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Trip Report Chilling in the Cyclades May 2014--Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Athens

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Time for another trip report? There have been some great ones lately, but what the heck, here's mine in case you need another fix.

My husband, J, and I had “been to Greece” a couple of years ago but only for a day—on a day trip out of Kas, Turkey, to the Greek island of Kastellorizo (known in Turkey as Meis), which is just a short boat ride off the Turkish coast. That was enough to whet our appetite for more of Greece, however, so we added it to our springtime travel itinerary. You can click on my name if you want to read about the Italian portion of our 5-week trip.

Here’s our Greek itinerary:

Mykonos – 4 nights (day trip to Delos)
Naxos -- 4 nights
Paros – 5 nights (day trip to Antiparos)
Santorini – 3 nights
Athens – 2 nights

Sunday, May 18, ROME TO ATHENS TO MYKONOS

Our 2½-week Italian sojourn wrapped up, we flew out of Rome on Aegean Airlines and had a five-hour layover in Athens before boarding our 6:50 pm flight to Mykonos. We spent much of the time having a leisurely lunch at the restaurant in the Sofitel across the road from the terminal. So much nicer than hanging around in the terminal for hours! The onward flight to Mykonos was very short and quite spectacular as the light was still good and we flew over several Greek islands.

Mykonos accommodation: Mimosa House, Ornos Beach, VRBO #407894
http://mykonosapartment.com, 659 euros for 4 nights, plus a refundable 250-euro damage deposit (no damage was done, so we got it all back)

We had found Mimosa House on VRBO, and it turned out to be quite nice. We were sharing it with our British friends, A&C, with whom we’ve traveled off and on over the years. The villa is part of a small complex of just a few units arranged in a long rectangle around an open area with a pool. We were in an end unit that had a charming enclosed patio in front and a larger terrace looking across to the pool in back. It worked great because we could choose where to hang out based on the position of the sun (typically back patio in the morning and front patio in the afternoon). There were two bedrooms, each with small bathrooms, a sitting area, and an adjoining, decent-sized kitchen, which we rarely used, except to make tea/coffee and store drinks and snacks in the frig.

We had arranged with the villa's owner to be picked up at the airport and taken straight to the villa in Ornos Beach (25 euros, well worth it for the seamless transition). Mimosa House is only 50 m from Ornos Beach and about 2 km south of Mykonos town (Hora). Since it wasn’t yet high season, Ornos was in a low-key mode, with a few visitors but nowhere near the crowds it likely gets at the height of the summer. We loved it.

A&C were waiting for us on the front patio when we drove up—they had arrived earlier in the day so gave us quick tour of the property after we opened some cold beers to toast to yet another cool meetup. We wandered into the village to stock up on drinks and snacks for later and then just hung out, enjoying the gorgeous blue and white setting and getting caught up on family news. In the early evening we went down to the beach where there were three side-by-side restaurants abutting the sand and the calm bay beyond. We settled on the restaurant on the western side, Aperanto Galazio, where we dined on wonderful calves liver in a rich brown sauce, saganaki, and salads while we watched dusk fall and the lights start to sparkle. The complimentary ouzos that came after the meal sealed the deal—we felt that finally we really were in Greece.

Monday, May 19

We planned to walk into Mykonos (Hora) town but first strolled up the road to the recommended village bakery and sat on the terrace drinking cappuccinos and eating delicious small pastries sprinkled with sesame seeds. Then we walked north along the coast road to town. The road ascended steeply at first but eventually wound around a bay with expensive-looking hotels along the beach. The road then led us almost directly to the famous windmills on a little hill, just south of the much touristed Little Venice. It was crowded at this famous site, but that was no surprise since Mykonos is a big cruise-ship destination and ships were already in the harbor. We imagined what it must be like in August and patted ourselves on the backs for coming in May. The clouds made the sky a grayish white, but we took the obligatory pictures so we wouldn’t have to return to this crowded spot. Then it was time for a coffee, or something more interesting, so we shouldered our way to the northernmost café across the small harbor where we claimed seats that had a fantastic, unobstructed view of the windmills. A couple from Texas (cruisers visiting the port for the day) sat next to us and tried to start a conversation about President Obama, but we had an inkling of where that would head and declined as politely as possible, not caring to engage. We’re on holiday, folks!

Later that morning we walked through the old town to the famous white church (more photographs, more cruisers getting into the picture), which actually looked great against the blank white sky—like a frosty igloo on a frosted white sheet cake. Then we climbed a hill that took us through the part of old town that is less frequented by tourists. There were a couple of kids kicking a ball around and A stopped to be the goalie for a while. I think they would have liked him to go on all day! We found a small church next to a windmill near the top of the hill, a place with lovely views over the town and the sea, which we had mostly to ourselves. We then continued higher still for what turned out to be no good reason, before descending back into town, dodging the zooming cars as they careened around the corners.

Walking back through the lanes toward the port, we spotted a sign for gyros at a local place, Sakis Grill House, for less than 3 euros each. Three of us enjoyed delicious and filling gyros packed with chicken, greens, tomatoes, tzatziki, and French fries (that part I still don’t get), which we washed down with cold Greek beer. C didn’t see that there was a vegetarian option so settled for frites. This was probably the best-value meal we had on the trip, and our little table on the small front terrace gave us a great view of the passing street life, especially the delivery trucks trying to deal with the steeply sloped, narrow streets and sharp turns. After a little shopping and ice cream, we found a bus back to Ornos, where we relaxed at the villa before going out for dinner at another place on Ornos Beach, this one toward the east end of the bay. This place seemed a bit classier than Aperantos and the food was very good but somewhat more expensive. The after-dinner gift at this place was a blend of raki and honey, which was easier to drink than straight raki. Doubtless A and J had some ouzo as well!

Tuesday, May 20--DELOS

Today was our day to take a boat to the island of Delos, the religious and cultural center of the Athenian world 2,500 years ago. Apparently the name Cyclades comes from the fact that the islands form a circle around Delos. The manager of our villa complex drove us to the new port, where we caught the 9 a.m. boat to Delos. Delos far exceeded my expectations--in fact, I hadn't been sure exactly what to expect. The ruins are extensive and compelling. We decided to forgo the use of a guide, though we had to opportunity to engage one after we disembarked from the boat. Instead we relied on our guidebooks as we climbed up the hill on our own, visiting various temples, gazing at the mosaic floors, wall frescoes, and still-standing columns. A and J climbed to the top of the highest peak for great 360o views of the island and the surrounding sea, while I walked most of the way up and then planted myself on a rock next to the trail to take in the amazing views. C, who wasn’t sure if she was up to the climb, happily lounged at the bottom of the hill.

We all met up a short while later and picnicked at the Temple of Isis--lots of fresh fruit, cheese, bread, and even a shared bottle of white wine. After lunch we walked downhill to the Delos Archaeological Museum, where we found the exhibits to be nicely done and informative. We ended our Delos visit by exploring another section of the ruins, which included the famous terrace of the lions (reproductions; the originals are in the museum). What a fascinating place this island is!

We caught the early afternoon boat back to Mykonos where we checked in with Sea & Sky Travel to confirm tickets for our onward journey to Paros the following week and purchase tickets for our trip from Paros to Santorini. We walked back through Mykonos town and C finally had a chance to try the vegetarian souvlaki at Sakis. The rest of us split a big order of the delicious tzatziki and bread. We eventually took the bus back to our lovely villa where we chilled on one of our patios. Well, probably both of them. Later we walked out along Ornos bay but didn’t get far. That part of Mykonos is private and gated and so we walked a lot without getting anywhere in particular. But we did enjoy watching a farmer working in his small field with his goats—a nice indication that, despite all the tourists in Mykonos, there are still many locals following their traditional way of life. For dinner we went back to Aperantos (why mess with a good thng?) and finished with raki with honey and, yes, ouzo. It was growing on us.

Wednesday, May 21

This was a day to lay back and relax at the beach, even though the sea was too chilly for most of us to swim. We had looked in to renting a car for the day to explore more of the island (30 euros, insurance included), but for some reason we just weren’t motivated to drive around all day. Instead we took the very short walk back to Ornos Beach, where we sat on chaise lounges under umbrellas in front of Aperantos and watched people doing what people do on beaches--roast themselves to a nice brown, play ball, dig in the sand, and wade and swim in the cool water. A local school was having its beach day at Ornos for a couple of groups of students, which meant some extra noise and activity but also provided some fun watching Greek kids act like kids around the world. We ordered food and drinks from the bar and just relaxed—especially after the kids’ day ended and the beach quieted down. When we finally had had enough time at the beach (?), we took a bus back into Mykonos town for one last look around. The bus took us first to Agios Yannos beach, which looked like a lovely place for a future visit.

Once we reached Hora we had a late lunch on a covered terrace at a restaurant in the town center—anchovies, spanakopita, and grilled aubergine and zucchini. The whole lot were very good. Then we bargained for a 6-euro taxi ride back to Ornos, where—guess what--we enjoyed some patio time before traipsing back to our “local,” Aperantos, for our final Mykonos meal. Usually we are much more on-the-go than we were on Mykonos, but we were in the mood for the low-key approach, and Mykonos made it easy to just chill and enjoy. Our next island, Naxos, would turn out to be the perfect place to venture out and explore more broadly.

Some Mykonos and Delos photos are here:
https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/7027

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    Tripoff, In 2014 (a year I skipped) apparently there was a very rainy late spring, and cloudier than normal in May and thus it was chilly for longer ... and maybe you are from Scotland or Scandinavia, however I am from N.E. US, and I have trouble getting in the Aegean until May 15... others I know will not go in till June. I think the ideal time to visit is mid-May thru mid-June.

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    Thanks for your report & pics about Delos. Someday . . . but after this year's trip to Greece, my better half has said that she is tired of cobblestones & ruins & wants to go to China again in 2016. So, someday.

    Keep going, we're reading . . .

    Ian

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    Thursday, May 22—NAXOS

    After a last relaxing morning in Ornos the villa manager drove the four of us to the port from which the Seajet hydrofoil to Naxos would depart—a different port from where we had caught the Delos ferry. Tickets cost 34 euros each, with seats reserved online through the firm Paleologos. We had picked up the tickets at the Sea & Sky agency a couple of days earlier, so we were all set.

    Things didn’t go so smoothly once we arrived at the port, however, mainly because there was no signage indicating where the growing crowd of passengers should line up and no communication from any boat representatives about where and when the boat would arrive. Our scheduled 2:45 departure time came and went, and still no news. The long lines of people waiting in the midday sun had nowhere to sit, and the mood was one of frustration. When the boat finally arrived, about an hour late, boarding was equally disorganized and haphazard. Our reserved seats were in the front row but we were told to board at the back of the boat. We stored our luggage on the back deck and waded to the front through a crowd of people coming the other way. Once we made it to our seats we saw that the small front windows, cloudy to begin with, were mostly blocked by luggage piled up by passengers sitting in the rows behind us. Worse, the woman in the seat between J and A, from Florida, talked nonstop for the trip. Thankfully, the ride itself took only 40 minutes, and the whole experience was merely a small bump in an overall positive experience with transportation on this trip.

    Naxos accommodation: Hotel Grotta, Naxos Town
    http://www.hotelgrotta.gr/

    Our mood changed immediately on arrival in Naxos. The view of Naxos town (aka Chora) from the harbor was impressive (so different from Mykonos!), and a van from our hotel was waiting for us at the dock even though the boat was well behind schedule. It was a short ride up Grotta hill to the hotel, which had a marvelous view southward back to town and the ancient Portara arch and over the sea, promising great sunsets (they didn't disappoint). Our rooms weren’t quite ready so we left our luggage and went out for a walk around the area. After returning to the hotel and occupying our rooms, we met on A&C’s small terrace to share a bottle of wine the Grotta had presented us with and enjoy the view. (Our own room had a less stellar but still pleasant view of town and the hills.) The Grotta turned out to be a lovely place at a very reasonable 75 euros per room per night, taxes and breakfast included, and a super-friendly and helpful staff, always ready with dining recommendations as well as car rental arrangements and other services.

    In the late afternoon we walked back into town and up steep lanes in the old town to poke around the ancient Kastro area. Winding through the lanes back down toward the harbor, we walked past an inviting restaurant with an interesting menu and a balcony overlooking the harbor and the passel of harborfront restaurants below. The sun was beginning to drop to the sea, bathing us in golden light. We couldn’t resist, so we settled into a balcony table, ordered seven different mezes and a bottle (or two) of Greek wine, and basked in the setting sunshine. The food was wonderful; almost too much of a good thing. Too bad I can’t remember the name of the restaurant! The evening ended with ouzo and raki/honey back at the hotel. A nice welcome to Naxos.

    Friday, May 23

    The Grotta is well-known for its phenomenal breakfast, served in the lobby dining area, and it exceeded expectations. There were multiple vegetable pies, scrambled eggs, many kinds of fruit, rich yoghurt with honey, spanakopita, bread, cheese, prepared meats, sausage, bacon, orange juice, and as much good coffee as one could drink. Every morning we were faced with the problem of choosing which delicious items would NOT end up on the plate.

    Fully fortified, we met up with the car rental agent, who had come to the hotel with our car (25 euros a day with partial insurance--we decided to spend an additional 5 euros for full coverage, no deductible). We soon set out to explore Naxos island, driving east out of town and quickly missing the turn we were looking for. But it didn’t really matter as we had two days to explore the island and quickly adjusted our itinerary accordingly.

    Our first stop was a thirteenth-century Byzantine church set in the middle of open countryside near Sagri. Following signs to get there, we had to navigate down progressively narrower and poorer roadways until we finally found ourselves on a mere track. When it looked like we oughtn’t to have gone as far as we had, we parked and realized we were just 50-100m downhill from the Agios Nikolaos (Church of St. Nicholas). It was a compact stone building, with the classic domed roof and in a rather good state of repair. Unfortunately, it was all locked up so we were unable to look inside to see the reputedly fine frescoes. Later in the trip we saw several churches from this period, some indeed with impressive frescos, but this first one really stands out in the memory.

    From there, it was a short ride back to better roads that led to the Temple of Demeter, located on a hilltop with lovely views of the beautiful countryside. The temple was originally constructed in the sixth century BCE and a millennium later was partially dismantled to build a church on the same site. It was not until the twentieth century that it was discovered by German archaeologists; many of the original columns and building materials were still on the site (or part of the ruined chapel). The present structure was rebuilt using those materials and is impressive in part for its setting.

    From there we drove toward the old capital of Halki, situated in 1000m-high mountains near the center of the island. We parked the car on the main road with the intention of heading down one of the lanes into town. But it turned out we had parked a few meters from an inviting café, so we stopped for cappuccino and drinks while noting that it might be an inexpensive choice for lunch later in the day. The server was especially friendly, and we enjoyed sitting in the sun and interacting with several German tourists.

    Halki turned out to be a colorful little town filled with flowers, interesting old buildings, and a thriving artistic community. Two places stood out. The first was a ceramic shop called Fish and Olive that had many absolutely stunning ceramic art pieces. When we inquired about prices, we realized that we would be doing our shopping elsewhere. This high-end design studio sells its wares in New York, Paris, and Hong Kong among other places. The main artist is Katarina Boleschm, a German-born woman whose father loved Naxos. She specializes in ceramics with motifs of olives and local animals. Her husband is also an artist and specializes in ceramic ware with fish motifs. All we could do was admire their craftsmanship. A short distance down the street, we spied a woman at a loom in a shop window. When the four of us entered, she launched into her English spiel about her work. It was nicely done and so we started shopping for textiles, purchasing several handwoven pieces.

    We explored the rest of the town all the way to a second main road, then walked back to our car and had a light lunch at the café--good grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for the carnivores in the group. From here we drove high into the mountains past numerous marble quarries and eventually made our way to Apeiranthos, a marble town full of charm and amazing mountain views. There are several museums in town, but we didn’t have a lot of time after exploring the streets and instead parked ourselves on a wide-open terrace, where we ogled the scenery and enjoyed a glass of wine (who needs a museum when you have wine and views?). Tearing ourselves away, we stopped at another Byzantine church, full of frescoes, before reaching a magnificent viewpoint overlooking the northern coast far below, to which we would return the following day. From there we walked back down the road to an exceptionally photogenic small white chapel nestled into the hillside below the road.

    It was now time to head back, so we took the long drive south, pausing to photograph the stunning white villages across the valley, and then turned west to return to Naxos town. It had been a long day but it was really fun to see the rugged interior of the island--very different from Naxos town.

    After freshening up at the hotel we had a good dinner at the crowded Irini’s Restaurant on the harborfront. The saganaki was special, though the calamari was only so-so. A & J decided to leave the wine to C and me and drink ouzo throughout the meal, something that they wisely chose not to do (ever again!) on the remainder of the trip.

    Saturday, May 24

    My birthday! I love being able to celebrate my birthday at special places around the world, and this was one of them. We had another fabulous breakfast, this time at an outside table, then drove east again out of town (I drove this time), intending to take in the northern part of the island and some things we had missed the day before. First we went on a Kouros hunt. We drove to the center of the island to see the Melanes Kouros (gigantic ancient male statue) carved from the local marble. When we parked, a Greek man told us there was a temple to visit at the top of the hill, so we wandered up to check it out. It was nothing special but was worth the walk for the sixth-century BCE temple remains and the fine views over the countryside. We then walked the short road to the recumbent Kouros in the valley bottom, where we ran into a group of German hikers. (So many Germans in Naxos!) We then walked about 400m up another steep hill to the Potamia Kouros, which was lying, largely carved, in its original marble quarry, separated from its feet, which were upright. The views over the countryside from this higher hill were spectacular, and we really enjoyed the walk. The Kouros statues were unlike anything else we’ve ever seen.

    From here we drove to the north coast overlook where we had turned off the day before, then down a very steep and winding road (no guard rails!) to the north coast and the lovely small harbor and beach at Appolonas. There wasn’t a lot to see in the town, but the setting was nice. We enjoyed coffees on the waterfront and then waded a bit in the shallow water along the beach. Refreshed, we walked steeply uphill to yet another reclining Kouros in a quarry above the main highway--we could have driven closer, but it was good exercise. This was probably our favorite Kouros, largely because of its huge size and angular structure.

    We walked back into Appolonas to pick up the car and then drove on along the north coast road, a beautiful drive. We were hoping to find another place to turn down to the sea and eventually decided on a small road that led us down to the small group of buildings that constitute Abram. The road became progressively rougher and narrower and eventually we stopped and parked the car as far off the path as we could get it. We walked no more than 100m and found ourselves at a sand and gravel beach set in a u-shaped cove, with clear water in pretty shades of blue and green. Facing the cove was a small stucco taverna with seating on a spacious terrace that overlooked the beach. It’s hard to imagine a sleepier place; a real contrast to the energy of the main tourist centers on the island on the north coast. The only people at the restaurant were the man and woman who owned it and a couple sitting lazily at a corner table. No English spoken here. When we indicated our desire for lunch, the owner led us in typical Greek fashion into the kitchen where she showed us what was available that day. She opened the refrigerator to show us that it was stocked full of beer. Just what the doctor ordered. We pointed to what we wanted--moussaka, stuffed tomatoes, fried cheese, Greek salad, and beer. Though the food was probably just average, it was home-cooked food and served in the kind of setting we find magical. After lunch we walked down the step to the sloping beach, stepping across natural mats of dried seaweed washed ashore during storms, and found a small lean-to under which we wiled away a portion of the afternoon. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from this idyllic spot and return to the car for the short drive back into Naxos town. On our return, we found another complimentary bottle of white wine presented by the hotel for my birthday, which we all shared on the terrace as the sun went down. A perfect day.

    Sunday, May 25

    The mountain drives of the past two days had been amazing but somewhat taxing, particularly for the drivers, so we figured on spending our final day in Naxos at Saint George beach south of town. After breakfast we walked back through town along the waterfront a short way to the seaside Saint George. The town itself didn't appeal to us--a warren of apartments and hotels and tourist shops--but we we had a large choice of nice lounge chairs and umbrellas for soaking up the sun and the sites. The umbrellas gave good cover but we probably stayed exposed a little longer that we should have; it was the only time on the trip we got a sunburn. But I have a soft spot for European beachside setups, and I got my fix here. On our way back to Grotta in the afternoon we stopped for Aperol spritzes and bruschetta (so Italian!) at a music bar at the south end of Naxos harbor with more lovely views up to the Kastro.

    After getting refreshed and cleaned up at the hotel, we headed into town to look for the highly recommended Taverna to Kastro. Yet again we were glad to be staying at the Grotta--in a great location off the beaten track but an easy walk to town. Finding the restaurant took some doing, but by asking locals we eventually came out on the south side of the Kastro hill to find and have dinner at To Kastro, nabbing an outdoor table with a view down to the harbor. This turned out to be one of our best meals of the trip. A delicious stewed rabbit was the highlight, along with the view. The house special red wine was corked, so we opted to replace it with the house white—the server was quite professional about having the first wine rejected. The service was on the slow side, but the food and conversation were great. One last walk up the hill in the dark took us to the hotel bar for last orders.

    Our stay in Naxos exceeded our expectations. We will definitely return someday. Here are some pictures:
    https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/7090

    Next up: Paros

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    Great report. Glad you enjoyed Naxos it is our favourite island. We always do our last night dinner at Taverna to kastro. The setting and excellent food takes the little pang of sadness away from the next days departure.
    By the way the service has always been slow and after one gets used to it it enhances the charm as you sip wine waiting for the next dish to arrive.
    I hope you don't mind my adding some images to your thread. These images are from a trip around Naxos and cover much of what you have described.
    Trip around Naxos http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/

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    Thanks! Stanbr--your photos are lovely (I'd been through them earlier) and encompass much more of the island than we saw. Reason to return!

    Now, on to Paros, another great island.

    Monday, May 26--PAROS

    It was time to say good-bye to our English traveling companions, who were to return to Mykonos later in the day and flying back to England the next day. We had had a great time together, as usual—no matter what the destination, when old friends get together, we seem to pick up right where we left off months or years before.

    The hotel van took the two of us down to the port, where we boarded the 9:30 a.m. Blue Star Ferry to Paros, arriving at 10:15 (11.50 euros each). We were to spend the next five days on the island and had reserved the deluxe room at Eleni Rooms in Parikia (a bargain at 50 euros per night).

    Accommodation in Paros: Eleni Rooms, http://eleni-rooms.gr/en/
    Booked on booking.com

    We weren’t exactly sure where in Parikia Eleni was located and had neglected to arrange for the free pickup that had been offered, so we figured we would just take a taxi. While we were looking around for where to get a cab, a woman asked us where we were going. She was a rental car agent who knew Eleni, so she quickly pulled out her cell phone and we were picked up by Eleni a few minutes later. That's a small town! Eleni and her husband had turned their family home into a neat set of rooms on two floors, surrounding a lovingly tended courtyard where we could relax and have breakfast for a small fee. Our second-floor room was also lovingly decorated in “Cycladic style”—white and red, with lots of neat personal touches. We had a small terrace overlooking the street and an empty, untended patch of weeds—not much of a view but pleasant nonetheless. And surprisingly quiet. Eleni was an attentive hostess who spoke excellent English, and there was a real family atmosphere as her husband tended the garden, her daughter tended the rooms, her son-in-law ran a convenient car rental agency, and everyone was very friendly. The location was on one end of town, near Livadi Beach, and a little outside the hustle and bustle of the port but still convenient to all the action.

    We spent the morning exploring Parikia’s port area, which is much smaller than Naxos harbor. As in Naxos, no cruise ships stop at Paros, so the town has a much more local feel. Plenty of Greek men--and women--spend their mornings at outdoor cafes overlooking the port. We found a nice café on the waterfront south of the ferry landing where we shared a large Greek salad and another dish. Then it was off to see the rest of the town. We visited the old byzantine Panagea Ekatontapilia (Church of 100 Doors), which dates from 326 CE and was allegedly founded by the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. Another version is that it dates from the reign of Emperor Justinian in the sixth century who constructed it on the site of a smaller chapel that may have been related to Constantine’s mother. There were several buildings in the complex, some of which contained some great old frescoes, including one of St. George. We also strolled along the many narrow white lanes in the old town--the largest of which had many tourist shops--and took a quick look at the thirteenth-century Frankish Fort constructed largely from columns and other materials taken from an older Greek temple that had occupied the site. We found Parikia to be a very pleasant place to base.

    For dinner we decided to take a break from Greek cuisine and settled instead on Cactus, a “Mexican-Thai” restaurant across from Livadi Beach. We eat quite a bit of Mexican food so it’s always fun—if a bit risky—to try it in another country. We sat on the terrace and enjoyed the excellent view of the beach and water across the way. Drinks were excellent and the food, though not authentic, was tasty. The necessary ingredients for good Mexican food aren’t really available on Paros—big surprise—but the flavors were good, the beer was cold, and the conversation with the owners was fun. Good choice for a change of pace.

    Tuesday May 27--ANTIPAROS

    We intended to take the bus to Pounda this morning and the short ferry ride from there to Antiparos. However, as we passed the main ferry landing in Parikia on the way to the bus we noticed a sign for boats directly to Antiparos. The boat was leaving in five minutes, so the timing couldn’t have been better. So we handed over the 9 euros for the round trip and took a lovely boat ride with a couple other passengers through rock islets to Antiparos. We had no real plans for Antiparos. We could have rented a vehicle or taken a bus to the beach, but since the water was too cool for swimming (for us anyway) at this time of year we just wanted to while away a few hours by exploring the main town, which as actually more like a village. That turned out to be easy to do. “Quiet” is the most descriptive word for Antiparos at this time of year. After cappucinos at a café on the waterfront we wandered up the main street to the old Venetian castle. Once inland from the port area, it was very laid back—a few shops and cafes were open, but the main activity seemed to be sprucing up the shop fronts with some new paint and repainting the white lines surrounding the street tiles in preparation for the coming high season. Our stroll eventually brought us to the castle ruins, which are surrounded by small but atmospheric homes.

    We were not sure where to eat but eventually settled on a small place on the main street called Mezedes Village, which specialized in Cretan food. We had a warm welcome and a wonderful meal, one of the best of the trip, with chick peas baked in the oven, fennel pie, Greek salad, and a fish dish. Afterwards we walked to the far northern end of the harbor for a view back on to the town and read and sketched for a while before returning to the dock to board the boat for our return trip to Paros. Such a pleasant day!

    Back in Parika town, we explored the old church and museum and the area around the Frankish castle (Kastro) in the old town. To construct the castle the builders used columns and other materials from an older Greek temple, and the result looks like something one might create from a sophisticated Legos set. We watched the gorgeous sunset from a nearby terrace before returning to our room for a light supper purchased in the local market, with white wine from Santorini (Boutari’s Assyrtiko).

    Wednesday, May 28—PAROS

    We decided to try the breakfast at Eleni Rooms, which cost just a few euros and included really good yoghurt with honey, fruit, filter coffee, and rather insipid orange juice. After breakfast Eleni’s son-in-law dropped off a rental car for us (one day Є30, two days Є50) and we drove into the interior of the island. First we stopped at a marble quarry in the hills. There wasn’t much to the quarry (we’d already seen the impressive marble mountains in Naxos), but as we walked along the path up the hill we encountered a young woman selling small marble carvings from at little table. As a souvenir of Paros we decided to buy a small marble heart—a simple carving but one that obviously had a lot of meaning for the young woman, because as she wrapped it up for us she started to cry and soon was sobbing, explaining herself in Greek. Sadly, we could only guess what she was saying, and probably guessed wrong, but I gave her a big hug anyway before we walked back down the hill. That was one of those enigmatic encounters that I will always remember.

    We drove east to the old capital of Lefkes, which spilled down a hillside. We parked above the main town and walked downhill as far as the main church. We explored along typical narrow, winding streets that opened up to small plazas. There were quite a number of people in tour groups, but the town was certainly not overrun. Since we were not going to do the walk on the ancient Byzantine Way path across the fields to Prodromos (which we later regretted), we walked back up the hill to our car and stopped a little way out of town for coffee at a café on a terrace that overlooked the town and the remains of half a dozen windmills; a lovely, peaceful setting. We left just as a tour group arrived so the peace remained unbroken. We then drove south along the east coast to Golden Beach. Because it was so early in the season, we walked along the beach and settled in on lounge chairs that were set up under umbrellas and enjoyed the views. We were willing to pay if someone came by and asked for money, but no one did so we hung out for an hour or so (eventually joined by a couple other freeloaders) on this somewhat unsettled and rather cool day.

    After walking back to our car, we headed for Drios and a restaurant called Anna’s that had been highly recommended. Right on the main road, it more than lived up to its billing. Arriving after 3:00 PM, we were afraid it might be closed, but we were greeted at the door by Anna, who walked us over to the kitchen area and showed us the 15-20 dishes available that day, lifting lids and letting us take in the sight and the aroma of each. We chose a wonderful lunch of chicken, oven-baked chick peas, fava beans, fennel pie, and a cucumber and tomato salad. It was one of the best meals on the trip (we had a lot of those, it seems), perhaps even better than the lunch we had on Antiparos the previous day. We had a great conversation with our waiter, who was from one of the islands along the coast north of Athens. He strongly recommended as “authentic” the islands of Ios, Milos, and Folegandros, none of which were in our plans, unfortunately. After lunch we drove along the eastern, southern, and western coasts on our way back to Parikia. We followed signs up the hill to the butterfly sanctuary, but it wasn’t the right season and it was closed.

    In the evening we headed back to the old town and up the hill to the castle and the nearly deserted viewpoint terrace, where we again watched the sunset with half a dozen other intrepid souls. Our late lunch had been more than enough to satisfy us for the rest of the day, so we ended the evening with a quiet walk back through the lanes of Parikia to Eleni’s.

    Thursday, May 29

    After breakfast at a nearby café, we drove to the northern part of the island, near Naoussa. We explored the lovely bay to the west of the town and attempted to no avail to find a route to the ancient Acropolis marked on our map. We then drove to the lovely port town of Naoussa, which is the choice location of many visitors for a beautiful stay on Paros, and we couldn’t really argue with that except to say that Parikia seems to have a livelier local scene and more easily accessible activities. We don’t regret basing in Parikia, but Naoussa would have been wonderful as well.

    Parking just outside the town, we walked down to the port area, which we found to be really beautiful. Some tourists, but not too many, appeared as we walked out on the jetty and explored an old fort. We then walked through the winding lanes of the old town, with their many tourist shops—but not many tourists this time of year--and up the hill to the large main church, an area that seemed even quieter than the harbor area. We were still too early to have lunch at our chosen restaurant, Glafkos, which didn’t open until 1:00 PM, so we went back into town and did a little shopping. Our lunch at Glafkos, located right on the little beach of Saint Dimitris next to the harbor area, was very good, and it was fun sitting outside right along the water. By the time we left the small terrace area of the restaurant was quite full of diners. We eventually returned home via back roads, still looking for the Acropolis but never finding a way to get there. That afternoon the weather turned surly and J went out in a driving rainstorm with 50 mile an hour winds to get the (always) necessary bottle of wine and some nuts for a very light supper. Then we hunkered down and enjoyed the sounds of the wind and rare rain outside our window.

    Friday, May 30

    Today was much nicer weather; we were surprised at how many limbs and leaves had been scattered about by the wind the night before. The waves had washed over the breakwater and scattered large rounded rocks on the inland side. We wandered down to the main square and found outdoor seating at a small tourist café where we shared breakfast in the sunshine. We had returned our car at the end of the day before so we were back to exploring by foot. We hadn’t walked south from Parikia along the coast, so we headed that way along the waterfront and then uphill where we found several more windmills and had excellent views along the coast to Parikia town. We had hoped to find a beach but instead walked down some lanes and on a footpath to discover a lovely rocky cove looking across the water back to town. We hung out there for a couple of hours, sunning on the rocks and watching the ferries come in and out of the harbor. A couple of boys came by to do some spear fishing in the shoals. It was altogether a fine way to spend the morning.

    Afterward we strolled through the main streets of the old town and popped into a few stores before settling into a small outdoor table for drinks along one of the lanes. I did a little sketching, inspired by the young art student at a neighboring table who was finalizing a black-and-white painting she was going to show that evening at the art school’s gallery show. After we were both finished we chatted for a while—she was an American who had been staying in Paros for a couple of months to attend the school, and she invited us to the show.

    After a stop back at our room we headed to the nearby beach, which turned out to be just adequate. In the early evening we went back to town to the art show—crowded with young international artists and their friends—and then walked further along the lanes to have dinner at Levantis restaurant. Here we dined on sea bream and other good things—another case of “one of our best meals in Greece” and a nice way to end our five relaxing days on the wonderful island of Paros and its tiny neighbor, Antiparos.

    Next--inevitably, inexorably--Santorini.

    Here are some pictures of Antiparos and Paros. I want to go back!
    https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/7162

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    Thank you for the wonderful report. Just today I was able to use my American miles & get us to Athens(I had been trying for a month) We have been to Greece twice so Naxos was on my go to list. Now I need to get us home from Athens-or stay in Greece HAHA

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    Saturday, May 31, SANTORINI

    As we checked out of Eleni Rooms after breakfast, Eleni inexplicably presented me with a gift. The present turned out to be a sizable but mundane flower vase made of green glass--a friendly gesture but not exactly what I wanted to carry with me for the rest of the trip, though it would have been rude to refuse it. (Someone on the hotel staff in Santorini now has a green flower vase.) Eleni then drove us to the ferry landing where we caught the Blue Star ferry from Paros to Santorini. J is a geologist so he was eager to finally see the spectacular volcanic environment he has read about and seen so many pictures of over the years. It did not disappoint.

    We found seats on the covered open deck at the back of the ship and were able to relax and enjoy the views of the multiple islands, including Naxos and Ios, we passed before we turned in to the entrance to the caldera of Santorini, one of the grandest harbor entrances anywhere. Passengers packed the rails to see the fantastic black (basalt), red (basaltic tephra), and white (pyroclastic) volcanic layers in the 200m inner cliffs of the main island of Thira. (That's the geologist speaking.) The colorful cliffs were topped by white buildings that spread down the upper section like snow on a mountain summit. The view was awesome, with the deep blue water all around us and small ports at the base of the cliffs and the active post-caldera volcanic island in the center, rimmed by four main caldera rim islands. Whatever might be said about the insane number of tourists on Santorini, it is surely a physically impressive and beautiful place.

    At the port, after a few minutes of confusion with departing passengers going this way and that, we managed to hook up with the transportation we had arranged in advance with our hotel (25 euros for the two of us). The woman who met us led us to a van that took us up the switchbacks of the crowded road to the caldera rim and main town of Fira. The road ended at the large square behind the Hotel Atlantis, from where we walked a short distance, with the driver carrying our roller bags over the cobbles, to the Adamis Majesty Suites. This boutique hotel, located on the caldera rim, is composed of six suites, one of which was to be our home for the next three nights.

    Accommodation: Adamis Majesty Suites, http://www.adamismajestysuites.com/index.php/en/
    180 euros per night, breakfast included, booked on booking.com

    “Wow.” That’s what I said as we opened the door off the busy pedestrian lane and stepped down to the contrasting quiet of the hotel's small reception area. The view of the buildings spilling down the caldera walls was spectacular! I would say “wow” many more times before we settled in to our spacious room. The room itself was large, with a gigantic, atmospheric tiled bathroom, but was somewhat dark. The front terrace was a different matter, though—the light bathed the table where our breakfast was served and we could (and did) enjoy drinks while gazing at the beautiful scene below. We shared the large terrace with four other suites, two of which had a hot tub. According to the couple who was staying in one of those rooms, the water never got warm enough to enjoy. (At one point they asked us to take a photo of them in the tub--they stayed in just long enough for the photo and then quickly clambered out.) In front of our room were two comfortable lounge chairs and a sheer curtain we could pull for privacy if we wanted it. I think there are likely better places to stay (in retrospect I would have chosen something in the village of Firostani or Imerovigli), but the location was convenient, the room was very quiet, the views were wow-worthy, and the staff friendly and helpful, so we were happy.

    We had dinner at Lithos, right near the top of the donkey path to the local port and recommended in Lonely Planet. It had nice views of the caldera and decent but not great food. It reminded me of some of the meals we have had in Venice, another spectacular visual location but not a culinary hot spot. On the other hand, we didn’t do much research on dining options in Santorini, and I think we were finally beginning to grow sated with standard Greek food at this stage of the trip.

    Sunday, June 1

    After a good breakfast served on our terrace we decided to do a walk along the caldera rim uphill through Firostefani to Imerovigli. The paved path led us past neat white houses, small hostelries, larger hotels, and cute cafes. We found a one cafe with a lovely terrace in Imerovigli where we stopped for a cappucino and enjoyed the views over the water. We also stopped in at a small market to purchase drinks before taking the bus back to Fira--we planned to do the rest of the walk to Oia the next day. We spent the afternoon relaxing at our suite and walking (but not buying)along the shopping streets in Fira, which were packed with cruisers, jewelry stores, and mostly unappealing art.

    We had booked a late afternoon/evening schooner cruise through our hotel that departed from the old port below Fira, so we walked down the steep donkey path to the port, dodging donkeys and their waste products; not a pretty sight. Those donkeys made me nervous and I squeezed up against the rock wall as they passed close by, hoping not to be kicked or stepped on. I also did not enjoy the squealing tourists who were riding atop them! Most of the participants on our cruise had already boarded the schooner at the main ferry port, so when we boarded the boat was nearly full. We went upstairs to the main deck where we found seats opposite each other at a table already occupied by two couples. Lots of different languages being spoken on this boat!

    Our first stop was at the post-caldera island of Nea Kameni, the largest of the two islands formed by eruptions since 1700 BCE, with beautiful aa lava flows all the way to the water’s edge. The group split into two: one group, which included J, chose to climb to the summit of the island; the other group (mine) did a shorter hike with more emphasis on the volcanic history of Santorini. The guide for my group turned out to have more personality than ability to communicate clearly. When J’s group joined up with mine for the latter part of the talk, J just shook his head about the wildly confusing geological story the guide was telling. Nonetheless, it was great to be on the hardened lava in the middle of the caldera so we just went with the flow, so to speak.

    On our return to the boat, one couple had moved to another table, leaving a place for us to join the young German couple who sat opposite. The boat headed for the second post-caldera island and an opportunity for a quick swim in a place where hot springs entered the ocean. We passed on the swim—too brief, too cold getting to the hot spot—but enjoyed the stop. When a middle-aged swimmer reboarded the boat and showed his fellow passengers way too much as he toweled off, we exchanged amused glances with the couple across from us and soon began a friendly conversation (in English) that continued through the rest of the voyage. The crew served a buffet dinner onboard near the island of Thirassia, which forms the other part of the remaining caldera rim. Several glasses of Santorini white wine later, we sailed to the cliffs below Oia, and then the boat turned so we could watch the sunset on our way back to Fira port. The sunset was nice but not spectacular, which I suspect may be the case for many Santorini sunsets. The view of the cliffs was much better! We were all in a pretty good mood when the schooner returned us to the old port below Fira and we bid farewell. No donkey path this time; we purchased tickets and took the funicular up to the top of the cliffs. All in all, the sunset cruise was worth every penny of the Є50 each that we paid for it.

    Monday, June 2

    After breakfast we caught a bus from the nearby Fira bus station to Imerovigli. Not the most efficient bus station in the world, but the ride was cheap. After we were dropped off in Imerovigli we made our way to the caldera rim path where we had left it the day before and followed the trail all the way to Oia. It was a very beautiful walk, mostly in open country with few buildings after we left Imerovigli. The path was rather rugged in some places, with lots of uphill and downhill stretches as we followed the ragged caldera rim all the way to Oia (7 km), but so worthwhile. More wow moments and one of the most enjoyable activities of our whole trip. I really enjoyed seeing the views across the Santorini countryside along the way. More donkeys were available at one spot along the way for those who didn't want to walk, but thankfully only one group of people engaged them, and they only went a short distance on the trail to one of the overlooks and then returned down the hill. If you do this walk, which I highly recommend, be sure to wear decent walking shoes (no sandals!) because the footing can be slippery on the loose rocks in some parts.

    Oia is clearly a tourist place, even more so than Fira, which is more commercial. Everything in Oia seems to be tidy and in really good shape; you can smell the money! For lunch we found a restaurant, Skala, with a lovely view from the cliffside tables, though our table was toward the back so the view wasn't that great. The moussaka in a pot was very good, as were the salad and white wine. After lunch we explored the remainder of Oia all the way out to the famous windmill. On the way we found a pretty hand-painted tile to take home with us--our only purchase in Santorini. We were not inclined to hang around Oia and battle the crowds for the sunset, so eventually we boarded a bus back to Fira. Back at our hotel, J went out to get a nice bottle of local white wine which we paired with “spring rolls” from the restaurant above the hotel and some crackers, cheese, and nuts we had on hand. Again the sunset was just OK—the ones we saw in our short time in Santorini just did not live up to the hype. The lit-up village spilling down the caldera cliff, on the other hand, was unforgettable.

    Our 2½ days on Santorini were quite satisfying though too short to allow us to break out of the Fira-Oia corridor and see the less touristed portion of the island, which I think would have been interesting. But what we did see was undeniably drop-dead gorgeous. Not sure I’m motivated to return—I prefer the less visited islands--but I am certainly glad that we included this stunning place in our itinerary.

    Some photos of Santorini: https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/7211

    Next: A short stay in Athens

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    aprililacs-Thank you for continuing your TR. Santorini I fear is one of those places that is so unique and beautiful, it should be seen but it suffers from mega tourism. I am glad that it will be at the beginning of our trip. Loved the photos. Will await you Athens post...

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    Have a great trip, odie!

    Here is the final installment of my report:

    Tuesday, June 3--ATHENS

    We had originally booked a 9:30 a.m. flight from Santorini to Athens (234 euros for the two of us), but about a week before our flight we got an email from Aegean Airlines saying that our flight had been moved to 7:15 a.m. I’m calling that a foul, but there was nothing we could do about it except arrange with our hotel for a 5:15 a.m. ride to the airport. It was very dark, and very quiet, in Fira at that time of the morning, and the van was a little delayed, but there was another couple waiting with us so we kind of enjoyed the contrast to normally bustling Fira.

    There was very little seating at Santorini airport and a crowd of people waiting for various flights. Eventually the backlog cleared out and there was some breathing room so we could relax a bit before the 7:15 departure. The operation did not seem all that efficient. However, we did get seats in row 3 of the plane, probably because Aegean had switched us from the later flight (likely overbooked) to this one.

    Once we landed at Athens airport, just 45 minutes after we took off, we walked 5 minutes to the very convenient metro and took it to Monastriki station in downtown Athens (8 euros each). The station is the final stop on line 3 and is less than 100 meters south of our pleasant and well-located hotel, the Hotel Attalos on Athinas Street.

    Accommodation: Hotel Attalos, http://www.attaloshotel.com/, 76 euros per night, incl. tax

    Our early arrival meant that our room wasn’t yet available, so we left our bags at reception and headed up the street to the main produce market, then had a light breakfast at a small open-air café located on the same street. The Attalos’s neighborhood is far less touristy than the main part of the Plaka, which is not far away, so we really enjoyed the local ambiance and interesting (nontourist) shops along the street.

    We returned to the hotel and took the lift up to our room. It was small, basic, and somewhat cramped but comfortable enough, at a good price. I will probably look elsewhere next time we are in Athens, but the hotel was clean and serviceable and had a rooftop terrace and with great views over to the Acropolis.

    Heading out again, we briefly explored the flea market (mostly tourist stuff, but some remnants of what it must have once been like) before passing by the Roman Agora and the Greek Agora on our way up the hill to the Acropolis. This was another place we had heard so much about, and we were excited to finally be able to visit. Again, we were not disappointed. The buildings are impressive and the setting is magnificent. Not too crowded, either, and the weather was unseasonably (and happily) cool. We passed through the gates of the Propyleia, with the temple of Athena Nike to the south. Once through the gates and onto the hill, we came upon the Erechtheion, with its “porch of the maidens,” six draped female figures who act as columns for the structure. It is perhaps J’s favorite ancient building in Athens. The Parthenon loomed at the far end and we saved it for last. It is extremely impressive, scaffolding aside, and somewhat larger than I thought it would be. Now that I have seen where the “Elgin Marbles” were taken from, I am even more convinced than before that the British Museum should give them back to Greece. Ahhh, that’s a political discussion to be had another time.

    All along the margins of the Acropolis we had great views of surrounding Athens. J was intrigued by what we saw to the south (the new Acropolis Museum and an ancient amphitheater), so after exiting the Acropolis we wound down the east and north sides of the hill to the ancient Theatre of Dionysus. On our way we saw that the museum was nearby and decided to visit it after lunch. We enjoyed a very good light lunch at an outside table across from the museum and then headed into the building. Excellent exhibits! They were well displayed, with enough spacing to allow us to really appreciate them. After spending an hour and a half at the museum, we wandered back through the Plaka neighborhood to our hotel. The Plaka was filled with way too many tourist shops and restaurant touts, so we were glad we weren’t staying there.

    We were ready for a change of cuisine, so, following the hotel’s recommendation, we decided on dinner at India Masala, a small Indian restaurant located on Ermou Street in the Thissio neighborhood to the west of Monastriki. Terrific food and a very pleasant, off-the-beaten-track atmosphere--a nice change of pace. After dinner we walked back to the hotel and ascended to the rooftop bar for ouzo and white wine. The Parthenon and the Erechtheion were fully lit up in the distance.

    Wednesday, June 4

    We had breakfast at the same small café, then headed along the other main street with the intention of visiting the Benaki Museum, often recommended on this forum. On our way we found a lovely Byzantine church, then passed Syntagma Square and the parliamentary center of Athens. The past few years have been harrowing times for Greece, and there was, per usual it seems, a large crowd of chanting demonstrators filling the square with their waving Greek flags while being observed by a squad of police. The museum was interesting, if eclectic, stuffed with a wide variety of exhibits, from Greek and Roman pieces to modern art. It put us in mind of the quirky Isabela Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston.

    After leaving the museum, we grabbed a light lunch on the same street where we had eaten the day before, then walked through Hadrian’s Gate to the gigantic Temple of Olympian Zeus, with its colossal 17 m high, 2 m wide columns, some standing and some neatly arrayed in chunks where they have fallen. The was begun in the sixth century BCE by one of the tyrant kings but not completed until the second century CE, under the auspices of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It's one of the most impressive, if incomplete, Greek temples we have ever seen, with photogenic views of the distant Acropolis through the columns.

    We then walked around the base of the Acropolis past the Greek Agora before ending up again in the Thissio neighborhood for another interesting stroll. We came upon the Thission Open Air Cinema, which looked like a very cool place to watch a movie under the stars. Too bad the showings didn’t coincide with our schedule, which included a very early flight the next day—otherwise we surely would have attended a show there.

    After returning to the hotel for a brief rest, we walked to dinner in the Psirri neighborhood at another recommended restaurant, Lithos. It was fitting that our final meal in Greece was Greek, a cuisine we had so enjoyed the past couple of weeks. On returning to the hotel, we stopped in at the rooftop terrace for a last drink and a final view of the Acropolis at night. We loved our short visit to Athens and definitely intend to return.

    Thursday, June 5—home again

    We had an early Lufthansa flight from Athens to Frankfurt so we woke at 5:00 a.m. to head for the metro station and catch the first train to the airport (5:38 a.m.). The metro gates were still closed, so we went across the street for cappuccinos and pastry at a shop that looked like it stayed open all night. Just as we were finishing, the metro gates opened and we went down the stairs and boarded the first train. It turned out that this train wasn’t going to the airport, but at least it was going in the right direction. After a few stops we figured out that we had to get off and then board the next train, which was indeed going to the airport. (We weren’t alone in this little detour.) Of course the flight was delayed, but not for long, and we had a pleasant flight to Germany.

    Neither of us likes the Frankfurt airport very much, and nothing happened this time to change our minds. We had hoped to use our United Airlines vouchers for the Lufthansa lounge (since they are Star Alliance partners), but our attempt was rejected with little grace. The airport is huge and not especially well organized. Not much in the way of good restaurant options either. Our flight to San Francisco on United was delayed, but we caught up on the 12-hour flight and landed pretty much on time. We hopped on BART and were happily home about 45 minutes later.

    All in all, our time in Greece more than fulfilled our expectations. It was beautiful, friendly, and far less costly than Italy, where we had spent the first three weeks of our trip. I suspect that a return trip won’t be too far in the future.

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    aprililacs-
    An excellent finish to your TR. I think we will have about the same amount of time as you in Athens. I will use your report as a planning guide. Thank you for taking the time to write, these reports are always so helpful to those of us planning our trips.

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    Thanks for following along, odie. I think the trip reports on this site are so useful, and writing one is a great way to remember the trip after it's over. I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did ours--and be sure to write a report after it's over!

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    Great to read this report, aprillilacs! I live in San Francisco, too!
    Heading to Naxos June 25-30 for the first time. We'll be there 6 days and want to rent a car from the airport. Can anyone recommend a reputable agency? Best to reserve ahead?

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