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Trip Report Trip Report & Tips for Greece (Nafplio, Santorini, Naxos, & Athens)

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I meant to write this trip report a while back, but got caught up in life back at home. Anyhow, this forum was so helpful that I wanted to share tips from my trip. This is from our trip to Greece from Sept 6-20, 2012.

Note that we were traveling with our 18-month-old toddler, so we had to move slowly. We also took advantage of being there during low season and didn’t book any lodging, rental cars, or ferries more than a day or so in advance.

ITINERARY
- Nafplio (7 nights): explored town, went to the Karanthona and Tolo beaches, visited ruins at Epidavros, took an island cruise tour (Hydra & Spetses).
- Athens (1 night, to accommodate other travelers in our group): visited Parthenon
- Santorini (2 nights): stayed in Oia
- Naxos (3 nights): stayed in Naxos town, drove inland to Halki
- Athens (1 night): shopped

FYI, we needed the night in Athens to accommodate another traveler in our group, otherwise I would have spent that extra night in Santorini and saved Athens for the end.

ARRIVAL IN ATHENS / GETTING TO NAFPLIO:
Getting through the airport, renting the car, and getting on the expressway to Nafplio…this was all pretty easy. All of the rental car agencies are in a row, so we just stopped at 2-3 of them to see what was available and get quotes. The good news is that you don’t have to get on a shuttle to get to the rental car lot. The bad news is that it’s quite a trek to get there from the airport terminal.

We ended up renting with Avis. The car seat they gave us was a little janky, so if you’re worried about car seats, bring your own.

Getting on the Expressway was easy. It’s well marked and the lanes are wide. We made the trip in good time despite stopping for a snack at a gas station (we were starving, they had spanikopita).

Once we turned off the Expressway, it was a different story. The highways felt like country roads – dark, poor signage, bumpy, and narrow. Sometimes we’d get to what felt like a 5-way intersection with very little signage. We had our GPS and still had to turn around a few times. Tip – familiarize yourself with the Greek alphabet and be aware that the conversion to the Latin alphabet isn’t exact (e.g., Ναύπλιο = Navplion = Nauplion = Nafplio)

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    I am hoping to do a similar trip - maybe next year - looking forward to the rest of the report! Even tho you did not have reservations, I assume you had your basic plan ahead of time - how many days and which islands?

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    Hi suec1,
    Yep, we had a basic plan. We knew we were going to stay in Nafplio for 7 days, that we needed to be in Athens to drop one traveler off at the airport on day 9, that we wanted to go to two islands (probably in the Cyclades), and that we needed to fly back home out of Athens on day 15.

    We decided that one of the islands would be Santorini and bought that flight a little over 2 weeks in advance. As you'll see in the report, everything else was figured out 1-2 days in advance...or in person. I normally prefer to have at least my transport connections figured out before a trip so I can just relax while I'm there, but ran out of time.

    Also, due to the economic crisis, there was a lot of concern about in the months leading up to our trip (reports of riots and unrest in Athens, warnings about shut downs potentially impacting airports, ferries, and the food supply). We didn't want to have too much booked in case we needed to cancel. We wouldn't have been concerned, except we were bringing our 18 month old.

    This article by Rick Steves (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-steves/greece-in-economic-crisis_b_1587269.html) steeled our resolve to go for it and I'm so glad we did.

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    So...before I get into Nafplio, here are directions that Untours gave me. We happened to book one of their apartments, but didn’t actually tour with them. I hadn’t heard of them before, but based on their service, I'd check them out for future trips. It seems like their goal is to help you live like a local (they give you a local cell phone, set up meals with a locals, etc.)...

    Note: Despite the directions and a GPS, we still got lost. Hopefully you aren't making this drive at night like we were!


    DRIVING DIRECTIONS FROM ATHENS AIRPORT TO NAFPLIO
    (170 kilometers, about 2.5 hours)
    IMPORTANT: Make sure you have at least EUR10 in cash since you will have to pay several road tolls.

    DIRECTIONS:
    • Leave the airport and follow signs for ATHINA (Athens). After about 10km pay the 1st toll of EUR2.80 (as of Oct 2011).
    • As soon as you see signs for ELEFSINA follow them. For a while, the highway will run parallel to a train line left of your lanes.
    • When you see signs for KORINTHOS follow them. At about 57km pay another
    toll of EUR 3.10. You will see a big port/shipyard on your left.
    • When you signs for TRIPOLI (at around 112km), follow them by staying in the left lane (Patras would be the wrong direction). Shortly after pay the third and final toll of EUR2.40.
    • At 136km take the exit towards ANCIENT NEMEA/ NAFPLIO. At the end of exit ramp make a left for Nafplio. Now it’s only 30 km to your final destination.
    • The final stretch: After 2km make a right at the stop sign for Nafplio. At the 147km mark make a left towards Nafplio. At 167km make a right onto a small country road. At the next stop sign make a left turn. After another kilometer make a left at the stop sign. Right after the BP gas station make a right for Nafplio CENTER. At the next stop sign make a left and follow the road as it curves to the left. Park by the seaside (free parking) right after passing a school that is located on your left hand side. The AVIS office and sign can easily be located from Bouboulinas Street and the parking lot.

    For driving directions using the Michelin mapping guide, go to www.therightvacationrental.com/dd/4556ViaMichelin.pdf

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    So helpful of you to post the directions. When we went from Athens airport to Nafplio a few years ago we totally relied on our GPS - what a big mistake that was! It routed us through downtown Athens during commute traffic -- it was a nightmare!

    Looking forward to reading your report. We went to the same places and we also visited Crete for 6 nights.

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    Looking forward to this--if I can make Greece happen this year, I will have to choose between Nafplio and the Peloponnese OR the Cyclades, so I hope this helps me decide!

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    NAFPLIO

    Overview:
    I’d recommend this beautiful town as a base if you’re interested in exploring the area. It’s small and safe, near ruins and beaches, and you can really get into the culture. Also, it’s only a 2.5 hour drive from Athens.

    We’d thought about staying in nearby Tolo, but it’s more of a tourist town and not as centrally located. Plus, we didn’t really come to Greece for the beaches.

    Lodging:
    We booked our lodging at last minute, but our apartment turned out to be spacious and well-located. I was hesitant to book it because there weren’t many reviews and it’s not on a standard site like Homeaway or Flipkey. Plus, the process to book wasn’t very straight forward. It’s an apartment that the Untours group uses for their guests. http://www.therightvacationrental.com/prop.asp?SID=4569 If we’d booked further in advance, we probably could have gotten a place with laundry and wifi. We managed to find a laundry service, but not having wifi was a pain for trip planning purposes. There was free wifi in the town square (Syntagma), but not within range of the apartment. There were also some cafes a few blocks away that had wifi on all night and we’d just get the code in the morning after making a purchase. The town is super safe – I sat with my laptop (big, lit-up Apple logo ablaze on the cover) on a public park bench until 1am one night.

    The apartment location near the church of St. George is quiet, but within walking distance to everything. Really, the town is so small and walkable, that I think it’d be difficult to have a bad spot, provided you’re on the “old town” peninsula. We also had a great view from the balconies looking into the square of the church square (we got to see a wedding!) and with the mountain and Palamidi fortress rising up behind it. The fortress and church are nicely lit at night. However, the church bells…wow…they are some angry sounding church bells…especially at 6am!

    BTW, what’s nice about renting from Untours is that their tour operator, Christos, is super nice and helpful. He is incredibly efficient and considerate, too. His office is in the Avis/tour agency shop that’s right across from the main parking lot on the water. You’ll see the red Avis sign at night…it’s the 2nd or 3rd storefront from the left within its row of shops. He grew up in the town and has tons of local knowledge (grocery stores, laundry facilities, walking tour). He can also book tours for you.


    Activities:
    The Promenade – This was our favorite thing to do and we almost didn’t get to it until Christos suggested it! If we’d known about it sooner, we would have done it at least once or twice more. You don’t realize what a geographic wonder the city is until you walk along the harbor. Starting at the waterfront restaurants and going counter-clockwise, it starts getting less and less commercialized until it’s just you, the water, and the mountains. The entire thing does a big loop, so you’ll end up where you started. If you don’t stop and take pictures, it’d probably be about 15-20 min of walking.

    Towards the end, you come upon a swimming beach. The water looked way too rough for us, but people were in there! Also, right when you’re back in the town, you’ll see a café to your left. It has a little waterfall that flows into a river that flows into a little lake in the courtyard. That was our favorite coffee in the town and just blocks from our apartment (again, wish we’d known about it earlier!).

    Playgrounds – We certainly didn’t need to travel so far just for a playground, but it was a super cute with lots of other Greek kids around. Due to the heat (even in Sept), the playground was more packed at 9pm then 9am. There’s one on the east end of town near the Flo Café and another w/a view of the ocean that you’ll pass when you’re on the promenade and just about to leave the commercial area.

    Syntangma Square – The square and the streets around it are great for strolling. Free wifi in the square. At night, it’s full of kids playing and couples sipping coffee or strolling.

    The Archaeological Museum – Arg, we didn’t make it, but we kept hearing it’s wonderful. Life is pretty different traveling with a toddler… :P

    Restaurants:
    We like Greek food, but we got bored with the same cuisine every night and ended up cooking some meals. Also, after touring the rest of the country, we found that for some reason, the food in Nafplio was our least favorite. In any case, there is some good stuff to be had there.

    Here are the places I recall:
    Taverna Karima Kastro – This was our first meal in there. The place was empty (we were there at an off hour) and the service was a bit brusque, but the food fine. The Greek salad was very fresh, but a bit bland.
    To Omorfo Tavernaki – recommended by Christos at Untours. It was good, traditional Greek food. Very busy.
    Popeye Cafe – Maybe because we’d been in Europe a while and were missing home, but we really liked this place. It’s in the touristy restaurant row and always packed. The service is quick and friendly, the pizza and burgers good, and the salad was excellent. We ended up eating here twice.
    Noufara – It’s an Italian place with good reviews, but it was probably our worst meal there! Maybe it’s what we ordered. The owner talked my husband into a burger that was supposed to be Mexican. Yeah…they had a sweet sauce on it and bacon. I can’t remember what I got (maybe a seafood pasta), but it wasn’t good either. The location on the square is nice, but you definitely pay for it.
    Italikon – EXCELLENT Italian food and friendly service. It’s away from the main drag and shares a square with a few other restaurants. It looked far on the map, but distances there are shorter than you’d expect and it’s a pleasant walk along the pedestrian pathway. Great pizza and pasta.
    Antica Gelateria di Roma – We didn’t like it! Gasp. People rave about it on Trip Advisor and the service is funny and friendly, but it was way too sweet for our palate. We couldn’t finish ours.

    Side Trips:
    Karanthanos Beach – This was our favorite beach. The water was super clear and calm. The sand is brown, but soft. It’s remote and secluded…nothing around you but a big mountain in the backdrop. There’s also a view of mountains far in the distance and the sun setting behind them makes for great photos. It was probably a 10 min drive from town. While there were many at the beach, parking was easy and there’s plenty of room for everyone.

    Tolo Beach – This beach is deeper, so the water was a little chillier and the waves a little bigger. It’s also more touristy – condo units on one end and lots of water sports equipment around. Karanthanos is more our style (esp w/a kid), but lots of people like Tolo.

    Epidavros (or Epidaurus) – Beautiful ampitheater. We tested the impressive acoustics, but it’s also nice to just sit at the top and enjoy the view. It was an easy drive from Napflio…maybe 30 minutes.

    Mycenae – We didn't make it. Again, we heard great things about it, but maybe next time. It’s also a 30 min or so drive away. You can do a loop along the coast from Epidavros to get here if you prefer the scenic route.

    Cruise to Hydra & Spetses – We booked with Pegasus Cruises through Christos. They only have a few trips each week and it was a lot cheaper and easier than buying ferry tickets on my own. They left from Tolo, so it was just a quick 15 min drive to get to the port. FYI - This was pretty tough w/the baby because she was having a hard time falling asleep for her nap with all the noise, sun, and wind. All the friendly Greek yayas onboard took turns holding her and shushing her though. Greeks LOVE babies!

    Hydra was crowded and touristy, but it was fun to see the donkeys and how people manage without cars (lots of people running up the hills with carts full of water, logs, etc.). We did, BTW, see a van on the island!

    Spetses was beautiful, but less lively, more refined. We just strolled and had some ice cream. A lot of the shops seemed to be closed either due to the season or time of the day.

    Conclusion:
    While you won’t hit any of the must-see sights staying in Nafplio, you get a great view into regular Greek culture. These were some of the warmest people we met in all of Greece and you can let your guard down a bit regarding safety, tourist traps, etc. The Cyclades islands were much more touristy and Athens is too hectic for relaxing.

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    Hi
    I like your trip report. We were going to fly into Athens on 9/25/13 and fly to Santorini the same afternoon. We would stay on Santorini for a couple of days and then fly back to Athens and rent a car and then see as much on the Rick Steves guided tour as we could and fly back to Chicago on 10/7/13. We usually move alot quicker than most travelers. I envy the amount of time that you were able to allocate to your trip. We have been traveling since 2001 and seeing a country a year and do it under the assumption that we will never go back.

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    Hi James_P, that's how we normally travel as well! This was our first trip w/the kid though and we were able to take advantage of maternity leave and the free flight for a <2 year old policy. Oh, and between the nap/bedtimes and everything (getting out the door, eating a meal, etc.) taking twice as long, it was just less stressful to take it slower and see less. On a normal trip, I'd probably just allocate 2-3 days to Nafplio.

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    Vmonk
    I admire your courage. We met an Indian couple in Rome in 1976 who took a 6 month trip and left their 2 year old with the wife's mother. We took a 2 week trip to Hong Kong/Taiwan in 1979, but left our 1 year old daughter with my mother. I am looking forward to the rest of your trip report.

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