There are stones at Delphi that were believed to have fallen from the heavens. (Alien rocks? The concept goes way back.) The priestesses would wrap them in cloths and anoint them, reenacting the way that Rhea wrapped up a rock to feed to her husband Kronos to save Zeus's life. The rocks themselves look like the tips of bullets, only about as large as I am. I hadn't heard that ritual before, and the idea of it kind of blows me away.
From Delphi, we made a fateful visit to Thermopylae. There really isn't a whole lot there (aside from a nifty hiking trail that no one went to far on, as we had to return the cars in Athens). There is a very nice memorial there to the Spartans and others who fell there, defending Greece from the Persians. I learned on the internet just today that the word Thermopylae actually means, literally, hot (therma) gates (pylae)--so folks who talk about the "Hot Gates" as the location at which the Spartans had their stand off are correct, but somewhat redundant. There are also supposed to be hot springs in the area.
From Thermopylae to Athens and then onto the ferry to Santorini. Ah, Santorini! Volcanic island paradise! It really is a lovely place, as well as the home of one of the best-preserved Minoan sites. Next to Knossos, Akrotiri is the best place to go to look at pre-Greek stuff. The city that was preserved by ash, much like Pompeii, back when Thera (the volcano) blew her top back in 1600s BC. She's blown several times since then, and is still active. Unfortunately for us, one of the modern structures they built to keep things in repair at Akrotiri fell on some tourists a few years ago, so they've got the site shut down. (Note: not one of the ancient structures. One of the modern structures. I'm so bummed.)
After recovering from the terrifying drive up the side of the mountain, my husband and I had some adventures away from the group. We arranged for a tour of the volcano and hot springs, which required us to make it down to the Old Port. There are three ways to the Old Port: cable car (quite a line, but otherwise inexpensive in terms of cost and effort), donkeys (no line, as there are more donkeys on the steps to Old Port than people, but it is a bit more pricey), or walking down the steps and fending off the donkeys, who seem unconcerned that you're taking up part of the space on the steps. We opted for number three, which meant that we made quite good friends with some of the donkeys, rather more on their initiative than on ours. The Australian tourists had the kindness to apologize for being unable to steer the beasts; the Americans tended to say, "Ack! Go a different way! Ack!" trying to coerce the donkey rather than give into its independent nature. We clung to the side rail of the steps (which are 500 in number, but each step is deep enough for three of my paces), often darting behind poles or keeping to the narrowest parts around the many curves, as it was harder for the donkeys to chase us there.
Once we reached the port, we boarded a large boat that took us out to the center of the volcano, which we hiked (he made it all the way--with my knee, I only made it 2/3 of the way before I had to turn around). The boat then took us near a hot springs, which we had to swim to in order to reach. The temperature of the water took my breath away, and we learned that I'm not as good a swimmer as I remembered, especially right after I jump in. We made it to the hot springs (him dragging me along a bit--better in the water than out of it, I suppose), which are thick with red algae. The bottoms are covered in a slick mud, and many of the people on our boat and another that anchored at the same time smeared their faces with it, flung it at each other, and had a grand old time. We just enjoyed the warmth of the water, glad that we'd worn our sandals to keep us from stubbing our toes on the hidden rocks or slipping in the mud.
The swim back to the boat was actually much easier, though I've resolved to take swimming lessons again this summer, so I'm a bit stronger. Out here, I'm always wearing a life jacket, which makes movement quite a bit easier--but I should become a stronger swimmer without it. Climbing back up the boat was a relief, and we dried off. Then I did the extremely charming thing of sliding down the stairs from the top deck to the lower deck on my way to get a coke. Ack! An American girl looked panicked as I fell at her feet and asked if I was okay--to which I said I was--just an instant before I heard my name from the deck above, also checking on my condition. In defense of my klutziness, it was quite wet from everyone having just gone swimming, and I can take some comfort in that the students weren't there to see my tumble. I ended up with quite a nice rash-looking bruise on a hand-span of my back, but my pride was, of course, more bruised than that. (And now, I'm publishing the story of my embarrassment on the internet! Alas, I seem to find that my best true stories are the ones at my own expense.)
The rest of Santorini was very restful (aside from the drive back down the mountain, which was better in daylight than darkness). We took the ferry back to the mainland and spent our last two days in Greece in Athens. The youth hostel at which we stayed was very much what you'd expect if you'd only heard about European youth hostels and had never stayed at one of the nice, hotel-like hostels in the UK. Unfortunately, I've done the latter, so I was expecting a place that provided, well, sheets on all the beds and free hot water would have been a start. (Hot water ran 50 cents for 7 minutes on our floor. On the first floor, it would buy you 8 minutes instead.) From what I have heard, our place was actually quite nice compared to some of the other continental youth hostels, but after three nights on Santorini, it very much made all of us look forward to going home!
Our last afternoon, we hiked up to the Acropolis, where we saw a fantastic storm roll in. The dark line of clouds crept up over us and the wind kicked up right before we were about to depart. Thunder crashed overhead, and we greeted Zeus as he hovered over the Parthenon. We rushed down into the city as the rain started and found a place to eat dinner just before the downpour truly unleashed on us. It was a marvelous storm, bringing in cold air where the day had been scalding, and though I was glad to be inside for most of it, I like to think that Zeus was either looking out for us--or chasing us from the Acropolis! Time to go home...
The flight home was lovely if long, and I watched some movies/finished some books during the travel (meaning that I unfortunately didn't get much sleep). I'll write more about that in a subsequent entry, as I have some reviews to share!