Before visiting Greece, my first thoughts always consisted of the islands when thinking of the country, but the Cosmos’ “Best of Greece” historical tour (www.cosmos.com) opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of the mainland. After visiting such places as Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Sparta and Metero on the mainland, I realized Greece’s culture, cuisine and history equals its recognized beauty.
Our tour of Greece had a range of travelers from Australia, England, Canada, Cuba and the United States. People signed up in singles, pairs and with their families, so the age-range spanned anywhere from 13 to 65. In the 10-day period of the tour, our group of 22 people (which I found out is on the smaller side of most tour groups) were able to bond in a way I haven’t remembered since overnight camp. More than just the tour itself, the people were also an experience.
Yanni, our tour director, was a wealth of information. Every day we would stop the coach bus for lunch, and Yanni would excitedly tell us the restaurants specialties, which I always made sure to try. On our way from Athens to Epidaurus, Yanni suggested we try the fried small fish plate, a dish in which the fish become so soft that the bones are completely edible. Traveling between Kalambaka and Athens, on Yanni's suggestion, I had a spectacular goat soup.
Our first and last stop was the bustling city of Athens. There are 10.5 million people living in Greece and almost five million of them live in Athens. And within Athens, the Athenian Acropolis is a sight to behold: Although there are restorations currently around the Parthenon, you can still get a real feel for the size of the area and of the surrounding buildings, treasuries and theaters. "Acro" in acropolis means highest point, and "polis" means city. Many of the larger cities in Greece each have their own acropolis, although none is as large as the Athens acropolis.
The Acropolis Museum, which is situated nearby, was built only a year ago and holds multiple ruins and preserved statues. It's impossible to dig anywhere in an ancient city like Greece and not discover a new ruin, which is exactly what happened when the Acropolis Museum was erected. In order to preserve their new findings, the museum was re-designed to stand on concrete stilts with multiple glass floors to see straight through to a preserved history.
From Athens we toured the Peloponnese, a large peninsula south of the Gulf of Corinth. It forms most of southern Greece and is known for its ancient wonders and mythical triumphs. After crossing the Corinth Canal (completed in 1893), we journeyed west to Nafplion, the 1830’s center of Greece and the current capital of the province of Argolida. According to legend, the city was named after its founder, son of the God of Poseidon.
On the way to Nafplion we stopped at Epidaurus, known for its natural springs; It was the most brilliant center of healing in the ancient world. Worshiping the gods of healing in Epidaurus goes back to the prehistoric Mycenaean period. The site contains a Greek theater which seats 14,000 people and is one of the best preserved theaters from ancient Greece.
Yanni told us a fact about of the theater’s ancient construction: that you can sit in the furthest row and hear a coin drop on the stage floor so clearly that you would think it was three feet from you. Needing this to be proven, I climbed the rows of stone seats to the highest point and listened hard when someone dropped a euro on the ground floor. Amazingly, the resounding “cling” that rang through the theater was crystal clear, like I dropped the coin at my own feet.