1st Trip to Greece

Jan 9th, 2010, 01:40 PM
  #1  
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1st Trip to Greece

Wow, reading this forum makes me feel like I'm in the presence of the travel gods. Thanks for taking a few minutes to share advice.
My husband and I are retired (57 and 65), active (scuba diving, walking), foodies (DH will try anything once...and usually loves it). We prefer: houses or apartments where we can cook and walk to local markets (and smoking bans, but that would be dreaming, huh?); beaches; touring at our own pace.
The current thought is to fly to Athens mid May, take a ferry to Sifnos, spend 2 weeks on Sifnos, return to Athens for 2-3 nights, return to our old KY home. Total budget: $6k.
I'll try to score an Athens hotel on priceline.com for less than $150/night and an apartment or small house on vrbo or homeaway.com for around $1k/week.
Specific questions:
Are we crazy to think we can get to Sifnos on the day we arrive in Athens?
Is Sifnos a good choice for our 1st trip? Would Andros be a better choice?
Are there any ferries we should absolutely avoid? Reliability and schedules don't seem to be high on the Greek priority list, so the slow ferries look like our 1st choice...but don't want to be stupid.
Has anyone negotiated prices on vrbo or homeaway.com? Would it offend a potential host? It's a method I've been using lately on domestic rentals.
Any tips on finding a cheap airfare? This has to be the 1st piece of the trip puzzle, right?

Any general advice? We'll learn a few Greek words, but mainly we'll look like the small town rubes that we are. All advice is welcome. Thanks to everyone who helps us plan a great trip.
MarathonWoman is offline  
Jan 10th, 2010, 02:44 AM
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Most ferries leave Piraeus for Sifnos early morning (except Fridays), so realistically you should plan to spend your first night in Athens. Currently there are some slower ferries departing Piraeus in early afternoon, though, so if they are still running those same schedules in May you might be able to get out that same day. Trouble is, the May timetables won't be published until late April, and you will probably want to make a decision before then.

Although mid-May is still low season on the islands, note that May is a busy time in Athens, with many meetings and conventions taking place around that time, so hotels book up quickly. Also note that May 21-24 is Pentacost weekend, a popular getaway to the islands.

I agree wholeheartedly with your plan to pick an island and spend two weeks there. That is what I like to do, and also the style of most Greek holidaymakers. Two weeks gives you a chance to really get to know the island, and after a few days patronizing the same cafes and tavernas, you will be treated like old friends. ;-)

You should be able to get a good price with a two week booking, especially if you deal directly with the owners. If Nikoletta (a part-time resident on Sifnos) sees this post, she will steer you in the right direction.

With two weeks at your disposal, recommend you spend a night or two on another island, e.g. Milos. Keep your apartment on Sifnos, but bring an overnight bag with you, and find an inexpensive room for the short visit to the other island.
Heimdall is offline  
Jan 10th, 2010, 05:21 AM
  #3  
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Thanks, Heimdall. 1st night in Athens is probably the cure for coach class jet lag, too.
Visiting another island sounds quite do-able. We'll stir that into the planning mix.
MW
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Jan 10th, 2010, 05:56 AM
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Sifnos is perfect in May... I spent 5 days there with NikolettaG last may! It's quite low-key at that time, but everything's open, and the water is swimmable; Platy Gialos beach is great at that time. Last year on May 28, there were all of 20 people on a mile-long sandy beach.

I agree with Heimdall that it would be a great idea to split your time between Sifnos and Milos. You'd have plenty of time to soak up the local culture, enjoy good food, take those Sifnos walks ... the entire island is criss-crossed with wonderful flagstoned paths; until the 1950s these were the main links between villages, with donkeys the only 'vehicles'. Then, off to Milos, a 90 minute ferry ride. Milos has perhaps more beautiful small cove-y beaches than any other Cycladic island. And in Adamas harbor there are sailboats that do a daily around-the-island sail, landing at 4-5 beaches for picnics & swims & snorkels.

Sifnos has an excellent bus system, and its Crossroads is Apollonia, up in the hills ... Nik. and I stay at the edge of it in a neighborhood called Ano Petali. Theres a fawncy hotel called Petali, with a pool and dressed-up people -- but just across the path is a nice little Pension, Pension Geronti. NikG stays there, and I stay right next door, at Mrs. Geronti's daughter's adorable 2-unit paradise. Each unit has a vine-covered patio looking out on hills, villages -- and the sea. There's a twin-bed unit and a double-bed unit (with the best shower/bathroom I've found in Greece!) and a little "mini-kitchen" niche so u can fix your own breakfast. It might cost you 35€ per night. NikolettaG fixed up our reservations; I'll find out how to contact it if you wish.

For Milos, I suggest googling the site Milosisforlovers. That guy is THE expert on all things Milos. POllonia is the place to stay... and in Milos, it's best to rent a small car, as the bus system isn't as good. And DO leave at least 3 days for Athens at the end ... it's been waiting 4,000 years to impress you, you should give it 3 days.

Have fun planning!!
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 10th, 2010, 03:55 PM
  #5  
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travelerjan, Pension Geronti is exactly the kind of place DH and I seek out. We're hoping for more than a mini-kitchen...something with an stove is ideal. Your comment on shower/bathroom is mighty enticing, though. Perhaps NikolettaG knows an equally enticing location for us. We like to cook and really enjoy finding new-to-us foods.

Sifnos sounds wonderful. I hear the donkey paths calling!
MarathonWoman is offline  
Jan 10th, 2010, 07:04 PM
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I would suggest going to the website of Aegean Thesaurus; they have an office actually right in Sifnos, which is run by local people... and they handle dozens of small pensions like this who do not have websites and probably have not-so-good English. Here is the website -- they ALSO handle similar facilities in Milos
http://www.thesaurus.gr/sifnos.htm http://www.thesaurus.gr/milos.htm
.... you can browse the sites, but suggest you write a direct e-mail describing what you want and they will recommend.

About Mrs. Geronti's daughter's unit, I urge you not to dismiss it lightly ...it is a light & airy room with divinely comfy double bed ... and about that Full Kitchen thing, you have dishes & a hotplate. But DON'T cook on Sifnos. It has SO many restaurants, such divine food, and almost impossible to spend more than 15€ per person for a huge meal ... Walk over to the square in Artemonas (a 15 min walk) and TWO tavernas will give you THE most authentic foods, Margarita's, and Manganas... ALSO -- the markets for visitors don't show so much that's appealing, the restaurants have their own supplies. Did you not read that some of the famous chefs in Greece came from Sifnos. Let THEM do the cooking... the best dishes have to simmer all day long (the lapin! the eggplant! the veal stifado! the chickpea dishes!), and you want to be on the beach and out on those flagstone paths, not toiling over a stove.
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 12:00 AM
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Use the kitchen for preparing breakfast and maybe lunch, but dine out in the evenings! That's the main point of going to Greece, IMO, and you can make that your evening's entertainment! No one ever rushes you to finish your meal, so imagine sitting at an outside table, watching the world go by, while eating that wonderful Greek food.

A little tip: most tavernas will have food on display, and many will invite you back in the kitchen to see what's on offer. I always choose my meals that way. Menus will be in both Greek and English, but if you order from just the menu, you will miss many of the best dishes.

Another tip: Starters are meant to be shared, so you can order two or three and split them between you and your husband. If you order enough starters, you don't even need to have a main course.
Heimdall is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 06:09 AM
  #8  
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OK, OK, twist my arm a little harder! AND I wouldn't have to do dishes after consuming a tiny bit too much retsina?
travelerjan, Heimdall, you have convinced me. I choose Door #1 with the divinely comfortable bed and real shower. How do I contact her?
MarathonWoman is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 06:39 AM
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I'll get back to you later today on that, MW ... gotta e-mail my friend in Athens, about the correct e-mail. She usually just calls up and says, "our regular rooms". She's a retired teacher of Classics from London ... but she now speaks modern Greek quite well, only occasionally sounding Homeric.
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 10:54 AM
  #10  
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Thanks. If I can say 'please' and 'thank you' by May, it will be a language success story.
MarathonWoman is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 11:50 AM
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'parakalo' and 'efharisto', with accent on the last syllable. See? You've learned already!
Heimdall is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 12:54 PM
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MW, the e-mail for Nikoleta Geronti is [email protected] Tell her that you were recommended by Janet Of Philadelphia, who stayed in one of her units last May ... and that Janet obtained her e-mail from "Eleni" of Athens who stays with Mrs. Geronti, her mother, several times every year.

BTW, the BEST website to learn key words (which I found after years of bad phrasebooks) is "Talk Greek" on a BBC language site. It has 10 segments of words & phrases, you can HEAR them, see them in GREEK spelling and ALso Roman-lettering PHONETIC spelling with -- very key -- which syllables to accent. Wizard! I print out the 10 pp, and threw away my phras books. http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/greek/talk/

another gem, for restaurants/tavernas is Greek Food How to Say it -- of course waiters can cope with English but it really tickles them if you sometimes say it in Greek!
http://www.greecefoods.com/restaurants/ordering.htm

Finally -- be aware that May 21-24 is a HUGE getaway weekend... Pentecost 3-day, so mmillions of Athenians will be stretching it to 4 days. Thus Friday May 21 and Mon May 24, ferries, planes, roads will be jammed. Best to plan to be in place by Thurs nite, and not move on until Tues am May 25. Sifnos itself won't be full... just maybe ferries going to/from.
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 12th, 2010, 04:03 PM
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Wonderful. I've targeted May 17 to arrive in Athens. Per Heimdall's suggestion, we'll find a place to hunker down for the night in/around Athens and then ferry to Sifnos on May 18. 2 glorious weeks of sun, sand, tavernas, cafes, walking off taverna and cafe calories, and back to Athens (avoiding the holiday crunch). Somewhere in there, we'll ferry over to Milos to sample its offerings.
One last question (probably lying about that): if we leave Milos on the 1st ferry to Santorini, is it reasonable to expect to get off the ferry, wait for the next Sifnos-bound ferry and return to Sifnos same day? I keep looking at the photographs of Santorini and thinking I want to arrive there by boat. Staying there blows my budget: polee akrivo. But to stand on the inside of that volcanic crater: thrilling.
Efharisto!
MW
MarathonWoman is offline  
Jan 13th, 2010, 01:23 AM
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The chance of a ferry from Milos to Santorini, and another to Sifnos later in the day is very slim, and not worth considering. Also be aware that conventional ferries in that part of the Cyclades travel about 25mph and stop at every little island, so progress is slow - sort of like traveling in your car stuck in second gear!

Here's the problem: Sifnos and Milos are on the Western Cyclades ferry route, while Santorini (along with Naxos and Paros) is on the Central Cyclades route. Cross-route connections exist, but in May are something like 3-4 ferries per week at best. To learn how the ferry system works, get a copy of Thomas Cook's Greek Island Hopping, an excellent guide with lots of useful information on traveling in Greece.

If you want to see Santorini, consider a different kind of trip, where you hop from one island to another, stopping at each for 3-4 days. You could comfortably see three islands in a two week trip, four at a stretch. For instance, you could visit Sifnos, Milos, and Santorini, flying back to Athens from the latter to save time. You would need to be flexible, especially for the Milos-Santorini link, because ferries won't run every day. You won't experience the total immersion and relaxation of basing yourself on one island, but you will see more. If you decide to island hop instead of basing yourself on Sifnos, recommend opening a new thread on the subject.
Heimdall is offline  
Jan 13th, 2010, 06:05 AM
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THere is MUCH greater chance of a ferry from MILOS to Santorini. Don't get into that trap of "sample" or "day trip." Heimdall has it right. A wonderful place in Sifnos for 6 days... then to Milos for 3?4? days (this is dependent on when the ferry goes to Santorini ... then Santo for 48 hours (just for the view and to take pix)... then fly back to Athens for the 3 days you allotted yourself. No need to book ahead in Milos, in May, Just collect a list of lodgings you're interested in, and call ahead from Sifnos ... same idea re Santorini. The only reservation u would need to look at would be a flight to Athens on Aegean Air - get on their newsletter (really an e-mail alert) list, and wait for a price break on fares in Feb or so. Also u do need to make a reservation in Athens for the last 2 nights ... budget hotels do fill up there, right now.
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 13th, 2010, 12:00 PM
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To clarify... the air reservation I mention would be the flight from Santorini to Athens, 3 days before your departure date. If you don't want to fly, about 2x per week, a ferry leaves Santorini at midnight and arrives at Pireaus at a bout 5:30 am... so you travel while you sleep. Otherwise, a day ferry takes far too long for you, with your tightly-scheduled itinerary.
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Jan 15th, 2010, 08:39 AM
  #17  
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marathonwoman - you are going to have such an incredible trip, whatever you decide. Greece is going to get in your blood and you're going to want to go back again and again. All the advice you've gotten is top notch. It's always so hard to decide where to go when there are so many beautiful islands to visit. IF you decide to add Santorini to your trip, there are places to stay that won't break your budget. brotherleelove can help with that and I've discovered a couple places that are wonderful in Oia. Let us know what you decide and please, post a trip report when you return.
I looks like I'll be back in Greece in May as well. Can't wait!
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Jan 15th, 2010, 11:06 AM
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A last couple of comments ... about a bit too much retsina --- outside of Athens you will seldom see retsina, you will order the local wine in a pitcher if they have barreled wine, it's always enjoyable ... in Santorini you can go to some wineries if you wish.

We'll look forward to a trip report on your return! Only please, one favor pour moi ... don't use that icky fodorite nomenclature -- DH and DD and DS and so on. This is a nice forum, but that usage is so TWEE ... it's like a man saying "The 'little woman' and I are going..." or my Better Half. So 1930s. Callhim by an initial "R and I went..." if you must. This is an ongoing campaign of mine ... eliminate Fodor cutesy. Do join the crusade.
travelerjan is offline  
Jan 15th, 2010, 02:26 PM
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Well, Janet, in her first post the lady refers to 'my husband and I', so I don't think you need worry! LOL!! Oh dear - I'm going to be argumentative here! You can find retsina anywhere – all the supermarkets have it. Ekavi, which is usually found in Crete, is excellent , and Malamatina is very good too. I love it – one of the first things I buy to have in my room when I get to Sifnos. But that lovely wine which we drank in little flagons at Margarita's isn't Sifnian, it's out of a box. Most of the 'house wine' you find in tavernas is bought in – thank goodness! (I can say this after 33 years of visiting!)- as the wine actually produced on Sifnos is usually terrible. It may be an acquired taste, but it isn't one I've managed to achieve! Marathonwoman, I was about to add to this thread, as my name has been mentioned a few times. You've probably already contacted Nikoleta, but if she's booked up (unlikely in January) her mother will certainly have some rooms – Nikoleta manages those too, now. Mrs G also has 3 or 4 rooms with slightly more advanced cooking facilities (no ovens though). They belong to her son, who's the island's mayor, but she looks after them. They're lovely too, with little steps and patios. I stayed in one for a few days when 'my' room was occupied – they have the same view of villages and islands. You can see Paros and Antiparos very clearly. Are you going to make it over to Sifnos this year, Don (Heimdall)? Hope so! I totally agree with Janet about the lack of produce to cook in your room: we have amazing local markets here in Athens – I couldn't believe the variety of 'greens' available when we first came to live here – but there's nothing like that on Sifnos. The produce in the shops is disappointing – and expensive! The islanders have their own supplies, so I always have fresh lemons from Mrs. Geronti 's trees – and capers! - they're an island speciality, and you find them in the salads, which you don't see elsewhere. I mainly use the hotplate in 'my' room for warming things up – often I'll come back from a walk and find a plate of something delicious left for me – and the portions are always enormous! Mr. Gerontis was a ship's cook and he still makes a lot of the meals.
As you're keen on walking, you'll be pleased to find that there's an excellent map (Topo edition) with contour lines and really useful notes – most of the maps you find on the islands tend to be the 'Mickey Mouse' variety! I hope to be there for nearly all of May, so you should see me around and if there's anything at all you need to know, I'm sure I'll be able to help – but Nikoleta speaks perfect English. Enjoy your planning! Eleni (Aka NikolettaG)
Oh, just remembered – as you're coming in May there will be frogs in the stream, croaking away in the evening under the bridge on the path up to Artemona – it's magic!
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Jan 15th, 2010, 03:49 PM
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Marathonwoman, believe everything that NikolettaG says (aka Eleni) ... she knows Sifnos back & forward... has been going there for ?? 20+years, until recently with husb Nick (gone but still missed), and if you want to find her, just check Margaritas in Artemonas any time after 8 pm ... She made me stop and listen to the frogs, pointed out that they go Brrrak, Brrak! exactly like the ones in Aristophanes' play (The Frogs) ... you can take the classics teacher out of London, but you can't take the classics out of the (ex)teacher!

She's right about Sifnos importing the wine for their pitchers... but Naxos, Nafplio, Santorini, Crete are better for local wine...

Warning: if she tries to lure you into walking "just a few Kms" to an adorable church in a Gorge, beware: Her idea of a "few Kms" may differ from yours!
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