Trip Report- DC Dulles to Greece

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Aug 15th, 2010, 04:42 PM
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Trip Report- DC Dulles to Greece

As many of you know, this was our 30th anniversary trip and there were some splurges. We arrived in Athens via USAIR, collected our bags, went through passport control, and boarded a 45-minute flight on Aegean Air to Santorini, where we met a pre-arranged driver to take us to our hotel, the Belvedere in Firostefani, close to Fira with a stop on the Fira- Oia bus line. I highly recommend the bus, by the way. It’s cheap and goes everywhere. The drivers all seem to speak some English too.

Part One, Santorini

Re: Our hotel in Santorini, the Belvedere, I think the Belvedere has one of the best locations and views on the island, plus they have friendly staff and a great pool area (overlooking the Caldera, which was very pleasant). Easy walk to Fira. The biggest problem is that they need to update the rooms. The Belvedere is rated as a four star hotel, but has old furniture and rust spots on the fridge and in the bathroom. Some of the linens seemed a bit threadbare too. Our rooms, however, were well cleaned every day. We did meet some lovely people there among the other guests and the breakfast buffet was good. Recommend only with full disclosure of both pros and cons.

We partook of a couple of recommended activities during our time on Santorini between trips to Oia and Fira as follows:

Re: Santorini Sailing/Blue Lagoon Cruises: We took the sunset cruise (lasted from our pickup at about 3PM until around 9 that night) and Captain Ted (the owner) was our skipper. Ted took the time to explain the turbulent geological past of the island as we sailed around it, and other interesting features. The swim stops, Captain Ted's funny banter, the super Greek BBQ, and the sailing route were all great! We had a wonderful t time. He costs a little more, but you will be glad you took this cruise! The charge was 150 euros p.p. Other outfits charge 140 euros for the same type of package, but I wanted this guy because he’s recommended by Samantha Brown and Giada Laurentis. We considered this cruise the highlight of our time in Santorini.

Re: Santorini Wine Tours: Our guide, Vaios, is a sommelier who seems to know his wines, and we visited three vineyards on the island. In addition to the tastings, we went out into a vineyard, while he explained how the soil composition and dry climate contributed to the tastes of the wines. We also visited Pyrgos, a lovely town. Afterwards we sort of floated to dinner.

Restaurants we visited on Santorini included LIthos (moderate, in Fira on the caldera), Mama Thira in Firostefani (inexpensive), a pizzeria in Firostefani across from the Blue Lagoon office on the main street there (good thin crust pizzas and cheap) and Sphinx in Fira near the Atlantic Hotel and orthodox cathedral (expensive but worth it).

Finally, Santorini is just beautiful and its famous sunsets are worth seeing. Santorini looks just like the postcards, all sunny, with lots of blue and white everywhere. I especially loved Oia.

Part Two- The Harmony G on Variety Cruises

After four days on lovely Santorini, we hopped back to Athens via Aegean Air and taxied to our ship, the Harmony G in the Marina Zeas in Santorini. We enjoyed our cruise tremendously. There were about 40 passengers total, plus the staff, and we met people from all over the world. Our bunch included an extended family from Texas (lots of fun), a group of Aussies, an elderly German couple, a honeymooning couple from Barcelona (we hung out with them a lot), a French family with two little girls, and a NY couple with their son, daughter in law, and grandkids. The guy in this latter group complained constantly. I found out later that he had not fully checked out this type of cruise; I am always baffled by people who don’t look into things when they’re spending thousands of dollars and weeks of precious vacation time.

Our cabins were well appointed and cleaned twice a day. We had Cabin 304, which was the most expensive level, with a queen bed and jacuzzi tub. It was nice but simple and kept spotless by the cleaning staff. We also took advantage of the laundry service for a few pieces of clothing. They do turndown service at dinner too. Our cruise included two meals a day, breakfast (a buffet) with either lunch or dinner depending on the plan for the day. Cuisine was consistently excellent, and much of it was Greek. The crew provided a daily one page newsletter which informed us of the upcoming island, any special activities, which meals would be on board, and optional excursions and suggestions for local activities. We saw every island on the itinerary, but not in the originally planned order due to the meltimes winds on the Aegean. We enjoyed several swim and snorkeling stops between the islands, and then enjoyed a BBQ lunch on the ship. The staff, mainly Ukrainian, really knocked themselves out to please us, and were consistently cheerful and helpful. Islands we visited included Mykonos, Patmos, Amorgos, Samos, Santorini, I was glad we had a mix of the more famous tourist islands and a couple of lovely places which were less well known to non Greeks. We also had a long stop in Kusadasi in Turkey to visit Ephesus and shop the grand bazaar.

We took two excursions. The Patmos excursion was good and detailed. Our guide was quite informative. We loved the monastery museum associated with the famous Apocalypse Cave. The Ephesus excursion in Turkey was also good while we were in Ephesus. The problem was that they tack on a trip to a rug factory at the end. I was disappointed we did not see Mary's House instead, as were some other folks, but I would not miss Ephesus for anything. You really find out how truly advanced the Romans were at the height of their civilization in ancient times, such as running water in homes. It also meant alot to me to walk the main street which had also borne Cleopatra and Mark Antony as well as Sts. Paul and John. Although the rug factory tour was pleasant, and the facility trains rug weavers, I would have rather seen Mary's House. The rug people did not pressure anyone if they did not want to buy a rug. We bought one and got an excellent deal.

A few notes about small boat cruises based on the Harmony G:

Costs for drinks depends on your consumption habits. If you usually have wine and beer with dinner and perhaps a mid afternoon cocktail, I would budget about $20-$25 per day for two people; that part of the trip is not cheap.Tipping depends on your satisfaction. They recommend $50- $80 per person for the cruise. We gave them $150 for the two of us. The boat was lovely and well kept, but does not have the amenities of a large cruise ship--- there are no spas, shops, casinos, etc. What it does have is more time on the islands without wasting lots of precious time waiting to board tenders, etc. to get onto an island like the big ships.

I had mixed feelings about the cruise coordinator who set up excursions. I don't think she was the regular person; she was knowledgeable, but not open to suggestions, and that was a problem for some of us. At the end of the cruise on the last night, we were docked in Piraeus, the port area of Athens and were going out for dinner that evening. There was no list of recommended restaurants open for dinner nearby, and the coordinator did not seem amenable to recommending any. This would not be a problem except that most of the port area places are either bars, coffee places, or only open for breakfast and lunch for the port workers. I am writing Variety Cruises about this situation. Perhaps they'll fix this by the time any of you cruise with them.

But if you're like most of us who were on the Harmony G you will likely love it.

Part Three- Athens

We stayed at the Athens Ledra Marriott Hotel, about 3km from the Plaka, and used our Marriott points to stay there for two nights. Just as the first four days in Santorini were our transition to Greece, this was our gradual transition back to the US. This Marriott is very comfortable, spotless, etc. The front desk folks were very well trained and immediately made reservations for our anniversary dinner at Orizontes. They run a shuttle to the Plaka regularly at one euro per passenger. The highlight of our hotel stay, however, was the rooftop pool and bar, with a great view of the Acropolis.

Our package included a tour of Athens (from Go Tours), which was nothing special. DH and I climbed the Acropolis ourselves, and then partook of the new Acropolis Museum, which was fascinating to us for all the antiquities there. I cannot recommend this enough. When they were digging to start construction of the museum, the workers found ancient houses. So parts of the floors are clear plexiglas supported by steel beams. You can look below your feet and see the archaeologists working on the old houses below. Afterwards we shopped on the Plaka for some gifts, and a visit to the Folk Art Museum, which is full of traditional costumes and crafts. We then headed to the pool at the Marriott.

We loved Orizontes for our anniversary dinner! Thank you Brotherlee Love for the great recommendation! The restaurant is located on the highest hill in Athens and has a small and very pretty orthodox church next to it. We took the cable car up to the restaurant and were seated at a great table outside on the rooftop. All of Athens was at our feet, it seemed. Just before the lovely sunset we could see the islands in the distance in the bay; when the sun went down all of the city turned on its lights! We looked down at the lit up Acropolis and Parthenon as well as other landmarks like the old Olympic stadium.

But Orizontes was not just about the ambiance and views; service and food were excellent. My husband raved about his leg of lamb, and I enjoyed my grouper with a nest of vegetables. They also do things like give you a small flute of mint sorbet between courses to cleanse the palate. We shared a good bottle of wine, and ordered appetizers, main courses, and desserts. The bill came to 155 euros total; not cheap, but a good value considering what we saw while up there, and they did not rush us at all through the meal. It was all very romantic, and my husband loved it. Orizontes was the perfect restaurant to celebrate a big anniversary.

In summary, we loved our holiday in Greece. There were few disappointments--- a taxi driver who ripped us off in Athens, the dirt and grafitti all over Athens and not seeing Mary’s House in Ephesus. I also loved the buoyancy of the Aegean when we went swimming and snorkeling, which was a happy surprise. Santorini was a magical island in which to relax and enjoy its specialties. The cruise took us to many places in a leisurely and luxurious way. Finally we enjoyed the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis in Athens very much. We enjoyed being with the warm and friendly Greek people too. Greece was everything I hoped it would be, and more.

Thank you all on this board for your suggestions and recommendations; they helped us a lot to better enjoy this special trip. Special thanks to Brotherlee Love and TravelerJan.


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