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Trip Report Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini - The Non-Honeymooner Trip Report

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Thanks so much to everyone for their advice when I was planning our first trip to Greece. We got back a few days ago (just before the demonstrations in Athens turned bad), and I’m just getting my thoughts together about the trip. It was pretty close to perfect – the weather cooperated (2 weeks without rain!), the planes were on time, the ferries were almost on time, we tap-danced around the strikes and slowdowns, and ultimately tried to immerse ourselves in the culture enough to experience and appreciate being in the midst of the demonstrations in this unique period in Greek history.

Overview stuff…

We were able to use frequent flyer miles for plane tickets to Athens, and I managed to find a few pretty incredible deals that allowed us to stay in some fabulous hotel rooms, adding to the “event” nature of the trip. We travel to Europe every year or two, sometimes for long-weekend city visits that are fairly easy to do from the East Coast (Paris, Rome, Amsterdam), and other times for a week to 10 days to explore a region (Amalfi Coast, Provence/Riviera, Tuscany), but we’ve never been to Greece. For this trip we planned 2 weeks, and wanted to visit Athens and 3 islands. With much help from this board, we decided on Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini. It turned out great. We deliberately chose the order of island visits to build up to Santorini, and it didn’t disappoint, but for a while we thought we were the only non-honeymoon couple staying in all of Oia (which means we got to give a lot of marital advice!). But that comes later. Anyway…

I know that everyone told me not to plan too much, to be prepared to go with the flow and change plans at the last minute, but I’m a little compulsive about planning, and I couldn’t stop myself. So, all of the hotels were booked in advance (and because the dollar was so good on the euro last fall, about half of them were prepaid). The inter-island flights were planned as soon as Olympic announced their summer rates, so we managed to grab good flights at good fares for the Athens-Mykonos and Santorini-Athens legs of the trip. Ferries were booked in advance online (SeaJets for Mykonos to Naxos, and Blue Star from Naxos to Santorini), and the ferry tickets were delivered by courier to our hotel in Athens before we arrived. I thought it was well worth the 3€ courier fee to have the tickets delivered and waiting for us at the concierge desk before we arrived, so we never had to track down a ferry office. I would recommend that plan to anyone.

About a week or so before the trip, the protests and strikes in the Athens area started up again (after being quiet for the past several months). Thanks to this board I added livingingreece.gr/strikes to my Twitter list so we could stay updated on strikes when they were announced, in case we needed to change any plans. I also activated an international data plan for my iPhone so I could download email to my phone when there wasn't wifi available and get/send text messages easily. Both were very useful.

We made a point of packing for carry-on only, and I still felt that I packed about twice as much as I needed. We were moving every 3 days, and by the second move (from Mykonos to Naxos) I found myself packing almost half of my stuff in a vacuum bag, shoving it in the bottom of my rollaboard, and never opening it again. Sigh. I really thought I was a better packer than that!

Enough of the overview. First stop, Athens!

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    Day 1 - Athens
    Did I say the trip was close to perfect? Well, there were some “close to” parts scattered throughout, but the first hiccup was our arrival in Athens on Monday morning. The Delta flight from JFK was actually a little early, we didn’t have checked luggage, and we were some of the first people off the plane. It should have been a good start, but we came out into the airport, looking at the sea of drivers with little signs with people’s names on them, and…. Nothing. Because of the potential for strikes, I had succumbed to my over-analyzing, over-planning side and booked a car transfer from the airport for our arrival. I decided that other transfers we could do by taxi or even metro, but for the “I’m jet-lagged, I’ve-never-been-here-before, I-just-wanna-get-there” transfer (especially if there was a chance that taxis might be on strike when we arrived) I decided it was okay to plan in advance, pay a few extra bucks, and have a transfer waiting. I decided against using the metro as a transfer option a couple of weeks earlier, when a neighbor got back from a visit to Greece and reported that one of her travelling companions had been pickpocketed on the metro heading from the airport to Syntagma Square – she lost her cash, credit cards and passport right at the beginning of her trip. So, a transfer it is. Our transfer was late, but one of the other drivers saw us searching in vain, and offered to call our contact number for us (local call for him, but would have been an international call for me from my phone). Pretty soon our driver showed up -with a hand scribbled name card that was written in colored magic marker (seriously people, how hard is it to use a printer???). I will never do this again in Athens. The “English speaking driver” spoke no more than a few phrases of English, and the “upgraded” private car (in lieu of reserving a taxi) was a horrible Hyundai hatchback. I’ll happily stick with a taxi from here on out, especially since most taxis are Mercedes E-series cars, and the new €35 flat rate to and from the airport is fairly well enforced (at least FROM the airport). Lesson learned.

    So, off to Athens and Syntagma Square, where I had managed to score a great deal at the Grande Bretagne, the grand dame flagship hotel that is way too fancy for us but makes you feel like a rock star just by stepping in the door. I had planned to stay at Athens Gate based on so many great recommendations from this board, but found a deal that I couldn’t pass up, and it ended up being really fascinating to be able to stay right on Syntagma Square, in the middle of everything. When we got there Monday morning, it was the morning after 100,000 people had gathered on the square to protest the new IMF loan talks, pension cuts, and every other frustration they are dealing with right now. There were a few tents on the square (but nothing like what we saw when we came back to Athens two weeks later!) and several banners up, but the square in daylight looked pretty normal.

    Hotel sidebar - For anyone going to Athens in the future, the Grande Bretagne, the NJV Athens Plaza and the King George are all side-by-side on the Square, so if you can find a good deal at any of them, take it. When I first started planning this trip, a travel agent suggested staying at the Athens Hilton. I am so glad we didn’t do it. The Hilton is way too far from anyplace that a tourist would want to be (a metro ride away from anything), while Syntagma Square is walking distance to the Plaka, the Acropolis, great shopping, and most of the nightlife.

    Of course, at 11 AM the room isn’t ready. But in the spirit of trying to relax a little, we changed into swimsuits and went to the roof to take advantage of the rooftop outdoor pool. A quick COLD dip (“refreshing” became our buzzword for the next two weeks), change, and we were ready to head down to the Plaka, wandering through the tiny streets with what felt like millions of tourists, including huge numbers of cruise shippers. Lunch at one of the battling gyro places (with the rest of the tourists, but it was good!). A bit more wandering, then back to the hotel for a nap. At 6:30, refreshed, we wandered out for strolling, beverages and eventual dinner.

    Through the beautiful pedestrian shopping streets to the Plaka, up and down the restaurant steps, then through the Forum and the Tower of the Winds, where we rounded a corner and found what became our favorite little restaurant in Athens – Taverna Platano. A great little place in a hidden alley, with tables outside under a vine canopy. Lots of people, fabulous food, and very reasonable. Dolmades (stuffed vines) in Athens is a delight – so different from the dolmas at the Turkish place down the street at home (and, it turns out, different from the dolmades on the islands, which are also like the small stuffed grape leaves that we are familiar with). These are magnificent. Huge grape leaves stuffed with a hot rice and meat mixture, covered with a warm, creamy, slightly lemony white sauce. The dolmades are followed by lamb chops for DH and fresh grilled calamari for me (getting ready for the islands!). With a passable carafe of wine, we are out for about €35. A perfect first evening.

    We headed back toward the hotel at about 11 pm, and found Syntagma Square a very different place than the one we had left 4 hours ago. About 50 thousand demonstrators are gathered to protest the IMF loans and government pension changes. Coming from DC we are used to protests, but this is different. Street food vendors are everywhere, and the atmosphere is almost festive. The crowd and the speakers seem very organized, and the large crowd is enthusiastic and even cheerful. I had no idea what to expect, but I didn’t expect this. The police are standing shoulder to shoulder at the steps of Parliament, and the crowd is politely staying a few feet away – shouting and chanting, but not the least bit violent. We wandered through the crowd for a while listening to speeches that we couldn’t understand, then decided to go to the top of the Grande Bretagne for a nightcap to get a bird’s eye view of the Square. The top floor of the Grande Bretagne is an open air restaurant, and it is packed with people having dinner or hanging at the bar. The noise from the crowd below is loud, and from high above you can really see how big the crowd is. With an incredibly overpriced glass of wine in my hand, looking down at the demonstrations, I’m feeling a little too much like Marie Antoinette. Time for bed.

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    Vivid! ... one feels right in the thick of it (I was, a few blocks away) ... glad to have a Greece newcomer describe the atmosphere; perhaps readers will believe it, from you. Continue!

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    I'm so enjoying your report as we just returned from the same places as you visited - first timers as well. We, too, had a peaceful demonstration in Athens just down the street from Athens Gate Hotel. We had a birds eye view from the restaurant's terrace of the growing crowds in one direction and the Acropolis and setting sun in the other.

    Looking forward to more or your report. :)
    I could go back tomorrow!

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    Day 2 – Athens
    Up early, with a lovely breakfast on the rooftop, looking out at the Acropolis on what promises to be another beautiful day. How did we get this lucky? Since we only have one full day in Athens, we decided to get a guide for a half day tour. Thanks to a link posted on this board I located Vicky Papadimitriou and booked a half day with her. Because we were only doing a half day and were staying so central (and would probably be spending most of our time at the Acropolis), I thought she would probably meet us on foot for a tour. Nope. She wanted to pick us up in her car to make sure that we got a good overview of her beautiful city and were able to see some of the things that we might not see by ourselves on foot, particularly her favorite view of the city from Lykavittas Hill.

    Licensed guides – particularly in a city like Athens – are a wonderful thing. They are regulated (I think they all might charge the same half day and full day rates), they get to go to the front of the ticket line anywhere (and bypass tour groups), they know the crazy back road shortcuts through the city, and they are authorized to park in the no parking areas next to the historic areas. Plus, Vicky’s family had lived in Athens for generations, so she was able to give some interesting insights into the current financial problems, Greece’s already crazy tax codes, the ramifications of cutting pensions, and the real fears about the impact of billions of dollars in new IMF loans for a country of only 11 million people. We visited the basics – Temple of Olympian Zeus, Panathenaic Stadium, Lykavittas Hill, etc., and, because we told her we were interested, we stopped at the Central Market and the flea market long enough to walk around a bit (we love those kind of places) before heading over to the New Acropolis Museum. Our original plan had been to do the Acropolis with her, but she had other ideas. She suggested that – with just a half day tour – we do the Acropolis Museum with her first to get all of the background information we needed, and then do the Acropolis ourselves afterward . That way we could take our time and explore at our own pace, and wander back to the hotel through the ancient Agora and the Plaka. The “half day” stretched on to about 2:30 pm, as she showed us the Museum and then joined us for coffee at the Museum café. After she left we walked up to the Acropolis on our own, listening to the wind blowing through the pines and enjoying our one-on-one time with the Parthenon. I must say that this is one of those places that the postcards are better than any picture you can get yourself (with the cranes, the scaffolding and the restoration work going on), but it was terrific all the same.

    Vicky did scold us (mildly) for not visiting the Benaki Museum on our own on Monday (it is closed on Tuesday) – a visit she had suggested we do when we were emailing back and forth. From a guide’s perspective, she said that the two museums she recommends to anyone – even on a short visit – is the new Acropolis Museum and the Benaki, because between the two you get a very good picture of the history of Athens. I took the blame for it, saying that we were tired from the flight and just wanted to have the chance to wander the streets of Athens, the Plaka, etc. Maybe next time, or maybe we should change our flight to Mykonos tomorrow from the morning to the afternoon flight, to get a few more hours to explore Athens? It is worth considering, and we decided to try. Unfortunately, the afternoon flight is completely full, so we have to stay on the original schedule, and the Benaki will have to wait for another visit.

    Meanwhile, in the middle of our whirlwind tour (at about Lykavittas Hill, I believe) DH’s camera decided to stop working. It is jammed in the open position and isn’t budging (fortunately, my iPhone is still taking pictures, so we’re covered). Looks like it is time to get a new camera, and at least it broke while in Athens, and not on the islands – more stores! At our guide’s suggestion we went to Public on Syntagma Square – kind of a Greek combination of Tower Records and Best Buy. We ended up with a new little Sony Sureshot, so now we have a camera that doesn’t need an adapter in Europe. The hassle, though, came at check out, when DH’s credit card wouldn’t work. Yup. Citibank strikes again. Even though we called them in advance, and even though the actual dollar figure was only a little over €100, I guess they freaked out about the fact that it was an electronic store and it flagged something in the fraud department. Several phone calls and about an hour of precious cocktail time later, they finally got it straightened out and we walked out with a new camera. Slip in the old SD card, charge it up in the room (no adapter needed!), and it will be ready to go in a few hours. A couple of days later DH was able to find a web thread about jammed Canon PowerShot cameras and read the consensus solution – just bang it repeatedly on a counter until the lens gets unjammed. It worked!

    So now time for dinner. We wandered back to the Plaka to the Restaurant Steps. It looks so romantic, and we had already run the gauntlet there last night, looking at places. At first we tried to go to the one at the top of the steps (Xenios Zeus?) but got a bad vibe. The owner was just trying too hard to sell us on the place, and was telling us too many times that Rick Steves recommends them. We ended up at the next “step” down – starts with an S – with a great rooftop with a view of the city and sunset in one direction, and the Acropolis in the other. There was a big dinner party going on – looked like maybe a college group finishing up a trip, or maybe finishing a semester. Dinner was good (the roast lamb was exceptional), but I still prefer the first night. But the view was great. We walked home very indirectly and found ourselves at the flea market area at about 11 pm, and the place was rocking. Every restaurant is absolutely packed (it looked like mainly gyro and souvlaki places), and the streets are full of people. This is the place to be, with or without the roving bands of fake purse vendors. Maybe next time.

    Eventually back to the hotel (midnight or so), and the Square is playing host to another night of demonstrations. The green laser pointers that the vendors are selling (very helpful for annoying the police and the people watching from hotel rooftops) look kinda fun, but I’m afraid that TSA would probably confiscate it, so I pass.

    Time for bed. If we had the chance to spend another day in Athens, we would happily do so, but for now we have an early morning flight to Mykonos tomorrow. Let the adventure continue.

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    Great trip report, wonderful energy and description! Saving it (rather, savoring it!) for my upcoming trip in September.

    Over the last month or more, I also had several experiences with Citibank questioning charges. I can only imagine how annoying it was to be in Greece and have this happen. However, there was a major breach in May (came to light in June), and several hundred thousand cards were hacked, so there was some justification for the headache you went through. Not to justify an annoyance, but it helps to put it in perspective.

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    progol - I've had several problems with Citibank in the past, so I wasn't as surprised as I was annoyed. When I was in France a few years ago travelling with my niece, I had warned Citi in advance that I was going to Paris, that I was the only adult travelling on the trip, and that they should NOT stop any transactions on the card unless I called them to let them know that my card was missing. Sure enough, I was in an art gallery buying a watercolor that I had fallen in love with, and they denied my card. And it took a full 24 hours before they could get it resolved because apparently their fraud department isn't open during normal European business hours. Seriously - if someone stole my card, do you really think that they first place they would go would be an art gallery? (Kinda why I was annoyed but not surprised at them freaking out about purchases at an electronics store, I suppose.)

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    Day 3 – Mykonos

    Very early morning alarm and a quick dash to the rooftop breakfast before we need to catch a taxi to the airport. We told the breakfast staff that we had about 12 minutes before we needed to catch a taxi for the airport, and they were fabulous – even gave us go-cups of coffee for the taxi ride. Breakfast behind us, and a quick taxi to the airport and we are off to Mykonos. Okay, not so quick as we got delayed by road closures (for a marathon!) but we made the plane in plenty of time. Easy flight, and by 9:45 am we are at our hotel in Mykonos.

    Hotel Semeli is fabulous. Just below the Hotel Belvedere (and yes, the two hotels are really owned by two sisters), Semeli is beautiful – just the perfect picture of what a boutique hotel on Mykonos should be (if anyone has a picture of what a boutique hotel on Mykonos should be). We drop the bags and by some miracle our room will be ready in about 15 minutes. We decide to take a quick walk into town, and we are gone for about 90 minutes. Mykonos Chora is a beautiful town! All I could think is that I had been warned (by people on this board) that Mykonos would probably be my least favorite island. If this is my least favorite, this is going to be a spectacular 10 days of island hopping! Beautiful, tiny, whitewashed streets that are deliciously fun to get lost in. Back at the hotel we unpack (really unpack, since we will be there for 3 days), and head for the pool. Again, "refreshing." We find a little shade and nap by the pool for a good two hours. This is heaven, and we have just arrived! By 2 we are ready to head down to the harbor and find lunch. Wandering down to the area by the windmills, we found Alefkandros – that restaurant that is used in a couple of scenes in Shirley Valentine (you know, the scenes where they are sitting at the tables on the water). I know that I know better, but I find myself getting sucked in… I kept looking at the menu and saw calamaretti, my favorite baby squid. Fresh, whole, lightly fried baby squidlets. I asked, and the server assures me that they have calamaretti, so we walked in. As he is seating us he points to the next table and says “calamari – see?” The woman at the next table is eating hat are obviously fried frozen calamari rings. They don’t have the babies. And the menu that they show us at the table says calamari, not calamaretti. Still, nice view over the water, it's late, we're hungry, so we sit down. A half litre of passable wine, salad, and I get the grilled calamari. At least the server had the decency to admit (when I asked) that the fried calamari was frozen, but the grilled calamari is fresh. The calamari is not bad, but the side of what was obviously canned mixed veggies was not acceptable under any circumstances. DH had a terrible, completely unacceptable seafood pasta. All in all not good, but probably average for the location. [Note: while I am not a fan of the place, I must say that their lobster tank looked good – refilled with fresh lobster while we were there – and their lobster prices were a good 10 euro per kilo less than most of the rest of the island, but I just cannot get past the canned Veg-All.] Despite the less than stellar quality of the food, the wine is decent, and the view of the water is gorgeous, and there are many, many worse places we could be in life, so we pour another glass of wine and try to enjoy the moment. With cool ocean breezes and a halfway decent wine, it is hard not to enjoy!

    After lunch we started wandering – little Venice to the Old Port, found the boats for Delos for tomorrow, wandered, and shopped. At about 5 pm we walked by Philippi’s Restaurant in the heart of Chora – it looked beautiful. The owner was getting things ready and we asked to see a menu, and found out that all of their vegetables are fresh from their own farm on the island. You had me at fresh veggies. We took a card and hope to be able to find it again later tonight. We asked the owner what time people came for dinner and he laughed. They open at 5 for the Americans and cruise ship people, but the Greeks don’t eat until 11:30, so they have a steady stream all evening. The upper level of the restaurant turns into a club after midnight.

    Fast forward a few hours… a nice nap in the room, shower, change, and out about 9:30 to start walking around and exploring Mykonos after dark. The shops all stay open until about 11 or so (some until after midnight), and everyone is walking the streets having a lovely time. We shop our way through a couple of beautiful galleries and look at a couple of restaurant menus, but my heart is set on fresh veggies at Philippi’s, and we wander in about 10:30 pm. Philippi does not disappoint. Incredible sea bass grilled to perfection, fresh farm veggies, and fresh picked salad to die for. It isn’t cheap, but definitely worth it. With a nice wine we were out for €120. It ended up being about the most expensive meal of the trip, but it was fabulous. We didn't find out until much later that Philippi's is listed in most guidebooks as the most romantic restaurant on the island. Lemoncellos on the house, and we wander back to the hotel about 12:30 (just as the clubs are opening) for a good night’s sleep.

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    ddd - believe it or not, I actually found a good deal at American Airlines vacations (first time in years!). It must have been a combination of off-season dates, decent dollar exchange rate and good karma, because I just checked AAVacations and the rates they are currently listing for GB are in the stratosphere. I guess I got really lucky. The airline vacation sites are tricky, but every once in a while you can find an incredible deal. I once got the Lutetia in Paris for less than $100 a night.

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    Day 4 (Thursday) –Delos

    We had to set the alarm to make sure we are ready to catch the first boat to Delos this morning (the boats start at 9 am). Up at 7:30, breakfast at 8, and leave for the dock by 8:30. Sunglasses, sunblock (we’ve been using SPF 70 since we hit Athens!), a bottle of water, hat, tevas… ready! A 10 minute walk to the Old Port, and we are there in plenty of time to get tickets and board the boat. A clear, sunny day, and Delos was beautiful. Just as we arrived, a goat herder was tending his herd as they gamboled on the rocks near the entrance. I thought there weren’t any permanent residents here? We are the second boat to arrive (I think the first 9 am boat left about 10 minutes before ours, but it was a private shuttle for a cruise ship tour group), but the island still feels empty. At that time of the morning, if you can stay between the tour groups, it is often just you and the wind and the buzzing of the bees as you wander among the ruins. I think DH took a zillion pictures with his new camera (he’s an architectural engineer, and he got the same look on his face as he did when exploring Pompeii a couple of years ago). We had looked at the schedule, and noted that the return boats run at noon, 1:30 and 3:30. Although we were prepared to stay there from 9:30 until the 1:30 boat, we did everything but climb Mt. Kynthos and still caught the noon boat back (barely). We took a LONG time on the front half of the path (with the lions and the lake house), visited the museum (but not the café), and then found ourselves rushing the second half of the route a little bit in order to make the noon boat. A 12:30 boat would have been perfect, but we didn’t feel like we needed to linger enough to wait for the 1:30. The noon boat is huge, by the way, as it accommodated both of the 9 am departure boats (so lots and lots of cruise shippers who were in Mykonos for the day). All in all a perfect morning, as we can happily cross Delos off the list.

    Back in Mykonos we wandered through town and found my favorite shop of the entire trip – the Olive Tree, with beautiful hand carved olive wood items. We decided that the fork & spoon salad sets would make perfect gifts (lightweight, unique, and they won’t break!). We also wandered back behind the taxi square area (going toward the New Port) and found Maria’s, a lovely little tavern with fabulous pizza and cold beer, and an inviting covered patio that was a perfect escape from the afternoon sun.

    Back to the hotel for a nap, then cocktails by the pool while doing a little internet surfing and relaxing. Later that evening we wandered back through Mykonos town again and found a lovely restaurant near the water with great grilled octopus and real spaghetti alla vongole – something I haven’t seen on any other menu in town -- and DH had a seafood pasta that was leaps and bounds ahead of the horror plate at lunch yesterday. Can this day get any better?

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    Thanks Jan! Your posts were some of the most helpful in our planning process. I guess we decided to embrace the "rest a little, play a little" philosophy for the island hopping (and after checking Delos off the list, we found the farther along we got on the journey the more the "rest a little" part started taking over!).

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    ... and an extra special thank you to everyone on the board that talked me into staying in Mykonos town instead of on a beach. It was a perfect decision and made it sooooo easy to take advantage of Mykonos after dark.

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    Hi tejana,

    I'm enjoying each instalment of your trip report.

    You wrote: "...and then found ourselves rushing the second half of the route a little bit in order to make the noon boat. I hope you didn't miss the mosaics (House With the Dolphins, etc.) on that second part of the route. That's my favorite part of Delos, so much in fact that I do the route in reverse order to get to the mosaics first.

    There are no permanent residents on Delos, but I believe there is accommodation for caretakers away from the main site. The goat herder must have had grazing rights, but wouldn't be living on the island. :-)

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    heimdall - the House of the Dolphin was one of the main reasons for making sure we did the second half (that, and the obligatory picture at the Temple of Isis, where it was fun to stop and picnic a little while each person took a turn getting their picture between the columns). It was fabulous, and DH has a million close up pictures of the mosaics. And we did pass several people doing the reverse order, but - as a person doing the normal clockwise order - I must say that is a very narrow path that does not easily accommodate two way traffic!

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    Mykonos after dark.

    Mykonos town was a beautiful place to get lost in the maze of alleys and streets. Families dining, young people in their trendy wear and the cruise crowds long gone so I felt like we were able to see a taste of the real Mykonos.


    I, too, am enjoying the trip installments!

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    beachgirl - I completely agree with you. I really loved Mykonos - particularly Mykonos town - so much more than I expected to. We even ran into the pelican on two different occasions during our visit. One day he was on the beach at Old Port, preening for tourists, and on another day we found him wandering in a back alley all by himself. Lots of pictures!

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    tejana

    I am delighted you enjoyed Mykonos so much especially as I remember your thread last year about your proposed itinerary. It is good you gave this special island a chance to welcome you.

    Also, it's great that you enjoyed your stay at the Semeli. Were there any performances at the little outdoor theatre it overlooks?

    Bill

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    My Myconian friends told me last year that there are more than one pelicans in Myconos.... they said there are two...
    The most famous one was Petros in 1958, it was the first pelican on the island, and he was named Petros...
    after his death, there is always a pelican on the island , and his name is always Petros...

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    bill - no performances at the little theatre, unless you count small groups of schoolchildren putting out their own improptu performances for each other - there were a couple of those!

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    Day 5 (Friday) – Mykonos Beach Day!

    Today we finally got to sleep in. We didn’t set an alarm, and finally made it to breakfast about 10:30. Maybe we could get used to the Mykonos schedule, which (we’ve been told) is up about 11 am for coffee, lunch at about 4 or 5, dinner at 11 or so, and then clubbing from about 1 am until whenever. (Actually, the 1 am is just in Mykonos town, as many of the beach clubs – particularly on the south side at Paradise, etc. – don’t open until 2 am.) We are there just before the real “season” begins, so we’re starting to see signs for grand opening parties for the beach clubs, but the island doesn’t feel really crowded yet (even with the 3, 5, even 8 cruise ships a day that descend on Mykonos town).

    We decided today is a beach day – there are a LOT of cruise ships in town today, and it seems like the best day for getting out of town (plus it is our last full day in Mykonos). After much deliberation, we decide against renting a car (although the rental rates are very reasonable – €25 to €30 for a jeep for the day including insurance). Taxis to the beaches are pretty cheap, but with all of the cruise ships in town, there isn’t a taxi to be had. So we decide to take the bus to Ornos and Agios Ioannis and spend the day. Since it is still off-season (by about a week), the bus only runs hourly. We decided to catch the 12:30 down to Agios Ioannis (the “Shirley Valentine” beach), spend some time at the beach there, and then maybe come back to Ornos Bay for late lunch. It turns out to be a great plan. Even though the hotel had told us that bus tickets were “about one euro” and could be paid directly to the bus driver, there were several signs in English at the bus station telling tourists that they MUST buy tickets at the machine (and reminding them to hold on to their tickets until they leave the bus in case of inspection). We had enough change that we were able to use the ticket machine with no problem (€1.60 each for a one way ticket to Ornos/Agios Ioannis) and waited for the bus. They seem to take their timetables pretty seriously, because at 12:28 the bus driver emerged from a café, unlocked the bus, and started letting people on. Here we go! I had read that this bus route was a non-stop route directly between Mykonos, Ornos and Agios Ioannis, but the “non stop” part of it is a little loosely interpreted, as the bus repeatedly stopped for locals getting on and off at various points on the route.
    After about a 10 or 15 minute ride, the driver drops everyone heading for Agios Iannos at a bus stop at the top of a hill and points down the road. “Two minutes” he says, pantomiming walking. So we all (not a huge crowd – maybe 6 or 8 people) traipse down the hill to the beach, and a few minutes later find ourselves at the Hippy Fish – the little restaurant and beach club proudly proclaiming itself “as seen in Shirley Valentine.” DH and I rent a couple of beach chairs, pull out the sunglasses and sunscreen, and start to slip into the “wow, we’re really in the Greek Islands” sun and sand mode. The beach is definitely NOT crowded, but there are a few people around so we don’t feel completely isolated. Just about perfect.

    Now for the water… I knew it was going to be cold (just by watching the few brave souls that had taken a dip before me), but I’m determined to do it. I’m used to the bath water temperatures of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, but here goes. Yup, it’s definitely “refreshing.” I think I managed to stay in about 5 minutes on the first attempt. The water temperature is definitely in the low 60s (15 to 20 degrees below my normal comfort zone!), but the water is clear and the sun is shining, and by the second dip I’m getting into the spirit of the occasion, encouraging the timid souls that are still on shore, trying to get up the nerve to take the plunge.

    After a couple of hours lazing on the beach – and having decided that there wasn’t anything too interesting on the Hippy Fish lunch menu – we packed up and hiked up the hill to catch the bus to Ornos Bay to find a beach bar for a late lunch (4 pm seemed late by our normal standards, probably just about right by Mykonos standards). It was a good plan, and we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at a café at Ornos Bay with a pizza and a carafe of white wine, watching the boats and the beachgoers. Ornos Bay is much more crowded (lively?) than Agios Iannos, and it was the perfect way to end the afternoon. At about 6 or so we caught the bus back to Mykonos town (and yes, there was a ticket checker on the route!).

    Our last evening in Mykonos, and we decided to make it down to Little Venice for sunset. Alas, sunset has decided not to cooperate this evening. No rain, but clouds have rolled in from the west, obscuring the horizon. Even without a visible sunset, it was quite nice to sit and have a glass of wine with the rest of the world that had gathered with the same idea, watching the back light from the retreating sun play on the clouds as the megayachts in the harbor turn on their lights for the evening.

    We aren’t terribly hungry but decided to eat a little earlier than normal (about 10 instead of 11). After much debate we went back to the scene of the great spaghetti alla vongole the previous night. We should never have sullied the memory. Instead of pasta or seafood (except for the still wonderful grilled octopus), we decided on the spit roasted lamb at the suggesting of the owner, who proudly took us to the kitchen to show off his spit. It was a mistake of rather large proportions. Does everyone in Greece overcook lamb? When we cook lamb (and DH does an exceptionally good butterflied leg of lamb on the grill), we aim for rare or medium-rare. In Greece I never saw lamb served that was less than extremely well done. Although that isn’t a bad thing if the roasting process involves a lot of basting, let’s just say that the spit roasting left it a little on the dry side. Such high hopes, dashed. Still, it was an adventure. On the way back to the hotel, wandering through the lively Friday night streets, we stopped at a little gelato shop at a tiny intersection – one of those magical little squares where two or three chairs outside each of 4 or 5 establishments – a gelato shop, a couple of bars, a club and a dress shop, I think – made up their own little conversation area as the world carried on all around them. This is what I will think of when I think of Mykonos town at night. Everyone out just for the sake of being out, enjoying the weather, enjoying the camaraderie, enjoying life.

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    << This is what I will think of when I think of Mykonos town at night. Everyone out just for the sake of being out, enjoying the weather, enjoying the camaraderie, enjoying life.>>
    Dear tejana, you couldn't describe it better, Greece is exactly that !! I am so glad you could look behind the surface and discover the Greek spirit.
    As for the lamb.... Greeks adore their meat overcooked....
    Rare or medium rare in a taverna or restaurant where Greeks are eating is out of the question..
    I remember how many times i used to argue with my mum, for wanting my meat medium.. or the spaghetti al dente.... ( which is also a dish that has to be overcooked in Greece...)
    In restaurants serving new Greek or international cuisine,they will ask you how you want your meat cooked...

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    >>This is what I will think of when I think of Mykonos town at night. Everyone out just for the sake of being out, enjoying the weather, enjoying the camaraderie, enjoying life<<

    I so agree! Loved Mykonos and other islands we visited for that very reason. And, it is what is taking us back next May. :)

    Love reading this so keep it coming. It's helping with my Greece withdrawals!

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    Day 6 (Saturday) – On to Naxos!

    Last morning in Mykonos. Sleep in, breakfast, pack, and check out at noon in anticipation of a 2:30 fast ferry to Naxos. I guess this is the problem with being here just before season, because the high-season morning ferry to Naxos isn’t running yet, and a boat in the middle of the day (even though it is just 40 minutes!) really eliminates the ability to do much of anything on either island. We take advantage of the last couple of hours to wander back through Mykonos town. Today is the only day of the week that Mykonos has ZERO cruise ships, and everyone who is staying –or living – on island is having a wonderful, calm, almost quiet day.

    The problem with a 2:30 ferry is it is a little too early for lunch on Mykonos, but it could be a little late for lunch on Naxos. DH gets a gyro about 1:30 to tide him over, but I decide to wait. A quick ride to the ferry dock at 2 pm and we are there in plenty of time. To wait. And wait. The winds are up and the sea is choppy, but we’ve been assured that the fast cat is still running. Apparently it’s just running late. While waiting with the crowd, we spot a couple of young twenty-something girls wearing t-shirts from our alma mater, and strike up a conversation. Best friends, they just graduated from college and are on a 3 week tour of Europe before they start looking for jobs. You remember, that great pseudo-backpacking, hostels-are-kinda-fun, where-do-you-want-to-go-tomorrow trip that you can only take when you don’t yet have a care in the world and don’t mind sharing a bathroom with an entire floor. Ah, youth! Unlike us old folks, they have taken advantage of the Mykonos night life, and regale us with tales of the clubs. We chat a while, but lose track of them as the boat finally arrives and the Naxos-bound passengers are separated from those going on to Santorini. 40 minutes later (only about 20 minutes late), we dock in Naxos.

    What a pretty town! With the Port Door to your left and the beautiful Naxos waterfront to your right as you exit the ferry dock, the entire effect is overwhelmingly welcoming. A cab to our hotel, and 10 minutes later we are at the steps of the Nissaki Beach Hotel (recommended on this board – thanks weadles!). The hotel is lovely, but I must say I’m less than awestruck with St. George beach. Actually, my first impression is that it sucks. Grey, dirty, silty sand, and it looks like (from watching the people that are swimming) you have to wade out about 100 yards to get any deeper than your ankles. This is a good beach? The room is absolutely lovely, though, although I’m not sure that the upgraded “view” (of the silty grey beach and the parking lot) is really worth it – poolside rooms might be better, or at least as good. The pool is very inviting, though, and you have to love the rough-hewn bright white Naxos marble that has been used throughout the pool and the pool area.

    The ferry got in a little late, by now it is after 4 pm, and I’m starving (no lunch in Mykonos, remember!). We head to town to explore – only about a five minute walk along the seawall, and we are in the middle of the waterfront shopping and dining strip. The waterfront is beautiful, and we decide to eat at Meze Meze, a little restaurant on the strip that has been recommended to us by both the cab driver and the hotel. Lo and behold, they have fresh grilled calamari AND my favorite fresh calamaretti – my fried baby squidlets. We order one of each, and have a delightful late lunch. By now it is 5 pm, and there is no one around – the entire island seems to be taking siesta from 4 to 5 or so. It is probably a bad time to try to explore the town, but we do it anyway. Sure enough, while the little narrow streets behind the waterfront look charming, most of the shops are closed. And this is Saturday! Back to the hotel to take our own siesta.

    At about 9 pm we head out to join the Saturday night strollers and see what Naxos town is really all about. The main strip is lively, but there is no one shopping or exploring in the little streets right behind the waterfront. After Mykonos, the lack of people in the otherwise-charming little lanes felt a little weird (bordering on eerie or even a little creepy). Enough shopping. Back to the waterfront for drinks before a much later dinner. Here we found a great bar that quickly became my favorite hangout of the entire trip - the Citron cocktail bar toward the southern end of the waterfront, where the open air tent has been furnished with couches and coffee tables and lovely chandeliers – a perfect little cocktail lounge to stop for a (long) while and have a drink and enjoy the water and people watching. And here’s where we get turned on to Citron, the Naxian home-town liqueur that tastes like a slightly weaker cousin of lemoncello, served with crushed ice and a lemon slice in a martini glass. Everyone in the world should have one of these every evening before dinner! When we finally do decide that we should eat, we just want something light (although a few of the fish menus on the strip look pretty good). A greek salad, pizza and a little red wine, and our first night in Naxos is complete.

    (don't worry Naxos lovers, I promise that Naxos gets better on day two, but at the end of day one I'm feeling a little ambivalent about the place - but the Citron helped!)

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    >>The hotel is lovely, but I must say I’m less than awestruck with St. George beach. Actually, my first impression is that it sucks. <<

    Couldn't agree with you more on the beach. I really liked our room and pool at Nissaki but I did not want to get in the water on St. George. It reminded me of Coney Island or something like that. Now Plaka Beach was a completely different response. Beautiful *clear* water, soft pretty sand going on and on that was very enticing.

    Looking forward to your next installment, tejana!

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    Beachgirl - were you there at the same time? It really was a lovely pool (it seemed warmer than the pool in Mykonos - I'm not sure if it is a function of going farther south, or a few days later, or just getting used to it.) Please tell me you took advantage of the Citron bar on the waterfront! That is definitely one of my favorite bars on the planet for a nice place to relax before dinner.

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    tejana, I think if you look back at comments by me, by Stanbr, by Greek-traveller & others ... we have usually recommended STAYING at St. George Beach hotel, because of its proximity to the attractions of NaxosTown (cafes shops nightlife), and ability to stroll back in minutes for a quiet night -- and to have a beach for a walk in the morning ... and then to BUS, or Drive or scooter out to a farther beach such as Plaka, for the serious swimming.

    In May-June at least, a lot of us prefer this to the reverse choice, of staying out in Plaka and coming IN to Naxos Town. Taking a bus in to dinner, not my favorite thing, nor driving back in the dark after a glass of wine or 3. Also, altho I love swimming at Plaka and Ag. Prokopios (and this may just be me) I find the Naxos outer-beach accommodations, mainly built on the edge of fields and stands of bamboo, and rather treeless, shadeless, dusty whereas St. George has more landscaping, shade, cooler-feeling. That's just me.

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    jan - I definitely agree with you. I would wholeheartedly recommend staying on St George for the proximity to Naxos town, particularly in the evening. But the beach itself still sucks. <g>

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    Love your trip report! We were there in May and it's bringing back so many good memories. Naxos was our favorite island so I can't wait to read more.

    Maybe it's coming up in the next part but did you make it to the Citron distillery? We enjoyed their free tasting.

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    tejana, we were there Jan 2 to Jan 5 at Nissaki. When we go back to Naxos I think we'll stay at Plaka as that is where we seemed to migrate on this trip. I enjoyed the town but really enjoyed driving the countryside and hanging out at the beach at Plaka for a low-key portion of a busy vacation.

    Regarding Citron Bar - funny you ask as it was on my "to do" list but we had so much fun at Plaka beach that day with a surprise wedding and enjoying good times with my husband we didn't make it. I don't regret it as that was a great day looking back. But, I'll be sure to go next trip.

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    beachgirl - we only overlapped Saturday night at Nissaki. We were there June 4- 7. We did explore down by Plaka beach, but decided that Agios Prokopios was our favorite (that is coming up!).

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    >I really loved Mykonos - particularly Mykonos town - so much more than I expected to<

    I loved it too tejana and would go back in an instant. I've never been in such a pretty town and thoroughly enjoyed visiting other parts of the island too. Amazing colors everywhere. It's a real pity some folks here regularly recommend against visiting the island.

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    Day 7 (Sunday) – Naxos

    Sunday dawns bright and beautiful (I’m still astonished at the great weather we had for this trip), and we decide to rent a car for the next couple of days so we can explore the island. Nothing could be easier. We ask the front desk about renting a car, and within 5 minutes they have arranged for the Europe Car representative to come to the hotel, do all the paperwork in the lobby, and deliver the car to the front door. She tells us that when we are ready to return it, just park it in the lot next to the hotel and drop the keys at the desk. Cool!

    Based on reviews from this board (and every single guidebook that manages to give Naxos more than a mention), we know that we want to head inland to explore the valley area and all of the beautiful little villages that we’ve heard so much about. Our downfall, I think, was trying to do too much in one day, as we ended up doing the entire circle from Naxos town toward Chalki and Apeiranthos, up to Apollon, and back down the northwest coast. We got a lovely overview of the island topography, but it made for a long hot day. Looking back, the highlight of the day was the first stop – Chalki, the original capital. By the time we got there (after a leisurely drive, with a few missed turns and aborted attempts to explore interesting roads that turned into cow paths, as well as three different encounters with the Sunday morning chicken vendor truck), it is late Sunday morning – maybe about 11 or so, and the shops are starting to open up. It is a lovely town with lots of flowers, a very pretty main square, a couple of dueling linen shops (with dueling owners each eager to show you their loom and their wares), a really stunning pottery gallery (the Fish & Olive, I believe), and the famous Citron factory. Unfortunately, while the Citron factory “showroom” is open, it doesn’t look like they are doing tours yet (or at least there is no one around to ask – maybe they are on a tour?).

    Farther down the road we explore Apeiranthos, the town in the middle of the island paved in marble. I would love to hear from other visitors about what they think of this town. Please make me love this place. Maybe I built it up too much in my mind, but when every guidebook calls this “arguably the most attractive village on Naxos” I might be forgiven for setting a high bar. We tried to like it, walking up and down every backstreet we could find (maybe that was the problem, as the backstreets aren’t that great). It is pretty, though, as long as you stay on the main streets. I agree that the square and the main promenade area near the entrance to town is quite lovely (where the restaurant strip is), and the trees are beautiful, and there are a couple of really stunning hidden squares that almost appear to be carved into the cliff. Okay, maybe I like it in retrospect more than I did when I was there.

    Later we head north toward Apollon, continuing to explore the beautiful hills and valleys of central Naxos (thank goodness there are several pull-off areas for pictures!). A long drive north, past a series of very pretty mountain villages and some very cool high tech windmills, and we ended up at Apollon in time for a late lunch on the water (is 2:30 late or on time in Greece?). Then on down the northwest shoreline, past castle ruins and bee farms (very cool!), with occasional glimpses of the marble mines in the distance (blinding white pillars and cliffs). Finally back to the hotel by late afternoon, tired and hot and in need of a dip in the pool.

    After the pool and a short siesta, we decided to walk up to the Portera to catch sunset. It was a picture perfect sunset (and the obligatory pictures were taken!), and a terrific way to start the evening. A stroll back through town leads to shopping in some of the back alleys, then eventually leads once again to the Citron Bar for a classic citron cocktail. Later we walk/climb up the hill/steps/mountain to the Kastro for dinner at Taverna Kastro (recommended on this board – thanks everyone!). We got there about 10 PM (early for us), and it was a good thing we did, because there was still a good crowd there at the time, but the place was almost deserted by the time we finished dinner at 11 or so. Definitely more of a tourist crowd than I thought there would be (but hey, we’re tourists!). Still, good food and a clear starry night make for an excellent evening.

    A stroll back along the waterfront promenade, which is still very active with diners, strollers, and kids playing (isn’t this a school night?). We stop in a gelato shop for some fabulous homemade gelato from a lovely girl, who told us she was confused about how enthusiastic Americans are about gelato. She insisted that gelato and ice cream is the same thing – that “gelato” is just Italian for “ice cream.” We tried to explain the difference to her (milk versus heavy cream, etc.), but I think it got lost in translation. No matter, it tastes fabulous, and at about a third of the price of the equally delightful gelato we had in Mykonos. We wander on down the promenade and then take a walk along the beach at St. George (great star watching tonight!), before finally heading for bed.

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    ok i have to ask... what is the difference between ice cream and gelato? In Greece there is only pagoto, which means ice cream... in Italy there is only gelato.. am i wrong?
    Since as i see Americans are enthusiastic about ice cream, next time you order ice try parfait chocolate or parfait vanilla, a sort of ice cream i have never seen in other european countries....

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    Help me out here, frozen dessert experts. Classic American ice cream uses a heavy cream base, so it has a much higher butterfat content than gelato, which usually uses milk. Plus, gelato is much denser and sweeter than ice cream, so the flavor is more intense (and a little goes a long way). American ice cream is more about a really creamy texture, and tends to have more air and ice crystals in it (which I suppose justifies the bigger scoops!). There are a few places in the States where you can find someone making halfway decent gelato, but it usually involves travelling to an old Italian neighborhood in New York, Boston or Philly.

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    I am really enjoying this trip report -- I did almost exactly this same trip, same islands in the same order, a couple of years ago.

    "I would love to hear from other visitors about what they think of this town. Please make me love this place."

    Hah. I can't make you love Apeiranthos. But when we did the same day trip on Naxos (rent a car and drive around the island), our goal was to see the STREETS OF MARBLE that the guidebooks talk about. So when we were there, we just repeated the phrase over and over: LOOK AT THE STREETS OF MARBLE. Which are pretty cool.

    I thought the main square of the village itself is pretty, as you did, but we didn't think there was much more to see either. But the STREETS OF MARBLE are pretty. We spent a pleasant couple of hours there in a cafe and that was it. The best part was how quiet and uncrowded it was, we barely saw any other tourists there.

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    "LOOK AT THE STREETS OF MARBLE" does sound like a pretty good mantra. Actually, I was just as impressed by all of the other uses of marble on the island (kinda like you get impressed by everyone using mahogany on an island in the Caribbean). The rough-finish bright white marble used throughout the pool area at the hotel was fascinating -- what a beautiful way to keep you from slipping!

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    Tejana, Nissaki is about as "swanky" as Naxos gets (which tells us something about Naxos), but I also love it that even the smallest pension seems to have marble stairs, and bathrooms, and in a little taverna, you visit the restroom and it's marble, and you stop by a market, and the outdoor part where they display the veggies has a marble paving. My explanation for this is "Marble is the plywood of Greece", or at least "marble is the plywood of Naxos."

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    It's hardly surprising that local building materials are used on the islands, and marble is as local as you can get on Naxos and Paros. In earlier times, islanders often used for construction materials obtained by demolishing temples and other ancient structures. A good example of this is the Venetian castle in Parikia. :-)

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    I completely agree about using the local building materials, so it wasn't that I was really surprised, just momentarily taken aback by the beauty of every patio, path and stairway. Like I said, it reminded me of being in the more forested islands in the Caribbean and having everything from roofs to decking to shutters built out of insanely beautiful mahogany. It is the plywood of those islands, as marble is the plywood of Naxos.

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    Day 8 (Monday) – Naxos Beach Day!

    When we explore a new place (particularly an island), we tend to go a little crazy with the driving. It happened yesterday, when we found ourselves tired out from driving the entire north end of the island, rather than just picking a section and really exploring it. Did we learn our lesson for today? Not exactly. There’s always that fear that if you stop at the first great place you see, you might miss something even greater on down the road. Here we go…

    Today is our Naxos beach day. We have the car, and have heard so many wonderful things about the beaches here. So we ask the front desk what beaches they would recommend. The very sweet girl at the front desk parroted what we had heard before about the beaches on the south end, plus the beaches on the southwest side. What beaches would you recommend (on the map, please!)? She said she likes Golden Beach, and has heard that Alyko beach (at the south end of the major road, looking at the map) – is good, but she had not been there. It turns out she has been on island (from Athens) for exactly one month.

    Are you getting a bad feeling about this yet? (Those of you from Naxos, or very familiar with Naxos, may start laughing whenever you feel like it. I completely understand.)

    So off we go. We tried to stop at the Temple of Dyonysis on the way, but it is closed on Monday. We head from there toward the coast at Agios Anna, then turned north and followed the road to Agios Prokopis. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at last a truly beautiful beach! But if this is so lovely, surely the ones farther south – the ones that were mentioned by the front desk - must be awesome! We decided to continue exploring, driving along the beach road south (back past Anna) toward Plaka (we worried for a few seconds when the road turned from pavement to caliche to sand, but it was nice and dry and the car handled it like a champ), past beautiful sand dunes and pine trees that reminded me of sections of Fire Island, NY. But, even though the beaches all look beautiful, the villages leave a little to be desired, and it is clear (so far) that the best beach life for anyone interested in cafes and beach chairs is at Anna or Prokopis. When the beach road finally ends (at Plaka, I think) we turn inland to the main road and head farther south, determined to explore all the way down to Alyko and maybe even Pyrgaki. Pretty soon we see signs (real highway signs, mind you, on real official posts, with real official mile markers) that say Alyko and Pyrgaki ahead. We are definitely going in the right direction. Eventually we see a sign that points to the left (down a wide dirt road that is under construction) as the turn for Pyrgaki, and a second sign that says Alyko - .5 KM straight ahead. So we go straight. And in exactly a half kilometer the beautiful, wide, smooth, well-maintained pavement ends. And spills into a busted-up, potholed, eroding, grassed-over, windswept, abandoned… Parking lot. A parking lot on a cliff on the edge of the ocean surrounded by a very creepy-looking cluster of half-built, abandoned, rusted-out buildings that are fairly reminiscent of a wild west ghost town. My mind is quickly processing every ax-murderer movie I can think of. It is bright sunlight, in the middle of the day, and I’m imagining headlines about stupid tourists that went exploring one day in a rental car and were never seen again. We decide to get out of there as fast as we can.

    For anyone who plans to explore beaches while on vacation in Naxos… do NOT follow the signs to Alyko.

    So, the great adventure over, we quickly agree that our best plan to salvage the day is to return to Anna and Prokopis. We take the main road back to Anna (more or less, as the road we really want is apparently closed for construction and we have to take a pretty massive detour, but that’s another story), and decide to spend the afternoon at Agios Prokopis. There is a nice little pizza place across from the beach that has the same name as the logo on the beach umbrellas shading the beach chairs that we have our eyes on. After a great lunch, we ask our waiter how much they are renting the chairs and umbrellas for. Turns out that the boss isn’t going to start charging until next week, so today they are free!

    So now the real beach day can finally begin. A nice crowd of people, comfy beach chairs, shade, and a truly amazing, golden sand beach. I know the water is still cold, but I’m going in. Not as cold as Mykonos! After a couple of hours we head back to the hotel (the short way, across the peninsula and on the road hugging the bay), happily drop off the car keys at the front desk, and tell them about our adventures. And ask them to please not direct unsuspecting tourists to Alyko. Ever. When we told her how much we enjoyed Agios Prokopios, we were told that it is considered the prettiest beach on the island, and was voted one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Greece. Uh… why didn’t you just tell us that in the first place???????

    After we get cleaned up, it’s time to wander out for our last night in Naxos. Some last minute shopping, and then back to Citron Bar for one last round of pre-dinner citron cocktails and people watching. I’m gonna miss this bar!!!!!

    What to do for dinner? Since everyone seems to recommend Meze Meze to us every time we turn around (even the waiter at Citron Bar), we decide to try it for dinner. It is pretty full, with several tables that are clearly locals, and it looks like fun. The fresh calamari at lunch the first day was excellent, so I decide to try the stuffed grilled calamari. It was good, but I think I like “unstuffed” better. The stuffed eggplant appetizer was quite good, though, as was the greek salad (which we almost always order to split, and never seem to finish). DH isn’t sure what he wants, but he’s thinking something “fishy,” and the owner recommends a fish salad. It was good, but not quite what he was expecting. But it was a LOT of food, and neither one of us finish our plates. When the owner came by the check to see how DH liked the fish, he made the mistake of saying it was “good” (or maybe “fine,” I can’t remember). Horrified that DH had not completely loved his suggestion, the owner insisted on sending out something else. We tried to refuse, explaining that we had already eaten too much and were full, but to no avail. Out comes a round of ouzo, followed in a few minutes by a heaping plate of lightly fried shrimp and my favorite baby squidlets. It was so beautiful, and we really were too full to do more than nibble. We must have stayed another 20 minutes, sipping and nibbling, before finally insisting on the bill. All in all it was probably enough food and wine for two days. Can I have the rest of those squidlets now, please?

    At about midnight or so we wander back down along the promenade, looking at the still-lively waterfront, and I’m struck by how really charming this place is. I think this lovely promenade is my favorite thing about Naxos. The waterfront is so inviting, and it is obviously the heart of the town, and perhaps the heart of the island. At 10 or 11 (or later) every evening you can see little kids (with or without parents) playing all up and down the waterfront, and a good 75% of the people that you see out for dinner or having drinks on the main strip seem to be local. Groups of twenty-somethings sharing a beer or a pizza or a carafe of wine while checking their cellphones and gossiping could be equally at home anywhere in the world, but they are so lucky to have the glitz-free, casual cool of the promenade as their home turf.

    Time for bed. Santorini tomorrow!

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    Loving your trip reports! We are doing Paros, Naxos and Santorini in September so I'm taking lots of notes and can't wait for the Santorini chapter.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Jo

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    That last paragraph captures so well one of the things we Naxophiles love so well .. and so delightful to stroll back by the water, almost all the way to St. George beach. When there's a full moon, it's perfect.

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    I stumbled upon your trip report today and so glad I did. Your personal account has been so helpful planning my honeymoon.

    Your experience of Mykonos totally changed my perception of the island. I had been worried that it would be too much of a heavy party scene with loud party-goers everywhere. Glad to see the other dimension.

    I can't wait to get the next installment on Santorini. I'm taking notes and taking them with me in September!

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    Day 9 (Tuesday) – On to Santorini!

    The ferry from Naxos to Santorini is scheduled for 12:55 (although we saw one sign in town that said the ferry is at 12:45, so we are a little confused and decide to err on the side of caution). We check out at noon, wave goodbye to the lovely Hotel Nissaki, and roll our bags alongthe waterfront promenade – stopping to pick up a gyro for the road (I’ve determined that the pork ones are my favorite, btw) – and then on to the ferry dock. Where we wait. And wait. The weather is beautiful, the seas are calm, but the ferry is an hour late. Once we finally get on board, I was so happy that I listened to the Fodors posters and purchased business lounge tickets. The difference between the chaos of the crowded ferry and the serenity of the business lounge is night and day, and makes for a restful couple of hours as we make our way toward Santorini.

    Sailing into Santorini, the view from the water is as magical as everyone said it would be. The caldera feels like a giant crater lake, surrounded by huge dark brown cliffs that are occasionally topped with tiny white villages. Surprisingly, I don’t see any cruise ships in the harbor at Fira (I guess they all leave early on Tuesday). Docking at the new port, we eventually find our transfer guy that had been sent from Mystique (who assured us that the fact that the ferry was an hour late was most unusual). Soon we are off, driving north through vineyards, the crazy streets of Fira, along the coast road and eventually to the outskirts of Oia and the lovely hotel Mystique.

    I had a lot of trouble deciding which hotel to stay at in Santorini, but we knew three things: we wanted to stay in Oia instead of Fira, we wanted a caldera view, and we weren’t going to think too hard about the budget. We probably aren’t going to make it back here, so “memorable experience” outweighed “this is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a hotel room” in the vacation planning process. We finally decided on Mystique – mainly because I found what looked like a good deal on their website last fall (also, the fact that it is a Starwood property - a “known” factor in a sea of unknowns - didn’t hurt, and their rate included transfers to/from the port or the airport). Knowing what I know now, it might not be my first choice if I had it to do over again, but it was still very nice. My overall impression of Mystique is that a large percentage of their clientele is American, and probably many of them are there because they can do so with Starwood points, or because Starwood has a great program for a mix-and-match package of their Greek hotels that gives a good average rate for a vacation in Greece (another reason why a good percentage of this crowd probably stay at the Grande Bretagne in Athens). After the more international clientele of the other hotels we stayed at (including the GB, btw), this feels a little “too” American. But the rooms are beautiful and the service is flawless (as evidenced by their handling of a little hiccup before we even got there - more on that later), and we happily check in, accept a glass of champagne, unpack, and get ready to explore Oia. During the check in process the office staff asks how long we have been married – something I’ve never been asked before by a hotel, but something that is probably quite common in Santorini, given the number of honeymooners on island.

    The view of the caldera from the hotel is lovely, and, because of Mystique’s location low on the cliff and in a little crevasse, the view is of almost nothing BUT the caldera. At first I was a little disappointed at the lack of the classic view of Oia spilling down the cliff side, but then I came to appreciate the “isolated” view. If you didn’t know better, looking out to the water you would swear you were the only hotel there. But the hotel is low on the cliff, so that means about 50 steps up from the room to the office, and another 48 very uneven cobblestone steps (a street, really, as there are separate residences along the path) up to the main road. Very uneven steps. Very, very, uneven steps. Once up to the street level, it is about a two to three minute walk down the road before you reach the beginning of the marble paths that mark Oia proper. And once you set foot on the marble, the magic begins. What a stunningly beautiful town! And our first vision in this beautiful village is a scene of a bride in her wedding gown, taking very “bridal” pictures with a caldera view from the square, before being helped onto an elaborately-decorated donkey for a ride to the church. Everyone in the area (including us) falls in behind her to give her a little parade through town.

    It is now about 7:30 PM, and we stroll along the main street, taking it in, trying to decide where to go to see the famous Oia sunset while at the same time peering down every little turn on the caldera side and marveling at the picture-book views of the caldera with Fira in the distance.

    As far as sunset goes, we don’t have high hopes. It has been a little overcast all day today; no chance of rain, but just hazy to the point that you know that it isn’t a day for a great sunset. Still, we found a lovely restaurant/bar on the sunset side, and have a light dinner and a delicious glass of Santorini wine while watching the sun fall into the clouds that serve as today’s barrier to the sea. Definitely some beautiful backlight, though! After dark we continue wandering the lanes of Oia, and eventually make our way back to the entrance to town, where we find the storefront that is selling sailing tours of the caldera. It is the only thing that I have on my “must do” list for Santorini, and they luckily have two spots open for tomorrow morning’s sail (and the weather report calls for a perfect day to be on the water -hot and calm). They will pick us up at the hotel at 10 AM to get us down to Ammoudi. Now that we have a plan for tomorrow, we head down the road (the little flashlight that I packed is at last proving helpful), down the uneven cobblestone steps, and off to bed.

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    Day 10 (Wednesday) – Oia

    Let me just say right now that today is the best day of the entire trip.

    Up fairly early, a beautiful breakfast while looking out over the caldera, and we see the cruise ships arriving in Fira – it looks like a trail of ants heading slowly toward a picnic. The weather report is for a hot, sunny, clear day. A perfect day to be on the water instead of on the island!

    I am almost embarrassed to admit that by the time we reached Santorini, we were far enough into vacation mode that we did very close to nothing for the 4 days we were there. But the one thing that I had penciled in for the Santorini leg of the trip was to make sure we did a day sail around the caldera on a catamaran. We love sailing, and the 5 hour day sail on a 50-ft catamaran (about 14 people onboard, I believe) is a perfect itinerary, with three different swim stops (the warm sulfur springs of the volcano, White Beach, and Red Beach) and a sail through the caldera and around the point to the south side. The swim in the sulfur springs is terrific (the water at the spring is actually bordering on warm, or at least tepid), and the sea is as smooth as glass as we sail between the lava shields, stop for a dip at White Beach, and eventually around the point (under a very other-worldly looking peak) toward the south side and Red Beach, where we stop for a final swim and a barbecue lunch on board. Either the water is warming up, or I’m getting used to it, because it has greatly improved since the chill-fest a week ago in Mykonos. Still “refreshing,” but now mostly without the quotation marks! It is a convivial group on board – mostly couples, including two couples that live a block away from each other in the same town but don’t know each other, and two couples on their honeymoon (of course!). The entire boat gets into the celebratory spirit, toasting the newlyweds and reminiscing about weddings and discussing wedding-day disasters. One of the newlyweds is a singer from Rio de Janeiro, and – after several hours of encouragement and several glasses of wine – entertains us with the Portuguese version of Girl from Ipanema. A perfect day. The boat drops us off on the south side of the island (and picks up another group of passengers to do the reverse itinerary, which ends at sunset at Ammoudi), and a shuttle drives us back to Oia. By 4:30 we are back at the hotel and decide to spend the next couple of hours in the pool, relaxing and enjoying the unbelievable view. The sun the bright, the air is warm, and eventually the pool becomes filled with… honeymooners. Seriously. There are 10 people in the small pool, and 6 of them are on their honeymoon, while two more are celebrating an anniversary and renewing their vows. We are the only “just because” people there. It makes for easy conversation though!

    Eventually we get cleaned up and wander into Oia to try for another sunset. Nothing. Despite the beautiful clear day, tonight’s horizon is even more hazy than last night, but the crowds are nice (and we see another wedding procession). After the anticlimactic sunset, we wander through the darkening streets and decide to try the Red Bicycle for dinner (recommended by a couple of people at the pool today), mainly because Skala is closed for a private party (probably another wedding!). The food at Bicycle was good, and the view of the caldera – sparkling with the lights from Fira and the other villages – is beautiful, but the service was terrible and on the whole it seemed a bit overpriced for what it was. We much preferred dinner at Ochre last night (lovely grilled veggies and fresh made pasta, with a view to Ios to the north). Hopefully we will make it to Skala tomorrow night.

    Back to the hotel, and time to relax on the veranda and do a little stargazing before heading off to bed.

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    Oohh, you are making me very excited for Santorini!

    Which sailing tour did you take (and if you don't mind my asking, how much was it?)

    I'm loving your report and don't want them to end!

    Jo

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    Jo - there are at least two companies that do the 5-hour catamaran day sails. The company we used was NOT the "Captain Ted" tour that you see advertised alot - although I'm sure that one is wonderful,too. I think ours was from Pelican travel, but I could be wrong. When you are at the beginning of Oia (the marble square where it dead ends into the road), the agent office is right there, selling several different day trips as well as scooter rentals. They do a 5 hour catamaran day sail from 10:30 to 3:30, with a max of 14 people on a 50 foot cat, for 130 euro (I think it is 150 if you book through your hotel - extra commission I guess!). They also offer the 5 hour sail in reverse for the same rate - boarding the boat at the south end at 3:30 and finishing up in Oia at sunset at 8:30, but I don't think I would like that one (you've been swimming all day and you have to get back to your hotel to clean up before going back out to dinner). Lunch on board is terrific (grilled pork chops and gigantic shrimp), and the water, wine, beer and soft drinks flow pretty freely all day. The thing I really liked about this boat was that they managed to get to the sulfur spring before the larger day boats from Fira made it there (the ones with the cruise ship people), so the spring was not crowded at all for our visit (we were leaving as they were starting their swim). I'm sure Ted's is great, too, but these guys were convenient and it was karma that they happened to have a slot available.

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    Wow. I expect that was nice. I was just comparing to Milos at about the same time; we had a coastal sail on a 50-foot cat from 10 am to 6:30 pm with 3 stops, spectacular scenery (Milos is also a volcanic isle), 2 swims, snacks lunch drinks the works, for 40€ each. But then, that was Milos, not as Famous as Santorini (thank heaven).

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    It definitely wasn't cheap, but then I don't think anything in Santorini is. There are other boats that only go out for 3 hours that are less (about 70 or 80 euro, I think), but we love sailing, and it was a gorgeous day and a great memory.

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    Thanks for the scoop, Tejana. My hubby turns 51 while we are in Santorini and this may be a nice way to celebrate (if the weather cooperates that day, lol).

    Can't wait to read more.

    Jo

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    Day 11 (Thursday) – Santorini

    Up late, and it’s another beautiful day. Another lovely breakfast overlooking the caldera, watching another round of cruise ships crawl toward Fira. The wind is up enough to see white caps in the caldera (and the hotel has decided it is too windy to open the umbrellas on the sundeck for safety reasons). It is obvious that the seas are significantly rougher than they have been, and it looks like we were very lucky to get our sailing in yesterday. So what should we do today? If this was earlier in the vacation, this is the point where we would have enthusiastically rented a car and explored the island. But we are succumbing to the magic of vacation time on Santorini, and relaxing is important. What is the Greek equivalent of la dolce far niente? Eventually we decide that it is a good day to explore Fira, at least. Since we just want to visit the town (rather than do any extensive exploring), it is much easier to just catch the bus from the main road (right at the top of the steps) instead of renting a car. I have to laugh, though, as the bus stop area is marked with a very clear international “no parking, tow away zone” sign, with two cars parked in front of it.

    Fira doesn’t impress me. It feels like a big cruise ship town. Lovely narrow streets, but filled with jewelry stores and trinket shops and lots of signs pointing the cruisers to the cable car. And there are LOTS of cruisers. And every single shopkeeper is actively trying to pull people into their shop. I know it is a short tourist season and everyone has to make a living, but this is ridiculous. I never saw shopkeepers act like this in Mykonos town, in Naxos, or even in Oia. The hawking feels more like that of the shopkeepers in the more tourist-trap shops in the Plaka in Athens, and I really feel sorry for the cruise shippers who are only in Santorini for a few hours, if this is their memory of the island. After two or three hours we were ready to catch the bus back to our oasis.

    If I had today to do over again (and if it was earlier in the trip!), I would have rented a car today and explored the island. We thought about touring wineries, but decided that didn’t interest us that much. We would normally make sure that we took a day to explore the beaches, but we’ve already experienced the island from the water. Obviously, Akrotiri would be a reason to explore farther south, but it won’t be open to the public again for at least another year (they are only now starting to allow archeologists back in). While in retrospect we should probably have taken the opportunity to explore the southern beaches and ancient Thira, right now we feel pretty good about doing very little. We’ve managed to check Fira off the list, but otherwise this afternoon seems like an excellent opportunity to stay by the pool, take in the view, relax and visit with other guests – most of whom seem content to do the same thing we are doing.

    That evening, our third try at a sunset is also a bust, as the sun completely disappeared in a haze just above the horizon. Dinner, however, is NOT a bust, as we made it over to Skala at about 9:30 or 10 (had to wait for a table). The lemon veal was terrific. At about midnight we wandered back to the hotel, where ours was the last key left on the hook in the office. Oia is definitely a different scene at night than Mykonos!

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    Day 12 (Friday) – Oia

    After yesterday’s relax-fest, today we have a plan. Other than a few hours in the evenings, we really haven’t spent time exploring Oia proper, and today seems like an excellent day to do so. We also talked about how it might be fun to walk down the steps from Oia to Ammoudi to have lunch at one of the waterfront tavernas.

    Because of an unusual set of circumstances, today is also a transfer day for us. There was a glitch in our reservation at Mystique, and they don’t have room for us for Friday night, but have arranged to move us to Ikies for our last evening in Oia. We pack up Friday morning, but the hotel will take care of transferring everything to the other hotel for us. So, about noon or so we leave Mystique and walk into Oia, ready to explore. A great plan, until we saw the caravan of tour buses from the cruise ships approaching. We have a little time to shop our way down the street in relative quiet, before the tour groups and waves of cruise shippers begin appearing from the alleys that connect to the parking lot on the east side of the village From then on we were trying to stay between the tour groups while exploring the shops, the streets, and the little alleyways with the stunning views over the caldera.

    The streets are more crowded than I’ve seen them. Not nearly as bad as Fira, of course, but crowded for what I’ve come to consider “my” streets. But we are going with the flow, shopping, and occasionally following tour groups down picturesque little lanes to discover new vistas. Then, trying to get out of the way of one group, I scurried past DH at a corner and window shopped a bit, waiting for him to catch up. After a couple of minutes, I realized that DH wasn’t in view. I waited, and he didn’t come. So I backtracked a bit to look for him and still didn’t see him. How did he get past me? So I went on down the lane, looking for the tallest head in the crowd. Nothing. The last I remember, we had talked about taking the stairs down to Ammoudi, so I headed on down the lane in that direction. At the fork in the road I waited. And waited. Nothing. So I walked back to where I saw him last. No sign of him. Back to the fork and wait again. Could he really have gotten past me? I walked on to the top of the stairs that descend to Ammoudi and waited some more. Surely he wouldn’t go down the stairs without me. After a while I backtracked again, returning to the last spot where I saw him. Still nothing, so I retrace my steps forward, back to the top of the stairs. At this point we’ve been separated for about 45 minutes. The town is hot and sunny and I’m getting a little frustrated. I looked down the stairs to Ammoudi, and thought I saw someone with his build, wearing a shirt like his. Wow – did he really leave me? So I start down the stairs. All the way down, past the donkeys, and pretty soon I’m on the water at Ammoudi. (BTW, the walk down the stairs is quite peaceful and very pretty, and is good therapy when you are mad at a spouse.) At the bay there are two tavernas, one on either side of the steps. I checked them both, asking both owners if they have seen a tall guy, probably kinda mad, looking for his wife. No sign of him. While I am relieved to know that he didn’t leave me, I’m not about to go back up the steps. He doesn’t have a phone with him, so I’m sending telepathic messages, hoping that he will realize that I’ve gone to the “destination point.” I grab a table at the taverna with the best view back up the stairs and wait. And wait. While waiting I strike up a conversation with three ladies at the next table and, in the middle of a lovely conversation, my phone rings. DH has managed to find a phone and called the hotel (our new hotel, Ikies, where we technically haven’t checked in yet) to see if I’m there. The hotel, in turn, has called me on my cell (with my US number - I love these people already!). I tell the hotel where I am, and they relay the message to DH for him to meet me at Ammoudi, at the taverna with the yellow umbrellas. (BTW – don’t ask why he didn’t just find someone with a cell phone to call me directly. He tried, but for some reason the call went straight to voicemail and I didn’t get the message until after the Ikies call.) 15 minutes later here he comes down the stairs. I immediately ply him with cold water and cool white wine, and he seems a little less mad than I would be after an hour and a half of looking for someone. (I’m telling you, the stairs down to Ammoudi are definitely relaxing!) Comparing notes, it sounds like we could have been in one of those crazy comedy scenes where two people keep missing each other by being just around the corner or looking in the wrong direction. Even though I went back to the “separation spot” several times, each time I was there he was backtracking down a little alley to see if I was down that way, so we kept missing each other. Next time, we bring both cell phones for emergencies.

    So, we’re in Ammoudi, watching the sunlight dance on the waves that are lapping up to the edge of the taverna, and end up having the best lunch of the entire trip. Grilled calamari and grilled fish so fresh it probably jumped out of the sea an hour ago. The owner has been listening to our misadventures for the last hour, and brings us a second carafe of white wine on the house. The day is definitely looking up. We continue our conversation with the three lovely ladies at the next table, giving them some advice for Naxos (their next stop) – including tips on the best beaches and an admonition to avoid Alyko. It is getting late (about 4:30), and the ladies decide to take donkeys to get back up to Oia (I believe the quoted price is 5 euro each, for anyone who is curious), but we’re thinking about getting a cab to take us back to Ikies. The owner calls a cab for us, it is there in about two minutes, and a quick ten minutes later we are at the steps of our new hotel.

    When we finally arrive at Ikies, we find that they have upgraded us to the Carpenter House, their large honeymoon suite with the huge terrace. I can truly say that I’ve never seen a more beautiful hotel room in my life. A beautiful, incredibly spacious cottage, complete with a steam room inside and a hot tub outside on a private terrace that is larger than the footprint of our house in DC, with the most amazing view of the caldera you can possibly imagine. I’m never leaving, except possibly to see my last chance at a Santorini sunset. And one of the most delightful things about Ikies is that, because of its position up the hill, you can see sunset from the top of the complex (no need to walk into Oia). And for sunset tonight – our last night in Santorini – the sun gods have finally decided to cooperate. It may not have been the most spectacular sunset in Santorini history, but it was a good one, with an actual setting sun and some beautiful color washing over the sky.

    After the long afternoon, we decided we were too tired to go out - and with this amazing veranda, who would want to? Instead we order a little room service – a huge platter of mezedes (appetizers/tapas), a greek pizza, and a nice bottle of wine – and have a candlelit dinner on our terrace. I never want to leave.

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    Sigh, what an ending to Santorini! Ikies sounds dreamy...well-deserved after the comedy of errors you two experienced that afternoon!

    Great trip report -- thank you!

    Paule

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    tejana ... I was just wondering. If money was "no object" what hotels would you choose
    if you were going to do your same trip again. What really great hotels did you see when exploring the towns ? I loved your trip report - thank you

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    You trip report was detailed and very pleasant to read. Thanks you for making the effort to post you experiences here.

    Just a small note: I know about the unfinished building in Alyko area on Naxos, but the actual beach is very nice. At least last time I was there, which was 2009.A mix of sandy small parts and rocky parts and turquoise amazing water. It is just a bit hard to find, I think you had to follow a path circling this building. There are some great smaller sandy beaches a bit southern too. It is a bit unfair to advice people not going there just because you didn't make it properly on the beach, or because you had a few backtracks on the way there.
    And anyway, it is different folks, different strokes. I much prefer Plaka and southern beaches than Agios Prokopios for example : )

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    Mariha – we did hear from locals later that evening that the beach at Alyko is actually quite lovely, but we were looking for something a little more developed – at least a beach bar of some kind, or someplace to rent a beach chair to do a little reading and relaxing for an afternoon (especially since the water was still too cold to spend all your time in the water). We found out later from a local that the half-built buildings were the remnants of a resort that was started a good 20 years ago but was never finished. That would explain the abandoned ghost town, but I still can’t figure out the reason for the superhighway to nowhere (and the highway signs!), or the fact that the road map that we were using showed Alyko in a font the same size as Apollon. We found no evidence of a village at all. I don’t know if someone in charge of map making was having a good laugh, or what they were actually trying to show. To be fair, we later saw a different road map that shows Alyko as a smaller village (the same size as some of the other west coast beach towns, but smaller than Agios Anna or Apollon) but still – where is the village? The abandoned buildings were pretty heavily tagged, and I can imagine they are the perfect location for high school full moon parties (or new moon parties), but the road really does end at an abandoned parking lot for a ghost town. We did get out of the car to look around, but the whole place had an eerie, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” vibe, and after a couple of minutes we both agreed that it was time to get back in the car and get the hell out of there.

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    Our hotel in Oia was also totally filled with Americans too whereas in our other hotels in Greece we were the only guests from the US..Enjoyed your report..Ammoudi was our favorite place and meal in Santorini too.

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    "That it was because only Americans will pay those prices."

    That is just a ridiculous generalization. Go to Trip Advisor. Find the reviews of the expensive hotels and you will see that people from all over the world can afford to pay high prices for accomodations.

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    We (I) put a lot of thought into planning vacations. We are able to travel more often than most, but a lot of the reason for that is that I have figured out over the years how to travel fairly modestly and how to get the most “bang for the buck.” Weekend trips exploring a European city are usually planned for off season (cheaper airfare, cheaper hotel rates, less crowded, but the museums and restaurants are still open), and trips to the Caribbean usually involve timeshares, so we rarely have to budget too much money for anything but scuba diving expenses and a jeep rental. However, every once in a while we want to see a part of the world that that can only be really experienced in high season (Amalfi Coast, Santorini), and every once in a great while we want the added experience of a truly great hotel. Sometimes there is a big difference in the memories created on a trip between having “a place to sleep” and staying in a place that you truly can’t believe you are lucky enough to be in. We have been to Venice several times, but the most memorable trip was the one where I managed to get a lagoon-front room at the Metropole for less than an arm and a leg (even though it was more than I would have spent staying at our more normal haunts). I know that I’ve scored a winner when DH spends 10 minutes taking pictures of the room and the bathroom because no one will believe how fabulous the place is. On those occasions, the hotel becomes part of the vacation experience, not just a place to sleep. For Greece, I tried to keep to a budget of about 200/nt for every place except Santorini, but was willing to go up to 400 or 450 in Oia in order to get the experience. Yes, an insane amount of money – and more than we even spent in the Amalfi Coast – but I wanted to figure out why someone would fly halfway around the world to spend a day sunbathing on their own terrace, looking at the scenery and reading a book because they didn’t want to leave the hotel. I didn’t really get that “I never want to leave here” feeling at Mystique, but at Ikies I did. Expensive, yes, but it is not something that you do every day – or even every year – and it was worth creating the memory. (Probably the reason that there are so many honeymooners in Oia!)

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    Yes there are reviewers from all over, but just reporting what I hear so often, that Americans in high season find more Americans than non-Americans in these particular places.

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    ...but I still can’t figure out the reason for the superhighway to nowhere (and the highway signs!

    I don't know either, but am willing to bet it was an EU funded project. :-D

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    Clausar - Two days before our arrival (while we were in Naxos) Mystique emailed us to let us know that because of a computer mix-up they were overbooked for the last night of our reservation. We had booked this last August (and had prepaid because the dollar was so good on the euro last fall) AND had reconfirmed the reservation with the front desk 2 weeks earlier when we gave them our ferry arrival information, so part of me thought that they had probably received a reservation from someone that they couldn’t say no to, but either way it was clear that there was really no room at the inn. They initially offered to move us to the other Starwood property on the south side of the island (Vedema) for the last night, but once we let them know that we wanted to stay in Oia no matter what, they made arrangements with Ikies to transfer us there for the last night of our stay (definitely a manager-to-manager arrangement, because Ikies has two and three night minimums this time of year and that Friday was the beginning of a holiday weekend). Plus, they upgraded us to a larger unit at Mystique for the nights that they could accommodate us, which was very nice. It ended up working out just fine. They took care of everything - transferring our bags to Ikies on Friday while we were out, and even picking us up from Ikies to give us a transfer to the airport on Saturday afternoon for our flight back to Athens. Ikies upgrading us to their honeymoon suite (also known as the greatest room in the world!) was just double bonus icing on the cake.

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    hm... computer mix up practically doesn't exist.... some hotels know that a certain percentage of clients is cancelling their reservation ( this is possible according to Greek law untill 21 days before the arrival, free of charge) , so they book more rooms than they have...
    In case of an overbooking hotel is obliged to offer alternative accommodation of same category and location.
    For stays , like yours you could have insisted on not accepting to be moved for one night, or you could have forced them to offer the alternative accommodation for your entire stay.( something that would have the result of staying all days at the fabulous cottage ....)
    Vedema is a very good hotel, but it has no caldera view, so it would be unacceptable as an alternative anyway...

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    Tejana, you don't have to explain to anyone how you choose to spend your hard earned vacation dollars. Everyone makes the choices that are right for them and internet strangers really shouldn't make assumptions or caustic comments on how others spend their money.

    Thank you so much for taking your time to share your report with us. It's made me more excited than ever about our trip in September.

    Jo

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    TravelerJan: All of the hotels we stayed at in Greece were lovely but not filled with Americans. I think Santorini is on Americans' radar or pushed by travel agents. Pretty views but was our least favorite place in six weeks in Greece. Won't return as it seemed so touristy and lacked the the warm Greek hospitality we found elsewhere.We stayed at Esperas in Oia.

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    Hm... A beach doesn't have to come with a village, it can just be a beach sometimes : ) Some people prefer it that way. I wouldn't discourrgae people to go there so, without knowing what they are after.
    The reason for your bad experice is that receptionist didn't try to figure out what you were looking for, and send you out to the wrong direction for your likes/dislikes.
    Saying in general don't go to Alyko is unfair, because this type of place is what I may favore while you don't!
    that's what I'm saying, different folks, different strokes, one person's hell is an other person's paradise and all that lol

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    Day 13/14 (Saturday/Sunday) – Santorini/Athens/Home

    When we returned to Athens Saturday afternoon we found a Syntagma Square much different from the one we had left just 10 days ago. It has become a tent city during the day, with rows and rows of camping tents covering huge portions of the square. There are only a few thousand protesters on Saturday night (it is a holiday weekend – even protesters need a holiday), but those who are there are even more organized than they were when we saw them last, with a dedicated area for children and their art projects, and a makeshift soup kitchen to feed the campers. On Sunday morning (heading for the airport) we get a twitter feed that announces a series of 24 hour strikes scheduled for this coming Wednesday (June 15 - coinciding with the vote on the IMF loans) that will likely result in the shutdown of airports and ferries. Looks like we are getting out just in time. And the two weeks of perfect weather comes to a close, as well, as heavy rains start just as we are boarding the plane.

    The two week trip was pretty close to perfect , and I think we got the chance to explore the best of each island and at least get a feel for the places. Everyone has asked me what my favorite memory was, but I can’t really pick one, because the islands are all so different. DH says that Naxos was his favorite island, and I can’t disagree, but I was not disappointed in any of them. I now know what the caldera in Santorini really looks like, what the streets of Mykonos feel like late at night, and how it feels to stand at the Temple of Isis on Delos, listening to the wind. The only disappointment was the time we lost on the transfer days between islands. Doing a mid-day ferry completely screws up both locations, and you don’t really have the time to do anything in either place (especially since all of our ferries were late!). If I had it to do over again I would book either an early morning or a late night transfer between Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini, and would probably book the morning flight from Santorini back to Athens to have most of a day in Athens to visit some museums we missed. Otherwise, all I really need now is to figure out how to make a Citron cocktail and good grilled octopus at home.

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    Loved the report! I was just there the beginning of May and almost enjoy reading the trip reports better now that I am back more than when I was planning as it brings back the wonderful memories.

    For Mykonos I can say that there are 2 pelicans. I got them both in 1 photo while waiting for the Delos ticket office to open. A shop keeper had told me one was a female as the day before we were delighted to have found Petros in the maze of streets and I commented on how pink he was. With the 2 together I couldn't tell the difference but maybe one day there will be a few more meeting tourists... :)

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    I've really enjoyed reading your trip report, and am glad that you had such a good time in Greece. Now you know why so many of us keeping going back year after year. :-)

    Regarding your transfers between Mykonos, Naxos, and Santorini, it's very hard to avoid a mid-day ferry. The reason for this is that ferries connecting these islands have home ports in Piraeus, Rafina, or Heraklion, and time their departures so they can leave early morning and return home in the evening, ready to repeat the route next morning. Stops at Mykonos, Naxos, and Santorini are in the middle of their routes, so normally take place late morning or early afternoon. There are a few exceptions, e.g. afternoon ferries stopping in the Cyclades en route to the eastern Aegean, but mid-day departures are the rule.

    Overall, I believe your trip planning was virtually flawless, resulting in a trip that "was pretty close to perfect". Congratulations! An early morning flight from Santorini back to Athens would have been a good idea, but you can visit the museums you missed on your next trip to Greece. ;-)

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    Thanks! I reached out to her on Friday and haven't heard back yet. We fly out to Greece tomorrow and hopefully we'll hear back from her by the time we make it to Athens at the end of our trip.

    Loved reading your trip report. Definitely jotted down a lot of notes. Greece sounds amazing!

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    I know this was written a couple of years ago now but I just wanted to say thank you so much for your incredibly helpful and insightful information!
    My husband and I are off to Greece in May/June and are doing the same itinerary that you did - Your guide to the areas and hotels to stay in has been fab, and I am creating a list of all the must-do's for each island.
    Thanks again tejana!

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    Just curious why you did not choose to fly back from Santorini to Athens. Since this trip took place in 2011, was flying an option back then? We will be going back to Athens from Santorini and after reading about the sporadic, ever changing ferry and fast boat schedules, I am inclined to just fly back on Aegean Airlines for about the same price as the ferry.

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    thanks for the support, ebony! Have a wonderful trip! The good news for you is that Akrotiri is open now so that will probably be a big highlight for your Santorini visit.

    takeme - we DID fly back from Santorini to Athens, but we took the afternoon flight instead of the morning flight. While a few extra hours enjoying the peace and quiet and sun of Oia was lovely, we would have been better served getting the morning flight back and having one last day in Athens to do some more sightseeing, including the Benaki Museum.

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    Enjoy reading your report. We're planing a trip for June and are very excited about it. We will arrive in Athens around 2 pm and will be taking the 7 am ferry to Santorini the morning after. I was wondering if it is better to stay in Pireaus that night close to the port. What hotels do you recommend?
    I'm going to read your report again and take notes this time.

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    takemewithu,

    Just a FYI: We've taken the ferry from Santorini to Athens and flown from Santorini to Athens. FLY! The ferry takes forever and the fast boat can be insanely turbulent. Have fun!

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    Rereading your wonderful report Tejana. So many of our impressions of the islands, especially Santorini, match yours. We did not spend a lot to stay at Esperas regardless of what Travelerjan thinks. And it wasn't just the fact that the place was filled with Americans but that there weren't Greeks on the staff that made it a less than welcoming and not a local experience. And we never saw any significant sunsets either, perhaps it was the wrong time of year when we visited.
    We loved our trip to Greece and are eager to return. Thanks again Tejana.

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