Vantage Deluxe World Travel knows that it's important for our employees to experience our wonderful trips firsthand- that's why all employees are strongly encouraged to take a Familiarization (FAM) trip. These trips are intended to familiarize associates with the great products Vantage offers. They are an invaluable opportunity to live our customers' experience and to travel to exciting and varied destinations! Below Vantage employee, Lynn Noll, describes her time in Greece!
Greece: Antiquity to Byzantium
This was my first FAM. It was great. My husband and I both loved Greece, and the overall quality of the experience was superb. It was packed with activities, and Greece in April had excellent weather for sight seeing. Greek Orthodox Easter added color.
Here is a log of what we did.
Start: Flight on Lufthansa. Flights are always long, but being with the group helped make the time pass faster. Enjoyed a nice German beer on the flight and supper on the flight.
Arrived in Athens. Met at airport by efficient manager from Britain (married to a Greek and living in Athens) who narrated tour as we rode back from the airport. The Acropolis and the Temple of Zeus tells us we are in really in Greece!
Hotel proved excellent, with an attentive staff and efficient check-in. Great view of the Acropolis. Beds and lighting were top quality. There is a shuttle to the Plaka.
A drink and a shower left me feeling much more alive, and I headed for the Plaka (market place) with the group for a bit of shopping. By the subway stop we passed, we found an Athenian feature: whenever a hole is dug, it reveals new antiquities, so the sites are covered with glass and preserved. There was such a site by the subway stop on our way to the Plaka.
Friday: After breakfast, a new guide met us. She was very knowledgeable. We passed the stadium for the first modern Olympics as it was filling up with school children from all over Greece. Then we explored the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum. The Acropolis Museum, a new museum, was built over part of the old Athenian market place, so most of the floors are glass so you can see the ancient store and house foundations. We could see the foundations continuing under areas without glass floors; they looked like they ran on forever.
We enjoy gyros and drinks at a restaurant in the Plaka before heading for the ship. The food is delicious.
The ship’s staff greeted us with orange juice. My husband and I arrange our luggage under the beds, and plug in my computer under the TV to charge. (We brought an adaptor.) We hang a couple of outfits in the closet, but don’t spend much time unpacking; we head up to the lounge immediately to watch the mainland and islands roll by.
The bar and lounge proved very inviting, whether inside or out. I enjoy a cold beer. Today is quite warm: about 75. After I finish my beer, I go up to the roof deck, where the movement of the ship creates a steady breeze. I get a bit of a sunburn; I should have remembered sunblock! I meet some of my fellow passengers, who are from California and the UK.
We headed for an unscheduled stop at nearby Egina, the Island of Pistachios, where Greeks vacation, and reached it before dinner. The island was delightful, with a pleasure boat harbor and a pretty harbor side church. (There is an archeological site at one side, but we don’t visit it.) Little dwellings along the alleys had pretty patio gardens with bright flowers; we stopped at an inviting mom and pop store. The proprietors smile shyly and give each of us a red Easter egg; we buy pistachios and chocolate. Some of us go swimming. Later, the guide led an evening tour to watch the full moon rise.
Saturday: The ship anchored off shore at our first scheduled stop, and we took the ship’s boat to the town: Palea Epidavro. From there, we visited the temple of Aesculapius, and the wonderful Theater, very well preserved and restored, and still used for special productions. We had it mostly to ourselves. One of the guests entertained us with an aria to demonstrate the acoustics. Eugenia (our guide) proved informative and enthusiastic. Views from the theater were spectacular, and wild flowers were everywhere (as at every stop.) I take a picture of red poppies framed against ancient marble columns. Afterwards, we had some free time in town, and then returned to the ship, where we enjoyed a bit of swimming. The Aegean proved chilly but swimmable, like the Cape in June, and very clear.
We made an unscheduled stop at Poros that evening. We enjoyed a climb through the back alleys (which in Poros are stairs and walkways) to the watch tower; we also visited an old chapel.
Sunday: Napfio. That afternoon we took a bus to the Venetian fortress (they call it a castle but I think cannon holes make it a fortress—it is from the 17th century) at the top of the hill. Views were spectacular. In the 17th century, people ascended by the ‘999 steps’, which zigzag back and forth up the hill; the next day, my husband and I climb them for the experience. There is a long sea walk by the ocean; we walk along it for about a mile, and then turn back, as it seems to go on forever.
Monday: Weather was a bit rainy and nippy for the visit to Mycenae, the site identified with Agamemnon and the Iliad. Agamemnon's tomb is a marvelous old beehive, with a side treasure chamber (empty now). The Lion’s Gate greets us as we enter the ruins of the walled town. Access is good: one guest was able to explore it in a wheelchair. When we first arrive, there are few other visitors, but the crowds gather while we are exploring, and the rain seems more serious. We retreat to the museum, and then return to town. As the ship is docked at Nafplio, we could wander off at will; this is when Brad and I climb the stairs. We explore a second fortress, lower down, but decide not to take the little taxi boat to the third. We shop a little in town.
On the ship that evening, the crew demonstrated Greek and Arabic dancing. The guests (very clumsy) join in, and everyone gets very silly. Afterwards, some guests leave to enjoy the bars along the waterfront (they close around 5 a.m.).
Tuesday: Scheduled stop in medieval Monemvassia. It barely had streets at all, but rather walkways broken by steps that ascend the steep hill; the garbage truck is a weird little tractor with tank treads. We visited a very fine medieval Greek Orthodox church with great carvings and a twelfth century icon, and then climbed to an old closed church on the peak to enjoy the view. (Monemvassia has a huge number of churches—I saw two different totals—one for 27 and one for 45.) I take a picture of the overlapping orange tile roofs making patterns down the hill.
No clubbing that evening—we travel overnight. We have a brief port slot at which we will disembark very early, because the captain has heard there will be three big cruise ships arriving the same day. We want to reach Olympia while we can still have it mostly to ourselves. While we explore by bus, the captain will continue on, and we will rejoin him in Patras.
Wednesday: We get on our bus by 7:30 a.m., which didn’t keep me from enjoying breakfast since I arranged a early wake up call. The port lacked charm, but we didn’t spend very long there. We did watch one of the big ships arrive; the captain docked it very carefully; it dwarves our yacht. Nicholas (head of the serving staff) remembers working on one of those; he says it meant waiting in lines for everything. Just because it has docked does not mean their first wave of tourists can compete with us; we get to Olympia way before anyone from that ship.
Olympia has flowering trees all over the site among the ancient columns. This site is a lot flatter than the mountainous areas we have been exploring, and it is easy to walk around. We go mad taking pictures. Most impressive is a fallen column from the temple of Zeus; you can see how big it was and how the pieces fitted together. The stadium is grass covered; we pretend to run foot races there.
After the site, we stopped for a wine and olive oil tasting, and then ate a very fine lunch at a small restaurant. They make their own red wine; Brad buys a carafe for our table.
That evening, we rejoined the ship in Patras, and can see the Peloponnesus on one side and the mainland on the other for the rest of the trip.
Thursday: we visited Delfi (best site yet, with absolutely amazing views from the bus down the valley to Itea and the sea, and great ruins, very well preserved). Eugenia gave a great tour, and then we explored on our own. Brad and I climbed up to the stadium at the top; we don’t go as far as the top of the mountain because time is getting short. We can see three or four snow covered peaks; people do ski on these slopes. But the weather is a comfortable 65 degrees.
After that we rejoined the ship for lunch, and then headed back to Marina Zea. We spend the night in the port, and do our repacking. We say good-bye to Eugenia, who is leaving a bit early. It seems sad that the cruise is at an end.
Friday: Good Friday. Brad and I go off on our own. We walk through the public parks up to the highest point in Athens (Lycabettus Hill); there is a cable car, but you can walk from little park to little park almost all the way. Then we decide to skip the planned tour, and head over to the Archeological museum to view the Mycenean gold (the originals) and the Minoan frescos. On the way back, we cut through the markets where the Athenians are buying Easter supplies (whole skinned lambs and goats on display, as well as bins of beans and lentils.) The rest of the group heads up the coast with a Greek guide. Later, we rejoin the group for a drink. Afterwards, several people dress up a little so they can visit a local church to see Christ brought out; I am tempted but don’t want to change.
Saturday: Long flight back. The little TV’s on the back of the seats let us choose fairly recent movies; I watch Sherlock Homes 2, and Brad watches that and the new Mission Impossible.
Lynn Noll, Senior Programmer/Analyst at Vantage Deluxe World Travel
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