has many churches . ..

. . . and their frequency increased as the hike became more urban. . . .

At times, the hike took us through resorts and villas, which was a little strange, but it was also comforting to see people. After a stop for breakfast and about four hours, we were delighted when we finally reached Fira!

Once in Fira, we found a taxi to take us a little further to Santorini Brewing Company, the only brewery in Santorini. They brew five beers and offer free tastings of three, which we enjoyed very much. And because I wanted to be able to say I’d had all of them, we bought bottles of the remaining two and sat outside the brewery (because it doesn’t have a liquor license) to drink them.

Afterwards, hungry from our hike and having made the acquaintance of the adorable kid on staff at the brewery, we asked for recommendations for lunch. He suggested Artemis Karamolegos Winery, a 5-minute walk down the road. The winery is beautiful, staff delightful, and food absolutely excellent. Best meal I’ve had in recent memory and the most full I’ve been in recent memory. And then they turned up with desserts and a digestif, which happened throughout our time in Greece. Truly an amazing country with wonderful people.

Finally, we decided it was time to return to Oia. Hiking the four hours back would have lost me two friends so we took the local bus first into Fira and then onto Oia. Forty minutes and keeping my friendships instead of four hours and losing them seemed worth it.

All in all, we loved our time in Santorini (and in Athens and Delphi). The people were wonderful, the food superb, and the wine plentiful. And it’s just gorgeous.

Travel Guide: San Francisco

This trip to San Francisco was my second time in California and, like the first time, I left wondering why we all don’t live in California. (“Cost of living” likely answers this question for many.)

I landed at SFO Wednesday night and, marvelling all the while at the difference in weather between San Francisco and Singapore, spent most of Thursday just walking around the city to vanquish the jet lag (a failed pursuit) and enjoy time outside in non-humid air. I headed first to the Embarcadero where I took in the sights of the city from one of the many docks. I love water and was happy to be so often in sight of it.

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The Ferry Building was only a short walk away and I enjoyed the indoor upscale food and merchandise stalls . . .

. . . as well as the outdoor farmers’ market. . . .

Jet lag from Singapore had made it a very early day, so it was only late morning when I began my walk along the Embarcadero. I stopped at Pier 39 to admire the boats . . .

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. . . take in the carnival-like atmosphere complete with boardwalk sweets and treats . . .

. . . and get an unexpected peek at some lounging sea lions!

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From there, I was pretty close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit that much of the hype and excitement were lost on me because I don’t eat seafood, but I enjoyed looking around and watching people enjoy themselves.

From there I walked to Ghirardelli Square, which I revisited the next day to sample the beer at San Francisco Brewing Company. We have a few microbreweries in Singapore but it’s nothing like what’s in the US.

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After that, I decided it would be fun to walk up a whole lot of hills to Lombard Street. I can’t say the walk itself was what one typically thinks of as fun, but we don’t really have hills in Singapore and the views were well worth it.

Later that afternoon, I went to Alamo Square to see the famous painted ladies. I was very tired and very jet lagged by that point but again, pretty views!

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A very old friend from high school flew up from Long Beach to hang out with me for the rest of the weekend and really I could have been anywhere in the world. Catching up and hanging out was the highlight of my San Francisco experience, but we did some cool things on the side. We started our adventure Friday morning with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I was really excited about. It was so windy up there but the expanse of blue sky was extraordinary.

After walking back along the bridge, we followed the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I really love all the flowers in California because they’re different from anything I’m used to seeing. I also really love long walks without sweating!

The beach path took us to the Palace of Fine Arts, which neither of us had known existed. There were young women and their families taking quinceañera pictures and it was easy to see why. The Palace of Fine Arts, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, seemed a strange architectural choice for northern California but is really beautiful.

We decided we’d done enough walking for one day and saved the rest of our energy to celebrate San Francisco Pride in the Castro, San Francisco’s historic gay neighborhood and therefore the perfect place to be! It also had some great street art, which I love.

We returned to the Castro the next day to check out the festivities in Dolores Park . . .

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. . . and join another old friend and his new girlfriend for brunch! They drove up from Palo Alto to hang out with us, which was really special. The longer I’m away from home, the more I appreciate when people make the effort to spend time with me. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with some of my friend’s relatives and their adorable dogs. Naturally, we walked them to Kite Hill, a beautiful park with sweeping views of the city. It was very windy up there, too!

After a couple very busy days and much jet lag, we decided it was time to relax. The Palo Alto friends headed home and my Long Beach friend and I stopped at a couple more Castro spots to continue our celebration of SF Pride. He left before the parade the next morning and though the parade was great fun, I couldn’t see over anyone’s heads enough to take a decent picture.

Insert time warp here!

After a week in Berkeley (more on that in my next post) for the conference that prompted the trip to San Francisco in the first place, I spent a final afternoon with a new friend in the Haight-Ashbury district, made famous by the 1967 Summer of Love.

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The whole area was an interesting mix of hippie counterculture and gentrified boutiques, which seems to embody the feel of much of San Francisco. My favorite part was the street art . . . and how it extended to cars and houses!

When I first told my principal that I was going to northern California, he told me I wouldn’t want to leave. He wasn’t wrong, but I was also very excited to go home to Rochester to visit my family. That’s where I am now and it’s taken two days to write this post because I keep getting distracted by the laughter and activities of the people around me. I am so lucky to have them! When I get a quiet moment, I’ll share the photos of my rural and urban hikes around Berkeley.

Delicious food, good friends, and diverse neighborhoods to explore – thanks, San Francisco!