Finding a Little Bit of Greece in Arizona

Talk about off the beaten path in Arizona!

I recently overheard a lady in my local bookstore describing a monastery in southern Arizona that she had visited. I googled St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. This oasis in the desert is about 72 miles southeast of Phoenix.

This sanctuary is a true garden of Eden- flowering bushes, fountains, fruit and olive orchards, with scattered small chapels.

First thing, when you stop at the gift shop entrance a nice lady provides a map and lets you know that you are free to roam the gardens and chapels at no charge (a donation is good). Photos are OK, just don’t take any of the monks. And most important you must be dressed appropriately. Since is was 90 degrees that day we visited we were wearing short sleeves and shorts. Baskets of long sleeve shirts and long pants and skirts were provided to put on over your existing clothes. Women need to wear a headscarf.

Just call me Ya Ya

The day that we were there, we saw no other visitors walking the grounds. We did however see a few monks. The gift shop was more busy, probably because they sell fresh baked breads, fruit preserves, olive oils, and baked goods like baklava. Of course, we did buy an armload.

One of the many chapels on the grounds

Highlights of Greece 2015

May 2015 trip to Greece and Turkey. Below are my top 5 personal highlights of Greece. I will follow soon with my list of high points of Turkey.
Food
For some reason food always seems to find its way in my “best of” blogs. I made a list of “must try foods” before leaving on my journey and I wasn’t disappointed: calamari (fresh), real Greek yogurt, baklava, fried sardines, and olives. I even found that I enjoyed eggplant and stuffed grape leaves, items I don’t normally care for.

Fresh Squid (Calamari)
Fresh Squid (Calamari)

Lunch in Santorini
Lunch in Santorini

No ships!

Unbelievable, but yes, there were no other cruise ships in the ports until the last day arriving in Istanbul. Timing and pre-season was on our side. Normally, there could be 3-4 large passenger ships sharing the island ports of calls. Yay for shoulder season! The craziest thing of all was at embarkation. When the 4 of us were dropped off at the Piraeus port terminal, we were greeted at the van by two welcoming Windstar representatives pointing us in the right direction. We were relieved because we thought we were at the wrong place since there was absolutely no crowd of other cars or buses around. Inside the terminal not a single soul besides the people working there! I kept looking around in disbelief that we were the only passengers checking-in to board the ship (or yacht, as they call it).

Santorini
Of all our island visits this one was the most surreal and indescribably beautiful–the color of the water contrasting with the white patchwork of buildings clinging on the hillside, the views from the cliff tops, and the meandering scenic walkways in the town of Oia. We had a private guide who drove us around the island to the quieter, non-touristy spots, like the Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah) monastery at 1800 feet above sea level.

Santorini Hillside
Santorini Hillside

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No other ships in port

Stray Cats
I had read before traveling that are lots of stray cats in Greece/Turkey, so I packed kitty treats for my little friends along the way.

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Let sleeping cats lie
Let sleeping cats lie

Swimming-

I can now say that I have swum in the Aegean Sea, well sort of. The water was way too cold, so we floated on blue mats tied to the back of the “yacht”.

Floating in the Aegean Sea
Floating in the Aegean Sea