Category Archives: Travel

See Sister at The Rose of Tralee

Last week, I had the pleasure of taking a little trip to County Kerry, Ireland. The idea for the holiday was floated by my friends, Brendan and Beck. Brendan is from Cork and has visited Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula (where we stayed) several times before. In asking a bunch of us if we’d like to go, he mentioned that the trip would coincide with the Rose of Tralee International Festival.

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I can almost see your blank faces and hear the inevitable question: “What on earth is the Rose of Tralee International Festival??”

I’m so glad you asked! In the simplest terms, it’s a strange amateur-ish pseudo beauty pageant competition thing which takes place every August in the small Irish town of Tralee. In truth, there’s really no simple way to explain this event, but I’m gonna give it my best shot in this post. Because while Brendan was definitely joking about the draw of the Rose of Tralee, Louise considered it the best reason for going on the trip. She eagerly waited for tickets to be released and snapped up a handful as soon as she could.

So last Monday, the four of us found ourselves sitting in the “Dome” – a temporary marquee that is decidedly not dome-like in the least – in the midst of a crowd of intense Rose fans, waiting for the first of two live shows to get going. I should mention that two other friends – Sam and Emma – were meant to join us on this trip, but an unfortunately timed and rather grim stomach bug prevented them from coming. This was a bummer for all of us as we were really looking forward to seeing them, but I think it was particularly distressing for Brendan as it meant he had to come along to RoT instead of letting Emma take the fourth ticket for a girls night out.

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Now let me begin to try and explain exactly what this competition is… As I said before, it really is almost beyond explanation, but I will try to convey the amazingness of the experience for you. Louise had actually talked about it before, so it wasn’t a totally foreign concept to me when Brendan mentioned it. Louise became particularly fascinated by it when she happened to cycle through Tralee during the festival several years before. In explaining it to me in the past, she used this clip from beloved 1990’s sitcom Father Ted, which pokes fun at this type of local “lovely girls” competition:

Actually, the real Rose of Tralee does not feel radically different from that. There is something delightfully quaint and non-threatening about the whole thing. It is a million miles removed from the Miss America or Miss USA or Miss Teen USA or Miss Universe beauty pageants I grew up watching. And I think it’s safe to say that the girls competing in the Rose of Tralee would be horrified by the likes of Toddlers & Tiaras and its ilk.

Since when does Miss America get a rose sceptre?

What’s with the rose sceptre? Does Miss America now rule with a flowery fist?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and deal with the questions I am sure you’re asking – questions like “Who are these women?” or “What are the eligibility requirements?” and “How does one make it to the final?” Oh dear, sweet reader. I wish any of one of these questions had a clear answer.

Despite attending the event in person and reading the website extensively, I am still pretty vague on how the whole thing works. One might expect that it’s just a bunch of Irish ladies, but actually there are women competing from all over the world. At no point during the televised event did anyone explain how the representation works or what the qualifications are. After years of watching Miss America, where every little moment is painstakingly explained as if the audience is a group of particularly stupid toddlers, I found it oddly disconcerting to be so clueless about the process. Therefore, for the benefit of my own sanity and because I am sure you’re all DYING to understand everything about RoT, herewith are some general rules I’ve cobbled together from my experience and perusal of the website:

1. The Roses must have some sort of Irish heritage. That makes sense, right? What is left unclear is the extent of Irish heritage required. Should they be able to trace it on both sides of their family? Do their parents need to be Irish or can it be a grandparent or great-grandparent? Or is it cool if they’ve just got an uncle who moved to Ireland on a whim after a tragic divorce and now speaks in a poor attempt at an Irish brogue? A lot of them seemed to have lived for at least a short period in Ireland – is this a requirement? I literally have no idea.

2. Each Rose represents an “Irish Centre” located somewhere in the world. This year, there were Roses from Canada! Australia! Dubai! England! USA! Luxembourg! Loads of other places! To make things more confusing, sometimes the Rose represents a whole country (i.e. Germany), sometimes she represents a city or state (i.e. London or North Carolina), and sometimes she represents a region (i.e. Western Canada, Southern Australia, or Boston & New England). And then of course, every county in Ireland has it’s own Rose. Again, at no point is it explained why the representation is kind of all over the place.

3. The Rose representing any given Centre does not have to be from that particular location. However, it seems that they do need to be currently living in that location…? So, for example, the Rose from Darwin, Australia (one of my personal faves – more on her below), grew up in Ireland and had only recently moved to Australia and had actually bounced around in Australia before settling in Darwin. That seemed to be more-or-less the story for most of the outside-of-Ireland representatives. There were quite a few who had grown up in Ireland and were now living elsewhere – like Luxembourg or Abu Dhabi – and therefore, represented that place. Even the girls from the States might have grown up in Texas but be currently living in New Orleans or something, but also spent a few of their childhood years living in Ireland while their dad had a midlife crisis. It was supremely confusing.

4. Not all the Roses appear in the live televised events. Apparently (according to the website), there is an earlier event called the Regional Festival which takes place about two months before the final. At that event, which follows the same exact formula as the final, ALL the Roses compete. At that point, they are all known as Regional Roses. It is unclear exactly how many there are – I can find no firm count of the number of Roses or Centres – but judging by the pic of all of them below, it seems to be 60 or so (I didn’t count). From that Regional Festival, 32 girls make the cut for the final competition at which point they become known as International Roses (even though lots of them were already “international”).

2014 Regional Roses

ALL of the Regional Roses

The final is televised over two nights. We went to the first of the two nights and saw 18 of the final 32 girls. Unlike Miss America and other similar pageants, the girls are never whittled down from that 32. They all participate fully until the winner is announced at the end of the second night. The entirety of the “competition” consists of them coming out onto the stage in a fancy dress and chatting for about 5 minutes with the host, local television personality Dáithí Ó Sé (who – I just discovered via Wikipedia – married one of the Roses in 2012. Wonderful.). Seriously, they more or less just have a little talk. They tell some little anecdote, they mention their boyfriend or their parents, they talk about where they live, they probably say something about the charity work they’re doing, they make a few jokes at the expense of their escort*, etc. etc. It’s very much like a late night TV interview where you know the host has been prepped to ask certain questions that lead the guest to tell very specific stories in a seemingly off-the-cuff manner.

There’s no bathing suit competition. There is no evening gown element. They don’t do an en masse choreographed dance at the start of the show or introduce themselves wearing stereotyped kitsch relating to their region/county/state/country (the opening number and weird introduction costumes are always the best part of Miss America, obvs). For some of them, there is literally nothing other than their little convo with Dáithí. They just walk off the stage when they’re done.

But those gals are in the minority; most of them do a little “talent” thing after their interview. And many of them are legitimately talented – Dublin did an impressive bit of Irish dance, Manchester played a tin whistle thingy, and Kerry played the concertina. But to describe this part of the show as a “talent” element is being generous. It’s more like a short little party piece. Think Tootie at the party in Meet Me in St Louis. For instance, Toronto taught Dáithí how to use an ice hockey stick.

A few girls recited/read poems. My favorite poem was an autobiographical selection from Darwin. I am so glad to say that I recorded the whole of this performance; I include it here for your pleasure:

Ah the beautiful lyricism of “my residency papers say I’m a Territorian”.

Okay, so that was a lot said about how it all works (sort of…I still don’t actually know how the judges make their final decision on the winner and I don’t really know what the winner receives other than a tiara) – probably more than you readers ever wanted to know. But hopefully that helps to paint a more vivid picture of our experience last week.

The Dome was pretty much packed with people, but I think I can confidently say that the four of us were the only people there without a personal connection to the festival – be it as a former Rose, a Regional Rose who did not make the cut, the family of a Rose, the friends of a Rose, or like the cousin of one of the cameramen. Nearly everyone was dressed in formal (or at least cocktail) attire, which made us feel woefully underdressed in our one-step-up-from-the-most-casual clothes. Loads of people had banners and flags to support their Rose.

Here’s a poor picture of the crowd, but it gives you an idea of the place:

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For the most part, the audience seemed completely sincere and totally invested in the success or failure of their Rose of choice, which just made our presence there as point-and-giggle spectators all the more obvious and horrible. The best part of the evening came pretty early for me. The first Rose to come out (Scotland) sang a song for her party piece – some Scottish song that I’ve forgotten – and the woman sitting in front of me to the left openly wept. And from what I could tell, she had absolutely no connection to the Scotland Rose; she was there for someone else entirely. She was just overcome. It was so great.

Unfortunately for us, the winning Rose (Philadelphia) was on the second night, so we didn’t see her. In her absence, we all agreed that the best on our night was Abu Dhabi, whose name was – wait for it – Patrice McGillycuddy.

Patrice!

She told a funny story about her car sliding down a hill, she talked about living in Abu Dhabi teaching underprivileged children, she was generally charming and engaging. Best of all, for her party piece was she sang the Cups song from Pitch Perfect – complete with the cup stuff and with a very lovely voice.

Sadly, Patrice was not to be the victor. I have to assume that Philadelphia’s chat was just off the charts interesting and charming and lovely and wonderful. Otherwise, I really don’t know how she could have beat such a delight.

I’ll wrap it up there, because this post is already much longer than what I intended to write. But hey, what can I say? The Rose of Tralee was just such an incredible experience! I’ve really only just touched on its delights and surreality of our night. Just know this, if you ever find yourself in Kerry in the month of August, you should seriously consider getting a ticket.

 

* The escorts are all local Irish boys, who are responsible for looking after the ladies during the competition week. I honestly don’t really know what this involves, and it’s yet another thing that was never really explained. There’s a separate competition for the best Escort, who wins 1,000 Euro, so that’s something! I highly recommend reading through the Escort bios on the Rose of Tralee website. They are a delight.

See Sister Travel: Greece (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second part of my Greek Adventure: Ancient Sites and Ruins Edition. Let me tell you, people, we saw a lot of ruins. You might already know, but Greece is just full of ’em. So herewith, a run down of all the ancient places we visited.

The Acropolis

Obviously, when in Athens, this is the DON’T MISS thing. And it is definitely worth contending with the thousands of other tourists to get a glimpse.

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As many of you will know, acropolis means high point of the city (that may not be the strictly literal translation, but that’s what it boils down to). So the Acropolis in Athens is not the buildings on the top of the hill, but the hill itself. There are a load of buildings up there, including the small temple to Nike Athena and the Propylaia (entrance), of which I don’t have decent pictures.

Up on the top of the hill, there’s the Erechtheion, which is actually three temples in one, dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. It’s the one with the famous female figures as columns (aka caryatids) on the side.

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We had a tour of the Acropolis, in which I learned all sorts of interesting things, including the story that Athena and Poseidon competed to be the patron god/goddess of the city. Poseidon struck a rock and brought forth water, but it was salty seawater. Athena provided an olive tree, so the residents of the city chose her as the patron goddess. There’s still an olive tree next to the Erechtheion (visible in the above photo), but don’t be fooled: it’s not the original! Because Athena was the patron goddess of the city, the BIG temple on the Acropolis was dedicated to her. And that’s the Parthenon, duh.

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It was pretty impressive. And it was very interesting to see how they are going about restoring it.

We went to the new Acropolis Museum another day. It was opened in 2009 to house all sorts of goodies form the Acropolis, most importantly: the Parthenon marbles. The majority of these are in the British Museum and the battle to have them returned to Greece is ongoing. They’ve done a really nice job of presenting the marbles they do have, alongside plaster casts of the missing ones to give a feel for the scale of the Parthenon in its heyday.

 

Other Things in Athens

There are obviously loads of other ruins dotted around Athens, including the Agora (marketplace), throughout which there are all sorts of ancient bits and pieces, including the remarkably intact Temple of Hephaestus.

Photographed from the Areopagus.

Photographed from the Areopagus.

We also saw Hadrian’s Arch…

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…and the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was completed by Emperor Hadrian. Although there are only about 15 or so columns still standing, it was originally made up of 104 (!!!) columns. For context, the Parthenon (which is pretty darn large) had 69.

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Temple of Poseidon We took an afternoon bus trip out of Athens to visit the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. This the southern most point on the Attica peninsula. It was cold, rainy and windy that day (our only bad weather day), so our pictures are not great as we were just eager to get back down the hill for a warm drink.

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You can’t walk into the middle of the temple to see it, but apparently Lord Byron carved his name into one of the columns when he was visiting Greece back in the day. Fun story: This is also supposedly where Theseus’s father Aegeus threw himself off the cliff and plunged to his death when he saw Theseus’s ship returning from Crete (where he’d gone to fight the Minotaur) with black sails, which was meant to be the signal that Theseus was d-e-a-d, dead. But oops! Theseus was just a little spacey and had forgotten to change the sails. He was totes still alive! Anyways, Aegeus’s precipitous leap into the sea is why it’s known at the Aegean Sea today.

 

Delphi

I thought this was the coolest of the ancient sites we visited, and therefore I have the most pictures of it and the most to say about it. Delphi is a three hour-ish drive north of Athens. The site was built on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Back in the ancient times, this place was busy busy busy, its big draw being the Temple of Apollo and the oracle who hung out there dishing out prophecies on the regular.

The oracle was always an older woman, typically an empty-nester who more-or-less abandoned her husband after her kids were all grown and went to live at the Temple, where she spent her days sitting in a giant three-legged pot (a tripod), chewing on laurel leaves and breathing in vapors from the hot springs. Basically, it seems, she was high all day long – from the laurel leaves or from the fumes or both. People of all types would travel great distances to come and consult the oracle over big decisions – “Should I get married?” “Should we go to war?” etc. She would spout a high-as-a-kite, most likely nonsensical answer and her priests would then “interpret” her words into a more coherent response. Bada bing, bada boom.

There’s not a whole lot left of the actual temple. The outline of the base is still roughly visible, and a few partial columns remain.

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The columns to the left behind Rocket and Melanie are the remains of the Temple.

What was more interesting to see and learn about were all the ruins and partial buildings surrounding the temple. Given that the oracle was such a huge draw, a town of sorts sprang up around the temple. Pilgrims entered the temple complex along the Sacred Way. This switchback path led up towards the temple courtyard and altar. Lining the way were market shops, statues and buildings known as treasuries. These treasuries were usually dedicated by a town or city. Offerings or presents were stored here by the citizens of those towns/cities as thank yous for the oracle and Apollo. The many statues that lined the way served the same purpose. Apparently, back in the day, the place was chockablock with thousands of statues.

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Remains of shops and polygonal wall

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Reconstructed Treasury of the Athenians

Beyond the temple, further up the mountain slope were additional structures, including an impressive amphitheatre. This view down over the theatre gives you a better idea of the scale of the place. You can see the rough remains/size of the temple and imagine what it would have looked like with all its columns and a roof. To the right, you can see the reconstructed Treasury of the Athenians (pictured above).

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To the left beyond the temple columns, you can see another open, non-shrubby/grassy area. Although you can’t make it out in the picture above, those are the ruins of the gymnasium or training grounds for the athletes who competed in the Pythian Games, which were similar to the ancient Olympic Games (but obviously not held at Olympia and therefore not the same).

Continuing up the switchback path, higher up beyond the theatre, you come to the stadium, which is where the athletes actually competed. It was a bit of a hike, but really interesting once we got up there, as it’s very well preserved.

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Rather than a circular or oval track as we have today, the track was a straight line that they ran back and forth on for the requisite length. You could still make out the stone starting lines with holes into which the athletes would fit their wooden starting blocks. And in the middle of the spectator seats, a special row of judges chairs is still perfectly clear (you can just make them out in the picture above).

There’s so much more I could say about Delphi. I haven’t told you anything about the museum that is just next to the site and houses many of the statues and treasures the archaeologists uncovered, some of which are extremely well-preserved. And I haven’t mentioned anything about the actual excavation, which involved moving an entire modern town that had been built on top of the ancient ruins, even using some of the old stones. I could go on and on, but there’s not enough space. So I’ll just say: you should go check it out for yourself.

 

Delos

Delos is an entire island that sits just to the east of Mykonos. On our second day on Mykonos, we took a ferry over to check it out. The island is completely uninhabited and is only an archaeological tourist site now. According to myth, it was a floating island upon which Leto gave birth to twins Artemis and Apollo. [There’s this whole thing about how Hera made it impossible for Leto to rest on any land because jealousy. Anyways, because Delos was not fixed to the ocean floor, it was cool for Leto to stop there…? And then Zeus had Poseidon fix it to one spot or something…? I don’t know. It’s hard to keep all these myths and legends straight.]

The island had a very long history involving various different iterations. Sometimes it was inhabited; sometimes it was forbidden for anyone to live there; at one point the sacredness of the island was paramount; at another point, it was a political gathering place; for a time it was a major trading port. Anyways, all those changes mean that there are all sorts of different ruins/buildings on the island – houses, temples, cisterns, theatres, statues, mosaics – but very few of them are as well preserved as anything at Delphi, for example.

The most famous ruins from the site are the Naxos Lions, a row of crouching lion statues dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos. Originally, there were nine to twelve lions; now only seven remain. They’re pretty weather-beaten these days, and in fact, the originals have been moved indoors to protect them from further erosion, but there are replicas in their place.

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I don’t have any other helpful/useful pictures from Delos, because the ruins are – for the most part – more ruined than intact. The pictures I took from the highest point on the island don’t really look like much of anything other than a jumble of stones. It was interesting to think of the island as a once buzzing hive of activity – be it commerce, religious rituals, political meetings – but unlike Delphi it was harder to really picture it.

 

Akrotiri

Our final ancient site was on our short visit to Santorini. Unlike all the previous spots, this was actually a prehistoric site, so like really really really really old. This bronze age site was destroyed in the 17th century BC volcanic eruption that resulted in the island’s current geographical configuration. The settlement was buried in volcanic ash, much like Pompeii. Unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found, so it seems the residents had warning of the impending eruption (probably an earthquake) and therefore had time to evacuate. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they were then subsequently drowned in the ensuing tsunami, but let’s imagine they all made it to safety somewhere!

Aaaaaaaaanyways, the city being buried in volcanic ash means that it is amazingly well preserved. Although original excavations were done as early as the 1860’s, the modern excavations were begun in 1969 by a Greek archaeologist named Spyridon Marinatos. Although he later tragically died while working in the site, his careful excavations and dedication to the project led to the most significant discoveries and it’s current state.

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The pots in this building indicate that it was probably a shop of some sort.

Turns out this civilization was remarkably advanced. Archaeologists have uncovered beautiful wall paintings and mosaics, three story structures, civic and religious buildings, residences, shops, and – most impressively – an intricate plumbing system. The site is covered by a special bio roof that regulates the temperature and protects the ruins. The excavations have actually been halted over funding issues, and only a minimal estimated percentage of the site has been uncovered. If the work ever gets started up again, they could find all sorts of amazing things!

 

And that’s it folks! Those are all the ancient places we visited. Quite impressive to see all these structures and think about all the people who lived there thousands of years ago. If you’re into history, go to Greece! There’s so much to see and learn!

See Sister Travel: Greece (Part 1)

As Rachel mentioned yesterday, part of the reason for my long silence (though not the primary reason – that would be laziness) was the recent fabulous trip I took to Greece with our lovely parents, Rock and Melanie.

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In front of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

We were there for ten days – five nights in Athens (with several day trips from there), three nights on Mykonos and two nights on Santorini – and we saw a LOT of stuff. I could write four or five posts on the subject, but many of the details would probably not be terribly interesting for you readers, and I don’t want to make you all desperately jealous about how fantastically wonderful our time was. So, I’m planning to write two posts on the trip. This first one will focus on the islands we visited. I’ll write a future post about all the many many many ancient sites/ruins we saw.

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Mom stands in front of our hotel in Santorini.

Before I tell you about our island visits, some general reflections on Greece.

1. I loved it.

2. May is a great time to go! The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny but not oppressively hot. May is the very beginning of the summer season so there were fewer tourists and cheaper prices.  The only drawback was that the sea water was pretty cold, so there was no real swimming to be had.

3. The people are lovely and friendly and helpful. It was almost embarrassing how well everyone spoke English, and they were (on the whole) warm and welcoming and happy to answer questions/give directions/what-have-you. Very nice.

4.  The recent economic troubles of the country are particularly evident in Athens where nearly every other building was abandoned. The economic issues also mean that prices (especially for food) are rather high, but even so, I enjoyed it enough to say I’d go back…probably not to Athens, which is a been-there-done-that kind of city, but to any of the islands for sure.

5. My one significant complaint: the cost and quality of food. Greek cuisine is very tasty, but unfortunately, in touristy areas lots of places can get away with serving less than amazing food for steep prices. Even some of the places recommended in our guide books underwhelmed me. When we hit upon a good spot, it was always really really good (our final meal in Athens was particularly great), but on the whole, I thought our meals were just okay. And seafood is SHOCKINGLY expensive – especially for a place with such direct access to the sea!

Right okay, on to the islands…

As I said, we spent five nights in Athens (more on Athens in the future ancient ruins post), but we did day trips out of Athens, so it wasn’t like we were really in the city for those full five days. One of our day trips was to a small island that was about 1 1/2 hours away by ferry: Hydra (pronounced Ee-dra).

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Enjoying an iced coffee in the harbor.

This little island has no cars/trucks (save for some small garbage collection trucks). Instead, there are lots of donkeys to do the heavy lifting up the steep and narrow streets. There’s not really a whole lot to “see” in Hydra other than the island itself, which is picturesque and quiet. We sat down and had a pick-me-up coffee (a Coca-Cola for Melanie) when we first arrived; then did a short little self-guided walking tour around the main town/harbor and then a slightly longer walk along a stretch of the coast; had lunch; and then had another drink in the harbor soaking up the sun and people-watching while we waited for the return ferry.

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Our lunch in Hydra was actually one of our best meals of the whole trip. We sat under a bougainvillea arbor at a little taverna set back away from the harbor, where we shared some simple – but very well prepared – small plates (fried cheese, salad, grape leaves, fava dip) while a guitarist played in the background. It was painfully charming (and tasty!).

As our first island experience in Greece, it was fantastic. I highly recommend Hydra, and I would go back for another longer, leisurely stay.

Our next island – Mykonos – has a reputation as a party island. I have no doubt that this is true in the height of the summer, but in May, it was still pretty quiet. In fact, we were the only people staying at our bed & breakfast. The main old town is centered around the sandy harbor where numerous small fishing boats bob up and down. The few “iconic” spots on the island include a row of old windmills on a hilltop and some waterfront restaurants/shops in an area they call Little Venice.

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The small streets behind the main harbor are twisty and narrow and confusing, packed with shops and restaurants and people. Again, if it had been the height of summer, I imagine they would have been a nightmare, but while we were there, it was lovely.

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Since our b&b was not in easy walking distance of anything, we rented a car, which was great since it gave us freedom to explore the island. On the first day, we drove all over the place, taking in the scenery and scoping out all the beaches to determine which ones were worth a visit the following day.  This was actually a terrifying undertaking as the roads from the rocky hilltops down to those beach fronts are narrow, winding and occasionally nearly vertical. Still, it was a good way to get a feel for the place.

The next day was all about the beach. We went to one called Kalafatis in the morning and stayed pretty much all day. It was wonderful: very few other people; gentle breezes; clear, cold water; a yummy waterside lunch; sunny all day long – not a cloud in sight; reading all day; relaxing. I loved it. I don’t have a picture of it (taking pictures would clearly not have jived with my totally-vegging-out attitude that day), so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

There’ll be a bit more about Mykonos in my second Greece post, but for now…on to Santorini.

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Orthodox church in Oia

Santorini is probably the most popular and well-known of the Greek islands. It’s the one with all the blue roofs and whitewashed buildings (okay that’s like every island) and homes/hotels built into cliffs that drop down into a volcanic caldera and beautiful sunsets and all that jazz. It is geographically stunning and beautiful. You can see why it’s a popular honeymoon destination.

Our time on Santorini was very brief (like we’re talking 36 hours brief), so we opted for a bus tour that took in all the big sites on the island in one day, including the ancient ruins of Akrotiri (more in the second post), the highest point on the island, a charming old village in the middle of the island, the red beach and the black beach, and a winery. I didn’t do a great job of taking pictures that day since it was such a whirlwind, but it was a good way to see as much of the island as possible in one day.

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Red Beach (I think you can surmise why it is called thus)

The night we arrived, we wandered from our hotel down into Fira (the biggest town on the island) to watch the sunset and have dinner. The night of our bus tour, we went to Oia with the same intention. Oia is a town on the northern side of the island that is supposed to have BREATHTAKINGomgyouwilldieitissoBEAUTIFUL sunset views, but we learned the hard way that if you want those views over your dinner, you best book a table. We couldn’t find a restaurant with a free table AND a good view, so we opted for one without a sunset view. Post-meal we decided it wasn’t worth watching the sunset with a crowd of people only to subsequently fight them for a taxi or a seat on the bus afterwards. After all, we had a 5:15(!!) wake-up call the next morning, and the sunset view from our hotel was pretty darn good.

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Our time in Santorini was definitely too short, but it was also the only stop on our trip where I felt overwhelmed by tourists…and it was just as early in the season there as it was everywhere else in Greece, so I can only imagine what it’s like when the real hordes arrive. It was also the place where I felt most keenly that the economy is driven almost entirely by tourism. It kind of took away the charm of it for me. I got the impression that it’s the type of place to go if you’ve got money to burn and can stay in one of the really really really posh hotels with a private pool on your cliff-side balcony and can drop money on the really nice restaurants with the stunning stunning views and drink wine all day and have someone chauffeur you from beach to beach.

Don’t get me wrong – the views and picturesque-ness definitely live up to the hype – but the tourism machine was a little too strong and prevalent for my taste. I’d rather visit a different island that didn’t have quite such a big reputation if it means a slightly quieter experience.

But that is a nit that is hardly worth picking. It was a lovely locale to end a very lovely island hopping adventure. And the company could not be beat.

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Oh, these two!

Seriously, it was so great. Greek islands = awesome. And that was only half the trip!

Stay tuned to hear about all those ruins!