I’ve been thinking about Greece a lot lately. Perhaps because I’m so close. Perhaps because somehow yesterday in Berlin I ended up hanging out with a bunch of Greeks and then I went to an excellent Greek restaurant where the owners were relentless with their ouzo pouring. It’s been over a year and I still miss the peculiar cadence of Greek language and the smell of the sea. (Especially the smell of the sea – I should probably get myself to the Baltic Sea soon.)
Before my year is up in Europe I’d like to get back to the Balkans for two-three months of travelling, including hitting up some of the islands I missed. Greece seems like a small country on the map, but its size is overwhelming. I spend three months there, and still feel like I barely scratched the surface.
Most people pass up the Mainland for the idyllic islands. Can’t say I blame them; the FOMO is real. But like all touristy destinations, often some of the best experiences aren’t where you’d expect to find them. Like the Greek Mainland.
This part of Greece has seen its fair share of insane history over the past thousands of years. It’s where most of the Ancient Greece’s warfare took place, after all. And it’s hella beautiful.
If you’re making your way up through the Balkans via Athens (or to Athens via the Balkans), consider making some Mainland Greece stops on your journey.
Alright, well this is an obvious one. Most people coming through Greece will at least spend a little time in Athens…but not MUCH time. I urge you to reconsider. There’s an Athens-shaped hole in my heart that Berlin’s been occupying in the meantime. Gritty, real, fun, graffiti-laden cities are my fave. And Athens is no exception…and of course there’s that whole Acropolis thing.
I won’t get into the details (as it’d take years), so here’s a blog post I wrote about why I love Athens so much.
CAPE SOUNION AND THE TEMPLE OF POSEIDON
Just beyond Athens are some of the best beaches I found the entire time I was in Greece. But even more impressive is the Temple of Poseidon, sitting on Cape Sounion. Its construction began in 444 BC, and catching a sunset here is easily one of the best things you’ll do in Greece. No matter how many people are around, a hush will fall over the area and you won’t be able to tear your eyes from the sunbeams shooting through ancient columns. You might cry. I did; can’t help it.
Back in the ancient world, sailors coming home from a long hiatus at sea would have seen the temple as a welcomed homecoming symbol. It’s so poetic it hurts.
Yep, you can ski in Greece. Not that I did or anything – I’m a bad Canadian. I merely breezed through the area, but it’s stunning anyway. Mount Parnassus is a limestone mountain looming over Delphi. There are two ski centres here: the Parnassus Ski Centre and the smaller Gerontovrahos centre. But even if you’re here in the summer, the views are worth it.
Olympia is where the first ever Olympic Games were held in classical times. It was held every four years, from 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Located on the Peloponnese Peninsula, you can visit here to see all the ancient ruins, including the Temple of Hera, the Gymnasion, Greek Baths, the Stadium, and so much more.
Meteora’s pretty famous. It’s home to those antiquated monasteries perched atop limestone pillars, looking for all the world like they might collapse at any moment. There are several different monasteries for you to visit, and really, none of them are disappointing. The drive to the top is exhilarating itself; keep an eye out for rock climbers making their way up those wind-beaten pillars or standing atop them like majestic rock climbing gods.
Going inside the monasteries are a test of patience. Being with a guide is a nice experience, as they’ll point out all the interesting things you might overlook, like the insanely terrifying baskets used back in the day to hoist goods and monks thousands of feet into the air to reach the monasteries. There’s also a crypt where you’ll get to see skulls and stuff, which yeah, is pretty creepy.
But the test of patience comes when dealing with other tourists. Man, it’s hard. Not only do you find people obstructing every bend in the road for pouty-lipped selfies, you also have to deal with blatant disrespect as tourists strike mocking poses next to sacred statues, etc. I wanted to poke some eyes out, believe me.
THE ORACLE AT DELPHI
I remember sitting under the shade of an olive tree at the Oracle at Delphi, listening to a historian recount the history behind the area. Delphi was an important trade city – a modern day multicultural hub where people came to do business and mingle in the process. Many believed it was the centre of the world.
People came from all over to hear their questions about the future answered by Pythia (who in all likelihood inhaled a lot of fumes and spoke gibberish). But this was a widely respected and spiritual place, and like all spiritual places, there’s a certain vibe here that’s instantly enveloping. Like a big warm hug from the ancient Greeks.
There are many ruins here, including a beautiful theatre, a temple to Delphi, and a stadium where the Pythian Games were held. Delphi is also settled into Mount Parnassus.
No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to spell that name on first shot. Or pronounce it, for that matter.
I didn’t know anything about Ioannina before rolling into the town on my Med Experience trip. It’s an incredibly cool city, and I wish I had spent more time there. Being a big university town, you get that whole upbeat, not-yet-defeated-by-the-world vibe from the students. There’s a Byzantine castle built in 528 AD, and plenty of cafes and bars. But the true masterpiece is the Lake Pamvotida, around which the town centres. It’s seriously a stunning lake, and its surface is usually without a ripple. You can take boat trips out onto the lake and get lost in all the beauties poked around the hillsides.
Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece. It’s been a huge commercial, business, and transportation hub in northern Greece for centuries, and is hands down one of the best secrets that Greece has to offer. It also has a large student population.
All you have to do is walk around Aristotle Square or along the Beach Promenade to fall in love. The White Tower is a popular centrepiece.
Anything to add? Let me know in the comments below.