Our first weekend getaway, and of course a cold front blows through. We spent a very rainy Friday driving north of the city, and I was happy to leave all of the chaotic Athens traffic behind me. We paid a couple of hefty tolls, but in return the roads were smooth and well-maintained. I thought about using the cruise control, but the speed limit was in constant flux, and you had to carefully observe the speed limit signs – each lane had its own dedicated speed limit. Though from what I could tell, the far right lane was for entry and exit at a slower speed, the middle lane was for going roughly the posted speed limit, and the left lane was for the speed demons. The highest speed was 120…that’s kilometers, so about 70 mph.
First stop, Livadia (or Livadeia – the posted signs seemed to have various spellings) for a lunch and stroll. Or that was the plan, except that it was cold and pouring. Our GPS took us through winding streets and hills, two-way streets that only really had enough room for one car to pass, until we finally arrived at the center of town where an enormous aqueduct with several waterfalls was the main attraction. I’d found a restaurant online, Neromilos, which boasted a little stream from the river that goes directly through the restaurant. After circling a bit, we discovered we’d just have to get creative about parking if we were ever going to find a spot. One miserably wet slog down an incredibly steep hill (almost like our driveway!), we arrived at the restaurant just to discover they didn’t open for half an hour. But they took pity on our poor wet babies and let us sit down and order anyway. Liam delighted in the little river and bridge inside the restaurant, and we admired the waterfalls from the windows…a much better vantage point in the pouring rain. The food wasn’t bad – James and I both ordered spicy meatballs, but the grilled Formaella cheese drizzled with honey appetizer was definitely the highlight.
After lunch the rain had stopped, so we were able to walk along the water. Liam wanted to climb every stairway we came to. We found a ramp for one and discovered a cool little amphitheater.
See that church way upon the cliff?
Yeah, Liam wanted to climb up to that, too. We told him he’d probably poop out before he got to the top, but he wouldn’t have it. So he and James started climbing while Vi and I stayed comfortably at ground level. About a third of the way up, James wisely talked him into going back down – the wind was starting to pick up, and it looked like rain again. The mountains, castle, and stream were quite a sight – my photos hardly do it justice. It only took an hour and a half to drive there, so we’ll definitely be going back for a day trip when the weather is better.
We drove another hour or so further to our hotel on the outskirts of Arachova, right at the foot of Mount Parnassos – a cute little family-friendly inn called Hani Zemenou that got good reviews. I was particularly keen on the free parking, free wi-fi (which never worked in our room, farthest from the lobby), and attached restaurant (taverna). Our room was absolutely tiny, and absolutely freezing, especially in the bathroom. There was no bathtub, and I thought my tush was going to freeze to the toilet seat. With three twin beds and a small crib for the baby, there was hardly room to set our luggage down. But it was clean, and with the space heater running and the shutters closed, the cozy room got nice and toasty. James had about the worst shower ever, both because of the cold and his inability to keep the water from getting all over the place. We’re not quite sure how this hotel came so highly rated, but I suspect by Greek standards these are four-star amenities. I noticed on their brochure they list “heaters” right under “free wi-fi.” Because heat is perhaps something not all hotels here provide?
Ah, yes. Because…Greece.
We lifted this line from the movie My Life in Ruins, and it became our mantra for this trip.
After settling in we quickly realized Violet needed another nap, so we decided to take a drive down the mountain so she could sleep in the car. We stepped out of the hotel into a dense, cold fog. The temperature was in the 40s, brrrr! As we wound our way down the mountain, we passed through a tunnel, and suddenly the fog lifted – just like night and day on the other side of the mountain. We passed through Arachova, then Delphi, and as we kept on going, we spied the Gulf of Corinth a beautiful inlet of the sea right at the base of the mountain. The sun was shining and the temperature had climbed almost to 60. Down the switchbacks we went, admiring the incredible views of Mount Parnassos and the sea. Finally we made it to the seaside – we could park just a stone’s throw away from the small waves lapping onto the rocky beach. Violet started to stir, and it was getting close to dinner time, so we drove all the way back, and we didn’t even once break out the GPS. We could see clouds seeping over and across the mountains as we climbed, and by the time we made it back to that tunnel, the dense fog and cold had returned. Amazing how different the weather is up on the mountain. In the distance we could see many snowy peaks.
We had a nice, quiet dinner in the hotel taverna – in fact, we were the only customers! Friday was Greek Independence Day, so that was probably why. The waiter offered us a traditional garlic potato dish, something they were serving special that day, and it was fantastic! Served cold, it was sort of like super garlicy mashed potatoes.
Oh, my children! Saturday dawned bright and early for these two, who wanted breakfast at 6:30 am. Violet had been restless all night – I was fighting a cold, and I think she caught it – so it was not a fun night for us all crammed in one tiny room. I had no idea when the restaurant was opening, so I kept running down to the lobby every half hour. Finally, the wait staff started stirring around 8 am. Admittedly a decently early hour for breakfast most of the time, but it was a rough hour and a half wait for us.
We managed to make it to Delphi around 9:30 while there was minimal traffic and plenty of parking near the entrance. A brisk climb up the mountain, and I started shedding layers and a baby about halfway up. Once James took over baby-wearing, the going got a lot easier…for me anyway! Liam was all about climbing up, up, up! C’mon, slow pokes! The parents were trailing behind. That is until we made it to the top of the amphitheater. By then he’d thrown a huge hissy fit about not being able to climb on the seats, and we had to explain to him that it was really flippin’ old, and if they let everyone climb all over it, it would be a pile of rubble by now. That seemed to placate him a bit, but then his little legs got tired and soon it was us dragging him up the trail. But we eventually made it to the top! Huzzah! And we got to see the stadium! Again, Liam lamented the fact he couldn’t run around on it. But I think he was too tired to put up much of a fuss this time.
We stopped at the Temple of Apollo on the way down, site of the famous Oracle of Delphi. We’d talked a lot about the oracle before we came, and Liam thought it was really funny to stand on the rocks and proclaim his predictions. After the long walk we were ready for the snack bar. Interesting side note: lemonade here is not really the lemonade we’re used to. The guy at the snack bar handed me what appeared to be a cup of lemon juice on ice, then pointed behind me and said, “There. Sugar.” After pouring and stirring and tasting and repeating 10 times, I got it tasting the way I like it. Yeah, I probably added about a cup of sugar – it all must have pooled at the bottom, so once I gave it a more vigorous stir, it suddenly got very sweet. Oh well. I needed the sugar rush.
Predictably, Liam raced us through the archeological museum, so by noon we were ready to depart. We were met with absolute chaos at the front entrance – cars trying to park, buses blocking traffic, pedestrians hiking in the middle of the highway. Here I was so annoyed with my children for waking us at the crack of dawn, and it turns out they saved us from this nightmare! We had about two or three aggressive parkers vying for our recently vacated spot, and it took us awhile to wind our way around the two huge tour buses that appeared to be parked in the middle of the two-lane road. (Because…Greece.) But I was thankful I had a chance to see Delphi before it got this crowded. If it’s this way during the “slow” winter season, I hate to think how it is in the peak of summer!
So the original plan was to stay until Sunday, stopping at the Hosios Loukas Monastery on the way back home, but with a 90% chance of rain Sunday and 100% chance of another miserable night in a cramped hotel room with our children, we decided to see the monastery Saturday afternoon and head home early. Besides, my cold was steadily worsening, and it wasn’t looking good for Vi, either.
And what a lovely drive it turned out to be! We left the tourist congestion on the highway behind and took a winding route through small villages in the mountains. There were several dramatic views of snowy peaks – always so much better out my windshield and not where I could pull over and get out the camera.
The monastery was tucked in along the mountainside, with quite a breathtaking view of the whole range and the valley below. It was built in the 10th century AD by its founder, St. Luke. Not THE St. Luke, apparently. A hermit named St. Luke. Ok, then. Interestingly, the monks still live and work there. Liam finally got to climb on some old stuff, which made him happy. And despite her impending cold, Violet contentedly rode in the Bjorn all day long. In fact, because of her cold, she sacked out in the car pretty much every time we got in it, a welcome change from her usual crying jag.
Home sweet smart house home. We walked in the door disheveled and exhausted. We didn’t bother to unpack the mountain of things we JUST freakin’ packed on Friday. This first weekend trip has left us wondering how in the world we’re going to keep up with our plan to sight see as much as possible while we’re here. Until Violet is older, I fear we’ll have to reserve two hotel rooms just to make it through the night without wanting to strangle each other the next morning. I knew moving abroad and seeing Europe with an infant would be hard…but not THIS hard. I feel like our time here is so limited, and there’s so much I want to see. But it’s not fun when we’re all tired and cranky and we just want to go home. Being sick just compounded things, but even so, we had Liam wanting to stay up and watch a movie, and Violet very clearly needing to go to sleep and needing the room quiet and dark. When he finally wanted to go to bed, she woke up and started crying, and that made him upset. I’m hoping (ever so much!) that this is just a phase and travelling with these two will get better. Or more likely we’ll learn a thing or two as we do more of these trips, and it’ll get easier along the way. Let’s hope so.