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Trip Report: Turkey and Greece trip in May and June 2024

Trip Report: Turkey and Greece trip in May and June 2024

Old Jun 21st, 2024, 08:28 AM
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Trip Report: Turkey and Greece trip in May and June 2024

My husband and I spent four weeks in Turkey and Greece early this summer. The advisors on this forum were so helpful to me in planning, so I wanted to post a trip report in hopes of helping future travelers to these two wonderful countries.

Our itinerary was:

May 15 – 16: travel from North Carolina to JFK to Istanbul
May 16 – 20: Goreme, Cappadocia (hotel: Aydlini Cave Hotel)
May 20 – 24: Istanbul (hotel: Ottoman Hotel Imperial)
May 24 – 27: Nafplio (Aethra boutique rooms)
May 27 – 28: Delfi (Nidimos hotel)
May 28 – 30: Meteora (Doupiani House)
May 30 – June 2: Athens (Philippos Hotel)
June 2 – 6: Sifnos (Hotel Boulis)
June 6 – 7: Pyrgos, Santorini (Aenon Estate 1896)
June 7 – 9: Oia, Santorini (Mystique Luxury Hotel)
June 9: fly from Santorini – Frankfurt
June 10: fly home from Frankfurt to Raleigh/Durham

I have posted reviews of each hotel on TripAdvisor, so I won’t go into detail about hotels here, but happy to answer any questions!

Some highlights:

1. Favorite single event: camel riding at sunrise in Cappadocia with balloons rising all around us

2. Place we would like to explore more: The Peloponnese. We loved Nafplio and, while 2-3 days is enough time in that town, we wanted to spend more time in the Peloponnese

3. Place that surprised us the most: Athens! We knew we would enjoy all the ancient sights, but the city was unexpectedly fabulous.

A few notes:

We loved having 3-4 days at most of our locations. It is so nice not to be rushed and not to feel like you are packing every day. It also gave us a chance to do laundry.

Weather: I agonized over picking the “perfect” time for this trip, wanting early summer weather but fewer tourists. Looking at historical weather averages, I was terrified that Turkey would be cold and rainy and that Greece would not be hot enough for swimming. I didn’t need to worry. We were in Turkey in their Spring which was perfect for hiking (60 – 70 degrees most days), and by the time we got to Greece, it was their summer (80 and sunny, just the way we like it). We had one day of rain in our trip. We seemed to stay two days ahead of the heat-wave through Greece. When we were in Athens, it was 80. The day after we left, it went to 96. Two weeks after we finished our trip, we have been reading about tourists dying of heat stroke in Greece.  I would say that late May / early June is a perfect time to go.

Crowds: Something else I worried about was crowds of tour-groups, especially the cruise-ship mobs. I actually planned our entire trip around a two-day period that there were no large ships in port in Santorini (June 7 and 8). (You can see the port schedule online months in advance). People made fun of me, but it worked!! We had a relatively uncrowded Santorini!! In all of our locations, we went to the major sights first thing in the morning or late afternoon/evening. During the mid-day, we walked around, went for hikes, went out of the city center etc. This strategy worked extremely well for us. We were only bothered by tour-group mobs in three places: part of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, our second day in Meteora, and part of a day in Oia. For me, the crowds/absence of crowds can make or break my experience, so I highly recommend planning in advance.

Packing: This was a four-week trip, covering four very different cultures/weathers/activities, so packing in a carry-on-size suitcase was challenging! I needed jeans & long-sleeved shirts for Cappadocia; long skirts and head-scarves for Istanbul and Meteora; shorts & t-shirts for hiking in Greece; “cute dresses” for touring Athens, Nafplio, and Santorini; and bathing suits! I also took three pairs of shoes: white tennis shoes, which I wore; “nice” flat leather sandals, and water sandals. All in a carry-on. I always pack a foldable duffle bag, so coming home we can bring souvenirs, and we check a bag. We are not as worried about baggage delayed when coming home.

Planning: We used practically all of the Rick Steves Istanbul guide and Greece guide. They were extremely helpful in trip planning, how to get around, strategies for avoiding crowds, and tours of individual sights. We didn’t hire tour guides, but Rick Steves guided us through all of the major sights. I also read the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, Fodors, and my dad’s old Berlitz guide which all helped with planning, but Rick Steves are the books I took on the trip and we used them every day.

On to the report…

We flew to JFK and then took the direct flight to Istanbul. Everything was on time, and Turkish Airlines is very nice – lots of food and drink service etc. BUT, we pack in carry-on rolling suitcases which meet most airlines’ size requirements. Turkish Airlines weighed each bag and made us check our suitcases because they weighed more than 8 KG (significantly more. I think my empty suitcase would weigh 8 KG. Geez!) It was annoying because our bags could easily have fit in the plane’s overhead bin, but our suitcases did arrive in Istanbul on time, so it worked out fine.

Ironically, on the small plane from Istanbul to Kayseri, Turkish Airlines did not weigh our bags and we walked right on to the plane with them. We had 3 hours in Istanbul Airport before our flight to Kayseri. It is a lovely airport with a lending library, wifi, and many shops and restaurants. Our flight to Kayseri was on time and went smoothly, and they had full food and beverage service on the one-hour flight. We had arranged to be picked up at Kayseri Airport with a shared shuttle (our hotel arranged this), and that worked great. It cost 15 Eu for the 1 hour drive.

We arrived at the Aydlini hotel in Goreme around 5:30 PM, in time to find a place for dinner and walk around the town a bit. The town is just what one would imagine: all cobbled streets and little laneways and steps going everywhere. Shops and restaurants and boutique hotels scattered around between / built in to the conical rock outcroppings which are everywhere.

We loved the cave hotel (favorite of the trip) which had the most fabulous breakfast we have ever encountered, and if you got up early, you have a perfect view of the balloons from the hotel’s roof. We loved Goreme and the fact that we could walk everywhere. If we needed to go further, our hotel easily arranged a driver for us. We were there for 3.5 days which was a good amount of time. You could see all the major sights in 2.5 days, but we needed an extra day because my husband is a birder and we spent a day with a bird guide at the Sultan Marsh. He also took us to Derinkuyu underground city, which was awesome. On our other days, we visited the Open Air Museum (loved the Byzantine art!!), did lots of hikes through breath-taking valleys (encountering almost no other tourists), climbed to Uchisar castle, enjoyed looking in the shops, and – the highlight of our entire trip – did a camel ride at sunrise in Red Valley with dozens of balloons rising all around us. I adore camels, which probably helped, but even my husband – who does not share my fondness for camels – says this was the highlight of his trip. Our camel tour was private, and organized for us through the hotel. (90 or 100 Eu each for about 2 hours). All in all, we loved Goreme. I think my husband got tired of hearing me say “I just love it here”.

After four nights in Cappadocia, we were off to Istanbul! We took a shared taxi from our hotel to the Kayseri Airport and then the 1 hour flight to Istanbul. We arranged a private pick-up through our hotel for $75 and more than we wanted to spend, but seemed to be the best option. Istanbul Airport is outside of town, and public transportation is not straight-forward, so we chose the more expensive option. Our hotel, the Ottoman Imperial, was on a quiet pedestrian-only cobbled street, so our driver had to drop us off before the street and then a hotel staff member picked us up in a golf cart and took us the short way to the hotel. We loved our hotel and the staff could not have been more helpful. The breakfast here was also fantastic, and the location perfect for seeing all the sights.

Istanbul is SO MUCH – an “abundance of muchness” as we like to say. So much history, art, culture, religion, sounds, sights, traffic, people, everything.

Things we loved: 1. All the mosques. They are huge and beautiful and EVERYWHERE. One of our highlights was standing in the lovely square between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque when the call the prayer started. The muezzin in the Hagia Sophia started and then the muezzin in the Blue Mosque echoed him. They had lovely voices and it went on for several minutes. It was quite spectacular. I would recommend touring Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, at least.

2. The Byzantine art. We had seen some in Goreme, and enjoyed more here in Istanbul. There is some remaining art in the Hagia Sophia, but if you are interested in Byzantine holy art, it is worth going to the “Chora Church”, which is full of beautiful mosaics. It is a bit hard to find – in part, because they have turned it into a mosque! They left the art alone, but removed the cross and added a minaret…. They also changed the name to Kayire Mosque. You will need to take a taxi and give the driver the name of the Mosque. I think the taxi was 10 Eu. From there, you can also walk to the Old City Walls, which was very cool.

3.The Basilica Cistern was one of our favorite sights in Istanbul. Highly recommend. You should buy ticket in advance online and go first thing in the morning, as soon as it opens.

4. Topkapi Palace. We went right at opening, which was the correct strategy, but we made the mistake of touring the palace “in order” – beginning with the kitchens, treasury, library etc. Instead, we should have gone straight to the “Harem”. I didn’t know it, but this is the “main draw” of the Palace, and by the time we got there, it was PACKED with cruise-ship tour groups. There were HUNDREDS of people marching through there like ants, whereas we had had the rest of the palace virtually to ourselves. SO, go to Topkapi first thing in the morning and go straight to the Harem; then tour the rest. Honestly, the “rest” was more spectacular, and don’t miss the Fourth Courtyard, which looks out onto the water.

5. The Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Market! Be ready for crowds.

Things we liked: 1. Riding the ferry. We did two river crossings: to the Asian side, and to the New City side. The views of Sultanahmet from the ferry and bridge area are fantastic, with all the mosques and Topkapi Palace.

2. Spending time along the Bosporus. We enjoyed walking to the bridge and walking along the river. t was also fun to see all the big boats in the Bosporus. AND, to our surprise, we saw a pod of dolphins!!

3. successfully navigating public transportation. It is possible, but you have to be willing to ask for help and rely on the kindness of strangers (which is something I love about travel). We took the tram and the funicular (as well as the ferry). It was fun!

4.The Asian side. There wasn’t much to “do”, but we are glad we went.

5. the New City. More interesting than the Asian Side, and we enjoyed spending time somewhere that “regular people” hang out, eat, and shop. We also enjoyed walking down Isklal Street, seeing the Revolution Square and eating a meal in a little place that clearly didn’t get a lot of tourists.

Things we didn’t like: 1. The call-to-prayer at 4:20 AM every day. We enjoyed the calls-to-prayer every other time of day, but not that one. And our hotel was right across a laneway from Hagia Sophia, so ear plugs and white noise machine did not help. This is not a complaint. We chose a hotel in this location, and we respect the call to prayer.

2. The touts. Everywhere you go, there is someone trying to sell you something. The constant harassment got to us.

3. The hoards of people. The streets are just packed with people, the tourist sights are packed with people, the public transportation is packed with people, there are people everywhere.

We loved Istanbul for all of its “muchness”, but we are just not “city people” and after 3.5 days, were ready to get out of the crowds. Our next destination – Nafplio in the Peloponnese in Greece – was just the antidote. I will post the Greece part of my trip report in the Greece forum.












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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 09:32 AM
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This sounds like a dream trip, I can't wait to hear about the rest!

Did you notice any/many solo female tourists in Turkey? I spent several days in Istanbul with a friend in 2010 (when Istanbul was popular but not nearly as crowded as you described). I'd love to go back, as well as explore other areas of Turkey like Cappadocia and the Turquoise coast, but I don't have a good sense of how safe that would be for me as a solo traveler.

When I visited the Hagia Sophia I took a picture of this cute little sort-of cross-eyed cat who was sitting reverently on the floor, in a ray of sunshine streaming through the window. Years later, once social media became a thing, I realized that this cat was famous and a regular fixture of the Hagia Sofia. Her name was Gli, and she died in 2020, but apparently she's buried in the Hagia Sophia gardens.

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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 09:43 AM
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Oh my gosh, the cat!! I love that story. I should have thought to mention the cats. They were everywhere. They seemed healthy and well-fed and were very friendly. We had one who lived in the laneway outside of our hotel. He was there every time we left and came back. He had a Persian-cat type face, where his nose was scrunched up, so we named him Grumpy Cat the Greeter, and we loved seeing him every day.

Regarding your question, I might be naive, but I do think it would be entirely safe for a solo female traveler. From what I could tell (and I hope this doesn't give offense to anyone), Istanbul appears to have the kind of muslim culture that is very respectful of women. As long as you cover appropriately (long skirt and head scarf), I don't think you will have any trouble at all. Honestly, it is so crowded that there is virtually no way someone could harm you. There are also police everywhere. Obviously, don't go down dark, empty lane-ways at night. Do beware of pick-pockets, although we didn't have any trouble. And you will have to be very strong-willed to ward off all the touts. Just don't make eye contact and firmly say No Thank You! I do not recall seeing many solo female travelers. Lots of pairs of women. But I still think it would be safe.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 10:05 AM
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Wonderful trip report, Ijturco! I am planning a similar trip now. Looking forward to your Nafplio segment! Thank you!
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 10:54 AM
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Added Trip Report and Greece tags
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 11:14 AM
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Trip Report: Turkey and Greece trip in May and June 2024

This is part of a longer trip report from a Turkey and Greece Trip. The Turkey part of the trip - and all my notes and itinerary - are posted in the Turkey Forum.

We spent 2.5 weeks in Greece, and I am splitting it into two parts. This part covers Nafplio, Delphi, and Meteora....

...On Day 10, we left Istanbul and flew to Athens.Arriving in Athens around noon, we picked up our car at the airport from the Athens Car Rental company (ACR). I really cannot recommend this company enough. They have it down to a fine art. The company rep met us as we exited the airport, holding a sign with my name. He took us straight to the car which was parked right outside the airport, took about 10 minutes doing paperwork, and we were on our way! We had rented a Skoda Scala manual transmission and it was the smoothest manual I have ever driven. It had good acceleration and was the perfect size for us.

We had left Spring weather in Istanbul and arrived in 80 degree summer sun in Greece, so I had to change clothes in the car, which was quite an achievement (and was extremely amusing to my husband)

Our destination for our first day in Greece was Nafplio, but we had some sights to explore first. We drove for about an hour to the Corinth Canal. I read on one of the forums that you have to be careful with your GPS directions, because sometimes, you get routed on the road where you just go over the canal and miss it completely! Make sure you put Korinth canal into your GPS because it takes you a slightly different way where you will drive across the canal and then pull off in a parking lot of a little strip-mall. It is just a quick 10 minute stop for photos, but it is definitely worth it. The water is that incredible Aegean blue, and the canal is SO DEEP.

We drove another 30 minutes to Mycenea – our first truly Ancient Site of the trip. Mycenea was much more extensive and impressive than we had imagined; especially the Tomb of Agamemnon (which is also called Treasury of Atreus). The tomb is a short drive down the road from the main site, but you should definitely go. It is a complete structure and the stone block used for the lintel weighs 120 tons – something like 15 times the weight of the heaviest block in the Egyptian Pyramids. No wonder the folks we tend to think of as the “Ancient Greeks” (Aristotle, Alexander & co) thought that Mycenea had been built by the Cyclops! We were at Mycenea mid-afternoon and there were mercifully no large tour groups there. We spent about two hours there, between the site and the museum (which is definitely worth a visit).

Another 25 minute drive, and we were in Nafplio! As soon as I saw the cobbled, pedestrian-only laneways and bougainvillea, I was in my happy place. We had left the crowds and noise of Istanbul this morning, and this was just the antidote I needed. In Nafplio, assuming you stay in one of the boutique-type hotels, you will need to park your car in a large parking lot along the water and then walk (up to 1 KM, probably) to your hotel. For us this also involved climbing up about 100 steps. My husband carried both suitcases, bless his heart. This was fine for us, but elderly, disabled, or less-fit people should be aware. Our hotel was Aethra Boutique Rooms, and we absolutely loved it with its central location and view of the town, the water, and the fortress.

It was lovely early summer weather for our 3 days in Nafplio. We had cloud-cover one day, so that is the day we chose to climb Palamidi Foretress. It was a good decision, as I would not have enjoyed it as much in the full sun. It is a lot of steps, but my strategy was to climb 100 and have a short rest, climb 100, short rest etc. You do that 10 times and you are at the top! It was worth the climb. The fortress was quite expansive and there is lots to see at the top. Our string of good luck continued with avoiding crowds. We had the castle almost to ourselves for the whole climb and about 30 minutes of exploration, and then a tour group arrived. We were far enough ahead of them that we were able to finish touring the fortress in relative peace.

In Nafplio, we didn’t have to go go go as we had been doing in Istanbul for the past 4 days. It was lovely and relaxing but not boring. In addition to the three castles/fortresses, there are some historical statues, monuments, and buildings, and tons of nice shops and restaurants. We enjoyed buying some worry beads and eating lots of gelato. Just walking around the beautiful lanes full of bougainvillea was enjoyable. There was also a beach within walking distance, which we went to every afternoon. It is a rocky beach, so you need water shoes (or tough feet). There are lounge chairs you can use as long as you buy a drink from the little restaurant/bar.

Thank you to the forum members who talked me into going to Nafplio! I rearranged our itinerary to make it work, and I am SO GLAD I did. I would love to spend more time in the Peloponese.

After three nights in Nafplio, it was time for us to head to Delphi! En route, we stopped at Epidavros. Again, we got lucky, and there were only a couple tour buses there. They moved through quite quickly, so we were able to try the “whisper from the stage and be heard at the very top” (whispering didn’t really work, but speaking in a theatrical voice did). We did not go to the museum, but got back on the road to Delphi. I am so angry at myself. I had planned to stop at the Hosias Lucas monastery and I absolutely forgot!! I adore Byzantine holy art, and I had really been looking forward to it, but on the day, it slipped my mind  Luckily, we had seen lots of Byzantine art in Turkey and would see more later in the trip.

Once we crossed back over the Corinth Canal, the drive became very mountainous and beautiful. A note about driving in Greece: We absolutely LOVED it! A good part of our drive was on a brand new highway (E65) that could not have been open more than a few weeks. It was so smooth and uncrowded. We didn’t have to deal with many side-roads or city traffic, so maybe our experience was unique, but we loved the driving. Also, people in Greece know to stay in the right lane other than passing; something Americans do not seem to understand!

Two more notes about driving: Gas is incredibly expensive! We got the equivalent of 11 gallons of gas for 80 Euros!!! Luckily, we only had to fill up twice and it was a small tank. Also, there are gazillions of toll booths! You need to have a lot of small bills or $1 and $2 Euro coins. I am not complaining. I’m sure all that money helped build the beautiful highway.  Just be aware.

As well as the beautiful scenery, the most exciting thing about our drive to Delphi was that we saw a tortoise crossing the road! About twice the size of our box turtles, it was just lovely. We pulled over to see it safely across the street (specifically, it was a “Marginated Tortoise”; a very large one). The closer we got to Delphi the more stunning the landscape became. For some reason, we hadn’t been expecting it to be so scenic but it was just spectacular! We arrived at the Nidimos hotel around 3:30 and parked in their underground garage (super tiny but so convenient!!). The Nidimos was a lovely hotel and our room had a balcony with the most gorgeous view of the mountains all the way to the water (Gulf of Corinth?).

We had hoped to see either the Delphi site or the museum this afternoon and then see the other in the morning, so we set out to the site. Our good luck followed us and (its being so late in the day; around 4:00 by now), there were no tour groups! The site was much more extensive, impressive, and intact than we had expected. It was really beautiful and there were lovely mountain views all around. We did the quick walk to the Temple of Athene which was also stunning. On our walk back to the hotel (close to 6:00 by now), we stopped by the museum to see their opening hours, and it turned out they stay open until 8:00 PM, so we just popped right in. As with the museum at Mycenea, this one was just fabulous. We are not museum people in general, but Greece seems to be doing it right. Both the Mycenean and Delphi museums were small, well-curated, and well-laid out. They had a limited amount of materials, so you are not overwhelmed and you can really take everything in.

Having seen both the site and the museum in the evening, we did some souvenir shopping in the morning and then left quite early. (there is really nothing else to do in Delphi. One night was the correct amount of time). It was now day 14 of our trip – halfway through – and we were headed to Meteora. Next to camel riding in Cappadocia (which more than fulfilled my dreams), Meteora was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. Those monasteries in the sky!! The Fodor Greece book has an excellent section on Meteora. I wish I had taken it with me because Rick Steves doesn’t cover Meteora, and we really could have used a guidebook when we were at the monasteries.

The drive between Delphi and Meteora was very beautiful (with lots of toll booths) and in just under 3 hours, we were in Kastraki, where we stayed at the lovely Doupiani house. We had hoped to visit one monastery on this day, but since we got such an early start, we were able to visit two. We first had lunch at Boufidis restaurant, which is in walking distance of the hotel, and then we drove to our first monastery! We went to Roussanou first because it wouldn’t be open tomorrow (and was the closest one). I almost couldn’t keep the car on the road, as I was so entranced with the incredible scenery! I cannot even describe what it was like to see those enormous pillars of rock jutting straight up into the sky, with beautiful monasteries on top! If you haven’t seen it, look at a picture online.

I won’t describe each monastery, but we saw two that first afternoon: Roussanou and Varlaan. The scenery as we drove there was just breathtaking, the monasteries themselves were lovely, and the Byzantine art inside the churches was exquisite! Because it was so late in the afternoon, we weren’t as plagued by tour groups as we would be on day 2…

For our second day, we had made a strategic plan of which monastery to see first etc, but when we saw the DOZENS of tour buses lined up, we improvised and just did the best we could. One monastery (I can’t even remember which one) was almost un-seeable because of the huge tour-groups. We count ourselves very lucky that this was only the second time in our trip that we have been bothered by tour-groups (the first being Topkapi Palace in Istanbul). However, two monasteries were not crowded at all. Unsurprisingly, these were the two that were most challenging to get to, both involving some serious stair-climbing. Luckily, we enjoy a physical challenge, so we got to enjoy Holy Trinity and St. Nicholas monasteries in relative peace. The only disappointment was that after we climbed ALL THOSE STAIRS to St. Nicholas, we found out that the actual church part – where the art is – was closed for “soot removal”. This was the one church I REALLY wanted to see because its art work is by a famous 15th century painter. There was no warning or notice anywhere that it was closed (and our hotel person didn’t know), but this is just the way it is in Meteora. I picked out some post-cards of the art, and the very sweet cashier man gave them to me for free because he saw my disappointment.

I am going to go ahead and post this because it is getting too long and I still have 14 days of trip reporting left!!


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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 12:15 PM
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It usually works be better if you keep all the installments of a Trip Report on the same thread . . .
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 12:43 PM
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I agree with janisj that it is better to keep all of your report on the same thread. Makes it easier for people to follow along. I am loving your report. Haven’t been to Turkey yet. Maybe some day. And I love Greece, especially Nafplio and the Peloponnese Peninsula. Hope to return some day.

Looking forward to your Sifnos installment. Would like to include Sifnos in our next trip.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 12:49 PM
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Oh sorry. I thought I had put my Turkey section in the Turkey Forum and my Greece section in the Greece forum. I must have done it wrong! I am planning to put the continuation of my Greece section in this same thread.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 03:21 PM
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You are not alone. A fairly common misconception

There is no 'Turkey forum', or 'Greece Forum' (nor UK or France or Thailand or any other country - well, except for The USA and Canada which each have a forum of their own forums but that's a different issue). All threads on the Europe forum display together on the . . . Europe Forum. One can tag individual countries so people can seearch for a particular place but they are all on the same omnibus Europe board. You can tag a thread for one country or 2 or 25 (I've actually see that 😮 )

Maybe ask the moderators to merge your trip reports??

ps: I'm really enjoying your narrative.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 05:20 AM
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Next installment in my Greece section. One section left after this: SantoriniThe next morning, we had a little time on our hands since we were running about half a day early since Delphi. So we decided to hike to one of the nearby Hermit Caves. We walked through the lovely village of Kastraki, and ultimately arrived at a road that led to the Hermit Cave. There was a tiny church on the ground, and up on the side of the mountain, a cave where a Hermit used to live. Up until recently, tourists could climb a perilous series of hanging ladders to get up to the actual cave. I am quite glad this is no longer allowed, because no doubt we would have done it!

Finally time to hit the road again and head back to Athens, where we would drop the car at the airport before spending a couple days in the great city. The drive was fabulous – again, mostly on the brand new highway; again lots of toll booths. We had given ourselves 4 hours to make the 3 hour drive, and it was a good thing, because as we approached Athens, traffic slowed down tremendously and arrival time on our GPS starting getting later and later. This is to be expected, so I would recommend always building in extra time for Athens traffic. While most of the drive is smooth sailing along the big highway, as you approach the airport, you have to start paying very close attention. I am fortunate that my husband is an excellent navigator (which is why I was driving), and was able to tell me when to switch lanes, move over toward the exit etc, but it would have been very difficult to do on my own. In any case, we got to the airport at exactly the appointed time of 4:00 PM and the ACR guy was right there at the entrance to the parking lot to lift the gate for us. As soon as we parked, another ACR person rushed over and started unloading our luggage. These guys don’t mess around! They quickly inspected the car and it was a good thing we had taken a video at the beginning, because they saw a nick they thought we had made, but our video showed that it had already been there. So, be sure to video your rental car when you pick it up!! I don’t think it took 5 minutes for the car drop-off to be complete.

Then we had a small snafu, which can be a warning for others. The hotel had encouraged us to book pick-up from the airport rather than just flagging down a cab. Well, the pick-up person couldn’t find us and we couldn’t find him, and when we finally found each other, it was just a cab anyway and we had wasted 30 minutes being lost. SO, the lesson is if you are dropping off your rental car at Athens Airport, just grab a cab to your hotel. There are dozens of them.

Riding into the city in the taxi, we saw very clearly why everyone recommends to pick up and drop off your car at the airport and not drive in Athens. The roads are confusing, many of them are one-way, they are not well-marked, and they are incredibly congested. With the taxi driver’s expert navigation, we made it to our hotel – Hotel Philippos. It was on a narrow one-way street about 1.5 blocks from the Acropolis Museum. I have very poor spatial skills, so when I was looking at the Athens map while planning our trip, it seemed that everything was much further away from each other than it actually turned out to be. The main sights are all very close to each other. Our hotel was about a 7-10 minute walk from the Acropolis and the lovely wide pedestrian boulevard that you walk along to get to it (I’m sure this has a name, but I can’t think of it).

We checked into the hotel (which we loved) and headed right toward the main action. As we approached the Acropolis, we noticed a lot of young people (20-somethings, the “cool kids”) all heading towards something. They were heading toward Mars Hill, so we did the same, did a little rock scrabbling, and found ourselves on a lovely hill from which to view the Parthenon during the “golden hour” before sunset. We got some great pictures. I had read about Mars Hill, and had it on my list of places to go, but I thought it was much further away, so this was a lovely surprise.

On our first full day in Athens, we headed straight for the Acropolis Museum (2 mins from our hotel) so that we would be there at opening. It was shockingly un-crowded. I don’t know if this was a fluke or if it is always like that at 9:00 AM, but my advice is go to the Acropolis Museum as soon as it opens!! We seriously had an hour there before any tour groups arrived! There were a handful of families / couples; some with private guides, but no groups. I have a photo of my husband on the “Parthenon Floor” with not a single other person! The groups started to arrive by 10, but we were far enough ahead of them that they didn’t catch us.

This report is too long, so I won’t go in to detail, but the museum is absolutely fabulous. Don’t miss it! It takes about 2 hours. We spent the rest of the morning walking through the lovely neighborhood of Anafiotika, saw the Roman Forum and Hadrian’s Arch, and then went to the Mastriaki district for lunch (gelato). It was a delightful area full of shops, artisans, market stalls, and restaurants.

After lunch, we made our way to the Ancient Agora. Like so many of the sights on this trip, it was much more expansive and impressive and intact than we had imagined it would be. It was still early in the afternoon, so we walked to the Keromikos cemetery. It was amazing! There were beautiful funerary statues and treasures dating back to 1200 BC, some of them in incredible condition. (there is a very small museum that you should not miss).

We had a couple hours of hotel time before the “big event” (well, one of the big events). In keeping with our rule of visiting the big sights very early or late in the day, I had bought tickets for the Acropolis for 5:00 PM. When we got there, I kicked myself for not getting an even later time, but in fact, when we left at 6:30, the line-up was insane. Everyone wanted to be there for sunset, so I think that 5:00 or 5:30 PM are probably among the best times to go. Of course it was still very crowded, but it really was amazing to be on the Acropolis, where the Greats had walked and worked and debated.

Other things we did / saw in Athens included going to the Archaeology Museum (fantastic) and Syntagma Square, seeing the changing of the guards, walking through the Botanical Gardens, walking down Ermou Street, seeing the oldest church in Athens, and then seeing the most important church in the Greek Orthodox faith. That was a really cool experience because they were doing a baptism while we were there. They just let tourists come and go, and they go about their business. The congregation were chit-chatting, the tourists were taking photos, and the priest was waving incense and chanting. It was fabulous.

Our other “big event” came on our last night – unfortunately, it was the night before we had to get up at 5:30 AM to catch a ferry the next day, but nonetheless…. We saw Puccini’s Tosca at the 2,000 year old amphitheater, the Odeus Herodes Atticus. It was part of the annual Athens/Epidaurus arts festival, and was the only show that was on during our trip, so, even though we don’t typically go to the opera, I would have gone to ANYTHING in that 2,000 year old amphitheater. It was absolutely amazing and one of the highlights of our trip. If you are in Athens or Epidaurus in June or July, go to one of the shows!

Day 19 of our trip and we were off to the islands; Sifnos first and then Santorini. I had been worried about the ferry because I get motion sick, but I used my scopolamine patch and the ferry was very big and stable, so I was fine. It was the Seajet Campion jet 2. After a quick stop in Serifos, we made it to Sifnos in 3 hours total. We could not believe how fast and efficient the boarding and disembarkation of the ferry was. It was absolutely incredible the way they approach port, spin 360 degrees while opening the back doors, precisely dock the boat, and have everyone (plus cars) off and then the new batch on again in 10 minutes total. Amazing!

We were staying in Kamares at Hotel Boulis, about 7 minute walk from the port and right on the beach. We were so lucky with the gorgeous weather – 80 and sunny. We stayed in Sifnos for four days, and our plan had been to hike every morning, and then explore the various towns and go to the beach in the afternoons. Our plan got a bit derailed because we just about died of heatstroke on our first hike, from Monastery Chrisopigi to Kastro (3.5 miles) . We are still trying to figure out why it was so hot when the temperature on our phones only read 80 degrees. We routinely go on 5 mile hikes in North Carolina in the summer; we have hiked in the Sumatran jungles and in the Florida Everglades when it was 99 degrees, but have never suffered as much as we did on that Sifnos hike. My husband thinks it was because it was full sun, no shade anywhere, and absolutely no air movement at all. In any case, it was so hot that I stripped down and hiked in my bikini. We had water with us, so that wasn’t the problem. We just couldn’t cool our body temperatures. Anyway, the hike was really scenic and we did enjoy it, and when Kastro came into view, it was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. After climbing up to the town, we plonked down at the first restaurant we came to and each drank a smoothie, a large glass of juice and half a litre of water. We absolutely loved Kastro! It is just the perfect Cycladic town and we couldn’t stop taking pictures. We recovered quickly from our heat issue and walked up to the “Acropolis”. We almost went back to Kastro a second day because it was so lovely.

The heat issue kind of put a damper on our plan to hike every day, but during our remaining 2 days, we had several highlights: We took the bus to Apollonia, walked to Artemonis and back, and rode the bus back to Kamares. Those two towns are absolutely lovely, but the real highlight was that the bus we took back – at 1:30 PM – turned out to be the local school bus!! Kamares is so small that the children go to school in the larger town and the public bus is their school bus. It was so much fun riding with the children! Those are the kinds of moments I love while traveling. We walked to the little church on the hill above Kamares, and we had a great time going on a “Chimney Pot Photo Expedition” of our own devising.

We decided not to go to Platis Yalis or Vathy since the bus connections were too complicated (it not being full season yet, the full bus schedule was not running) and we didn’t really need to go to different beaches since we were perfectly happy with our beach. We also quite enjoyed watching all the boats come into port, and were amazed every single time at the expertise and elegance involved in docking them.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 08:42 AM
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Moderators - could you please merge this thread with the "Turkey Section" of my trip report which I posted separately by accident?
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 09:02 AM
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Great report. Looking forward to more. Definitely want to visit Istanbul, but like you could probably only handle the ‘muchness’ for a few days!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by ljturco
Moderators - could you please merge this thread with the "Turkey Section" of my trip report which I posted separately by accident?

We'll get you through this . . . honest

Moderators can't possibly see every thread/post - if you want to reach them you need to click the little orange triangle 🔺 next to the post which opens a dialog box where you can contact the moderators directly.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 10:41 AM
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Thanks, Janisj! Will do.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 02:52 PM
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Was Sifnos crowded with tourists? I get the impression Sifnos is a less crowded, less touristed island. Is that your impression based on your visit?
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Old Jun 22nd, 2024, 03:45 PM
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Hi Karen,
Sifnos was not crowded at all! The main reasons we chose Sifnos were: 1. not crowded, 2. great hiking, 3. lovely beaches, and 4. charming Greek towns. It delivered on all fronts. I have to say, for us it was almost too quiet - not in the absence of tourists, but there just aren't a lot of "sights" other than the lovely towns. In Kamares, there were mostly European families with children. It really is the ideal place for families because of the long, wide sand beach and the very large shallow bay that is quite warm and un-wavy. When we went to Kastro, Apollonia, and Artemonas, those were not at all crowded. I'm sure it would be more crowded in July or August, but I can't imagine it would ever become too touristy because it is just not that easy to get to. No tour groups or ships there! In hindsight, we probably would have enjoyed Naxos better, but I was just too worried about crowds, and we really wanted a hotel ON the beach that was also IN the town, and Sifnos gave us that. It is a shame that we weren't able to do our planned hiking, because I am sure it would have been a "love" for us if we had.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 04:53 AM
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The last destination of our trip was Santorini. It is so mythologized (and so criticized) that we really didn’t know what to expect. We were dreading the thought of huge tour groups, but definitely looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about! As I mentioned earlier, I planned our whole itinerary around the cruise ship schedule for Santorini. We chose the two days in early June when there were only 1 or 2 small ships in port, rather than the 4 or 5 large cruise ships that are usually there. People laughed at me, but, overall, my strategy worked! I would highly recommend it to other independent travelers. The port schedule is here: https://www.cruisetimetables.com/san...e-jun2024.html

We arrived on the ferry from Sifnos mid-day (3 hours on Champion Jet with a transfer in Milos) and picked up our rental car at the port from MotorInn. The car pick-up went very smoothly, and I highly recommend MotorInn. They made everything incredibly fast and easy for us, and were willing to pick up our car from our hotel in Oia the next day. To get from the port to the rest of the island, you have to drive up the very steep caldera road via a series of about a dozen switch-backs. The traffic was bumper to bumper and there were huge tour buses barreling downhill, so my E-break got a lot of action! Having survived the climb, it was an easy 10 minute drive to Pyrgos, where we spent our first night at the Aenon Estate 1896. Aenon was lovely, but if you stay there, note that there is no reception. You have to communicate with the owner a couple days in advance. Aenon was perfectly located for us to explore Pyrgos.

That first afternoon, we explored the beautiful town with all of its alleyways and stairs (so many stairs!) and remains of an ancient castle, and many churches with blue domes, and fabulous shopping. Upon the recommendations on several travel forums, we had made reservations to have dinner at Metaxi Mas which was just outside of Pyrgos. It was, without a doubt, our best meal in Greece. The location and ambiance were amazing, and the staff were superb. Highly recommend.

The next day was our “less-touristy side of Santorini” day. It was also the only day of our whole trip that we didn’t have breakfast included with our hotel, so we walked up through the lovely Pyrgos again and found a delightful café with a view, where we had delicious cappuccinos and omelets and fruit. We then drove up to Profitas Ilias, the highest point in Santorini. We wanted to hike (there was a breeze in Santorini, so the heat was not stifling) since it is listed as a hike on several of the hiking websites, but I would not classify it as a hike as it is almost all on a paved road with cars, so we drove. Profitas Ilias had a lovely church and beautiful views of the whole island. We then visited Ancient Akrotiri, which was fascinating, the red beach, which was unique, and the Akrotiri lighthouse, which was lovely. We were not bothered by crowds at any of these places (there were some groups at Ancient Akrotiri, but we managed to stay in between them and not get overtaken). After the lighthouse, we drove to Oia, where we stayed at the Mystique Luxury hotel. We parked the car, and the rental car rep came and picked it up. Extremely easy!

The Mystique is not somewhere we would or could ever stay – it is an order of magnitude out of our price range. But a generous friend gave us hotel points which allowed us to stay there for two nights. It was absolutely beautiful, and we enjoyed the infinity pool for about an hour one afternoon. We did not take sufficient advantage of the amenities because we are always out doing stuff! The staff were extremely attentive and helpful, and our suite was beautiful (with large balcony overlooking the caldera, and a hot tub).

Settled at the Mystique, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore Oia. With NO ships in port, it was wonderful! It wasn’t un-crowded, but there were no large groups. We could take all the photos we wanted, there were no lines, no pushing or waiting. It was really just lovely with pedestrian streets paved in white marble and flanked by high-end shops and restaurants. We walked first to the Old Castle, and then just wandered the many alleyways, up and down steps, taking photos of blue domes and windmills to our hearts’ content. It was fantastic and Oia really is a special place. We picked up souvlaki and a large bottle of beer at Pitogyros, and took it back to our beautiful balcony to eat and enjoy our view. We made it an early night because we had an early morning ahead!

We got up at 6:40 for a 7:00 AM bagged breakfast delivery from the hotel, and 7:45 taxi pick-up to take us to Imerovigli, where we began the Fira to Oia hike (we had really wanted to do the whole hike, but we had a 2 PM Catamaran reservation, so we just didn’t have enough time). I think we hiked 4 miles, and it was a real highlight for us (again, there was a breeze, so the hot temp wasn’t a problem). The trail was very un-crowded, and we might have seen 20 people the whole time. Some people do the walk Oia – Fira, but we did it Fira – Oia because the morning sun is at your back going that way, and we wanted to end in Oia where we were staying. Also, I believe the view is better, but I cold certainly be mistaken on that. Despite the breeze, it did get hot pretty quickly. Late into our hike, we passed several people walking the opposite direction, into the sun, starting later in the day. That would have been tough. I would definitely recommend an early morning start, and walking with the sun to your back. Parts of the hike were very scenic, parts not super-scenic, and parts took us past lovely churches (another Profitas Ilias!); one of them perfectly located for a shady rest-stop, a drink and a snack (which we had brought). We met several other hikers here and it was fun sharing stories. Also nice to have someone to take our photo that was not a selfie! The hike was one of the highlights of our time on the islands.

We hiked our way back to Oia and before going to the hotel, we thought we’d stop for just one or two more photos. We hadn’t gotten exactly the blue dome photo we had wanted yesterday. Well, there was one small ship in port today and Oia was just about unbearable. There were lines for all the well-known Instagram photo spots (we didn’t know they were well-known Instagram spots; we were just trying to get a nice photo). At one place, there must have been a hundred people lined up, with the tour guide yelling: “one photo per person! Snap and move along!” UGGGGG. I will not go on my typical rant about cruise ship groups. Suffice it to say we didn’t spend much time in Oia at this point, we were incredibly grateful that we had had yesterday in the beautiful and uncrowded version of Oia, and we wondered what it could possibly be like in July with 5 large ships in port when this was only one small ship!!! It would be like the mosh pit at a Taylor Swift concert! In any case, we had a catamaran cruise to get ready for! We grabbed a quick gelato and headed back to the hotel.

We had booked the catamaran sunset tour with SantoriniSailing. We booked the “deluxe” or “elite” or something-like-that version, that has fewer people and is supposed to be a little fancier than the regular one – just 10 people on our boat. While most reports I read about the cruise were glowing, our feelings were more mixed. Our captain and first mate were terrific; very personable and attentive. It was a very windy day (which means wavy), and three of us were a bit sea sick. Luckily, I had put on my scopolamine patch, so I wasn’t too bad, but the captain was so sweet and invited me to sit with him at the wheel, which can improve sea sickness. It really worked! Also, the dinner they made us was delicious! I think we just had unrealistic expectations for some aspects of the cruise, which was probably my own fault. I had imagined a bigger boat; one where you could walk around on deck, but our boat was small with just enough room to sit in the back or lie on the netting in the front. And I had imagined getting dropped off at a beautiful beach to swim and snorkel. Instead, we saw a couple of interesting beaches from the water, and we got to swim by jumping off the boat, but the swimming wasn’t at a beach and there was no snorkeling (quite possibly because of how wavy it was).

I know people love the catamaran trips, so I would just advise making sure your expectations are in line with reality. After an hour ride back to the hotel from the marina, we got to the hotel around 10 PM.

There were just two more things we still really wanted to do in Santorini. We had not yet seen Fira, and we really wanted to go to the museum of Ancient Thera. Luckily, we had a “bonus” half-day because our flight out left quite late, at 5:00 PM. The hotel allowed us to have a late check-out, so we were able to leave our stuff in the room while we had a morning outing. The hotel offered to get a taxi to take us to and from Fira for 90 Eu, or our other option was the public bus for 5 Eu each. Always enjoying the challenge of public transportation, we opted for the bus! The bus stop in Oia was a bit of a challenge to locate, but we found it in time to catch the 10:30 AM bus to Fira. It was quick and efficient, and we were there by 11:00. We went straight to the museum and there were no tour groups; just a few independent tourists  The museum was small and well laid-out (as we have found all the museums in Greece) and had some really impressive artifacts from Ancient Akrotiri and other sites from the same period (1700 – 3000 BC). It was definitely worthwhile, especially if you have been to Akrotiri and have seen where the treasures come from. Make sure you don’t miss the “basement” exhibit, where they have a whole room full of beautiful frescos from the Akrotiri site.

That left us about 90 minutes to explore Fira before we had to catch the bus back to Oia. We were pleasantly surprised by Fira – it was “more” than we expected. Bigger but also nicer. There were many streets and steps and cobbled lanes, and so many shops! We were sad that we didn’t have more time, as there were still a handful of souvenirs we were hoping to pick up. There was a catholic cathedral and monastery that were quite lovely. We enjoyed walking up high enough where we could look over the caldera and see where the ships come in (one ship in port today), the cable car, and the donkey trail. We didn’t see donkeys carrying anyone – probably the wrong time of day.

The time arrived to catch our bus back, so we hoofed it back toward the bus terminal, enjoying a gelato on the way. The bus station in Fira is much easier to find – it is a large parking lot with many buses. We hopped on right bus and were back in Oia by 2:00, with just enough time to finish packing up and have a relaxing drink before heading to the airport. The hotels really like for people to have at least two hours between hotel departure and flight, so they had us picked up at 3:00 for our 5:30 flight. This was way too early, but better err on the side of caution, I’m sure. The Santorini airport was smaller and had fewer amenities than we had imagined it would. We had hoped to pick up those last minute souvenirs, but the airport shopping was very minimal. Eventually, we got on our plane and said goodbye to beautiful Santorini.

We flew Discover Airline to Frankfurt. I had booked through Lufthansa, and hadn’t realized that the flight wouldn’t be on Lufthansa. Discover was not impressive. On a 4 hour flight that went over dinner time (5:30 – 9:30PM), they did not serve a single thing to eat or drink; not even water. They did allow you the privilege of buying a 7 dollar bag or chips or 4 dollar bottle of water. Not OK. We got to Frankfurt safely, but that is the only positive thing I have to say about Discover. We spent the night at the Frankfurt Airport Marriott (right at the airport) and the next morning, caught our 10:00 AM flight from Frankfurt to Raleigh-Durham. This WAS on Lufthansa and they had fabulous in-flight service. They fed us several meals and all the drinks (incl alcohol) we wanted, so they get an A+. The direct flight from Frankfurt to RDU was brand new the week we took it, and I cannot express how fabulous it was to fly directly to our home airport without having to go through JFK or Atlanta or any of the other hellish US East Coast airports! We have Global Entry, so we literally walked off the plane, up to a facial scanning machine, and then to an immigration officer who said, “Ms. Laura, Mr. Jeff, welcome home. You’re done”. And that was it. Our Turkey and Greece Odyssey was over. Now time to get this report posted and work on my photos. What a fabulous trip!

Sorry it was so long. Happy to answer questions!!
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 01:03 PM
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I think you were really smart to plan your itinerary in Santorini around the cruise ship schedule. Just one of them can hold 4000 passengers! How far in advance were you able to see the schedule?
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 02:01 PM
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Thanks, Francebound! It might have been as early as 6 months out; definitely by 4. They set the schedules really far in advance, especially for the big cruise lines. I like to get my itinerary set really early! I would definitely start checking 6 months out and then just keep your eye on it in case they add ships.
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