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Planning a trip to Athens and islands

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We are doing some long range planning for a trip to Greece and islands next fall 2012, and would like some advice. Which would be the best month to go - September or October? How may days in Athens is sufficient (3 days?) and what two islands are a "must see", although I'm sure that they are all beautiful. Are local tours that the hotesl offer? Which hotels are recommended on a mid-range budget? How best to navigate between Athens and the islands - air or ferry? We want to get the full flavor of Greece, and are thinking that a traditional cruise is not the best way to go. Any advise would be appreciated.

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