It's only been a month since my trip - but finally here is my trip report!
Greece!! To this day, I'm still not sure how we happened to choose Greece, but we did. The "we" in this trip is myself, Jessica and Nilufer (who will probably be referred to as Nilly), friends of mine from work. Also on the trip was Cedric, a little traveling gnome our boss had given us to take along on our travels. The flight to London was fairly uneventful until baggage claim. Because of the flight times, we had decided to spend the night in London before heading to Greece early the next morning. At baggage claim Jessica's bag emerged followed closely by mine and what looked like Nilly's bag but it wasn't. As it turned out, Nilly's bag was back in Seattle. After checking into the hotel, we spent our first moments in London shopping so Nilly could at least have a few things as the airline wasn't sure at this point when she would be reunited with her luggage. From there we made our way over to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge to at least see the famous monuments. And then it was off to Buckingham Palace, where we discovered Cedric was not very photogenic. We walked over to see Big Ben before meeting another co-worker who was at the tail end of her trip. We had tickets for the London Eye, unfortunately the weather was cloudy, but it was still fun to fly high above the city and admire the sights. Dinner was Italian (big surprise, right?) and then we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective hotels.
Three hours later (more or less) we were waking up to catch our extremely early flight to Athens. I have no recollection of this flight - I was sound asleep. Jessica & I got our luggage and so did Nilly! Her luggage had caught up with us in Athens. We checked in for our next flight and hung out in the Athens airport until our flight was called. We landed in Santorini and had an extremely interesting cab ride to our hotel. The cab was going fast on these small, narrow, winding roads and I think he sped up when he saw our white knuckles holding on for dear life. We checked into the hotel and then dragged our luggage down a steep hill to our cave room. It was a nice big room with a beautiful terrace. After dropping everything off and freshening up we headed out to explore. We walked down to the town of Fira and explored the narrow streets, stopping for gelato. Yum! After exploring a bit more and watching the sun begin to sink in the sky, we found a restaurant for dinner where I had moussaka. We then began the long climb up to our hotel. These stairs were brutal, especially in the dark! It was at this point my goal for the entire trip became not to trip and fall.
The next morning dawned bright & early as there were no shades on the windows. Surprisingly, for me, I was able to ignore the sun and slept a little bit longer. We finally got up and switched on the hot water heater and waited the requisite 15 minutes for the water to heat up before beginning the round of showers. Finally we were all ready to start our day. After breakfast at the hotel, we stopped at a travel agency for information on a boat tour out to the volcano for the next day. We ended up deciding to join a bus tour starting shortly, plus the boat tour. We hurried down the hill and through the narrow, twisting roads to catch the bus. Whew! The tour was neat - it took us up into the mountains and down to the beach. Lunch was not the best but as it was the only restaurant around we didn't have much of a choice. After lunch we went down to the beach to relax a bit before getting back on the bus. We finished up the tour at a winery. After the bus dropped us off in Fira, we explored down the narrow streets, popping in and out of shops that caught our eye. Dinner was Italian, at a restaurant most of the way up the hill so we didn't have too far to walk back to our hotel.
Volcano day!! I had really been looking forward to seeing the volcano! We took a bus along a very narrow, winding, steep road to the new port where we boarded our boat which took us to the volcano. We climbed and climbed and climbed and finally made it to the top of the volcano, enjoying the view and catching our breath before starting the trek back to the boat. From there we went to another island where we had an opportunity to swim to the hot springs. I am not a good jumper into cold water which is basically what I had to do! I hung on the ladder for as long as I could before plunging into the freezing cold water! It wasn't too far of a swim to the hot springs, which were actually more like lukewarm springs. I smeared a little bit of mud on my arms as it was supposed to be therapeutic. The boat stopped for lunch at the island of Thirisia, where you could climb up the cliff to the town at the top, or you could eat lunch at the restaurants at the bottom. We chose not to climb. It was then over to Oia where we could watch the spectacular sunset. This time we had no option but to climb up the stairs. Well, we did have an option to ride a donkey most of the way up which I wasn't too keen on, but Jessica was, however she decided to trek up the stairs with me & Nilly. Those stairs were super steep and seemed never-ending but finally we made it to the top! After that we definitely deserved some gelato! We wandered around until we realized it was about sunset time and hurried over to the end of the island where we basically just missed the sunset, or maybe we didn't and it just wasn't that spectacular. I'm not sure which. We still had time before the bus would drop us back in Fira and as we were tired and hungry we decided to take a cab back to our hotel. We got crepes from a store not far from our hotel and took them back to our room to eat while watching X-Men.
Our last day in Santorini! We thought about waking up early and going to the beach, since we never made it but decided not to wake up early and just to walk down to Fira, after a breakfast of crepes from the place where we had got them the night before! Those crepes were good! Before we knew it, it was time to catch the ferry over to Naxos. We arrived in Naxos and took a taxi to the hotel, which was actually not the main hotel, but another building down the road. The taxi driver let the hotel know we were there and someone from the hotel drove over to check us in. It was an interesting room, in an interesting part of town. I wasn't sure what to expect. After claiming beds and freshening up, we headed out to explore a bit. We walked over to a travel agency to see about booking a bus tour only to find out there were no seats available. We contemplated what to do, including taking a ferry over to Mykonos, while we walked over to the Portara. There we met a couple from San Francisco on their honeymoon, who convinced us to rent a car and drive around the island. I have never before rented a car in a foreign country, usually because I don't want the hassle of driving or navigating in a foreign country. In the end, they made it seem easy so we decided that's what we could do the next day. We wandered around, getting somewhat lost in the process, before finally making our way into the center of town. At the hotel, they had told us about a good Italian restaurant which we finally found. And boy was it worth it!! The owner (or who we assumed was the owner as it was her life story on the menu and her name was Susanna and the name of the restaurant was also Susanna) was really nice and the food was delicious!! And get this - I had spaghetti carbonara, not margherita pizza! After dinner we walked back down to the center to get gelato before trying to find our way back to the hotel.
Rental car day!! We walked along the waterfront to a restaurant that had been mentioned in our guidebook for breakfast. It was then time to begin our car rental adventure. We decided to ask and see if they had an automatic as Jessica & both had driven sticks before and probably could again, but if there was an automatic available we would take it to cut down on the stress! The first place didn't but he called around and found a nearby car rental place that did. We could have two drivers on the car and I was not allowed to be a driver as I was to be the navigator. I'm not sure if I should feel insulted by this or take it as a compliment! :) The route the clerk at the car rental place suggested was very similar to the bus tour. We stopped at the gas station to fill up and the attendant gassed up the car and we were off. Our first official stop was the Temple of Demeter, located along some back roads. We tried to find a Venetian tower next and I think we drove by it twice but couldn't find a good place to park. This would be a theme for the day. Any tower or castle we were not able to find. Next we stopped at the town of Halki or Chalki, depending on which map you are looking at. We walked out to see a church, visited the Kitron distillery (made from citron, a fruit similar to a lemon) and looked around the town before continuing on. Up and up the narrow winding roads we drove to Apiranthos, the “marble village” where we had lunch and were entertained by a couple of kids playing, and one kid pouting. Nilufer took over driving duties after lunch and drove us to our next stop, Panayia Drosiani, a tiny little church. Our next stop was to see an unfinished statue. We saw the first one and decided to hike up to see the next one. It ended up being a little farther than we anticipated! On the “you are here” map it indicated the remains of an aqueduct were nearby. We searched high and low for the aqueduct but as it would be getting dark soon we decided to give up and walked back to the car and headed back to town. Not too far down the road we saw a sign for the aqueduct! Woohoo!! We found it, or at least part of it. We pulled over and saw a section of the aqueduct. After that we drove back to town and dropped off the rental car. We explored the old town of Naxos before going to Susanna’s for dinner. I was back to my old staple, margherita pizza. It was really good!
On to Athens! Someone from the hotel drove us to the port where we caught the ferry to Athens. A mere 6 hours later we arrived at Pireaus. To say the taxi line was chaotic would be a gross understatement. Trying to find the end of the line proved difficult and when the driver from the first taxi in line came up to us, I figured he was legit and we climbed into the cab. One of the warnings of Athens was the potential to be ripped off by cab drivers. Knowing this, I should have asked what the price was prior to getting into the cab, but being in the actual taxi line, I figured we’d be okay. The cab driver seemed friendly enough and charged us €20, explaining there was a €5 surcharge from the port. I had read in both my book and Jessica’s book that the surcharge from the port was only €1 and so I argued and asked the hotel clerk how much the fare should be and he said €15 -17. Now the thing of it is, had he not said there was a €5 surcharge I would have paid the €20 without even thinking about it. We settled on €17 and he drove off. This was so not an Emily thing to do, but it was the principle of the matter.
With that settled we checked into the hotel and then headed out to start exploring Athens. Our first stop was the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. When I was in middle school/high school, I was intrigued by Greek mythology and read all about Zeus, Hera, Athena and the rest so I was really excited to be in Athens. From there we walked along the promenade around the Acropolis before heading into Plaka to have dinner. After dinner we wandered around a bit more before making our way back to the hotel. At first glance, Athens reminded me of Rome. Or should I say Rome reminded me of Athens as before all roads led to Rome, I’m sure a number of them led to Athens.
Even though we had successfully driven around Naxos, we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it in Athens and instead signed up for a tour out to Delphi. This was another thing I had really wanted to do because the Oracle at Delphi featured in so many of the myths. It was about 3 hours to Delphi and our tour guide regaled us with stories of history and mythology such as Delphi was considered to be the center of the earth (or the naval) because Zeus had sent 2 eagles to the opposite ends of the earth and they met in Delphi. The guide took us up to the Temple of Apollo where the people would come to ask the oracle questions. After explaining more about the oracle, she let us explore on our own and we walked up to the theater and then to the stadium before meeting back up with the guide to go through the museum. The bus then took us to lunch. Lunch was not very good. We had hopes for dessert though, until they passed around a basket of dirty, moldy fruit. No thank you. The journey back to Athens took forever – there was construction and an accident and traffic in general but finally we arrived back in Athens. They dropped us off at a hotel near Syntagma Square. We asked for dinner recommendations and ended up at Cibus, an Italian restaurant with a great view up to the Acropolis.
We signed up for another tour, this one a half day to Corinth, so it was another early morning to catch the tour bus. Our first stop was at the Corinth canal which cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth. It is really cool to see! The next stop was ancient Corinth where we explored the ruins and saw where St. Paul preached to the Corinthians. We once again ran into traffic on the way back, but finally arrived back in Athens. I had printed off Rick’s “Welcome to Athens” walk so we decided to follow it, hoping to find a spot to have lunch on the way. There hasn’t been much mention of Rick so far and that is because his Athens book didn’t come out until after I got back. The walk started off in Syntagma Square, right in front of the Parliament building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there we strolled down a pedestrian street, stopping to have lunch at a noodle bar and doing a bit of shopping. We continued along the walk, missing one monument which threw us off track but finally after taking a roundabout way we caught back up with the tour. Along the way Jessica became fascinated with the graffiti and it became a mission to find the coolest graffiti on our walk. Our walk finished in Monastiraki Square. We were beginning to become familiar with this area. We had dinner at a pizzeria in Plaka, unfortunately it was not very good.
Ruins, ruins and more ruins! Today was the day for ruins - the Acropolis, the Agora, etc. We were going to be on ruin overload by the end of today. But first, before heading to the Acropolis, we found the missing monument from our walk the day before. From there we hiked up stairs and hills and more stairs, passing by the Theater of Dionysus and other ruins before reaching the top, the Acropolis! The Parthenon was amazing! And to think it is still standing after all these years. I attempted to take a picture of Cedric, however couldn’t quite get a good angle and got close to the ruins. An attendant came up to me and said to delete the picture, which I did, thinking it was because I had gotten too close. So we tried again, holding Cedric in the air but again the attendant came over and we finally realized it was Cedric himself they didn’t want a picture of with the ruins. I wish they had posted the rules somewhere because I am generally a rule follower, if I know the rules. We continued exploring the Acropolis before making our way over to Mars Hill, where St. Paul preached to the Athenians. There were two options to get to the top of Mars Hill, the steps cut into the hill, or the metal staircase. Knowing my penchant for tripping, I took the metal staircase option. From there we walked down to the agora and admired the Temple of Hephaestus. We were on our way to lunch when the unthinkable happened – I broke my camera! Fortunately, it was the second to last day and we had just finished up with the Acropolis. We went to lunch where I pouted a bit about my camera. Although I have been wanting to buy a new camera and now I have no excuse not to buy a new one! So really, it was a good thing. After lunch we headed to the Roman agora and Nilly lent me her camera as she wasn’t much of a picture taker. Jessica had wanted to see Omonia Square so we started walking towards it, coming across a cheap jewelry store (think Claire’s) and of course had to stop. We continued on to Omonia Square, this time passing by a riot squad in full riot gear which we walked rather quickly by. We arrived at the square, looked around, and headed back to Plaka. None of us was really hungry so we decided to get a couple of appetizers to share. Our couple of appetizers turned out to be a lot of food! And so much for us not being that hungry, as we made quite a dent into all the food.
Our last day in Athens! Jessica had suggested waffles for breakfast so we headed out, only to find out the restaurant didn’t open until a little later so we continued on to the flea market. There were treasures to be found at the flea market, if you took the time to look. We browsed through the various stalls until we figured the restaurant was open and headed back for our waffles. Yum! It was Sunday so the streets were fairly deserted. We were walking past Parliament when we noticed guards making their way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier so we stopped to watch the changing of the guard. It was really interesting ceremony – the guards had very elaborate, intricate footwork. Our next stop was the top of Lycabettus Hill so we went in search of the funicular. I thought we were doing okay when we reached a fork in the road and as we paused to check the map a lady walking by who asked if we were going to the funicular. She motioned for us to follow her, which we did, and thank goodness for that because she led us, turning down a couple of different streets, to the funicular. We never would have found it on our own! The funicular took us up to the top, where we admired the view of Athens before heading back down. We decided to visit the Panathenaic Stadium, which was used for the “first” Olympic Games in 1896 and the Olympic Games in 2004, plus for the Panathenaic Games in ancient times. We started towards the stadium when we came across a street that looked familiar to Jessica. She and Nilly had wanted to see the Running Man statue but since we had no idea where it was (they had seen it from the bus on one of our tours) we didn’t think we would see it until we came across the familiar road so we detoured to find the Running Man statue. It was pretty cool – made up of stacked glass. The detour didn’t last long and we were at the stadium, which was really neat. The stadium is made of marble. We walked back to Plaka, stopping by the Temple of Olympian Zeus one last time. Coming out of the Temple I tripped on a rock and stumbled for probably a good 5 to 10 feet before finally catching myself. I didn’t fall, but I came so close. It seemed as if I was in slow motion. Well, at least I didn’t fall! We spent the rest of the evening as we had most of our evenings in Athens, strolling around Plaka. On our way back to the hotel, Nilufer and I got the giggles and Jessica was embarrassed to be seen with us.
We woke up early the next morning to go to the airport, ending our trip to Greece.
For more pictures, click here.