Greece 2015 – Galaxidi & Delphi

Galaxidi, Greece

After we had seen Athens we headed North. A few hours of driving later we already arrived in Galaxidi, a small fishing village close to Delphi. We had picked Galaxidi since it was close enough to Delphi and also not far from the Rio-Antirrio bridge which connects mainland Greece with the Peloponnese.

Galaxidi, Greece

Galaxidi was a little different from the rest of the places we’d stay at during our vacation, as it is not known to be frequented by foreign tourists. It does have a few small hotels and a harbor where a few Yachts are anchored, but apart from the restaurants along the pier there isn’t much to do, which was alright with us. When we arrived we drove straight through the centre of the town without seeing anyone. This is not surprising at noon, and one more thing that makes you feel on vacation in Greece.

We had booked a wonderful small hotel in Galaxidi called the “Archontiko Art Hotel”. Our hotel was a little outside of town, meaning we got to walk around the harbour whenever we’d go to the pier to get something to eat. I took some of the most “greek” and tranquil photos of that vacation while walking along the seaside road in Galaxidi.

The archeological site of Delphi is located a short drive from Galaxidi and an obvious must-see for anyone passing through this part of Greece. We drove to Delphi on a relatively warm day, blue skies and not too many tourists at the main gate. The small city of Delphi does not have anything to offer, the Delphi museum is also a little underwhelming. But the site itself is well worth the visit. It is located on a mountain side facing the valley below, which means that one has to hike quite a bit to get from the entrance to the highest part of the site: The stadium.

Delphi, Greece
Delphi, Greece Delphi, Greece

We had a great time at Delphi, but like with so many archeological sites in Greece its size is a major hurdle. Many of the sites in Greece are just to big to take in at once, with too many similar temples, stadiums and treasuries wedged between unidentified and unsorted pillars and rocks. It’s not that they don’t have any written explanations, just that its all text, badly translated from Greek and very academic. In my opinion, the biggest issue is that there are no 3D-recreations of what a particular heap of rocks looked like, there is no way to get sense of scale for the different types of buildings. In that regard, the museums I saw in the United States were much more accessible for the average visitor. Still, visiting these archeological gems in Greece is interesting even without the proper historical context.

Greece 2015 – Athens

As I gave away in my last post, our 2015 summer vacation took us to Greece. The decision to Greece was a spontaneous one, we had pondered where to go for some while before we came up with the idea to go there. We were a little hesitant at first, especially since we’d be going there in at the height of the Euro-crisis and did not know what to expect. Fortunately we got some first hand information from people who had been there recently who told us not to worry about what made the headlines at that time.

Athens, Greece

When we go somewhere we usually like to rent a car and drive around quite a bit, to take in as much as possible. This also reduces the risk of being stuck in a disappointing location for too long. In North America we usually book only the first few nights ahead of time and then figure out our route and the length of each stay as we go along, booking via the Internet each night. In Greece this was not really an option since a lot of the hotels we’d want to stay in where really small and completely booked way ahead of time. So we figured out a reasonable route and booked a few nights at each stop.

Athens, Greece

Obviously we flew into Athens and had a nice hotel for the first few nights, after which we’d pick up our car. This turned out to be a good choice since one of our suitcases did not arrive with us on the plane. So while we had all of our chargers, documents and cosmetics, the suitcase with all of our clothes and shoes was stuck somewhere between Germany and Greece. To make a long story short: It would not arrive until three days before our departure. At least in Athens we were able to buy some affordable clothes at H&M. On a positive note, not having clothes to change into told us just how little you actually need to go on vacation in a warm country.

Athens, Greece

Athens was simply amazing and, more so than we’d hoped for. We arrived on a Sunday evening which was a bit of a shocker. Our hotel was in the middle of city and we had to walk a few blocks from the subway station. On our way there we passed one closed shop after another, often looking very derelict with every square inch covered in Graffiti. When we walked down the same street the next morning we did not recognize it, since every shop was open and everything was bustling with activity. This pattern was repeated in different parts of the town: Areas that look like you might get mugged every second transform into a busy shopping and tourist lane the next day.

Athens, Greece

The center of Athens is dominated by the mighty Acropolis, even more so at night when it is being lit up. Just going up to the Acropolis and walking around some of the adjacent old city blocks will easily consume a whole day. The streams of tourists were ever-present but it was a lot more bearable than other locations like Paris or certain Canadian National Parks. We even had the luck of seeing the (by now infamous) Syntagma Square without any indication of the recent (or upcoming) protests.

Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece Athens, Greece

Probably the biggest joy of going on vacation the local cuisine. This was a major factor that made us pick Greece, and we would not be disappointed. Athens has many small romantic streets with restaurants and Tavernas of different sophistication. Yet, no matter whether you sit down in a fancy restaurant or in a tourist grill place, the food is sublime. A word of advice though: Unless you want to stick out as the ignorant tourist you’re well advised to follow the rhythm of the Greeks: No big meal at noon and dinner not before 9pm. This worked a little in our favor since we were always able to get the spot we wanted if we went to the restaurants at around 8-9pm when the tourists had already left.

After the busy streets of Athens we had scheduled a trip north, towards a small fisher town called Galaxidi, close to the ancient city of Delphi.

Greece: In the making

Galaxidi, Greece

It’s been quiet here since my last post on Belgium. Actually, I’ve been busy uploading the photos from our 2015 vacation to Greece. Our trip to Greece was, once again, something very unique which we’ll remember for a long time to come. So stay tuned and follow me on flickr for new photos until the next post comes along.

Vacationing in Belgium

Liège, Belgium

Belgium is a strange country by a lot of measures. First of all, it’s split into two distinct parts separated by language, the Wallonie (French) and Flanders (Dutch). There is no love lost between these two parts which differ in terms of economic output and wealth. Where we live, in Aachen, the Belgian border meets the German border meets the Dutch (Zuid-Limburg) border to form the tri-state Euregio region, and provides boundless opportunities for cross-country tourism commerce. On the Belgian side of the border, the region is part of the Wallonie, yet for the first few kilometers and cities it’s part of the German community of Belgium, yet another cultural group within the country. Worse yet: Near the border, where we frequently go hiking from village to village, there a numerous enclaves of French and Dutch speakers. These villages do not follow any discernible pattern, so each time you traversed a stretch of fields to reach the next village you have to watch out for the local language. Oh boy!

Spa, Belgium

Another part that is immediately obvious when crossing into Belgium is the fact that some of the communities are not as wealthy as their German and Dutch counterparts near the border, creating a stark contrast in some places. For the German tourist this is evident by the way that roads are maintained, first and foremost. Also Belgium still has above-ground power lines, something we’re not used to in Germany anymore. But apart from these small details, Belgium is a very nice and different country, kind of a mixture between France and the Netherlands in my mind. Some of the cities in the Wallonie have a history of heavy industrial activity, and the ugly remnants of this can still be seen in a lot of places. But then again, the same could be said about the outskirts of Maastricht (NL) as well as the whole Ruhrgebiet in Germany. Depending on how you like to put it, Belgium got a lot of character, it certainly isn’t as clean and dull as some German cities ;)

Liège, Belgium

So, earlier this year we had decided to put our money where out mouth is and actually spend a long weekend vacationing in Belgium. After some searching on the Internet we found the website Ardennes Etape which has some really nice and affordable vacation homes in the Belgian countryside. We found a nice house which would fit the six of us in Sprimont, south of Liège. The village itself was tiny and very laid back. There were cats roaming the few streets and a number of farms which had lots of different animals practically in the center of the village. Our house was really lovely, rustic, small, with a chimney and a full-size kitchen and very different bedrooms. Even better, we were in this tiny village in the middle of nowhere, the only sounds the occasional grunts by grazing cows, and we only had to drive about an hour from Aachen.

Spa, Belgium
Liège, Belgium Liège, Belgium
Liège, Belgium Sprimont, Belgium

Our vacation home in Sprimont can be seen in the bottom-right photo.

On our first full day in Sprimont we went hiking near Spa. Spa is within the Ardennes region, so the hike was similar to the hikes we usually do through the Haute Fagnes near Eupen and Monschau. We even came upon a small airport which had planes full of skydivers starting every few minutes. After we had hiked for most of the day we drove into Spa to get a look at the lovely old city centre. The next day we drove into Liège (Lüttich), the capitol and biggest city of the Wallonie. The outskirts of Liège are a little bit run-down in some areas, and there are signs of the industrial history to be found everywhere. Katrin and I had been to Liège just once a few years ago, so we had our own picture of the city. Luckily, this time the weather was perfect, the Sunday market was brimming with shoppers and the city was in full bloom. We walked through most of the city centre north of the Meuse and of course also hiked up the Montagne de Bueren (Steps of Bueren) towards the citadel looking over the city. At the end of the day were pleasantly surprised and realized that a lot of our negative impressions about Liège were either unfounded or had been remediated in the last years, which was also true for the rest of Belgium. While Belgium is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about vacation, it is a good option if you only have a long weekend and don’t want to spend hours in your car or in a plane.

Liège, BelgiumLiège, BelgiumSprimont, Belgium

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