2012 - Greece

This short visit formed part of our cruise on Discovery to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea taking in 10 countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine.

We have been several times before, including on a Discovery cruise at a similar time last year.

Sunday 14th October

We have three ports of call scheduled in Greece, today’s being Itea for a trip to Delphi.  The ship had engine problems (poor old Discovery is getting past it!) and we were forced to abandon our visit to Mt Olympus and go to Piraeus for repairs.  In place of that visit we went on from Piraeus to the island of Santorini, spending a day at sea to get there.

We were due to go to Delphi from our original port but instead did so from Piraeus, although this meant a journey of 200km each way.

Our guide Natasha was very good and articulate in English.

Apparently 80% of Greece is mountainous, up to 8000ft.  These are largely volcanic and the area is also subject to earthquakes.  Mt Olympus is the highest mountain at 2917m.  It is partly this geography and partly the lack of safety in the civil war period after the war, that has led to Greece being very much an urban population – 75% of people (total population 11.5m) live in cities.  Where there is agriculture it is mainly used for olive oil, cotton and grapes. The country we passed through was largely scrub with pockets of agriculture and of olive trees., but very little settlement.  We passed a large valley that used to be a lake but was drained 3,100BC (!) and is a fertile plain growing cotton and maize. Apparently there are 5000 islands of which only 1 in 8 are inhabited.

98% of the country’s electricity is from solar, hydro or wind generation.

Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god Apollo.  The large hillside site was relatively free of tourists when we arrived and we were led amongst the many ruins.  The site goes back to the 8th century BC and includes temples and other public buildings.

After a visit to the museum we lunched nearby having walked up the road to get views over the valley.

Monday 15th

Again starting in Piraeus we journeyed to the ancient city of Corinth and also its museum.  This is a large archaeological site with some of the temple ruins going back to the 7th century BC.  There were also houses, baths and a marble-floored market place.  We were particularly impressed by the huge columns made of a single piece of marble.

We moved on to the Corinth Canal.  This amazing construction was started in the time of Nero (64AD) but the idea goes back even further to the 7th century. There is even a plaque dating back to Nero cut into the rock part way through the canal and which we saw as we took a smaller ship both ways along the canal.  1400m was completed at that time and the remainder was completed by the French in the period 1881-1893. The canal itself was preceded by a road along which ships were dragged.

As well as seeing this old road we were surprised to see how a current bridge crosses the canal.  It is at water level and when it has to let a ship through it goes down into the water and the ship passes over it.

After our trip and a walk around we drove on to the ruins of Corinth.  The Greek city had been largely destroyed and it was rebuilt by the Romans. 


Tuesday 16th Santorini

This was an addition to the itinerary to replace a stop on the Greek mainland.  Santorini is the remains of a volcano (a caldera) and Adrian in particular had been wanting to see it since Nathan went on a school trip nearly 30 years earlier.

We arrived around 7am and saw a low mist over the hills and the white houses of the town lit up by the sun and looking like snow.  True picture-book stuff.

The 1200 feet ascent to the town from  the harbour is by cable car (which we took!) or by a series of 587 steps working their way up the side of the cliff in a zig-zag pattern.  It is a very pretty white painted town with a good number of the inevitable tourist shops.  Many glorious views over the caldera.

By the time we were ready to leave, the weather was hot (in the high 70s), but we decided to walk down.  This was very enjoyable and interesting although the presence of many donkeys and their droppings made it less attractive. 

It had been a very enjoyable addition to our itinerary.