Greece Trip Report

Sep 28th, 2004, 01:42 PM
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Greece Trip Report

We just got back from a 12-day trip to Greece and wanted to give a report to help all of you trying to plan a trip there (Note: This is the same message I posted on the Frommers website). Our goal was to get a good sampling of Greece, not to know one place inside and out. This is a long message, but hopefully it's helpful to someone.

We flew straight to Santorini to start off our trip. We flew Aegean, which was great both times we flew -- efficient, on-time, and comfortable leather seats. We noticed that the lines for Olympic were very long, and a flight that was supposed to arrive one-hour before ours, ended up arriving the same time (so 1-hour late for a 45 minute flight). I would highly recommend Aegean -- and they are less expensive to boot.

Okay -- back to Santorini. It's just stunning like everyone says. You can't be disappointed. Try to get a hotel with a view of the caldera. We stayed at the Astra (a splurge for us), which was a fantastic choice -- perfect. It's a small full-service hotel. George is very nice and all-knowing and will recommend restaurants, get you a cab or a rental car (dropped off to you and picked up for no extra charge), etc. We loved going out to the pool area perched on top of the cliff and watch the sunsets, although the view from your individual terrace is fabulous as well. Constantine, who manned the bar, would play the perfect music and we would sip wine and eat olives and capers. It was so relaxing. Breakfast was served on your individual terrace each morning. We had the least expensive room, and it was very spacious with a sitting room and a kitchenette with glasses, plates, etc. They even had a hospitality suite for us to freshen up in since we didn't leave until later at night. It's in Imerovigli, which is a small town about a 20 minute walk to Fira. From Imerovigli, it was nice to walk to and from Fira during the day because of the view. At night, we would cab to Fira for dinner -- it was a 4 Euro cab to and from. Note that the non-tourist areas of towns in Santorini are poorer than we expected -- reminded us of Mexico.

As for food, we loved the Imerovigli Taverna, which was a 5 minute walk from the Astra -- great down-home Greek cooking! Head over there right after the sunset so you can get a seat. Once it fills up, it's an hour wait. Selene in Fira was very nice and the food was the best we had in Greece -- lamb and eggplant was superb, as well as the octopus salad. There were two couples eating their wedding dinner there, which was so sweet. I thought Archipelago in Fira was just so so. Nicolas Taverna in Fira was great for lunch -- very basic little cafe. Make sure to get there by 2:30 or Nicolas will turn you away.

We went to Oia one day for lunch down at the "beach." I say "beach" because it's about 2 feet wide and about 20 feet long -- stones, not sand. You can't lie down unless you go sideways. Some people tried to crunch in, but it's impossible to rest like you usually do at the beach. It's a long walk down to the area, so we took a cab back for a few Euros. We had grilled octopus at Katina's, which was fine. Warning that the fish is very expensive here and everywhere in Greece -- even where the locals eat. It's about $25/pound for a red snapper equivalent, and that includes the bones, skin, and head. Sure, the fish is caught that same day, but we can get that quality here in DC, so that was kind of a disappointment. You'd think fish would be a bargain given how close to the sea the restaurants are. Also, the calamari is almost always frozen, which was a surprise for us -- oh well.

Oia is super cute and charming with more upscale shops than Fira. Many of our best pictures are of Oia. The tourists came piling in for the sunset, so we left and went back to Astra for peace. I'm torn as to whether it would have been better to stay in Oia. On one hand, the town is so special and picturesque, but it was nice being near Fira for the restaurant options at night and for reasonable shopping options. The bus to Oia for a day trip is super easy and inexpensive, although don't look out the window if you're afraid of heights! It would certainly be inconvenient to go to Fira for dinner from Oia. To get a hotel in Oia the same caliber as the Astra would have cost double.

Akrotiri was a disappointment for us. It's just stone blocks that were supposedly two-story businesses and homes. The descriptions are very short, and it's not that big. There are no pots, art, or anything -- it is stripped of everything (not at all like Pompei!). So, I wouldn't make a special trip to there unless you're on the way to the beach and want to stop by for 10 minutes. The black beaches are fine. It gets deep really fast where we were (Perivolos), so I'm not sure how great it would be for little kids (although the waves are minimal). The water was crystal clear -- you could see your shadow on the ocean floor, which was neat.

We just loved Santorini and were sad to leave it behind, but our trip must go on! We took the hydrofoil to Iraklion. Although it was an hour late, it was super nice -- better than an airplane, and we were in Iraklion in 2 hours. We were impressed how easy and comfortable it was.

We were only staying in Iraklion for 1 night and 1 day to see Knossos and the museum. We stayed at the Lato Hotel, which I would highly recommend. It was within walking distance of everything, including the port, the bus station, and the nice pedestrian-only areas of town. We arrived at about 8:30 pm and could see the sign for the Lato from the port. It was so nice to get to our hotel so quickly, drop off our stuff, and go to dinner. The rooms were brand new and stylish and we had a nice terrace with a view of the harbor. It was very very nice for the money. The staff was great too. The only complaint we had was that the mattress was as hard as a brick and squeaked. Note that every single mattresses in Greece turned out to be just a step up from cement (including those at the Astra), so squeaking was the difference between good and bad in our minds.

We went to dinner in the pedestrian-only area. Giovanni's was full and Loukoulos was too fancy, so we went to an Italian restaurant a few doors up from Giovanni's on the same side, which hit the spot after all of the Greek salads we'd been having. It was a really good meal with a nice atmosphere for a reasonable price. That area was surprising to us -- it's kind of like South Beach with all of its trendy shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes for people watching. We really liked the whole atmosphere and would have liked to have stayed another night. Iraklion was a nice city to our surprise (more enjoyable than Athens in many respects). It's not as bad as the guidebooks make it seem.

As far as the sights, if you can, go to the museum first to see all of the artifacts. It's a really good museum (about 5 minute walk from the Lato). They had a great Olympic games exhibit and show tons of pottery, the frescoes from Knossos, etc. It's a fantastic little museum. After the museum, stop by the market and grab something to eat at one of the tavernas nearby. The streets weren't well-marked so we just looked for a taverna where locals were eating. The food was great. We then went to Knossos later in the day, which was great. You pretty much have to get a guide otherwise you won't get near as much out of it. It was very fascinating -- lots of firsts happened with the Minoans. The bus (#2) to and from was super easy -- about 20 minutes.

Around 5:00, we caught a bus to Chania, which was about a 2 1/2-3 hr ride. The bus service is very nice and leaves on the dot, so don't be late. We stayed at the Doma Hotel in Chania, which got such good reviews in several guidebooks. I have to say that we were very disappointed. First of all, they didn't know how to get from the bus station to the hotel. They gave us wrong instructions on how to take a city bus to the hotel (the stop was several blocks away from where they said it would be). Normally we would just take a cab, but we wanted to take a bus because the Doma had emailed me saying that it could cost 100 euros to take a cab there!!! I wasn't 100% sure how far out of town the place was (and was fairly sure that was a mistake), so we tried to take a bus. We got fed up and decided just to ask a cabbie how much it was to the Doma, and it turned out to be only 4 Euros! Ugh! How can a hotel not know how much it costs from the center of town to their hotel or how to get to the hotel by public transportation. The hotel is old but charming -- lots of antiques in an old mansion. Our room was nice and had a great view of the sea, but it was right on a busy (probably the busiest) road in the entire city! It was loud all day and all night. Thank God we had earplugs. It was like a truck was running right through our room all night long. It was the noisiest place I've ever stayed (and I've been all over). So, if you stay here, make sure you get a room off the main road, or don't stay here. I would guess that 1/2 of the rooms are in front right along this busy road. The walk into town was about 20 minutes (although they had said 10 minutes when I booked). Also, the beds we got (my husband and me) were two twins on platforms pushed together, but because of the platforms, there was a decent-sized gap in the middle. Not the best set-up. We should have sacrificed the charm and stayed at the Porto Veneziano right on the harbor. Yes, it's a Best Western, but it's so much more convenient and much quieter along the harbor. Lesson learned: always stay near the part of town you eat and tool around in.

Chania itself is very charming. The harbor area is great for a stroll, shopping, and eating. The back streets of the old harbor are beyond cute -- a lot like streets in towns in Tuscany. If you do go to Chania, I would, in addition to your Frommers guide, bring the Cadogan guide. The restaurant recommendations in that book were superb, whereas the ones in Frommers were just so so (sorry Frommers). I don't have that book in front of me, but there is a recommendation for a restaurant with music at night (on a street starting with a Z I think -- turn left off of Chalidon street right before you hit the main harbor area -- old harbor). The other restaurant was right on the old harbor about a block away from the mosque -- all the locals were here! Antigone (Frommers) was nothing special to be honest (and, like all fish taverns) charged $25/lb for regular fish). Both books recommended the Well of the Turk, but we didn't have time to go there (dinner only). In the end, we enjoyed Chania. There are many beaches around, so if you got bored strolling around, you could always do that.

Next, we flew from Chania to Athens. We took a rental car straight from the airport and drove to Nauplio. The National Highway is excellent! We skipped Corinth because we didn't have time and decided to take the scenic route to Epidaurus en route to Nauplio, which was through the mountains right along the sea -- very beautiful. I was a lot like driving in Tuscany, but much with water views. Epidaurus was impressive, and I would recommend going there.

Nauplio was about 30 minutes away (about 2 hr-2.5 hr drive from Athens airport along the good highway). What a charming town!! We stayed for 2 days, but we could have stayed another day. It was very Italian looking with the red roofs and the landscape (makes sense because the Venetians settled here). The little streets were so picturesque and the people were very very friendly. A huge fortress overlooks the town way way way up above. You can park right along the harbor in town. There is a local beach about a 10 minute walk from the center of town. Its a rocky beach, not sand. The water is refreshing. This is where lots of the older local folk hung out during the day. The water gets deep fast so you are treading water right away. The locals, however, would go in wearing their sunglasses, hats, and fully-done hair and would just tread water with their heads out of the water and talk to their friends for hours and have a great time. The water was very salty, so treading water was super easy. It was funny!

Later that day we went to the Mycenae, which was worth the trip. When you go to the Archeological museum in Athens, you'll see all of the gold, etc. that they found on this site and will be more impressed. It's amazing that they created this citadel on the very top of this hill -- amazing!

In Nauplio, we stayed at the Illion Hotel, which was perfect! The decor was a bit over the top -- like a done up mansion with lots of color, gilding, and murals, but it was fun! It's in the most perfect area of town -- all the best things outside your door. Our room had a view of the old town (red roofs were so pretty) and was huge! You could almost do a cartwheel in the bathroom (my measure of spaciousness). It had a jacuzzi tub and brand new fancy fixtures. It had all of the amenities. The bed was under a canopy with a mural on the ceiling -- very ornate. The best part was that it was only 90 Euros!!! a night (breakfast included). I'm not sure if this was a special, but I think it's not as expensive as Frommers indicates it is. You should at least pop them an email to see what the room rates are. The Illion and the Astra were the two best places we stayed during our whole trip. It really was a treat with fantastic service. Before dinner, we just stayed in our room and sipped wine while chilling out in the jacuzzi tub with the shutters open so we could see the old town and the harbor -- a real treat!

As far as restaurants, we really liked the Hellas right in the square (in Frommers). The lamb in tomato sauce was yummy! The gelateria recommended was as is good as those in Rome. Savouras (in Frommers) was a great fish tavern right in front of the tavern (same $25/lb fish deal). A friend who lives in Greece told me independently of this place and said it's where all of the locals go. We really liked it, and they gave us a free carafe of wine and free dessert! We really enjoyed ourselves there. We ate at the Ta Fanaria, and it was not as good as the other two, but we still liked it. We didn't want to leave Nauplio -- what a pleasant town. I would have loved to spend more time in the Pelopennese. It reminded us a lot of Tuscany and Umbria, just drier and with sea views. It was so beautiful.

We drove back to Athens with the car for our last 2 days. There is a road that goes around Argos, and you should take it but pay attention for the signs for Athens/Corinth -- you have to take a few tiny roads to get to the right road. There are some ruins that start with a "T" I think -- that's about where you turn. We accidentally got off National highway and headed straight towards downtown Athens (instead of going around). FYI: When headed from the Peloponnese to the airport, take the National highway to Elefsina (sp?), not to Athens. The traffic was a nightmare on the "highway" we got on. Traffic jam at noon in the middle of the week -- hate to see it during rush hour! We wiggled our way out of the city onto another "highway" and made it to the airport about 30 minutes later than we could have. We dropped off the car at the airport and got into Athens (rental car was going to Athens anyway so, the car rental place drove us into the city, which was nice). Note that a two-day rental was around $200 euros! We comparison shopped, and that was the rate because we were picking up and dropping off at the airport. We are in our 30's and have lived in DC and Chicago for many years, and I can tell you that I wouldn't want to go in and out of Athens, so in our minds it was worth the extra expense.

The first thing we did in Athens was go to the Acropolis and the Agora-- spectacular!!!! We were not disappointed. It's amazing that they built all of this so high up -- crazy! The next day we went to the Archaeological museum, which was really really good. The walk to the museum was not all that pleasant -- it's just so polluted in Athens (wonder what it was like before the Olympics). The buildings are kind of non-descript and coated with soot and dirt. We also wandered around the Plaka and Syntagma Sq. looking for gifts to bring back. Two days in Athens was enough for me to be honest. We're city folk, but we still thought Athens was a bit harsh for our tastes.

In Athens, we stayed at the Stanley Hotel, which is a modern hotel with a metro stop right there -- one stop northwest of Omonia. It was recommended by a friend and turned out to be a good and convenient place to stay. The neighborhood isn't as charming as the Plaka, but it was really convenient; the breakfast great (nice change to have eggs for breakfast!), and very helpful staff. The metro is amazing -- very fast, clean, and modern. It's probably the nicest in Europe and better than any in the US (including the metro in DC). The only downside was that it closed around midnight, which meant that we had to take a taxi from the Plaka one night (not expensive, but make sure you insist that the cabbie turns on the meter or get out!).

We loved the restaurants we ate at in Athens -- all in Frommers. We ate at Platanos (yummy!!) and Xinos for dinner. Both places were packed with locals and had great food. My Greek friend took us to Xinos and asked the waiter (in Greek) if we could go into the kitchen and look at the food the traditional way. It was neat to peak back there and pick out our food. Xinos has music, which makes it even better. One night we went to the area of the Plaka where all of the rooftop decks are (Mnissikleos). We stopped at one of the recommended ones in Frommers (I think it was Taverna Mostrou). They didn't charge a cover and the prices were reasonable for the location (you're going to pay more given the location). They had live traditional music. We had dessert and wine and chatted with those around us -- all under the lit up Acropolis. It was a fantastic time! Just make sure to see if there's a cover before you go in. There are a bunch of the same types of music places in one spot, so you can shop around.

That's it! We had such a great time. The food was great, the culture interesting, and the people were extremely friendly. It was really safe too. We tried to learn some basic Greek phrases and used them even though virtually everyone we interacted with spoke English (apparently, the Olympics made folks even more conversant in English than before). Our efforts were appreciated. It is a trip we'll remember forever.
kfroddy is offline  
Sep 28th, 2004, 01:45 PM
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I've got Greece on the radar. Thanks for a good report!
offwego is offline  
Sep 28th, 2004, 02:32 PM
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Very helpful, kfroddy! We have tickets for Greece in late spring and booked Santorini first and Athens last but still have to fill in the middle....have been considering Nauplio and now it sounds like a place we'd really like to see.
Judy is offline  
Sep 28th, 2004, 02:40 PM
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Welcome back kfroddy, you make it sound so romantic and inviting.
cigalechanta is offline  
Sep 28th, 2004, 04:22 PM
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FABULOUS trip report - thx for taking the time to post!!!! Glad to read that you enjoyed your trip !!
Debs is offline  
Sep 28th, 2004, 07:31 PM
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we were at the Imerovigli Taverna earlier this month and I agree completely. The ``special'' otopus was amazing. it was a great place.

excellent trip report.
repete is offline  
Sep 29th, 2004, 02:44 PM
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Kfroddy, thank you for your wonderful trip report. It is certainly helpful for those of us planning trips in the near future. IT is hard to make decisions on where to go and how long for - and not vacation at a frenetic pace but actually enjoy the sites!

I have just started planning our Greek adventure and will be heading to Greece for our 20th anniversary.

My itinerary so far is to fly to Athens - we arrive late, so overnight in a hotel close to the airport. Next day take flight to Crete - 4-5 nights pick up car in Heraklion - stay in Chania - Casa Delfino Suites or in Rethymon Palazzino Di Corina. Ferry to Santorini - 5-6 nights, including 3 days on a sailboat if we can work it in and it is not outrageously expensive. We are looking at Honeymoon Petra Villas - they offer sail and stay packages. This hotel is 30 min walk from Fira. Then fly back to Athens for 3 nights.

That is my plan so far and nothing locked in. I am currently figuring out costs etc. We too want a taste of Greece, but don't want to cram in too much. I wanted to visit a few other islands, but don't want to be continually travelling on our vacation.

Again thank you for taking the time to post your report. It is most helpful.
debby_fish is offline  
Sep 29th, 2004, 06:30 PM
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kfroddy,
I'll also second the good review of the athens metro, including the part about it being better than DC's metro (which is a whole new can of worms) and especially the red line these days.

I used it every day for more than three weeks and never had a problem or a delay.
repete is offline  
Sep 30th, 2004, 01:27 AM
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Debby Fish, while not staying at Petra Villas, we did have a good look at them - and thought they were one of the 2-3 most stylish places in Santorini, and more reasonably priced than say Katikies.
Travelnick is offline  
Sep 30th, 2004, 06:26 AM
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Thanks for the feedback Travelnick. I have read positive comments about Petra on Tripadvisor, but what sold me was their sailing/land packages. I enquired about the cost of such last week and am still awaiting a reponse. The cost will be the determining factor for adding the sailing on.

Did you look at Porto Fira Suites? That could be our other choice.
debby_fish is offline  
Sep 30th, 2004, 04:00 PM
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Take a look, too, at Sunny Villas. We took a shot in the dark after some recommendations from friends didn't work out.

It's a small place with friendly staff and clean rooms. Location on the caldera is perfect. The tavernas and Imerovigli shops and bus are an easy walk.

Staff is nice -- friendly but not pampering, which our preference. They upgraded us from a suite to an apartment and when some unexpected booking arose, apologized up and down when we had to ``suffer'' back in a suite.
repete is offline  
Sep 30th, 2004, 08:01 PM
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It's fun to read others reports, it really brings your own holiday back!

I was excited to read your Crete report. My husband and I really enjoyed Iraklion and we stayed at the Lato too. Interestingly, I literally had to fight our travel agent to book us into the city, she kept saying "why would you want to stay there, it's a big, dirty city". I was leery about getting there based on her reaction, but we loved the Lato (especially the breakfast) and we loved strolling the streets of Iraklion. We did eat at Loukovoulos (sp?) and the food was really good (it was my birthday though, so we splurged). Iraklion is a good memory for us too, we watched the semifinal of the Euro 2004 there at one of the outdoor cafes with hundreds of very excited Greeks!

It's nice to hear of others experiences!
PurpleNeon is offline  

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