Part 1 – Athens
We were a party of 10, age ranging from 8 to 54 years old, with 2 more people joining us for one part of the trip. For 12 days, we moved around in Greece via various means of transportation, including boats, cars, ferries, and donkeys, and accumulated a heap of fun and unforgettable memories.
We started off in Athens, with a guided tour of the main archaeological monuments. Of course the Parthenon was the main atraction of this part of the trip, but as there is a lot written on the history of this, the blog will only feature a series of photos from various places in town, including from the Aeropagus (or the Court of Justice Rock, a place for dealing with judicial matters in ancient times).
The first evening ended in Plaka, Athens’ old town. After a long and sinuous walk through narrow streets lined up by little souvenirs shops, cafes and restaurants, we reached the Elaia restaurant, a place perched on the hills of Plaka, with dining tables set on both sides of stairs going up and down the hills, and a rooftop garden offering amazing views of the town. This was to become the best food experience for the trip. As we were getting ready for the appetizers, one of the ubiquitous cats of Athens stroke a pose, just for us.
The following day we continued with the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaistos, after which we met the other couple who was going to join us for the sailing trip. In the evening we took a stroll up the Lycabettus hill to visit the St George Church. This was just the “appetizer” for what was going to be an enormous number of stairs that we had to climb and descend during this trip, in particular in Santorini. St George church is a small white-washed church perched on the top of the highest hill in Athens, apparently on the same place as a former temple of Zeus. The views over theAcropolis and the Athens city are breath-taking .
The following morning we went to the harbour to board our boat for a four days of island hopping. Stocked up on water, beer, other drinks, eggs, ham and cheese, biscuits, bread, vegetables and olives for four days, we were ready for the adventure on the sea.
Part 2 – “Sailing” / island hopping
The original plan of sailing around Cyclades islands was abandoned due to weather conditions – too strong winds. After three hours of waiting for the formalities on the boat in the harbour, we agreed with our skipper to sail to nearby Aegina and then to Poros and Hydra, and then see if the weather improved to continue as planned. The couple that joined us for this part of the trip was very excited about the prospects of sailing as they both got licenses and a good deal of practice in sailing. Unfortunately, our skipper was not so keen… so the only “sailing” we did was to pull up the main sail for about 10 minutes on the third day, as I managed to convince the skipper we wanted to take photos. “Yes, for photo yes, ok, no problem, but no sailing then… no wind”. So for him it was either too much wind or no wind at all, and to this day we still haven’t figured out whether he didn’t know how to sail or was just too lazy to do it. Most likely the latter… Other boats were sailing though, and it was pretty amazing how low the boat goes when it actually sails… well, for the next time (maybe by then I’ll learn myself how to sail a boat :-).
Nevertheless, these four days on a boat gave us some amazing opportunities to swim out in the sea, in some remote secluded corner of heaven, and some amazing sunsets on the sea. Sleeping on the boat was also a bit tricky, as the cabins were too small, some were quite smelly and the wind was too strong even in the harbour, so some of us slept some of the nights in cheap but clean accommodations in the harbour.
Aegina is a small beautiful island which we didn’t have much time to visit, but where we ate well. Poros offered second best dinner at Taverna by the beach, mostly because of the enormous knowledge of wines of the chef.
As the leaders of the group were trying to figure out the next phase of our trip, since the wind has changed again so no way we could sail back to Athens, I took a short trip with the kids to the Clock Tower and took some stunning photos of the harbour of Poros island.
Plan has changed again as there was a strong wind and high waves, so we unloaded the luggage and hired a mini-bus to drive us back to Athens, from where we booked a very early flight to Santorini, our next stop of the trip. Our skipper was all confident that the wind will change again and he might be able to sail, and in any case he was returning to Athens that day. But by that time we had enough of “sailing” experience with him, and we decided to go for the bus ride. The other couple remained with the skipper and his aide, with the secret hope they might be able to convince the skipper to sail. When we reconvened all 12 of us again in the harbour, we learned that the sea was indeed very rough, with water coming into the cockpit, and then the motor broke at some point – we were glad we took the minibus….
This 3 hours’ drive from Poros to Athens took us through Corinth, where we were lucky to witness a 70m long bunji jump in the Corinth Canal – a young Austrian experienced man, not one of us…. And also a stop near Epidaurus, for a quick bite before we hit the road again. In Athens we joined the crew and our friends in the harbour, went for a quick dinner by the sea, and off to sleep on the boat again, as we had a very early (5am!) flight to Santorini.
So the night was short, but the amazing view of the new moon from the plane kind of made up for the inconvenience.
Part 3 – Santorini
We reached our destination in Santorini by dawn – amazing light, amazing views.
Santorini is made up of two main small towns, Oia and Fira, perched on top of a volcano that last erupted in 1500 BC and as a result, it left behind a series of islands, and a crater that is apparently still active. A strange feeling when we climbed it the following day, in flip-flops of course as unprepared tourists as we were…
Santorini is probably one of the most photographed places on earth and for good reason that is – the views from Oia, the more traditional of the two small towns, are absolutely stunning. However, after climbing and descending the 217 steps twice to go to a rocky make-shift of a beach, and once to get to the boat tour, all in an exteme mid-day heat, I have to say, with the risk of upsetting a lot of people, Santorini is over-rated… Too many stairs, too many very narrow streets, too many expensive shops, too many people, too many donkeys, too many hobbit houses, too much money, too much hype, and not enough peace of mind. And too many hats 😉 …
Rocky beaches with burning black sand are accessible only by car from Oia or Fira. There is a bus linking Oia and Fira that passes every 20 min, but there is no bus schedule easily available or a map of the bus stops. So-called taxis or personal transport can be arranged by your hotel, but can get very expensive.
The island lives off tourism. Oia is a small touristic chic village, nested on top of the northern part of the croissant island. It has one small narrow pedestrian path (like really narrow – 1 – 1.5 m width), and is more expansive – people come here to show off, see and be seen. Fira is the more traditional touristic village for mass tourism, but has the same design with several narrow pedestrian streets lined up by souvenirs shops, restaurants and cafes.
Beyond these 2 villages (small towns) perched on top of the mountainous crater, there is nothing…. the island is deserted. on the outer slopes of the mountain there are sparse houses, with small vineyards interspersed with arid fields. Two or three winding roads, cut into the mountains, link the two small towns.There are a few smaller villages on these roads, one archeological site, some rocky beaches and several churches or monasteries. One of these, monastery Profeti Ilia (or Elias) was nested on the highest point of the mountain (550m), near a military base and a radar observation point, and offered spectacular panoramic views of the entire island, the volcano and the smaller islands. The monastery is the starting point for a special festival on 20 July (celebrating the Prophet Elias).
The sunset from Akrotiri, the archeologically site near the Red Beach, was simply beautiful, despite the strong winds.
The next day we booked a boat tour of the island, which took us to the top of the volcano crater, to some hot springs of sulphurous waters, and to the smallest of the two islands, Thirasia, for a little swim and lunch by the beach.
For the last day, one final set of the 217 stairs (of which not two stairs were identical in length, slope or depth…),, and a narrow path across unstable rocks, to reach a make-shift platform in Amoudi harbour, from where kids and some of the adults did some thrilling jumps into the sea. A bit adventurous, but what a wonderful view of the village from down below…
Part 4 – Chania
The evening ferry to Crete was uneventful, and by the end of the day we were all too tired and ready to go to sleep. We took our rented cars in Heraklion and drove to Chania, a small town in the north of Crete. After so many adventures, this was the place to now relax, enjoy a swim in clear warm water, and bask in the warmth of the Cretan sun. Falasarna beach was a nice surprise too – an hour drive west from Chania, another hidden corner of heaven at the end of an off-road track, in the middle of olive trees plantations, with the ocasional sheep traffic jam, and with clear and pink waters (from some type of corals apparently).
Walks in the old town of Chania for dinner and relaxation, and breakfast by the beach at Woodstock (the most amazing pancakes in the world) provided a nice and calm end of a full and adventurous holiday.
For the last night, we had dinner at Mones restaurant, a hidden place on a narrow street, discovered by accidnet by my son, and which dined by reservation only. We discovered that a jacuzzi set in the alcove of an old monastery ruins, some exquisite design, including of the restrooms, set on transparent floors overeseing the ruins (!), combined with some special home-made produces (mainly olive oils and gems of the Monastery Estate), can provide for a very interesting dining experience…
On the way to the airport, as we had a few hours to spend, we stopped by Cretaquarium – a well-designed collection of sea animals – never saw a sea-horse for real before, nor a jellyfish.
Greece is the ultimate tourist destination – history, adventures, archaeology, beaches, mountains, sailing, gourmet food, you name it they have it. You wonder then, how come the country is not developing more given all the presumed income from tourism. One taxi driver , during the 5 min drive from Plaka back to our hotel, gave us a short insight into the economics of Greece: “people don’t pay taxes, because government is asking for too much. We “gotiate” this month, and say we pay next month, then next month we “gotiate” again, and so on, and we never pay, because it’s too much. There is nothing left for people to live off if we pay what is asked for”. Similar coping mechanisms are abundant, as we learned in Santorini too, but, although am not an economist, am pretty sure, tax evasion is not the only reason the country is still kept in stale state of development. But this is for a much longer and serious economic discussion, not suitable for this blog J. The 12 days in 4 islands offered some unforgettable memories and a very relaxing holiday. To definitely do it again!