Thanks again to HomeExchange for another amazing and successful multi-month epic foray – this time to Greece and Spain, culminating in Lisbon, Portugal. Between my brother the medical consultant making travel points available for the flight, our six months of prep threading the needle, the team at HomeExchange and our fabulous hosts, we wove together a magical carpet and carpet ride of nearly two months of exemplary travel and lodging on a dime - while making some, we hope, lifelong friends in the process.As we had hit Southern France and Italy with massive assist from HomeExchange the previous summer, next on our Wish List was Greece and Spain for a shorter but still ambitious two month stint.
Athens, Greece: Frances & Christos - Neo Psychiko
As luck would have it either we reached out to Frances or vice versa but either way the lovely Frances and her incredibly nice husband Christos opted to extend their New England itinerary to include cosmopolitan Atlanta, Georgia at our lakefront artist’s home near the famed Stone Mountain. Additionally they wisely added bonus get-aways, as well, to see the historically-preserved antebellum beauties Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia – both manageable several day trips from Atlanta.
Right out of the gate we found Frances and Christos to be just terrific. This would emerge to be an off-the-charts non-simultaneous reciprocal exchange as well as the beginnings of a really nice connection. We were fortunate to connect with Frances and Christos early on who were willing to exchange their pristine, airy and ultra-safe newly refurbished 2bedroom/ 2 bath - complete with blessed air conditioning, WIFI and washer (the three must haves, if possible) and balcony. Located in the urban neighborhood of Neo Psychiko, we felt doubly safe being so close to the armed guards of Greece’s Pentagon and had plenty of time to due to the length of our stay to take long siestas as do most everyone in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean if they can due to the intense heat in summer. Later we would enjoy the ultra quiet (almost mysteriously so) on the cooler evenings enjoying a 10 pm pizza delivery. As it turned out the Greeks often eat between 9 - 11 pm so we felt right at home as this is much closer to our natural rhythm. As Frances and Christos’ flat is a short Metro ride to the city center of Athens, we opted to got this route rather than to drive. Parking in Athens can be challenging and costly and the driving habits of Athenians precedes them.
Their apartment could not have been more comfortable, better situated or more ideal. Additionally we both made not only our cars available to each other for day and weekend trips but ended up forging a really nice friendship.
Firstly Frances is one of the most conscientious communicators we’ve ever encountered as well as being incredibly nice and warm-hearted and her funny, delightful and meticulous husband Christos took the initiative to purchase a special insurance package for our driving tenure. All of this early on fostered a lot of trust before we even met. This was our third set of HomeExchange exchanges and their first. Although they’d had lots of interest, we were flattered that they apparently felt we were a good fit. All of this boded really well for what turned out to be a truly stellar exchange in every way.
We deeply appreciated the fact that they actually met us at the airport which was incredibly helpful. This allowed them to fully orient us regarding the drive, Athens in general, the neighborhood and both their flat and car. Additionally they left us detailed handwritten maps, pertinent details, contacts with great suggestions which we took for prospective day trips and a lovely selection of coffee and tea -- all which launched us for what would be a two month adventure with just under two weeks in and around Athens. We were really thrilled and surprised when they invited us to their beach house in Sounion, 45 minutes away, on the southern tip of Greece on the Aegean, the home to the Poseidon Temple. On top of this they treated us to a positively divine taverna multi-course feast of tapas together with Maria and Spyros - the other couple who would be joining them on their trip to Atlanta, Boston and Vermont.
We shared a long and cooling swim with Spyros and Maria in the temperate and idyllic Aegean sea in this region also knowns as the Athens Riviera. We will never forget this magical day.
Because we had nearly two weeks, our Athens’ stay was a balanced combination of visiting the historic center and attractions, experiencing the surrounding countryside as well as time to adjust to our jet lag, eat out, cook in, watch French TV, and still lollygag on the balcony, enjoying the neighborhood over superb pizza and under the night stars. Christos advised us we would need at least three days for Athens; And we took at least this to experience the magnificent Acropolis (prepare for quite a hike), the newly-opened equally magnificent Acropolis Museum (eat a really posh and reasonable lunch with the Acropolis as your view!), and the last of the old city the Plaka, which begins right off the main square. We rode the requisite and excellent double decker On/ Off Bus for a couple of days to get our bearings andget a good overview and the imminently affordable open carriage toy-like Happy Train like the fabulous Petit Trains we discovered in France. This fun train allowed us to get in the trenches and zip around the twists and turns of the maze of the Plaka with ease and a bird’s eye view.
We had time to both walk and cab (you cannot be without BEAT -- an excellent taxi app and a-must-have when staying in the Athens area) to the Metro, drive around the neighborhood to the adjacent trendy village-like Chalandri for dinner and found as we do a respite at our travel touchstone - a neighborhood air-conditioned Starbucks. We also managed to learn the ropes of driving in Greece. Thrilling would be an understatement. But we passed the muster with Christos who was favorably impressed with my travel companion’s prowess and both we and the car managed to emerge unscathed.
As our stay was a good length we had time to take a two-hour bus trip each way to the in the epic rolling hills and rugged mountains where Hercules fought the Nemean lion and Paris of Troy eloped with Helen - the Peloponnese. As gas is quite high we didn’t drive the car as much as we’d originally planned. Here at the Great Theatre of Epidaurus, we, with about 15,000 others, watched the Athens & Epidaurus Festival’s edgy new version of Aristohpnaie’s FROGS under the moonlight.
We also drove to the ethereal Delphi, climbing one of the slopes adjacent to Mount Parnassus to the Sanctuary of Apollo and the site of the ancient Oracle. We also metroed via the somewhat dodgy Port Piraeus, ferrying for a day to the island of Aegina (Hydra was sold-out!) where we visited a 100-year monastery and the Temple of Aphaea with what may have been the most extraordinary 4-sided panoramic sea view of the entire trip. Do spent the extra dosh to take a cab to see both of these sites – well worth it but do negotiate. Mystically,and unbeknownst to us, we actually managed to make a pilgrimage to the divine isosceles triangle (the golden triangle of antiquity), paying homage to the three holy sites: The Acropolis’s Hephaisteion, Poseidon’s Temple and the island of Aegina’s Temple of Aphaea - profound!!
We think we may have found the ultimate parting gift for our fabulous hosts - Ouzo miniatures, practically the Greek national aperitif, as the gorgeous goddess Aphrodite and her dashing consort.
Frances and Christos have just returned from New England as we write but have shared all kinds of happy reports and pics via What’s App - a free, international WIFI calling app which has been our lifeline. We can’t wait to hear about their U.S .adventure, as well!
We would say our trip and exchange to Athens, Greece with Frances and Christos has been about as close to perfect as it comes!
Cathy H. Burroughs is a noted international travel writer and adventure blogger who is sharing her HomeExchange exchanges and experiences with our blog site.