Our Greece and Turkey trip continued with a final day and two ports of call—Crete and Santorini. In between we were able to enjoy the wonderful weather aboard ship and some relaxing time at the pool.IMG_3362

Crete

Our morning stop was Crete. My dad and I took an excursion to Knossos, Europe’s oldest city where we toured an ancient excavated town. At the entrance was of course a dog guarding the ticket booth. The sign above him said tour guides were available—not sure he was suitable for that.

IMG_3430This area was believed to be the center of Minoan civilization. The legend of the Minotaur and the labyrinth came from this town—as it contained the palace for the King of Minos. Later it was home to both Romans and Greeks and had been settled and abandoned for several thousands of years. Today it’s a tourist spot where you can see wonderful ancient pictorials on the walls, large carved jars that held tons of grain, wine, and such for the inhabitants, and rooms with royal thrones.

One of the interesting things we saw in the ruins were marks in some of stones—a depiction of a double bladed axe or Labrys, a symbol of the ancient Greeks. Yes, that’s a connection to the labyrinth legend.IMG_3372

There was also a large stone sculpture called the horns of consecration—basically a symbol of bull horns. Something to do with their cult religion at the time.

After touring the site and seeing the beautiful frescoes, smart drainage system, pottery, and more, we ended at what was their small theater area. From there the Royal Road, claimed to be the oldest road in Europe, leads away from the site.

Our tour ended appropriately with a look through the gift shops where we could get the obligatory Minotaur key chain. On our way back we went through a town where it seems we stumbled onto a little china town, Crete style. In a short space of about ½ a mile we saw no less than three Chinese restaurants. Noticeable in such a small town.
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Santorini

Our final stop was the famous island of Santorini. If you haven’t seen photographs of the white houses topping the cliffs of this large caldera, then you’ve been living in a cave. As we got closer to the island, we could see the entire caldera. You see, the island is actually the partial remnants of a volcano and the non-submerged parts make up a very large caldera.

The ship anchored in the middle of the caldera near the main island of Santorini (Thera). A short ferry ride brought us to a dock where busses then transported us up, around, up, around, and up some more to the top of the cliff where we began our tour. Along the way around the island we went up to the highest point to get a view of the flat lands below. It was pretty large and there were lots of farms and white buildings everywhere. We finally made it to the town Oia where we walked up and down the narrow streets and stairs to see the buildings and views.IMG_3673

A tiring day was brought to a close with a gorgeous sun setting over the other islands in the caldera just as we were descending the large cliff back to the ferry.

Final Thoughts

Our last night was spent sailing back to Lavrion and a bus trip up to Athens. My parents and I (and the tour guide who picked us up) were perplexed at the two women on our bus who somehow thought their luggage was magically going to get from the boat to their hotel in Athens, when in fact it was sitting on the dock back in Lavrion. Oh well. Back to us in the airport—with my mom not able to walk, we asked for a wheelchair both in Athens and in Philly when we arrived. With respect to my mom, what a bonus that turned out to be! We were whisked through security, customs, and immigration—not a bad way to end the adventure this vacation turned out to be.
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The Greek and Turkey people were very nice to us and even through the headaches of the crash, the trip was fun and we loved experiencing their cultures, food, and ancient history. An interesting financial custom I discovered was that many of the shop owners do not like to take credit cards (plenty did, but a few asked for cash). You see, they have to pay steep interest rates on credit card purchases. Yet another thing that probably hurts them financially. At least they treat the stray pets there with compassion. So nice to see that. And the food was very good and healthy. Overall, a very nice place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone interested in traveling.

Since we got a complimentary cruise next year, we look forward to exploring the Adriatic Sea and the cultures and history there. Until then, Τα λέμε αργότερα.

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Looking down at our ship from the Monastery of St. John on Patmos.

Our family adventure through the Aegean area continues as we board our new intact ship in Kusadasi. We had a wonderful night sleep and lazy morning before heading over and dealing with some minor incompetence with the bus and ship crew. The bus driver let us off the bus so we had to walk through a shopping area which normally is not a bad thing but with my mom on crutches I was disconcerted to see the bus pull up with our luggage just outside the security area where we finally arrived on foot. The ship crew grabbed our bags but had them sent to the wrong cabin. I was beginning to worry about this cruise line but it turned out okay and we had a very nice room with a sizable deck. The roll out bed was again not good, but all in all it was a pleasant room with very nice staff. When we went to muster for the lifeboat meeting, I asked the crewman where we should go if the boat was to say collide with another ship and that area was damaged. For some reason he did not have an answer for that.

Beautiful paintings adorn the walls of the monastery.

Beautiful paintings adorn the walls of the monastery.

The Monastery of St. John

So, right away we sailed to nearby Patmos. This was not on our original itinerary but I was delighted because this is the island where the apostle John lived in his later years and where he wrote Revelations. While mom rested her foot and relaxed Dad and I headed out on the excursion. We were taken on a bus up the large hill (of course, everything is on top of the mountains on these islands). We had a hike up the road to the Monastery of Hagios Ioannis Theologos and it was worth it. As we stepped in to the courtyard and waited to enter the inner sanctum, we viewed the beautiful ancient paintings that adorned the walls and arches. They were biblical scenes and portraits of the saints. The views from the top were stunning. There was a museum there with wonderful artifacts.

The Cave of the Apocalypse

The sacred cave on Patmos. The far corner is where John fell asleep.

The sacred cave on Patmos. The far corner is where John fell asleep.

The apostle John was the only one of the original 12 who did not die a martyr. Not for lack of trying on the part of the Romans. After failed attempts to kill him, he was banished to the island of Patmos where in his golden years he received visions from God that inspired the book of Revelations.

John fell asleep in a cave on the hill on Patmos and recited the visions to an assistant who wrote them down. The cave now is surrounded by a chapel. We walked through a gift shop and down many steep stairs before entering the cave. It seemed to me like an indentation in the hill with massive boulders sticking out of the roof area. We walked past the spot marked off where he slept and under some more roof boulders. There in that ceiling area was a three line crack in the rock symbolizing the holy trinity. It was a wonderful feeling to be in that place where John lived in the Spirit. It was a very nice excursion and back on the boat we enjoyed a nice dinner and viewed the stars off our deck.

Lindos from the road.

Lindos from the road.

Rhodes—Lindos

Day two on our new short cruise was spent docked at Rhodes. Our excursion took us out to the village of Lindos, an ancient town at the base of an Acropolis. This was a steep long hike kind of day. We could see the Acropolis from miles away. It sat on the edge of the Aegean Sea. The buses parked at the top of a hill so the walk started with about a ½ mile hike down to an area where tickets and taxis could be obtained (note for our trip back up). We wound our way through the narrow pretty streets of the village. The pedestrian streets were canopied with vines and occasional openings where we spied the mountain ahead. Many courtyards and floors were made up of black and white pebbles arranged in pretty designs.IMG_3242

The guide mentioned the hike up was several hundred steps so I tightened my knee brace, filled the water bottles, and took a few photo breaks. At what seemed like the top, we saw donkeys (would have been nice to have them at the bottom). Some entrepreneurial women spread their beautiful linens over the side of the hill to sell them to the many tourists walking by. After a few minutes listening to the guide, we made our way up some steep and scary steps into the Acropolis,

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Women from Lindos spread their linens along side the hill.

The Acropolis at Lindros housed a church, columns of a stoa, a temple, another hill within the fortress that was filled with boulders, and views through the gaps in the wall of the Sea and the village below. We strolled around for a bit before heading carefully down the steps and path to the village where we did some shopping before heading back up to the bus and off for a tour of the ancient city of Rhodes.

City of Rhodes

We entered the ancient city on foot over a bridge that covered a dry and very wide moat. We didn’t do too much here but did see the outside of the castle, walked down the Knight’s Street, and then just through some of the streets where we shopped, checked out the locals that live there, and spotted an active public fountain in a big square.IMG_3340

We were on our own coming out of the ancient city since it was right at the port and we could casually walk over to our ship at our leisure. We spent the entire day there—I went to the pool and my dad went back to town to walk around a bit.

It was one of the more relaxing days on the cruise with pretty views of the port from the pool and our deck. In the late afternoon we left the port and sailed toward our next stop, Crete.

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Narrow streets of Lindos and lots of shops.

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Top of the fortress at Lindos.

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Looking down from the Acropolis at Lindos.

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The temple columns and a church beyond–parts of different eras of the fortress at Lindos on Rhodes.

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Need a resting place for the hike up this hill at Lindos.

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This was one huge moat surrounding the ancient town of Rhodes.

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A bunny tree in Rhodes.

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The Knight’s street in Rhodes.

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Exiting the ancient city of Rhodes.

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The city walls of Rhodes wrapped around the port.

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The modern stairs weren’t all that much better than the ancient ones on the left. These were the last ones before entering the Acropolis on Lindos.

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A long walk up to Lindos!

Day two of our trip to Greece and Turkey continues with more hiking around ancient ruins of Athens.

A half day tour took us from the Acropolis which I covered in my last post to the Olympic Stadium, the Acropolis museum, the stadium of Dionysus, and the Temple of Zeus.DSCF3021

Olympic Stadium

Our first stop of the day was the Olympic stadium. This stadium had been updated from the original one that hosted the first modern day games in 1896. During the Games in 2004, the marathon ended in this stadium before the closing ceremonies. Incidentally the term marathon comes from an ancient story. The Athenians were fighting a war and the people of the city were waiting for news from the battlefield. Once victory was assured, a man was sent out from the town of Marathon to hurry to deliver news to the Athenians. The poor guy ran the entire way and upon delivering the news collapsed and died. So now the long run is called the marathon. Anyway, the stadium holds between 40,000 to 60,000 people depending on who you ask.IMG_2300

Acropolis Museum

Down the hill from the acropolis is a wonderful museum where replicas of some of the sculptures and pieces of the frieze can be seen up close in person. The frieze composes the carvings that used to decorate the upper portion of the outside of the Parthenon. The originals are mostly in the British museum but these replicas showed a procession of people which continues around the four sides of the building. The museum also houses ancient sculptures depicting various people throughout the ancient world—how they may have looked and the kind of clothes they wore. Some were monuments to gods or just adornments for their noble homes. Some of the original caryatids (which were the women sculptures acting as pillars outside the porch of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis) were on display.

IMG_2341Stadium of Dionysus

After enjoying the artifacts in the museum we wandered over to the stadium of Dionysus which sits just below the Acropolis. The top part of the stadium had eroded away but we could see some marble seats where the nobles sat—up front in the center facing the stage. Some interesting carvings sat amongst the ruins there.

From there we enjoyed a delicious lunch in an outdoor café—the lamb meat basting on a pole which made up the yummy gyros we had. Kids came by with their accordions for change and we got to sit and relax in the shade before heading out.

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Next stop was the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s gate. We had walked by this several times as it sits in the middle of the city and can be seen very easily from the Acropolis. The emperor of Rome, Hadrian, finished up the temple of Zeus and added the gate around 131 AD. We strolled around the tall pillared ruins watching as everyone took selfies. BTW, the amount of people taking selfies and people selling selfie sticks was so prevalent I was starting to actually get irritated by it. But I digress. There was a really cool looking ruin here referred to as the bottle caps. You can see from the photo why it is named as such.

A view of ancient Athens, a model at the museum.

A view of ancient Athens, a model at the museum.

On our way home, mom had an unfortunate accident and hurt her leg. She is now in a boot with a fractured foot but doing better. Needless to say this was pretty much the end of her excursions on this trip.

Dad and I ended the day eating souvlaki (Greek skewers) and got some snacks and fruit at a little market before heading home for the night.

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A view of the Acropolis from the Temple of Zeus. Hadrian’s Gate is at the corner of the lot.

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Part of the Parthenon Frieze procession.

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The original Carytids.

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A view of the Olympic stadium from the Acropolis.

My continuing coverage on our trip to Greece and Turkey begins with the arrival in Athens, Greece where we were picked up by our guide, Kosta, from Homeric tours. As we passed through the ancient narrow streets that were lined with orange trees and tiny cars, we caught glimpses of the Athens Acropolis. The parking was limited so there were many cars parked up on the streets and sidewalks.

IMG_2101Very tired from the overnight flight, the three of us barely fit into the tiny elevator of the Athenian Callirhoe, and went up to our rooms. The beds were rock hard but the staff of this hotel were top-notch. Very helpful and nice to us during our entire stay. It was in a very good location, close to the major attractions and some metro stops and restaurants. Kosta directed us to where the locals eat and we had a nice meal before hiking through the streets where we helped the local economy.

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The streets didn’t match up with the maps but the shopkeepers were very helpful giving us directions and then inviting us into their shops. We were making our way up to the Plaka area. We bought our obligatory tourist stuff and gave some coins to some kids on the street who were playing bouzoukis (a Greek guitar) and accordions, attempting to make their daily quota for their adult lords. It was hot and I for one was very weary after traveling so we headed back and had a lovely dinner at the restaurant hotel.

One of my thoughts walking the ancient streets was how much human history lies beneath the concrete sidewalks we were stomping on. For now we have many wonders to explore and more are excavated each year.

IMG_2217One thing I notice when we travel is the general character and décor of the living spaces in these big cities. In some countries you’ll see satellite dishes or water tanks on the roofs. Here in Athens I would describe the apartments that are home to six million residents as having a drab type of architecture with lots of green foliage spilling off their balconies—most having awnings. Their roofs hosted solar panels that also dotted the landscape. None of the buildings were very tall because there was a law to keep the view of the Acropolis open to the surrounding region.

The Acropolis

My parents were here 15 years ago and also 50 years ago as a young couple. My brother was a third wheel of sorts on that first trip, but not quite out of the cocoon at that point. We have photos of my parents in 1965 at the Acropolis. They enjoyed seeing the ruins again as we hiked up the tall local hill to the top.IMG_2173

In each of the ancient Greek cities, there was an acropolis. Most people know the one in Athens as the only one but there are many throughout the country. The Acropolis contains several ancient structures including the entryway or Propylaea. A monument to Agrippa still stands as part of the Propylaea. Also on the hill top is the Parthenon, which is the main structure, and the Erechtheum which was a temple to Athena and Poseidon. The Acropolis was the center of the civilized society and where the ancient nobles lived. The little people lived below in the low lands.

IMG_2164As we walked among the ruins I was amused at some of the wardrobes of the tourists, including one woman with blue high heels. This was not exactly an easy place to walk around—uneven rocks everywhere.

A couple of historical side notes…

The story of the Parthenon involved a rivalry among two of the ancient Greek gods, Athena and Poseidon. Looking for a patron for the city, the King asked the two to participate in a contest. Each offered a gift to the people—Poseidon created a spring but it turned out to have salty water, which didn’t do anything for the people there. Athena on the other hand gave them an olive tree, providing sustenance and oil to light there lamps. So Athena won, hence the name Athens.IMG_2207

The Parthenon was blown up when the Turks, who were occupying Athens, kept their arsenal there. The Athenians were fighting back and bombarded the arsenal, taking the ancient ruin with it. It has a lot of scaffolding so they are working to repair it.

In the early 1800s, the British Earl of Elgin obtained permission from the Sultan (who ruled Greece at the time) to take whatever he wanted from the Parthenon and so the ancient Frieze that decorated the outside of the Parthenon went piece by piece to England where it was sold to the British museum.

Day two will continue in the next post with a tour of the Olympic Stadium and more!

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Mom and Dad in 2015.

Mom and Dad in 2015.

Mom and Dad in 1965.

Mom and Dad in 1965.

Frieze replica.

Frieze replica.

Part of the Frieze from the Parthenon.

Part of the Frieze from the Parthenon.

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The monument of Agrippa (on the left) of the Propylaea.

The monument of Agrippa (on the left) of the Propylaea.

My family and I love to travel and discover not only the beauty of our natural world but also ancient man-made buildings and structures. We love to learn about other cultures and the people who live around the world—what they eat and drink, what their day-to-day lives are like, their history, and more. Each year we turn the globe and pick a new spot to visit. This year it was a tour through Greece and Turkey.

I was excited to mix a bit of ancient cultures with beautiful surroundings and a relaxing cruise on the Mediterranean. We started our adventure in Athens, Greece for a few days, then went to Istanbul, Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini, and a few places in Turkey via an unexpected bus ride. Funny thing is, that was not exactly the itinerary we signed up for.

This adventure included lots of rides on planes, buses, boats, ferries, more buses and lots of hikes up big hills. Those ancient people liked to build their societies on the top of the highest hills. As usual with my travel blog series, I’ll cover the stops in subsequent posts, but I’m going to cover the challenges we met with in this first post and get all that fun stuff out of the way.

It seems like we have this unique ability to get out of the country we are visiting just in time to avoid danger or trouble. For the past several years just after we have left a country, there have been terrorist attacks, bombings, and religious wars. While we were not seriously hurt, we weren’t as fortunate this time. Here are the highlights of the challenging moments of our trip.

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Mom gets a lift to our new, intact boat.

Breaking bones.

As we were making our way back to the hotel on day two after a long day of walking around Athens and seeing some of the main sites, my Mom, who has tendencies to fall and seriously hurt herself, did just that. She took a tumble on a step and hurt her ankle. An x-ray back home showed a fracture. We got her some crutches but she spent most of the trip relaxing on the boat or our room, as most of the excursions involved hikes on uneven pavements up high hills. We are happy to report that she’s doing better now.

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The Greeks lined up daily at ATMs to take out their 60 Euros before the machines dried up.

Going bankrupt.

We knew Greece was going to be in some sort of trouble before we left so we grabbed a bunch of cash out the ATMs in advance of the June 30 financial deadline. There were some protests here and there and during our trip we saw the Greek people lining up at ATMs trying to get their 60 Euros for the day before the machines dried up. But other than the news headlines, it didn’t seem to be an issue for us. We thought that was going to be our “thing” that happened on our trip but it was not to be.

Collision on the open seas.

We were very excited to be on this ship because when we signed up early on, we discovered as a trio we could get one of their two bow-facing suites for a very reasonable price. The Presidential Suite on this boat had a deck out front that was HUGE. I’ll talk more about the cabin and the not-so-great condition of the ship later. As we sailed on up to Turkey on our first night, I woke up around 12:30 am and went out front to check out the view as we were moving through the Dardanelle Straights. I could see land close on both sides but not much else so I went back to bed. An hour later all hell broke loose.IMG_2537

I remember waking up to a loud noise and a big impact. I saw the lamp next to my bed swinging and as I tumbled in my bed. My first thought was we ran a ground. Immediately I slid the curtains on the window open and noticed a large ship right in front of us moving across our bow. I started screaming, “Oh my God we hit another ship, oh my God.” (My dad thought there was an earthquake and later I asked him if he heard me yelling about the ship. He said, “No, I was too busy screaming.”) I then went to the door to go out on the deck but had to walk over the mini fridge that had fallen out of the cabinet and strewn its contents across the room. We were one of only a few cabins on the ship with balconies and one of two with a view of the bow. We had the ultimate up close view of a tanker moving off, listing to its port side and spilling liquid over its side. That liquid turned out to be jet fuel that was spewing all around us.

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Damage to our ship. The starboard railing was also torn off. Our cabin was just above this area and directly below the “empty” bridge.

The gas smell was nauseating and made it hard to breathe. At this point I’m thinking, holy crap we are going to have to get to the lifeboats because we hit that tanker and the boat is going to sink. So we got dressed and waited a few minutes before the announcement said the boat was structurally okay. That was a good thing because our meeting point in cases of emergencies was on the bow, right where the railing had been ripped off the ship.

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The tanker was damaged and emergency crews kept water pouring over it for many hours.

The next couple of hours were spent wondering what the heck was coming and listening to announcements such as “please don’t smoke, there is petrol surrounding us!” At around 3 a.m. they announced we would be anchoring the ship and then we listened to the anchor going up and down a few times. We didn’t sleep much and spent the entirety of the next day waiting for news. We finally were able to ferry off the ship around 8 pm. Then the fun began. Sixteen buses of people and baggage were disembarking, so we had to find our suitcases, walk a mile (with my mom on crutches) to the bus and off we went. The funny Australian couple in front of us made me laugh when making reference to all the refugees coming across the Mediterranean this last year. The husband remarked that the Turkish people in the sleepy town we were moving through were staring at us because we were now in fact, “the boat people.” I’ve never been a refugee coming off a boat into a foreign land and it seemed strange. It put things in perspective for sure—how fortunate our lives really are compared to real refugees.

But I digress. An hour or so on the bus and a ferry ride took us to the immigration center. A couple of hours in lines there getting visas and passport stamps was fun. We then were back on the bus for another ferry and trip back to Gallipoli—where we got off the ship—before spending another six or so hours driving to Istanbul where we arrived around 7 am to stand in another line to check in at the wonderful and comfortable Hilton.

I’ll talk more about accommodations and Turkey later, but two nights sans sleep and a major collision on the water was enough excitement for me. We saw photos of the ship’s wreckage on Facebook from friends who Googled it. It was bad. Later we learned more and heard radio transmissions that basically told me someone was asleep at the wheel or not there all together. It was a miracle we did not explode or that anyone was seriously hurt. Thank you God!

There were a lot of boats including this large coast guard vessel checking out the damage.

There were a lot of boats including this large coast guard vessel checking out the damage.

I have had moments of wanting to sue the cruise line. I’m not litigious by nature but this was not a normal accident—it was a serious case of negligence. Thousands of people could have died if the ships had exploded. For now, I’m waiting. The crew members were great. Those poor folks went with less sleep than we did and they handled themselves with patience and grace. The cruise line promised to refund our cruise, comped us some hotel nights and a couple excursions as well as a shortened cruise on another of their ships. They also promised to comp us a cruise next year. I’m a bit nervous about that so we’ll see.

So, we escaped once again. God definitely wants me alive for something. I’m not sure what His plan is but as I told my parents before we left, “Nothing is going to happen while we are there, it will happen after, so it’s cool.”

Well, things happen when you leave your house. You either accept it and roll with the punches or stay home and miss out on the glorious world we live in. Remember, you don’t have to go across the world to travel and discover something wonderful.

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Lots of kids hung around the tourists trying to earn money playing music. We had some great food in Greece–gyros were on today’s menu.

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Lots of dogs hung out in the tourist area. The Greeks put collars and tags on them and put water dishes out. The dogs are left to get their own food and love getting hugs from visitors.

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There were a lot of cats just hanging out on ancient ruins, and in this case on a chair in this outdoor cafe. All the cats I approached were very sweet and loved getting pet.

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The financial crisis was in all the headlines. People were hanging around the newsstands reading the latest news.

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Our deck looking off the bow.

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Our deck was huge and included a whirlpool. We didn’t get a chance to use it though.