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Preliminary planning -- a month in Greece

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Preliminary planning -- a month in Greece

Old Dec 23rd, 2016, 09:50 PM
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kja
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Preliminary planning -- a month in Greece

I am at the very earliest stages of planning a month-long trip to Greece for May / into June of 2017. I’ve taken a preliminary glance through my stack of guidebooks and have begun taking a detailed look at the various trip reports and planning threads that so many Fodorites have posted and to which Fodorites have so generously contributed, and I will continue to examine these sources. In the meantime, I’d like to take advantage of your expertise to get input sooner, rather than later, on some very rough ideas, as I know I can do little more than scratch the surface with the time I have.

Potentially relevant information about me:
• I’m a woman with reasonably extensive experience as a solo, independent traveler.
• Wherever I go, I seek to maximize the diversity of my experiences -- cities and towns, different styles of art and architecture, varied natural scenery, etc….
• I typically enjoy art, architecture, museums, religious sanctuaries, remnants of ancient civilizations, parks and gardens, natural scenery, an occasional and not very challenging hike here and there, markets (for their atmosphere, not for shopping), picturesque villages, folk traditions, the chance to see and experience other parts of the world, and delicious foods and beverages.
• I am not a beach person, but would like at least one sunset walk somewhere in Greece.
• I am not interested in clubbing or nightlife.
• I am not looking to relax -- I’m sure I’ll find time for that over meals. Instead, I want to take full advantage of every available moment to see and do things that I can’t do anywhere else. And I travel HARD – up and out after breakfast with no breaks, as a rule, until there is literally nothing else that I can see or do that day. Then I linger over dinner and take a last long walk before turning in. (No criticism intended of other travel styles – I’m just describing mine.)
• I am unlike many Fodorites in that I strongly prefer one-night stays that allow me to move forward rather than backtracking to a base city.
• I am willing to rent a car when it contributes substantially to what I can do and experience, but I prefer using public transportation when I can.
• I haven’t been to Greece before (though I have been awed by the Greek ruins I’ve seen in southern Italy and western Turkey).
• I have Pimsleur’s Greek audio lessons, but haven’t begun using them yet. I don’t expect to be able to speak Greek by the time I go, but I have a strong preference to be able to be civil and to recognize, or be able to draw upon, a word here or there. I will definitely learn to transliterate from the Greek alphabet to Roman characters before going.
• I think of an itinerary as a guideline, not a checklist or set of rules.

The very rough plan I am considering is:
• Fly “straight” to Santorini or elsewhere in the Cyclades. The islands that seem most interesting to me from what I’ve learned so far are Naxos and Delos (I have a LOT more to learn!), and much as I have disliked heavily touristed cruise destinations elsewhere, I can’t imagine not seeing Santorini. (I might find it a good place to recover from jet lag before a sunset meal and a departure as soon as the next day.) Spend 3 or 4 nights in the Cyclades….
• About a week in Crete.
• About a week in the Peloponnese.
• About a week to make my way north. Delphi, Meteora, and Thessaloniki are high on my list of priorities (if negotiable at all); a day or two at the Prespa Lakes with an overnight near Ohrid (yes, I know that’s not in Greece) would be very much to my liking.
• End with 3 or 4 days in Athens.

My primary question at this time is whether this very rough plan seems potentially do-able? If not, what major adjustments to you think are needed? I welcome recommendations on particularly useful resources, tips about unusual events or circumstances, etc. – anything that will help my as I study, plan, and prioritize.

Two much more specific questions:

1. I would love to attend a performance of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, but haven’t found any information about the 2017 dates. Some of my guidebooks say it starts in mid-May; others say it starts in June; at least one says mid-June. Because I have some latitude about when, exactly, I take my trip, I would like to include it – but I can’t wait too long to commit to specific dates. Any insights will be much appreciated!

2. I’m seeing at least two versions of the spelling of place names – what are the governing conventions?

Feel free to offer other thoughts, too!

Thanks in advance for your responses to this thread, and to the ones to follow as I form a more coherent plan.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2016, 11:32 PM
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Fly to Crete (Chania) instead of Santorini. Then you can progress from there to Santorini, Naxos, and Mykonos (for Delos) following the ferry routes without backtracking. There are daily ferries on these routes, so you will have no problem getting to where you want to go. Book the ferries when you get to Greece, as they won't be full in May or early June.

Some will recommend doing a day trip from Naxos to Delos/Mykonos, but I would discourage you from doing that. The day trip is a long 10 hours, about half of it at sea on a small boat, and you get only a few hours on Delos.

Mykonos is very quiet in May, far too early for the clubbing that occurs in mid-summer. Delos is only 30 minutes by excursion boat from the Mykonos old harbour, and there are several each day, so you can choose how long you wish to stay at the archeological site. I recommend taking an early boat, which will get you to Delos before the day trippers. These photos of Delos were taken in early morning on a day in June: https://www.flickr.com/photos/heimda...57627791957268

If you follow the progression in my first paragraph, it will be easy to get back to the mainland by flight or ferry. Ferries from Mykonos arrive at both Athens ports, Piraeus and Rafina, and there are several flights each day. One idea that seems to work well is to fly to Athens, then rent a car for your trip to the Peloponnese, which has many important archeological sites.

From the Peloponnese you could continue on by car to Delphi and northern Greece, or return to Athens and switch to public transport. I will let others with more knowledge of the mainland advise you of that part of your trip.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2016, 11:38 PM
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I envy you your trip. It's many years since we visited Greece but we absolutely loved it (spent about 5-6 months there over a few trips). It is purely subjective but I would skip Crete this trip and divide that time between the Peloponnese and northern Greece. If you can find time for Epirus and/or Pelion then I would do so. Perhaps divide your time equally between the islands, Peloponnese and northern Greece?

Spelling into Roman letters seemed to us to be rather random but perhaps there's something of which we were not aware. For example, Bs and Vs seemed to be a little interchangeable and sometimes Ss were added or left off names. If I remember correctly sometimes an N would substitute for an S at the end of a place name but I might be remembering that incorrectly. 'Volos' for example, seemed to have several different spellings.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2016, 11:40 PM
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ps. May/June is usually perfect weather and the wildflowers are beautiful.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 12:15 AM
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OMG, responses so soon – and such helpful ones!

@ Heimdall: What a wonderful suggestion for re-routing! I will definitely look into that. And thanks so much for the glorious photos! Are those two different mosaics with wings above felines? So unusual -- IME. Thanks so much!

@ dreamon: I’m so glad you think that May/ June is a good time , and thanks for the comments on lettering and sounds. But skip Crete? Wow! I’ll definitely have to give that idea some thought. I must admit that I liked the idea of including Minoan sites in my itinerary – I think seeing them (and other sites on Crete) would add to the diversity of my experiences. But I am trying to fit a lot in, and I’ll experience a lot of diversity no matter what I choose, and I do appreciate the suggestion for one way to trim…. One of my guidebooks described Pelion as similar to Tuscany – does that comparison make sense to you? What are the aspects of Epirus and Pelion that most appealed to you, and that would lead you to suggest including them at the cost of time in Crete?
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 12:54 AM
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To help with place names & spellings: The letter Β/β in Greek is pronounced V, hence the confusion, also note the letter P is in fact the Greek R! They are the main 2 letters that lead to mispronounciation
You will see variations on place names, don't worry about the endings, just make sure the bulk of the name matches where you want to go! The variations are something I still get wrong at times, it depends on context etc, but no one worries about it, as long as they know where you mean
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 01:10 AM
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@ yiassas: Thanks -- that helps! I became suspicious of at least one of the rules you mentioned when I began to think that Vasses and Bassae might be the same place (the location of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo). Unfortunately, I often organize my notes alphabetically, so I think I'm going to have to come up with a different strategy. At least I now know to check and recheck everything that I think has one of the letter you identify in it -- many thanks!
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 01:14 AM
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Crete is wonderful and if you have an interest in archaeology then perhaps it might suit you better. For me, one of the best things about many of the Greek archaeological sites is their siting amid stunning scenery, Delphi in particular. If time permitted, spending more than a week on Crete would be great.

I have never thought to draw a parallel between Pelion and Tuscany but I suppose it does have some similarities to the Garfagnana region on north west Tuscany. I love rural environments and especially the mountains. I also have a passion for stone buildings, especially homes. Epirus is more rugged and wild, I thought, than Pelion. Both areas are beautiful but there are not so many 'sights' to see: it's more just exploring, hiking and being lazy. However, those are my interests and perhaps not yours. You did mention Ohrid and Lake Prespa so there are some logistical advantages in northern Greece over Crete. As for the Peloponnese, there is so much to see that having more time there would be very appealing I think.

The good thing is that there are no wrong choices here! Certainly, I don't think you would regret visiting Crete as it's also wonderful.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 01:16 AM
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Remembering that it's donkey's years since I've been to Greece so things will have changed a lot. But then, there was no public transport to Bassae. We hitched a lift from town.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 01:40 AM
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@ dreamon: Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts – you are providing exactly the kind of input I want at this stage, before I actually commit to anything!

IMO, the Greeks definitely knew how to site a temple -- location, location, location! I have yet to visit a Greek ruin that disappointed from a scenery perspective.

(Have you ever been to Puglia? With an interest in stone buildings, you might find it worth visiting some day, if you haven’t already done so. That region's "trulli" -- made of stone -- are intriguing, IMO.)
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 02:04 AM
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I think your itinerary sounds terrific. What I would give to go to Greece next year...

May into June is the best time. Not too crowded, not too hot, the weather is nice. Heimdall gave excellent advises about Greece, as usual. I have nothing to add, except some small things:

If you go to the Acropolis in Athens, you might check the outdoor cinema next to it (Thision). IMO watching a movie in the summer breeze, under Acropolis's shadow, is a rare experience. Others might say that Athens has much better things to offer than that, but if you look for diversity of experiences then it fits. Thision, and the warmth of Greek people, has enhanced my good feeling about Athens to another level. Buy the movie ticket at least 2h before screening time, find your seat 20 mins before screening time, and you might even choose a small table next to you to put your picnic meal on it while watching the movie.

If you takes bus in Greece, be aware that its front screen displays its original station first, then its destination. Not like bus in France (for example) which displays its destination first. I confused it once, took the opposite bus and nearly missed my flight.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 03:09 AM
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Hi kja,

The two photos of the leopard are from the same mosiac in the House of Dionysus. What you may have noticed from the photos is the complete lack of other tourists, except at the theatre. The way I achieved this this was by taking the 9 am boat from Mykonos, then going in the opposite direction of the route marked on the maps. That way I got to the mosaics, which are all in the same section of the site, before anyone else arrived. That allowed me to get the photos without pushing and shoving from other tourists, or shadows of people that would have spoiled the photos.

Had I waited to take a guided tour I wouldn't have been able to get those unspoiled photos. There are many advantages to a guided tour, though. If you have enough time on Mykonos you could do both: first take a guided tour, then come back again on your own to see things in more detail. You could take a packed lunch to the top of Mt Kynthos (a fairly easy climb up a path) and enjoy a stunning panorama of the site and nearby islands while eating.

One of the problems with spelling is that some letters in Greek don't have exact English equivalents. The Greek letter Φ can be either an f or a ph, for example. The island of Λέσβος is often spelled "Lesbos" in English, but is more properly spelled and pronounced "Lesvos". With the guidebooks, although Rough Guides is often considered better, I've found that Lonely Planet uses more conventional English spellings.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 08:49 AM
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Study the Greek alphabet; it will be very helpful. We have spent several month long, once six weeks, in Greece.
The Peloponnesean Pen. has incredible antiquities sites. Make sure to also include Mystras and Olympia which many travelers skip. Napflio is a lovely small city with good access to the Mycenae and Epidaurus
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 09:01 AM
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@ FuryFluffy: A movie at the Thision sounds delightful – thanks! And special thanks for the tip about the buses. ;-)

@ Heimdall: What a great approach to touring Delos! You certainly did get some excellent photographs.

@ HappyTrvlr: Although I have a lot of planning yet to do, I suspect I’ll spend a few nights in Napflio, and a visit to Mystras is definitely high on my wish list. Thanks!
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 09:04 AM
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I'm going to differ with Heimdall a bit on the specifics of getting to Delos in May. I was there in May two years ago, and the boat to Delos only went once a day, around 10:00, for a 3-hour stay. I got more time by going twice, but I still would have liked more time. It was very very windy (the boats were going the first day I was on Mykonos, but I decided not to go - good decision, as it was tough even the next day when it was about half as windy). I don't know if the boat went less often because of the wind or the season or because there weren't any cruise boats in port. Delos was so impressive, I will probably end up returning to Mykonos again when I next go to Greece so I can make another trip or two - and I have no interest in Mykonos itself. I was lucky that there was only a cruise ship in port the last day of my stay, and I was on Delos all that morning and then left for Santorini, so I didn't have to deal with the cruise crowds at all.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 09:10 AM
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@ artnsletters: Thanks for that warning! It confirms my impression that I'll need to approach this trip with a great deal of flexibility, whether because of the weather or unexpected closures or whatever....
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 09:48 AM
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I will add that Mykonos was windy and COLD. Everywhere else I went the weather was moderate to warm to hot, but Mykonos was out and out cold with a cutting wind, so bring layers.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 09:58 AM
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@ artnsletters: I'll make sure to put layers on my packing list - thanks!
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 12:10 PM
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"I'm going to differ with Heimdall a bit on the specifics of getting to Delos in May. I was there in May two years ago, and the boat to Delos only went once a day, around 10:00, for a 3-hour stay."

There is a big difference between early May and late May on the Greek Islands. Both times I visited Delos, once in late May and once in early June, there were three daily boats from Mykonos harbour: 9am, 10am, and 11am, the last one returning to Mykonos at about 3pm. I understand, since then, the hours for Delos have been extended to later in the afternoon, confirmed by this Ministry of Culture page: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh355.jsp?obj_id=2371

"I will add that Mykonos was windy and COLD. Everywhere else I went the weather was moderate to warm to hot, but Mykonos was out and out cold with a cutting wind, so bring layers."

What artsnletters experienced was a day to day fluctuation in temperatures when moving from one island to another. It won't be warm on Santorini and cold on Mykonos on the same day, for example. What is true is that temperatures are lower in the Cyclades than on the mainland due to prevailing northerly winds. These winds, known as the Meltemi, are strongest in the northern Cyclades islands, e.g. Andros, Tinos, and Mykonos. It is a good idea to have a jacket and maybe a sweater in May and early June wherever you are in Greece.
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Old Dec 24th, 2016, 12:25 PM
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@ Heimdall: Is that an argument for starting my trip a bit later rather than a bit earlier? If I put Crete first, the earliest I would likely visit Delos would be sometime during the 2nd week of May, but I can probably leave a week or two later....
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