First - but not last - trip to Greece

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Oct 8th, 2017, 02:58 PM
  #1
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First - but not last - trip to Greece

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic 11 days in Greece: 2 days in Athens, 1 in Meteora, 1 in Delphi, 2 in Santorini, 4 in Naxos, and a final night in Athens.

Athens Highlights:

- Airport arrival and transfer. We arrived at about 9 a.m. Sunday morning. Getting through immigration was quick and easy. The airport is quite manageable in size - ATM machines readily available. We used Welcome Athens (highly recommended) for the transfer into the city (about 40 minutes). We booked them online a few days in advance, provided our flight number, and they were waiting in the arrival hall with our name on a sign. It was 38 Euros, standard taxi price to city center. They gave us a “welcome" package: two bottles of water, an Athens map, and a reusable bag. Highly recommend them. We got a text upon landing that our driver was waiting. Made things so easy after the long flight.

- Hotels.
— Zillers Boutique Hotel at the beginning of the trip - in a great location in Plaka just across the street from the Cathedral and a block over from a main shopping street. Very comfortable suite - quiet, clean, good bedding, nice bathroom, great breakfast on the the rooftop terrace with an Acropolis view - and the staff was superb.
— AthensWas the last night before flying home. We really liked this place, too. It was a bit larger and slightly more upscale, on the edge of Place by Hadrian's Arch. Lovely room and bathroom. Also extremely nice staff.

- Restaurants.
— Dinner first night at Kuzina - very good food, especially enjoyed the zucchini balls. They have a rooftop terrace but it was booked. (Get reservations in advance for the better restaurants - especially for a view.)
— Second night - 360 Degrees. Managed to score a rooftop view - made for a very special evening. Because we arrived early (before 7), it appeared they gave us a table that was reserved for later.
— Last night of of trip - best meal we had anywhere was at Mani Mani - slightly off the beaten path but well worth seeking out.

- Sightseeing.
— The Acropolis - no surprise - was our favorite place. We arrived when it opened at 8. We'd purchased tickets the day before at the less-crowded Temple of Zeus, enabling us to skip the ticket line and get up to top of the hill in time to see the raising of the flag. Biggest advantages to the early arrival: light crowds and comfortable temperatures. Despite all the pictures, I’d seen, the Parthenon exceeded my expectations - nearly brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the long history on that spot.
—Number 2 was the Acropolis Museum. We went mid-afternoon, which gave us a terrific respite from the heat. We waited in line only about 10 minutes. Fantastic museum - and my husband doesn’t usually like museums.
— Also enjoyed the Ancient Agora, Temple of Zeus, and strolling around the Plaka. And loved the gelato. We took the little tram ride around the city, but didn't think it was worth it - took too long, saw too little, and it didn't come often enough to make it a good means of transportation.

Will post highlights from the rest of the trip later: Meteora, Delphi, Santorini, and Naxos.
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Oct 8th, 2017, 05:49 PM
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From what you've shared about the start, you seem to be totally organized to maximize enjoyment! Looking forward to your next chapters.
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Oct 9th, 2017, 08:13 AM
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We were in Athens last May. You bring so many lovely memories of Greece. I bet Santorini was a veritable zoo.
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Oct 9th, 2017, 11:36 AM
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Santorini would not be a “zoo” in October.
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Oct 10th, 2017, 11:57 PM
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Enjoying your report! Looking forward to the rest of it.
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Oct 11th, 2017, 02:38 AM
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Thank you for confirming what I'd hoped for with an early arrival to the Acropolis--the light crowds. We'll be there in two weeks--can not wait!
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Oct 11th, 2017, 10:11 AM
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Hi Karen - haven’t caught you on Fodor’s in a long time, but remember some of your prior reports fondly. So glad you loved Greece as much as we did. Looking forward to following along.
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Oct 17th, 2017, 02:33 PM
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Hi dgunbug - great to hear from you!

---

The next day Welcome Athens picked us up right on time at 7 a.m. to take us to the airport. We'd heard it was possible to arrange for a rental car in the city and be driven to the outskirts, but we weren't sure how to do that, so we we went to the airport for the car. Neither of us wanted to drive in the city.

We rented an automatic Renault Clio through Enterprise and everything went great. Driving turned out to be a piece of cake: roads were well marked with little traffic, and best of all, Google Maps worked like a charm. We're T-Mobile users and the included 2G overseas data plan was all we needed for navigation (not so great for web surfing - but good enough in a pinch).

Because we left before breakfast was available, our hotel (Ziller’s) packed a bag lunch for us - a sandwich, banana, and cookies. Very nice touch. The drive to Meteora took about 4 1/2 hours and we only made one wrong turn. If I'd just followed Google, it would have been fine, but at one point, the road sign showed a different route number than Google showed and it caused confusion. Unfortunately, it cost us about 30 minutes because we were on a road where there was no way to turn around. Not a big deal, though, given how easy everything was overall.

We stayed at Pyrgos Adrachti in Kastraki and liked it a lot - highly recommended. It was clean and quiet with lovely views and a great breakfast. You definitely need a car to stay here, though, as it’s kind of out of the way (and the road to get to it was narrow and curvy).

We’d debated the best way to tour the monasteries and ended up doing both the sunset tour and the hiking tour with Meteora Thrones (so named because Game of Thrones was filmed here - Eyrie where Tyrion was held hostage in the sky cell and where Littlefinger pushed Lysa Arryn through the Moon Door).

It was nice not having to drive, but if we had to do it over, we’d have skipped the sunset tour and driven on our own. Overall, they did a good job, but as with most tours, they spent longer at some places than we’d have liked and not long enough at others. Regardless, Meteora is such a beautiful place we were glad to just take it in. We’re so glad we made time in our itinerary to include it, even though we only had one night.

Next morning, we did the hiking tour, which we enjoyed a lot. When the bus picked us up, there were about 15 people, and we thought that wasn’t bad. But it turned out we were the only two on the hiking tour - they dropped us off with one of the guides at a trail beside the road. It was a bit more strenuous that I’d expected - the first two miles was all uphill and somewhat steep. We made it, though, and then spent about 45 minutes visiting the Monastery of Great Meteoran - the largest one. It’s beautiful and much larger than St. Stephen’s, which we’d seen the night before. Those were the only two we got to see inside, and at the time we thought it was enough - but in hindsight I’m kind of wishing we’d seen one or two more.

The rest of the hike was terrific - beautiful scenery and, for the most part, we had the trail to ourselves. This was something we probably couldn’t have easily done without a guide, so I was glad we’d signed up for the tour.

We finished around 1, made a quick stop for lunch and hit the road for Delphi.

More later...
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Oct 17th, 2017, 06:59 PM
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Thank you for a great trip report

As a huge fan of the Game of Thrones i am sorry to say that there was no scene filmed in Greece.. ( unfortunately)

Here is a list of all locations/countries where GoT was filmed
http://tinyurl.com/hbgwl24
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Oct 18th, 2017, 10:02 AM
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We agree completely! Just got back last night from 5 nts Athens and one-week Azamara cruise of islands. Bit fuzzy today to say the least, but want to relish your report and share stories soon.
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Oct 19th, 2017, 04:07 PM
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Loving this, thankyou. We've just booked flights for April and am soaking up every bit of info I can.
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Oct 23rd, 2017, 02:59 PM
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Thanks, clausar, for the correction on the filming of GoT. The tour company certainly implied filming was done there, although maybe they didn't explicitly say that. After seeing your post, I researched it and found that some background scenery was filmed there and inserted later, but as you say, no actual scenes were filmed there. Who'd have guessed?

---

Meant to mention in previous posting that we especially enjoyed both lunch and dinner at Gardenia in Kalastraki - a 5 minute walk down the hill from our hotel. Lunch was a simple Greek salad and pork souvlaki. For dinner, I had the stuffed tomato and pepper, while Tom had spaghetti bolognese. Both lunch and dinner were excellent and reasonably priced.

The road to Delphi was not heavily trafficked and we made good time, arriving between 5:30 and 6, although the road became increasingly hilly and curvy as we got nearer, which slowed us down a bit. Quite a few horseshoe curves, but nothing overly scary - and again, Google maps worked great.

We stayed at Nidimos Hotel and had a fantastic view from the balcony. The room was clean and comfortable, and the breakfast was good - although it wasn’t included in the room rate - so we paid 12 Euros apiece. We walked up the street for dinner at Varkelm, which was probably our second best meal of the trip. We shared a salad with oranges, cranberry and tahini, plus the chef’s chicken entree, which included mixed vegetables and mushroom sauce. Very nice.

In the morning we headed out early to be among the first to enter the ruins at 8 a.m. We considered walking from the hotel (about 20 minutes), but wanted to hit the road immediately after touring, so we drove and had no trouble parking at that time (free parking). We decided to see the ruins before the tour buses arrived and save the museum for afterwards. It worked great - we’d made it all the way to the stadium at the top and were on our way back down to exit before encountering any crowds at all. At the museum we also encountered relatively few people. So I’d definitely recommend doing it that way - arrive at opening, hit the ruins first and then the museum.

We knew our time was limited because we had to be at the Athens airport in time for our 3:30 flight to Santorini and wanted to give ourselves a good cushion. As I remember, we spent 2-3 hours and didn’t feel overly rushed - although we’re not ones to linger at historical sites or museums. I’m sure many could easily spend the better part of a day because it’s quite a spectacular site. Not only are the ruins fabulous, but the scenery is gorgeous. My friend on Facebook wanted to know what questions we’d asked of the famous Oracle, and the best I could come up with was, on my husband’s behalf, “Will the Cowboys win their division?” And for me, “Will it be sunny and warm (again) tomorrow?” In both cases, the Oracle said yes, definitely. ;-)

We drove to the airport, an easy couple of hours with a 50 Euro stop for gas, and dropped off the rental car without a hitch.

Next up - a lost camera - YIKES! - and off to Santorini.
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Oct 26th, 2017, 03:07 PM
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(Anybody still there?)

We got to the airport with time to spare - dropped off the car at Enterprise (super easy) and walked over to the terminal (5 minutes). It was packed, especially the domestic flight area. We went through the first security check - where they look at your boarding pass and ID and got in line for the screening.

We put our bags on the conveyor belt and when the security guard asked if we had a camera, and my husband looked in my black shoulder bag and said, "Where's the camera?" - I went into panic mode. Oh no, WHERE'S THE CAMERA (a mirrorless Sony with an 18-200 lens)? At that very instant, Tom's phone which was in the pocket of his jacket, which I was holding, started to ring. I grabbed the phone and could barely focus on it because I was so upset about the camera. I said it's a number here in Greece! Ohhh - maybe it's Enterprise. I MUST have left the camera in the rental car.

Sure enough, it was Enterprise. I was so grateful. Another 30 seconds and we'd have been completely through security, but at that point it was pretty easy to turn around, make our way back through the crowd, and race to Enterprise to pick up the camera. They were so nice and we thanked them repeatedly. So... I can't recommend the Enterprise at the Athens airport any more highly!

With the camera back in our possession, we headed back inside and boarded the brief flight to Santorini without further incident. We hadn't planned a transfer in advance, so just walked over to the taxi stand and paid the standard 30 Euros for the (15-minute) trip to Firostefani.

We're not first-class travelers but not on a terribly tight budget either and really wanted a view of the caldera for our stay on Santorini. We'd booked Hotel Mylos and couldn't have been happier. The view was certainly first class and having breakfast brought to our room and served on our balcony was an amazing way to the start the day. The room itself - it was fine. Clean, comfortable bed, small bathroom. All we needed. But... did I mention that view?

It was late afternoon when we arrived so did a little exploring near the hotel, watched the sunset from our balcony, and then went to dinner at Da Vinci's. Although it didn't have a caldera view, it did have a few of the water (in the other direction). It was a bit cool, but we enjoyed eating outdoors, nonetheless - and the food was excellent.

We were looking forward to our morning hike to Oia.

More later.
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Oct 26th, 2017, 05:10 PM
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Late to the journey but following along now. Greece has moved up significantly on my list but I still have not made it yet. Someday...

How were the crowds in Athens and on Santorini?
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Oct 27th, 2017, 11:25 AM
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I’m still here..... soaking it all up.
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Oct 27th, 2017, 12:44 PM
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Still here. Keep it coming.
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Oct 27th, 2017, 12:50 PM
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What a bad feeling to lose your camera. We left a backpack with our camera in it on top of a table in santorini. Thankfully when we realized it and had the taxi driver return, it was still there waiting for us.
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Oct 27th, 2017, 04:22 PM
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As I recall, I was the one who found that Hotel Mylos had availability for your dates and recommended you book it -- glad that it worked out well for you! So many people are swept away by the Oia promotions and don't realize that the glorious views also are available all along the caldera!
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Oct 28th, 2017, 02:54 AM
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Yes, travelerjan, I should have mentioned that! You were the one who tipped me to it. And it was a FIND. Thanks so much. We were quite happy there! You're advice was right on.
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Oct 28th, 2017, 03:50 AM
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At 7 in the morning, we opened the door to our balcony and enjoyed the stunning view while we lazed in bed for a few more minutes. Then we got up, showered and got ready for breakfast.

The day before, the front desk (which was actually not a typical hotel front desk but rather a convenience store) asked us when we wanted breakfast and we said 8. So promptly at 8, perhaps a few minutes before, there was a knock on the door and a pleasant woman who spoke no English was standing there with a tray containing our breakfast. Coffee, tea, bread, meats, cheese, and fruit. She took it out to the balcony and set the table.

The air was pleasantly cool with a light breeze (nothing like the wind of the previous day). The sky was blue, the sea a deep sapphire. A cruise ship was anchored in the distance along with a few smaller boats. And if we gazed to the left or right, we could see the quintessential white buildings. Oh my. We felt like royalty. What a way to start the day!

Although we could have lingered half the morning staring at that view, we were eager to get on the trail for our hike to Oia. The hike fully lived up to our expectations. It was a real highlight - maybe my very favorite thing (although there were so many wow moments!). It's not terribly strenuous but is no stroll in the park either - with gorgeous caldera views all along the way. There are some pretty significant hills and quite a bit of variation on the trail itself - sidewalks/alleys among the white buildings - then dirt trail and some paved trail when you get outside the villages.

A couple of small churches (white, of course) - both after a rather strenuous climb - made for nice resting spots. We stopped at one and talked briefly to the caretaker, who was quite proud to show us the interior and said the church had been taken care of by his family for several hundred years. At least that's what we thought he said - his English wasn't great, but we think we got the gist.

As you near Oia, you have sea views on both sides. It was unbelievably beautiful. Once in Oia we were eager to take a break and get something to eat. It had taken us about 4 hours - which included many stops for photos. We hadn't picked out a lunch place, but spotted a restaurant with a beautiful caldera view and several open tables and we grabbed it. (I can't remember the name, but will check it late.) We shared a (huge) club sandwich (delicious) and some zucchini balls (ok, but not as good as the ones at Meteora).

After lunch, we did a little strolling, then caught the bus back to Firostefani. Lots of people were waiting for the bus. When we first arrived at the stop, there was a huge crowd of people and a bus just pulling up. We didn't make it on, so had to wait about 15-20 minutes for the next one.

Back at our hotel, we rested a bit then walked into Fira (less than a mile) to check it out. We stopped in a church - beautiful - and enjoyed looking at all the shops. We're not big on buying souvenirs, so if was fun to just stroll. We were very glad we were staying in Firostefani rather than Fira, though. Our area was considerably quieter and less busy. There were plenty of people all over the island, but it wasn't overly crowded anywhere. Still, we liked the relatively low-key vibe at Firostefani

Later that afternoon we debated what to do for dinner (our last night in Santorini). We really wanted a caldera view and considered several options, but decided that none of the restaurants would have any better view than the one we had right from our balcony! And given our thrifty natures, we came up with what we thought was a perfect plan: we walked about 50 yards down the walk, bought a couple of chicken pitas to go, stopped at a convenience store for a small bottle of Prosecco for me and a beer for Tom, then retired to the table on our balcony where we had the caldera view all to ourselves.

We enjoyed the sunset in complete quiet - just the two of us with our delicious pitas and drinks. Nothing fancy - but it couldn't have been more romantic. When the sun had set and we'd finished our meal. We walked across the walk for some yummy gelato (banana with chocolate chunks for me, coffee for Tom), strolled a bit, and went to bed. The end of a truly memorable day.

Next up - a quad rental.
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