Greece- Introduction

As  many of you know, I have always tried to embrace my Greek side.  My Great Grandfather from my mothers side came over to America from a little town in Greece called Vasta about 2 1/2 hours outside of Athens, in the early 1900’s {around 1918 I think!}  He had a brother and 5 sisters.  My Great Grandfather came over on a boat alone and landed on Ellis Island where his name is written on a wall. The rest of his family stayed in Vasta.  He changed his name from Demitrius Lambrakopoulos to James Lambros to make it sound more American.

Great Grand Daddy settled down near Hagerstown, MD and opened up a shoe shop, married a non-Greek woman {Mimi as my Mother called her} and had 3 daughters, one of course being my Grandmother.  My Grandmother married a mostly German man, Harlan Shifler who had my wonderful Mother and Aunt.  Although my Grandmother is half Greek and my Mother a quarter Greek, making me nearly having no Greek blood, I still embrace it as much as possible.Most of the below pictures were taken circa 1930 when my Great Grandfather went back to Vasta, Greece for his sister’s wedding.

{Great Grandfather’s Brother and their Mother}
{My Great Grandfather}
{My Great Grandfather’s Father and Sister}
{Great Grandfather’s Brother, Sister and My Great Grand Daddy}
{View of Vasta}
{Great Great Grandfather next to the family house}
{The family- Great Granddaddy came back to Vasta for his sister’s wedding}
{View of Vasta again}
I probably got some of the above information wrong, and will probably be posting another entry as I gather more information. 

My Great Aunt Venetta {my grandmother’s sister} was the adventurer of the family. Venetta traveled all over the world, visiting parts of our Greek family over in Vasta, Greece multiple times. Without fail Venetta would bring back gifts from her journeys for all of the family.  My mother has tons of little trinkets all over the world from years of Venetta traveling. Also, she would take a million pictures of her trips {I guess that is where I get it from}and gather the whole family together and make them watch the slides on a projector.  When she died when I was around the age of 8, she told Grandma whatever she did to NOT GET RID OF HER SLIDES! It just goes to show how important traveling was to her. There is one picture in particular that my Mom and I truly cherish, the picture of Venetta on a donkey in Santorini Greece.

{Venetta on the donkey in Santorini}
My Mother and I have always wanted to go to Greece. We felt it was a way to connect to Venetta and the rest of our Greek family.  We had been talking about going to Greece and visiting the family village, house and family; but needed to do some research on WHERE everything was located and HOW to make it happen.
My Mother did some digging and found our Greek cousins’ contact information; sisters Stavrola and Evanthia Lambrakopoulos and their mother Elaine.  There Grandfather and my Great Grand Dad were brothers and they still visit the family village frequently as well as keep in contact with the family over there.
{Stavroula and Evanthia}
We met up with them one raining February afternoon to their home in Bethesda and had an AMAZING Greek lunch, and caught up.  Apparently I had last seen them when I was 8 at Venetta’s funeral. We then showed them the above old pictures and got some information on who these people were (at the time my Mother could only pin point my Great Grand Father)  The cousins told us about the family we still had over in Greece.  Great Aunt Nicoletta still lived in Vasta at (approx) 87 years old in the original family house! Her son Stavros lives about 40 mins away from the village and her daughter Rena lives in Athens, about 2 1/2 hours away.  They both commute multiple times a month to visit their Mother and help her around the house.  The Bethesda cousins said they would set it up that we could be picked up by Rena and her husband (the only one out of the bunch who can speak some English!) from our hotel in Athens and take us to the village of Vasta for the weekend! They also gave me information of their Greek travel agent, Mr. Konstantinos Georgiadis of Amphitrion Holidays.  
I worked with him to come up with our vacation. He did this all for $2K less than what AAA’s travel agent was quoting us. He was a doll and I cannot give him enough praise. I will definitely be using him again for my next Greece trip. 
Stavrola and Evanthia were continually amazing.  We met up with them before our trip and they told us the ways of the land in Greece.  Also, places to go and places to eat.  They brought us goodie bags of Greek travel books, beauty products and a Greek language CD. We were all set for our trip! 
Finally, after all this talk my Mom and I were actually going to Greece! Not JUST Greece but to the place where our family was from and the actual house! We were beyond excited.  I made  detailed itinerary for the trip (yes I know I am crazy) We planned on spending a night in Athens and having our cousins pick us up from our hotel and spend the weekend in Vasta.  After, we would do the whole touristy thing in Athens before heading off for Santorini for 3 nights. Crete would be next.  We would spend a day and night in Heraklion and then rent a car and travel to the Chania Crete for 3 nights.
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We left on Thursday May 3rd from Dulles Airport.  My Daddy was nice enough to drop us off and we got on a long 8.5 hour flight to Switzerland, through United Airlines.  I was weary of the airline food but the chicken and rice was pretty good.  I occupied my time by watching about 8 movies.  It was pretty awesome to watch the sunset and sunrise all in one sitting. Absolutely beautiful!

Out in the distance I began to see the beautiful Swiss mountains.  It was such a wonderful sight.  As the plane was landing, I saw how charming and GREEN Switzerland was. 
As we landed we were given a breakfast of yogurt and a pastry and sent off.  
{Swiss Mountains!}
We made our way past security and I had my first stamp in my passport πŸ™‚ Such a proud moment.  The terminal assigning was a bit strange and just proves how up tight Americans are.  They post on this huge screen what your gate number is only about 30 mins before you are to load onto the plane.  Of course this lead to me freaking out that we wouldn’t have enough time and checking the board every few minutes.  

A long 3 hours later we boarded the Swiss Plane.  The plane was a lot smaller and not as nice as the United, but we had a short flight. I didn’t get the window seat and sat next to this young french guy who was traveling by himself {it seemed) and reading all of these travel books in French.  The lunch they gave us was awesome, a lasagna of some sort. As we were about descend into Athens we were given little pieces of Swiss chocolates.

We finally landed in Athens and went to the baggage claim area.  We immediately saw a Amphitron Travel Representative holding a sign that said “MR. AND MRS. GREEN”  and approached him. We were of course worried our luggage wouldn’t make the layover but they did.  We saw some airline people bring out a crate with a shaggy dog that looked like it was from the little orphan “Annie” movie.  The whole crate was shaking vigorously.  My Mom and I felt so bad for this poor dog and we scowled at the woman that claimed him.  
We went back to meet our travel rep who booked it down the airport.  My Mother and I having 2 luggage bags each and just being slow in general, we were way way behind him, but he kept on going.
When we caught up he gave us some of our missing vouchers and handed us off to our driver.  We got into this awesome black Mercedes and we were off to our hotel. {turns out that Mercedes are to Greece as Hondas are to the US, not too expensive}
It was a decent drive from the airport to our hotel (30 mins or so) We tried to make small talk with the driver but he wasn’t having it.  Everyone was right, Greek people drive crazy.  At one point I looked at the speedometer and saw it going 140 but then realized that was in kilometers, still nonetheless way too fast for that road.  Trying  not worry about dying we focused on the views..  We looked like such tourists snapping pictures left and right of the beautiful mountains and buildings in the city.  Two men in a truck actually laughed at us when stopped at a stop light.  

We finally arrived to the Royal Olympic Hotel.  There was this huge glass automatic revolving door that moved the speed of a snail.  As we entered, we were stunned but the lobby.  It looked like something out of a movie, with marble floors, chandeliers, and fancy looking furniture.  We checked in and made our way to the room. 

 {Lounge area}
 {pretty lobby}
To turn on the lights we had to put our room keys in this little hole, and we walked into a very cute (but small) hotel room.  We had a nice little view of the pool.  
 {Our room at the Royal Olympic}

After freshing up, we went to the roof top bar to have a celebratory drink and to see the views that we had been going gaga over on the hotel website.  The elevator opened up and we gasped.  The Temple of the Olympian Zeus was RIGHT THERE! we then looked to our left and saw the Acropolis.  We were beyond excited and snapped about a million pictures.  Once we calmed down we headed to the bar and got 2 Mythos Beers for 14 Euros. (this was our wake up call that we would have to pinch our pennies here.

 {View of the Acropolis}
 {View of the Temple of Olympian Zeus}
 {Cheers!}
{Mythos Beers!}
After sitting on the rooftop for an hour or so, we decided to explore.  We walked only a few blocks and entered the ‘old town’ of the Plaka.  The Plaka is really the only part of the city that looks ‘olden’ the rest of the city has modern buildings and looks like any other big city.  As we entered the Plaka we heard horns and Greek music and saw Greek flags being flailed everywhere.  It was a party in the streets for one of the politicians for the upcoming Sunday Election.  We observed for a while and continued to explore the Plaka. The Plaka had the nicest people and the cutest little shops.  Here is where I first  saw the reality of the stray dog and cat problem.  Dogs and cats were everywhere but seemed well fed.  Of course I wanted to pet all of them but Mom stopped me, afraid I would get rabies.
 {Pretty Flowers in the Plaka}
 {Exploring the Plaka}

We picked up a bottle of cheap wine at a little Mom and Pop shop for 6 Euros and made our way back to the hotel. We stopped outside of the Hotel to marvel at the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch before relaxing on the balcony with our wine.

{Loner columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus}
{Temple of Olympian Zeus}
{Hadrian’s Arch}
 {Wine on the Balcony}

After finishing off the bottle we decided to try out this little Greek Family Restaurant right below our hotel that our travel agent, Mr. Georgiadis recommended.  We went on in and ordered a Greek Salad and 2 chicken souvlakis. {basically grilled chicken with spices with rice.}The feta and fresh veggies in the salad was to die for, a girl could get used to this.  The waiter brought out some homemade bread and olive oil dippings to devour.  So exciting! our first real Greek meal and cheap! We finished up and went to bed.  We had to be up super early to check out, have our bags held, eat breakfast and meet our Greek cousins to take us to the family village of Vasta!

 {Greek Salad and fresh bread!}
{Chicken Souvlaki and rice}
But before climbing in bed we decided to have another look see at the views from the roof. Which proved to be utterly amazing once again!
{View of Acropolis at night}
{View of Temple of Olympian Zeus at night}
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  • AndrΓ©a Friday, July 13, 2012 at 2:01 am

    ahhh tara I love these!! its so cool how you found your family like that! and obvi all the pictures are beautiful πŸ™‚

  • Tesa Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 7:51 am

    lovely photos!