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LEGENDARY GREECE  

Sept 24 - Oct 5, 2017 (starts in Athens Sept 25)

ITINERARY    

 

On this leisurely tour we start with three nights in a deluxe hotel in Athens followed by six nights in a luxurious, beachfront hotel near Nafplion on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Our final night is back in Athens.

Sept 24 Day 1 : Depart from Toronto to Athens on an overnight flight on Air Canada.  (The flight is optional )

Sept 25 Day 2 :  Arrive Athens and transfer to a four star hotel close to the Acropolis. There are a few hours to rest, then, in mid-afternoon, we have a panoramic sightseeing tour of Athens by private coach. Dinner is at a traditional taverna. DINNER INCLUDED 

Sept 26 Day 3 : 
Morning exploration of the spectacular new Acropolis Museum which cleverly showcases layers of history floating above the ruins and, with the Acropolis visible above, allows visitors to see the masterpieces in context. There is mid-day free time to explore the colourful Plaka with its tavernas and  historic monuments. You can contemplate Plato as you stroll the pedestrian area among ancient landmarks in the Archaeological Park. The aroma of grilling souvlaki and the strumming of buskers accompanies you along the way. Later in the afternoon we visit the Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this “city of temples” built by Pericles in 480 BC was regarded as the zenith of Greek achievement. With an expert guide we learn about the ancient rituals involved in worship of Athena, the goddess who embodied the power and prestige of the city. No matter how many photographs you've seen, nothing can prepare you for majesty of the Acropolis, still standing after thousands of years.  
In the evening enjoy dinner in a restaurant. BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED. 

Sept 27 Day 4: This morning we head to Delphi, the most entrancing and memorable ancient site in Greece. This UNESCO World Heritage site is perched on the slopes of Mount Parnassos and surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery. Mythology says that when Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth the eagles met in the sky above Delphi impaling one another with their beaks and falling to the ground thus making Delphi the center of the world. Further legend says that the site had a sacred spring guarded by a Python. The story is told that when Apollo killed the Python he established an oracle at the site. The oracle  provided counsel to mortals via a priestess who channelled messages to and from the gods. The “sibyls” were inspired prophetesses whose utterances were both wondrous and terrible. Today we see the Temple of Apollo which dates back to the 6th century BC., the Treasury of the Athenians built to house offerings to Apollo, the Stoa erected to house trophies, the Theatre used for theatrical performances during great festivals and the Stadium constructed in the 5th century BC. The Museum contains many archaeological finds including sculptures such as the celebrated life-size bronze “charioteer”.

On our return to Athens we fast forward from ancient to medieval times when we stop at the Monastery of Hosios Loukas. This UNESCO World Heritage site is an 11th century Byzantine masterpiece rich in mosaic and fresco. The monastery was founded by Blessed Luke, a hermit who died in 953 and who was credited with miracles of healing and a gift for predicting significant events. The monastery derived its wealth from the fact that the mortal remains of Blessed Luke were said to have exuded myron, a perfumed oil which produced healing miracles. Pilgrims hoping for miraculous help were encouraged to sleep by the side of Luke’s tomb in order to be healed. 
BREAKFAST AND LUNCH INCLUDED.

Sept 28 Day 5: In the morning we transfer by private coach to our hotel in the Argolid region where we spend the next six nights.  In the time of Homer this was the centre of civilisation in the Aegean and now the Argolid has the greatest concentration of ancient sites in Greece. At Ancient Corinth we learn that, according to Hellenic myth, the city was founded by Corinthos, a descendant of the god Helios, the sun god. Occupied since at least 6500 BC, Corinth's strategic location resulted in great wealth due to sea-trade. The city was known for its Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and when St Paul lived and preached here in 52 AD he attacked the inhabitants' licentious life-style. It is said that at one time the Temple housed 1000 sacred prostitutes. Today, the most conspicuous surviving building at ancient Corinth is the 6th-century-B.C. Temple of Apollo. From the temple a marble-paved road running from the port of Lechaion into the heart of the marketplace is clearly visible. Pottery from Corinth was carried down this road to the ships that took it around the world and along the same road came the goods Corinthian merchants bought in every corner of the Mediterranean. 

From here we drive through Nemean wine country an stop to visit the site of ancient Nemea.  In ancient times Nemea was like the more famous Olympia organizing sporting events with up to 40,000 spectators.
One event was a sprint in full armour. Given a small twist of history we could be watching the modern Nemean Games every four years rather than the Olympic Games. The stadium is still used today. The 4th century BC baths are beautifully designed and so complete that they seem to beg for water. Under the Doric Temple of Zeus is an underground holy of holies where only priests were allowed, suggesting an oracular temple like Delphi’s. What went on no one knows so beware of Zeus’ anger as you step around the mysterious opening. We visit a vineyard which has been producing wines for 1100 years and taste wines that are little known outside Greece.

We continue to our beachfront hotel. BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Sept 29 Day 6: 
This morning is free to relax and enjoy the beach and pool.  In the afternoon we drive to the nearby town of Nafplion.  Here we board a mini-train to explore the narrow twisting streets overhung with flower-bedecked balconies. We drive past Venetian fortresses, lively tavernas and interesting museums. In the harbour stands a miniature castle. Napflion is a hidden gem - one of the loveliest and most romantic towns in the Mediterranean. Even the Greeks recognise it as the most beautiful of all mainland towns. 

Legend says that Nafplion was founded by Napflios whose son Palamides took part in the Trojan war. Now, many thousands of years later, the vast Palamides citadel stands guard over the town. In 700 BC the town was destroyed by warriors from Argos but was re-established in 323 BC when Greece was at its zenith in the areas of medicine, sculpture and mathematics. In Roman and Byzantine times Nafplion was invaded by many nations. In the 1400’s the powerful Venetians took over and when they were driven out by the Turks they left behind a legacy of castles and lovely Renaissance style buildings some of which still exist today. The Turks remained until 1822 when they were finally ousted in the Greek War of Independence. Nafplion then became capital of the new Greece ruled by King Otto (actually a Bavarian prince sent from Germany at age 17). Lovely neoclassical buildings create a beautiful frame around the main square’s polished marble pavement and in the evenings the square is lively with street vendors, music and entertainers. In the Nafplion harbour stands the small castle of Bourtzi built in 1471 by the Venetians to protect the harbour entrance and small boats ferry people to visit the castle. 

There is free time to explore in shops and art galleries.  This evening we stay in the town for dinner at a taverna before returning to the hotel. BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Sept 30  Day 7: Today we begin to trace the Homeric Trail which takes us to the source of Homer’s epic poems. According to myth, the Pelepponese peninsula is named after a long ago king called Pelops. The legend goes that the young prince grew up in faraway Anatolia where he became the lover of the god Poseidon. When the god tired of Pelops he transported him to the most beautiful region of Greece in a magical chariot drawn by winged dolphins. Here, Pelops became ruler by killing King Oinomaos and marrying his daughter thus founding a long line of legendary Greek heroes. 

Four km from Napflion we find the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tiryns. Here we marvel at an acropolis with massive walls 7 metres thick. Mythology says these walls were built by the one-eyed giant Cyclops because only giants of superhuman strength could have lifted the enormous stones. 

We continue a short distance to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mycenae, a place synonymous with Homer and, in more modern times, with the archaeologist Schliemann. In the 9th century BC Homer sung in his epic poems of “well-built Mycenae, rich in gold” but until archaeologist Schliemann struck gold first at Troy and then at Mycenae, Homer’s poems were considered no more than beautiful legends. Now they seem more fact than fiction and it is accepted that Mycenae truly was home to Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra. In the second millennium BC Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece.  Legend says that when the God of Gods, Zeus, transformed into golden rain to visit Danae, the founder of Mycenae was born. This was the hero, Perseus, who decapitated the snake-haired Medusa. He was followed by Atreus, father of Agamemnon. Today, the mythical citadel of Mycenae emerges like an antediluvian rock amid a wild spectacle of deep and steep gorges. It looks like the ideal setting for the dark, bloodstained drama of the mighty Atrides family.  We explore the Palace of Agamemnon, the Treasury of Atreus, and the Tomb of Clytemnestra wife of the great king who stabbed her husband to death in his bath for either being unfaithful or for sacrificing their daughter to get favourable winds for the journey to Troy (or both). The rugged setting and compact site makes it easy to imagine what the city must have been like in antiquity. The entrance with its sculpted lions is one of the best in Greece, almost unchanged in many thousands of years. Inside, we see a mysterious grave-circle which has yielded many grave riches including the ancient gold funeral mask thought to be that of Agamemnon. A copy of the mask is in the Museum. We return to the hotel in time for a dip in the pool or in the sea. 
BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Oct  1 Day 8: This morning we depart on a one day cruise in the tranquil gulf visiting the small islands of Spetses and Hydra. Spetses has been occupied since the Mesolithic Age around 8000 BC. Merchant seafaring was the only source of livelihood for many islanders in the rocky, non-arable Greek islands thus the proliferation of Greek shipping magnates. The brisk Mediterranean trade of the 18th and 19th centuries allowed Spetses to prosper - especially during the trade embargoes of the Napoleonic wars when Greek merchantmen worked with, or against, both belligerent sides at tremendous profit. When, in 1821, the Greek revolution broke out, Spetses was the first Greek island to raise the flag of Revolution. The island's wealthy sea captains who had been hoarding their gold in wells dug up the treasure, funded the revolution and liberated the territory from the Turks. Today Spetses’ quiet beauty attracts Greek billionaires (yes there are some in spite of the economic crisis), plus
international novelists and pop stars looking for a retreat. The Saronic isle, with its pretty horse-drawn buggies and flowery villas, its beaches and bobbing fishing boats is the same as ever, despite the economic meltdown. Vast, state-of-the-art yachts are moored at the marina on the promenade alongside quaint fishing boats. We have time to explore and to hear the story of Bouboulina, the swashbuckling female naval commander from Spetses who used her own wealth to fund a fleet during the War of Independence. She survived the war but in the end was shot and killed in a family feud. Another Greek tragedy. Hydra harbour houses are arranged like the seats in an amphitheatre with the harbour as its stage. The sudden growth of wealth in both islands endowed them both with ports that are the most striking in the Aegean. Cars are not permitted on either island. 

In the early evening the cruise returns to Tolo harbour which is only 10 km from our hotel.    BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Oct 2 Day 9: Today we explore Epidaurus another UNESCO site. Legend says this was the birthplace of Apollo’s son Asclepius, the god of healing. We know that in ancient times the "Aesclepion" at Epidaurus was a celebrated healing center.  The sick went through a certain process to be cured. First they would follow the Sacred Way to the Temple of Asclepius. After the temple, the afflicted would use water from the Sacred Fountain for purifications then they would offer a sacrifice.  After this, the ill had to go through religious trials to reinforce faith. Priests would then bring the ill into the Abato where they would sleep and have a vision from the god of healing. (Today it is suspected that the sleep was induced by drugs which allowed the undertaking of surgical interventions.) A particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals. Sculptures of Asclepius show him with a staff intertwined with sacred serpents (still the symbol for modern medicine) and these snakes crawled around freely on the floor in dormitories. One of his daughters was Hygeia who washed patients with soap and water (original hygiene). Another daughter was Panacea and perhaps her part of the cure was the light-hearted spa atmosphere with gentle walks, mineral springs for bathing plus entertainments with music and theatre. It was here and at other Aesclepions in Greece that systematic description of medical cases and the gradual accumulation of knowledge turned medicine into a science. This was the Mayo Clinic of its time. By the 5th century BC the sanctuary enjoyed great renown and as wealthy patients left generous donations Epidaurus embarked on an ambitious building program. The huge theatre seating 15000 is still a marvel for its exceptional acoustics.  

We return to the hotel in time to enjoy a stroll on the beach, dip in the sea, swim in the pool, try the thalasso spa or enjoy a quiet drink on a balcony. 
BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Oct 3 Day 10:  Today we travel south-west to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mystras, the 'wonder of the Morea', which is like an amphitheatre around a fortress erected in 1249 by a Byzantine prince. Occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only breathtaking medieval ruins in a beautiful landscape. Standing still in time, this sleeping city lies on the slope of the sheer, strange hill with the fortress at its top. The whole of Mystras is an open-air museum, a reminder of a glorious era of power and culture. Its fortifications and churches, palaces and mansions, roads and fountains all charm visitors. 

The inhabitants of Mystras originated in nearby Sparta. This was the kingdom of Menelaus and his wife, Queen Helen who was reputed to be the most beautiful of all women. But, legend says, the goddess Aphrodite had promised the most beautiful woman on earth to a Trojan man named Paris. So, Paris came to Sparta to claim his trophy and abducted Helen (whether she went willingly depends on which version of the story you believe) and took her back to Troy. Furious, King Menelaus convinced all the other kings into fighting the Trojans.  After ten years of battle and siege, the Greeks burned Troy and Menelaus took his wife back to Sparta (there are many versions of Helen's fate).

By 650 BC Sparta had risen to become the dominant military power in ancient Greece. The city-state's  constitution focused on military training. Shortly after birth, a mother would bathe her male child in wine to see whether the child was strong. At age seven, male Spartans began military training to encourage discipline and physical toughness.  Besides physical and weapons training, boys studied reading, writing, music and dancing. Special punishments were imposed if they failed to answer questions  briefly and wittily.
Little Spartan boys were told to "come back with your shield, or on it" .

Less information is available about the education of Spartan girls but they seem to have gone through extensive formal education. In this respect, classical Sparta was unique in ancient Greece. In no other city-state did women receive any kind of formal education. Today it is a bustling town, with lively street markets and a broad main square flanked by cafes where locals congregate and engage in the unofficial Greek national sport: talking politics. The ruins of Sparta include a theatre, a stadium, and a sanctuary to Athena.  
 BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Oct 4 Day 11 : This morning we travel by private coach  to Athens. Along the way we stop to see the engineering marvel that was the Corinth Canal. Due to its location on the narrow isthmus that joins the Aegean with the Adriatic, Corinth was, in ancient times, a prosperous trading city with an ingenious system of transporting goods from one port to the other. A canal was considered in Hellenic times but it was thought that Poseidon, god of the sea, opposed joining the Aegean and the Adriatic. In Roman times Nero attempted to build a canal but his attempt was abandoned due to the belief that if the seas were connected the more northerly Adriatic would flood the more southern Aegean. A French company finally completed the canal in 1893.  

On arrival in Athens a highlight of our tour is a visit to the National Archaeological Museum which showcases masterpieces from all the sites we have visited. Our guide neatly pulls together the threads of our previous visits illustrated by wonderful sculptures and the amazing gold treasures from Mycenae. The afternoon is free to explore Athens.
In the evening we have a farewell dinner on a terrace overlooking the beautiful Acropolis by night.   BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Oct 5 Day 12 : Transfer to the airport for flight home.  Or join an optional three night/four day cruise  (or a seven night cruise) from Athens among the islands to Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini. 

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ACCOMMODATION  OPTIONAL CRUISE
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