White Houses and Blue Domes

Xue_10_1I am back from my unforgettable trip to Greece. Greece was everything that I had hoped it would be and much more. Since watching Mamma Mia and the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants (both movies were shot on Greek islands), Greece has been one of my top travel destinations. During the week-long vacation, my friends and I went to Athens and Santorini, a Greek island. Vacationing in Greece was so relaxing because of the slow pace of life. Unlike touring major cities where I felt rushed to see all the landmarks, in Greece I could admire the beautiful beaches, distinctive white houses, blue domed churches, and eat all the Greek yogurt I wanted and still have a great time.

Xue_10_7Half of my vacation was spent in Athens, the capital and largest city of Greece. As one of the world’s oldest cities, Athens has many ancient ruins, museums, and landmarks. We stayed in a hostel within walking distance of the Acropolis, a citadel on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. In the Acropolis is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. I regret not paying attention in high school English class because I have forgotten most of the Greek gods. The pervasiveness of Greek cultural influence is astonishing. The day when I visited the Acropolis was warm and sunny. Peak tourism season begins in May and ends in September. Luckily, we avoided the crowds but still enjoyed nice weather. Within the Acropolis are a theatre, numerous temples, and statues. Though Americans imitate the Greek architecture, seeing the real deal was amazing. Standing at the top of the Acropolis provided breathtaking views of the city. Restoration was also going on at the same time – large cranes and machinery stood out among the ancient ruins as they try to piece together history.Xue_10_8

Nearby at the foot of the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum. I gaped and admired at the various artifacts housed in the museum. The building is built on top of an archaeological site. In the main entrance to the museum, we stood on glass and could see through the glass that we stood on into the archaeological site, where several archaeologists were working below us.Xue_10_3

Another attraction we visited was the Panathenaic Stadium, the site where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. We have the Greeks to thank for beginning the tradition of the Olympic games. The stadium is made entirely of marble. Walking to the top of the stadium can be tricky because of the tall steps and slippery marble. However, once I reached the top of the stadium, I got a wonderful view of the Acropolis.Xue_10_6

While Athens has the culture, Santorini has the natural beauty. Greek islands in my mind have always been so romantic, helped by Hollywood movies that were filmed there. Santorini lived up to my expectations. The landscape is breathtaking and unlike anything I have seen before. I am not doing it justice in this blog entry. If you get the chance, you must go visit! Blocks of pastel colored houses line the cliffs of the island. The bright blue doors and church domes contrast well with the white walls, and match with the ocean’s color. There are many stray dogs that linger along the narrow paths of the cliff. Because the paths are so winding and uphill, donkeys are a popular mode of transportation and even trash disposal. I saw a man leading three several donkeys as he collected trash from the houses. I was content walking along the streets, shopping for souvenirs, and taking pictures of the picturesque island. We also saw an unforgettable sunset on the island. That night, we planned to take the bus home to our hostel. The last bus left around 7 pm, which was before sunset. But as the sun was setting, we were mesmerized by its beauty and could not leave. We ended up renting a car just for one night to drive back to our hostel. It was worth it.Xue_10_4

Traveling to Greece gave me a great taste of Greek cuisine. Street food is delicious, filling, and cheap! Most days I ate souvlaki, which is grilled meat (pork or chicken), French fries, tomatoes, lettuce, and yogurt wrapped in a toasted pita. Most sell for only two euros! A fancier rendition would be souvlaki on a platter, with more grilled meat, cheese, sauces and vegetables. I also had many Greek salads to make myself feel better about all the street food that I was eating. However, most salads were drenched in olive oil and had too much feta cheese. After each meal, I would get gelato or frozen yogurt. Deciding which dessert I wanted to get was probably the hardest decision I had to make that day. I am a fan of gelato, but the Greek yogurt in Greece is to die for. It is better than the packaged Greek yogurt sold in American grocery stores. Authentic Greek yogurt is much more fresh, creamy, and the perfect balance between sweet and tangy. My favorite breakfast food was getting Greek yogurt from the shop near our hostel. Though I was happy to eat plain yogurt, the fresh fruit toppings provided me with the vitamin C I need to balance the loads of souvlaki I was eating.Xue_10_2

Vacationing in Greece was a much-needed break from the hectic pace of London life. I was sad to leave, but hope to go back in the near future to experience the other Greek islands.Xue_10_5