Jenss Family Travels: No Time Like The Present
Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
Most of the correspondence we’ve received from friends, family and colleagues in the States during the ten months we’ve been traveling has referred to the terrible economy, the awful mood back home, and what a different country we’ll be returning to. Literally everyone has told us we couldn’t have picked a better time to skip town for a year.
As mentioned in my previous post, we couldn’t have chosen a better time to go to Greece, either. The big advantages to visiting in May are the weather, lack of crowds and ease of traveling from place to place. So with two weeks to play with, the challenge was figuring out where to go from the multitude of recommendations we received, many more than I had anticipated.
Going to the Acropolis in Athens is pretty much mandatory, but can easily be done in a day. There are lots of other interesting things to see around the city (a newly refurbished museum opens in July), but with two kids in tow, we didn’t feel compelled to seek them out. Albeit among the most famous historical sites in the world, the Parthenon and surrounding ruins did not inspire us as much as others throughout the country. Most of the site was covered in scaffolding and if you didn’t have a tour guide like us, it’s hard to make out exactly what happened here in its peak period some 2,500 years ago. By contrast, we had the archaeological site of ancient Corinth almost all to ourselves, while the well-preserved artifacts in its museum really helped us understand its significance. As a port city, the modern day Corinth also offers some nice seaside restaurants and shopping, which made it perfect for a day trip away from the congestion and big-city challenges of Athens.
When it comes to beautiful surroundings, however, Delphi easily takes the prize for the most scenic of all the historical sites we saw in the country. Declared by Zeus to be the center, or navel of the Earth, its importance in the classical Greek world was profound. The main temple, dedicated to the god Apollo for slaying the python who guarded this sacred spot and the Oracle of Delphi, is as picturesque as any ruin you’ll find in Greece. Furthermore, this sanctuary is where athletes from all over ancient Greece competed every four years in the Pythian Games, one of the four Panhellenic Games that preceded the more famous Olympic Games.
At the recommendation of an American couple we met while in Santorini, we overnighted in the town of Arahova, only about ten minutes from the much busier city of Delphi. Besides its appeal of being so close to Delphi, Arahova has become a very popular cosmopolitan mountain town thanks to its picturesque views and proximity to the nearby Parnassos ski area. It’s also a great alternative to taking the standard one-day bus tour from Athens, which hauls in thousands of tourists a day.
But perhaps the busiest historic site we encountered was Olympia, home of not only the first Olympic Games back in 1776 B.C., but a massive sanctuary that housed the Temple of Zeus and Hera, which made this one of the more significant places of ancient Greece. Being the birthplace of the Olympics, however, is still its biggest draw. This was certainly the case for the boys, who found the history fascinating, especially the fact that the first games were only held for one day and all the participants (only male) were naked. They took great pride in standing where the Olympic torch is lit each Olympic year before it goes off on its worldwide journey to the host city. We also visited the Museum of the Modern Olympic Games. To our surprise, we were the only visitors for the entire hour we walked around its displays, maybe because lack of funding prevents them from advertising that the museum even exists.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Finally, we took one last three-day trip to the islands via a Vodafone high-speed ferry. This time to the Sporades group in the northwestern half of the Aegean, nestling in the lee of the Pelion Peninsula. Skiathos is one of its three main islands and was much different than Santorini or the other islands of the Cyclades to the south. Although the filming of “Mama Mia” on neighboring Scopelos has created a renewed interest in this area, Skiathos still has a laid-back and family-friendly feel, except in July and August, when apparently you can’t find a place to stay. We rented an apartment at Villa Kim, a charming six-room family-run operation that welcomed us with open arms (we were among the first guests of the season). On a day that wasn’t appropriate for visiting one of its dozens of beaches, the owners wisely recommended we take a hike from the Evangelistria Monastery towards the coast. On the way, we passed by a smaller monastery that was in the process of being renovated by a group of local volunteers.
To our good fortune, we were invited to join them for lunch and some wine, which we gladly accepted. Encounters like these are common in Greece and are what makes travel so rewarding. On that particular afternoon, I hadn’t a care in the world about what awaits us when we return to the States after such a long absence. With a little more than a month to go before we have to face a new reality, we’re determined to soak it all in, and appreciate every moment of this journey of self-discovery that certainly won’t end once the trip concludes.
Photo: Above, Delphi; Below, Olympian artifacts, by Rainer Jenss