by Guest Author
Last updated: 1:20 PM ET, Sun August 29, 2021
Article written by Brad Striegel, Vacation Land and Cruise Travel Advisor & Agency Owner
This summer my family and I traveled to Greece for our seventh pandemic vacation since March 2020. I wanted to do a European vacation with our children, and Greece had just opened up in May. The classical tourist sites of ancient Greece are known to be very crowded during the summer tourist season so I was hoping to beat any revenge travel surge that might occur there.
Greece was also attractive because there is no COVID-19 vaccination requirement. We were required to show a certificate of a negative RT-PCR or antigen (rapid) test result to be allowed by the border authorities to enter. You may be retested upon arrival. A negative test is not required if you have proof of acceptable COVID-19 vaccination. Proof of a negative PCR test is not required if the traveler tested positive with COVID-19 in the past 30 to 180 days and presents proof.
Additionally, travelers must fill out the Greek government's Personal Locator Form (PLF). The PLF is much like the U.S. Department of State's Safe Traveler Enrollment (STEP) Program, where you provide personal identifiable information, dates of travel, lodging locations, emergency contacts and other information. You should always enroll in STEP anytime you travel overseas.
I planned on doing a classical Greece vacation and familiarization, sticking to the mainland of the Athens - Attica area and the Peloponnesian peninsula. We stayed in two locations which served as bases for our road trips. First, we stayed in the ancient Greek city of Nafplia and hit all the main classical sites in the Peloponnese from there. For the next half of our trip, we stayed at Marathon and toured Athens and other classical sites in the area.
Day 1: We departed out of Chicago O'Hare on an eleven-hour, non-stop flight. The airport was bustling with travelers. I noticed travelers were much more carefree about health protocols than they were many months ago. It's an expected sign of COVID-19 acceptance, just like we accept the flu. There was little social distancing and much less personal cleaning of passenger seats on the aircraft.
Day 2: We landed in Athens early in the morning where we presented our negative COVID-19 tests. I was pulled off for random COVID-19 testing. Next, we got our rental car. Many rental cars in Greece are standard transmissions, so request an automatic ahead of time if you can't drive a standard.
We then drove straight for ancient Corinth, which was on the way to our first lodging in Nafplia. The ancient Corinth area sits on the isthmus separating the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. A few miles from ancient Corinth is the Corinth Canal, which connects the Ionian Sea to the Aegean Sea.
We then pressed on to our hotel in Nafplia. I secured a beautiful, two-bedroom villa with its own swimming pool. The hotel was built on top of an ancient Greek Acropolis and has a gorgeous view of the Aegean Sea.
Day 3: We drove to the ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. It was built in the 4th century as a sanctuary to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. It's one of the most well preserved ancient Greek amphitheaters, and events are still held here. The sanctuary was basically the Mayo Clinic of its time. Ancient stone tablets show "thank you" messages to the healers that worked here.
Day 4: We hiked to the top of the fortress of Palamidi that overlooks our hotel. It offers the best view of Nafplia. The Venetians of Italy constructed the fortress on Palamidi hill from 1711-1714 and it saw lots of conflict in the 19th century. It's about 1000 stairs to the very top so make sure you bring water with you for the climb in the hot Greek summers. There is also a road on the other side that takes you up to the fortress.
Day 5: We checked out of our hotel in Nafplia and head to the ancient citadel of Mycenae. From there we drove to ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, which occurred from 776 BC to 393 AD and were held every four years. We ran on the same dirt and grass stadium that ancient Olympians competed on. After Olympia, we ate dinner at a local restaurant, then made the long four hour trip to our next hotel on the other side of Greece at Marathon.
Day 6: We toured some of the key Marathon historical sites. There is a large mound in Marathon that serves as a tomb for the 192 dead, cremated, Athenian fighters. The Marathon museum is impressive. It has statues from the cult of the Egyptian God, Isis, on display. Additionally, the museum grounds have amazing burial mounds from 2000-1600 BC. Later we enjoyed the beach and some snorkeling at our all-inclusive resort in Marathon.
Day 7: On this day we got our COVID-19 tests at a local clinic, recommended by the hotel, which is required to return to the U.S. It took about a half-hour total for the four of us, and they e-mailed the results. We picked them up the next day at the clinic anyway because it's always good to have hard copies.
We then drove north to the famous Thermopylae battlefield. There's a huge statue of King Leonidas at the site and a small museum. The famous phrase "Molon Labe" or "Come and take them" is inscribed on the statue. There was not much at the museum except a theatre and some Spartan warrior props.
After the Thermopylae battlefield, we made the beautiful drive to ancient Delphi. Delphi has an amphitheater, and the athletic stadium was carved out of the mountain and has stone seats, unlike the stadium at Olympia. The museum there was amazing as well.
Day 8: We drove into Athens to do a walking tour of the famous sites there. A walking tour is one of the best ways to see the historical sites and avoid traffic. Just have your path charted out beforehand.
We did a short walk to the Acropolis, but because of the 100+ degree heat, they closed it from 12-5 p.m. To kill time and cool off we went to the Acropolis Museum, which is built above ancient ruins. Many of the Parthenon's reliefs and sculptures are on display in the museum. The craftsmanship of these sculptures is incredible. You can view the Acropolis from inside the museum as well.
The Parthenon on top of the Acropolis in Athens is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. In normal travel seasons, it's difficult to get photos with only a few people in them. Construction began on the Parthenon in 447 BC to replace an earlier temple. The massive structure was dedicated in 438 BC. Built as a temple to the Greek goddess Athena, it later served as a Christian Church and an Islamic Mosque. It has survived fire and wars, though badly damaged. It continues to undergo restoration, and you cannot walk inside it.
Day 9: We departed Greece just in time as massive wildfires broke out a few days later around Olympia and the Athens suburbs, creating smog. Like previous vacations, we were able to take advantage of smaller crowds, cheaper prices due to the pandemic as well as deals from my travel business. I had heard horror stories of crazy drivers in Greece, but driving was not bad at all. While there were some crazy drivers in the cities, it was mostly pleasant driving on nice roads. My biggest complaint was the numerous tolls that were everywhere on the main highways. Make sure you have plenty of euros on hand to pay them. The Greeks were happy to see tourists like us, and it was one of our best vacations ever!
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