I am not a world traveler. English is currently my only language. I have only had my passport for 4 years. But friends, I have the bug. Particularly for photographing the world. Photographing Greece was on the top of my photography bucket list.
For someone who spent her entire childhood in one house in a very small town in Illinois, this should come as a shock. Ask my Mom – I couldn’t even spend the night at someone’s house, including my aunt’s down the street, until high school! I’m talking nauseated, sure someone-in-my-family-is-dying type of fear. Not what you would call a good candidate for globe trotting. But we are talking about the chance to be photographing Greece.
Growing up we went on two (TWO) family vacations – a trip out west in Jr. high and to the Gulf of Mexico in high school. Although I’ve been on many more state side trips since then, I really thought being in my 30s meant I should have seen more of creation, had more of a visual history of my life outside my home country. The good old US of A is so diverse in climate, people, altitude and food, but I was hankering for something more.
Our 15th wedding anniversary was in June. We decided after our last international trip for our 10th (actually 11th since we celebrated the 10th by having a baby) to Sint Maarten, we wanted another adventure to mark the occasion. After reading about the low crime rate, epic history (Parthenon anyone?), amazing food (I made a very long list), and how their economy was in need of some help, we decided Greece was the place to be. Athens and the island of Santorini, to be exact.
Knowing you will visit somewhere as epic as Greece means you have to make sure your landscape photography skills are on-point. I mean we are talking about photographing Greece here! I rented a 11-24L Canon wide angle lens from Lens Pro To Go to compliment by Canon 24-70L. I read and reread my favorite articles on how to make these types of photos interesting because I knew I’d have to be creative in order to make up for the less-than-perfect lighting situations I was sure to encounter. I wasn’t going to miss remembering my trip because the mid-day light wasn’t dreamy enough. I packed my lens cleaner, an extra battery, an extra CF card, lens wipes, a tripod, and two 2 tb external hard drives. These items, along with my laptop, never left my side. It was a lot to lug through five airports (for a total of 9 visits), but I would have worn the same clothes for a week before I’d go one day of this trip without capturing it with my camera.
After landing in Athens, we took a “puddle jumper” for the 1 hour flight to Santorini.
Photographing Santorini, Greece
The island of Santorini is actually several land masses that resulted from the eruption of a giant volcano thousands of years ago. This island has been excavated thoroughly and is hypothesized to be the Lost City of Atlantis. They still use mules as a mode of transportation there, although mostly in the vineyards.
Santorini’s grapes are actually pruned to grow in a basket formation as the area gets very little rainfall. The volcanic soil along with the unique vine design makes the island a top European destination for spirits. And for tomatoes. Golly, did I eat a lot of tomato in many forms. The tomato bread dips, sun-dried tomatoes in authentic olive oil, Greek salad with Santorini tomatoes… I even ate tomatoes with grilled octopus!
The only part more enjoyable than the food was Santorini’s people and landscape. We stayed at the gorgeous Volcano View Hotel in the capital city of Thira.
It had amazing views of the caldera from anywhere you looked, an awesome restaurant, and a 24 hour cafe that sold the best pastries right across the street. After every lazy morning, we would get coffee and a pastry at the cafe across the street, then head out for our daily adventure. Ok, we ended the day there, too, but that’s a different story.
One of our first adventures was the small village of Megalochori. The streets were built with equine travel in mind, but we quickly learned that locals are unfazed by the narrow, winding streets and drive their compact cars right through town. Obviously no passing and usually one way. Usually. Their many blue-domed churches, family owned restaurants, and detailed doors used to enter beautiful private courtyards made us feel like we were transported back hundreds of years. Definitely less touristy and a must see.
One of my favorite restaurants of the whole trip was The Good Heart. On the opposite side of the island from all the hub-bub, this family run business is generations old and serves up the best they have to offer to people they consider extended family. This is where I first fell in love with Santorini tomatoes. I am still kicking myself for not going back to get some of their home-grown spices and canned goods to take home.
Photographing Oia, Greece
One of our most beautiful trips was to the city of Oia. Shopping, restaurants, views, luxury accommodations, old world beauty – this town has it all. We discovered it is a very popular wedding destination. We were there on a Tuesday and saw at least 3 brides! Luckily there are so many churches, their ceremonies wouldn’t have conflicted. We walked the winding paths lined with shops and never seemed to reach the end! How these dwellings were built on the steep sides of this beautiful volcano remnant several hundreds of year ago is beyond me! It would be a feat for even today’s engineers. Oia’s sunset is world famous, so we made sure to stay for it. There were people gathered on every cliff edge as well as on chartered boats in the caldera. It was as beautiful as promised. Once the sun finally dipped below the horizon, everyone broke out in applause. Many of my favorite images from this trip were taken in this gorgeous town.
After hopping back over the sea to Athens, we settled into our room at the Divani Palace Acropolis 5 star hotel. It was within walking distance to so many restaurants, shops, the Acropolis, and many other ancient ruins including the temple of Zeus. We made sure to have dinner on their rooftop restaurant which had amazing food and a view of the Parthenon lit up at night. Talk about a meal that can never be matched!
Part of being one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world (over 44,000 people per square mile, almost twice that of NYC), is needing to have different rules on the roads. We had heard about risk-taking drivers, the lack of real traffic rules, and the plethora of motorbikes and ATVs we would encounter on the roads of Greece, but experiencing it is quite a different story. Brian has raced go karts, drag raced, and is scheduled to drive an Indy car next spring, but even he was rattled. The roads are extremely narrow, the traffic lights practically non-existent, and there is no place to park. Anywhere. We traveled by car daily in Santorini, but Athens wasn’t as manageable. Luckily, most of what we wanted to see was within walking distance there.
Our first must-see location in Athens was the famed Acropolis Museum in the city’s center. It deserves all the accolades it has received. Finished in 2009, it was built on top of a noble’s family home ruins, so that excavated site is visible from the clear walkway entering the museum.
Once you enter, you are greeted with volumes of ancient history both behind glass and uncovered, ready for up close experience. Although there are museum employees everywhere making sure there is no touching and that no photos are taken of the antiquities on almost all of the 3 floors, I kept my arms tightly tucked to my sides to avoid the constant temptation to reach out and touch these timeless pieces of art.
The most interesting part of the experience was the attention they gave to the long history of looting this 2500 year old place had endured. They even went as far as placing plaster replicas of the many stolen pieces where they should rightfully be replaced. It was quite moving. Almost as moving as being on the site itself.
Photographing Athens, Greece
Awe-struck doesn’t cover it. Everywhere I turned there were pieces of history older than Christ. Although many had tried to change the Parthenon, making it fit their society and religious views, it has endured. Many other dedicated professionals have chosen to make it their life’s work to restore, elevate, and enlighten others regarding the importance of such an ancient symbol of the creativity, passion and talent of some of history’s most famous artistic minds. I kept wishing there was a way to go back in time, to see it in all its original glory. The entire Acropolis – Athena Nike’s temple, Erechtheion, the Propylaea, Odeion of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionyssos – were all built as grand centers of life that have not, and will not, be replicated. If their remnants are this awe-inspiring, I can only imagine what emotion the original structures drew from their admirers.
The Poet Sandal Maker
While in Athens, I made sure to visit the Sandal-making poet, Starves Melissinos and his family. He is world famous for his hand made leather sandals. The Beatles, Jackie O, Sophia Loren, and may other celebrities have made visits to the shop a priority over the years. When the Olympics were held in Athens, the flame bearers even wore his sandals. Because the wait can be several hours, we made sure to be there as soon as they opened. Within minutes, the small shop was filled to overflowing with over a dozen people there for the legendary shoes. One couple, oddly enough from Indianapolis, walked in with a worn pair purchased there over 10 year ago that their friend begged them to bring and have remade as they were his favorite. I was helped promptly and walked out with two unique, beautiful and comfortable pairs of sandals I may even consider wearing in the winter.
Our next adventure was to nearby ancient Corinth. The castle built on the hill of Acorinth, the military stronghold, was only accessible by hike, so we explored the outer wall that had remained largely untouched since Paul had made his missionary journeys there thousands of years ago. I am photographing Greece an almost forgetting to pull my camera to my face I am in such amazement.
Next we visited the old capital along with the well done museum on site. The most moving portion was hearing several Pastors read from Acts 18 which describes Paul’s years spent sharing the love of Christ in Corinth, only to be accused in court of illegal religious practices. I stood where Paul was to defend himself before the governor Gallio, named the Bema. Emotion overwhelmed me. Hopefully more historic Biblical sites are in my future.
Obviously this trip was a life changer for me in many ways. First of all, we decided the girls will be part of these amazing trips from now on. We all missed each other very much so if we’re going to cross multiple bodies of water and visit several countries in one day, they are coming with us. Secondly, the wander-bug is real and I’ve happily been inoculated. I’ve already looked in to Spain, Italy and pretty much anywhere in South America for our next trip. I’ve also started studying Spanish with hopes of moving on to French within a year. I want to be a polyglot! Although I would love to return to Greece to visit the beaches, Crete, Meteroa… and eat more wonderful food! I have lived my dream of photographing Greece, but now there are so many more places I am ready to go photograph.
I have come a long way from the girl afraid to spend the night anywhere but in her own bed. Fast forward about 20 years, 2 degrees, 1 husband, 15 years of marriage, 3 kids, 5 moves and 2 states later. I have visited several oceans, 3 continents, 5 countries (6 if you count Sint Maarten as France and Netherlands), and I can’t wait to quadruple those numbers!
Want to learn more about Greece? Here are a few of our favorite sites.