We'd been planning for the past year to take a trip to Greece for our fifth anniversary, but life is busy, and we never really hammered out a firm plan. We had the dates down, a necessity in this life, and the destinations, and a book ;) I've always wanted to see the Greek island of Santorini, ever since I was a little girl with my childhood encyclopedia set. So we planned to keep it simple: a week in Santorini and a day or two in Athens. But before we knew it, it was here! So, armed with minimal research, our book and a laptop, we set out on our adventure!
We left on Friday, August 19, aka Shannon's 29th birthday, and what a way to celebrate! We got first class seats and toasted the birthday boy with champagne in our cushy spot, giddy with excitement to start our trip off with such luck! One strange thing about this particular first class cabin to Athens - we were surrounded by kids! Quite unusual. And hilarious, and borderline obnoxious. There was, for the record, an adorable little boy, probably four years old, who was very well-behaved. His siblings, on the other hand, were a different story! We counted seven more kids, and yowza! One family was traveling with two nannies. And rightfully so, they were traveling with FIVE kids! The mom was no help, which was hilarious. We snuggled and read and slept, and then we were there!
Saturday, August 20 Day One
We arrived in Athens at 10:30 am, and managed to squeak onto the next connection to Santorini at 11:10! Just barely. It was a smaller plane and just a 30 minute flight, with a great view of the Greek islands! We took the public bus from the Santorini airport to the village of Fira, which is the capital of the island, and which served as our home base for the trip. The bus has a simple schedule, a super cheap fare (1.20 E per person!), and bonus: they were playing Voulez Vouz by ABBA, which was hilarious (because Mamma Mia was filmed here;).
In Santorini, there are no addresses. No street names. People just know where things are. Wow. We miraculously made it to our hotel of choice, which we found online, but didn't book because we were cleared last minute. It's called Tzekos Villas, which Shannon pronounced taziki-oh’s. Ha ha! Finding it involved hiking up and down stairs built into the side of the cliff. Quite an adventure! Unfortunately, when we arrived, they were fully booked. No room at the inn! So, we hopped on the laptop and were lucky enough to find another hotel nearby. Yayyy! And so we hiked through the narrow cliff-side streets full of shops and tourists, dragging our increasingly heavy carry-on luggage, and found the second hotel with no problems. Hurrah! We were treated to a HUGE room, awesome view, and friendly hosts. After settling win, we noticed we were right on the trail up from the bottom of the cliffs. The same trail the donkeys take, much to Mary's delight, jingling their way up all cute-like every 30 min. or so during peak touring time. And Mary ran to the window every time. We rested awhile, a bit grouchy from the travel, and freshened up just in time to head out as the nearby cathedral began ringing its 6pm mass bells. A lovely greeting! We wandered around, stumbling upon a wayward min-pin, thought of taking him home, but thought better. Pet him and let him continue on his way. Missed Riley.
Next, we strolled down the main street, where we literally stumbled upon a greek wedding (!) just as the bride and groom were leaving the church. So we stalked that for awhile, and then noticed the sign for the restaurant we’d chosen for dinner! What luck! And so, we headed down the stairs to Archipelago’s for our inaugural greek dinner, and we were not disappointed! Everything was delicious: Mussels and lamb and rabbit, oh my! We enjoyed the first of many amazing sunsets from our cliff-side table. A perfect first day.
Sunday, August 21 Day Two
On Sunday, we slept until noon! We were greeted soon after waking by a delicious breakfast from our hosts – including, of course, famous and delicious greek yogurt. Mmmmm…. We enjoyed our amazing view before walking down the many, many steps to the bottom of the cliff where we walked around the port, and of course, rode the donkeys back up.
Afterwards (Mary spent a while with the donkeys;), we walked the cliff-side path over to Firostefani and enjoyed a beautiful sunset looking out over the Aegean sea. That evening, we enjoyed yummy leftovers from the night before on our balcony overlooking the caldera, along with delicious local champagne from our hosts.
Monday, August 22 Day Three
Another awesome greek breakfast, at a decent breakfast hour ;) before checking into our next hotel. Unfortunately we were unable to find a hotel that had availability for the duration of our visit (just one of the joys of standby travel! You can't book in advance), but we were fortunate to find lovely places all along our journey. However, when we got to the next hotel, they informed us they were overbooked and moved all our things to their sister property for the day.
After settling things at the hotel, we rode the bus to Oia, which was an ADVENTURE! Bus drivers on the island are equal parts crazy and brave ;) We made it to Oia safe and sound, and walked around the village all day, finding each turn revealed a view even more beautiful than the one before. We strolled all day long, stopping along the way for lunch, popsicles, and drinks, accordingly. Eventually it was time to head to the sunset spot! Oia is famed to have the best sunset on the tiny island. It's in all the books, and posters around the island boast sunset tours to the tiny village. So, we couldn't miss that! We found a great spot looking out over the sea on the tip of the village and settled in. Soon, the crowds began to pour in and before we knew it, it was standing room only! We were squished in to our little seats on the low wall with hundreds of our closest friends. And then, the sun began its descent. It was beautiful and colorful, and awe-inspiring. But, truthfully, not any better than the one we'd witnessed the night before from our cushy seats in Fira! Definitely an experience though, seeing all the crowds. But, lesson learned. We enjoyed the rest of the week's sunsets from the comfort and safety of our gorgeous hotel patio. Yay! :) The bus ride back to Fira was an adventure as well, by the dark of night, seeing us narrowly miss walls and cars, pedestrians and scooters, and animals, only as our headlights caught them just in time to see us squeak by! Hilarious.
Tuesday, August 23 Day Four
We slept in, again, enjoyed a delicious breakfast and laid around by the pool all day (one of the perks of the 'sister' property was the amazing pool and outdoor lounge and terrace. Later, we walked around Fira, ate awesome street food, and checked into our new hotel in time to enjoy a gorgeous sunset on our balcony.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Day Five
On Wednesday, we woke up super early to meet our photographer, Dimitris, for our anniversary photo shoot. When we decided on Santorini, Mary found a photographer to photograph us in this beautiful paradise! He was wonderful, and agreed to meet us at 7 am to capture us in the morning light, and before the heat and crowds set in on the island! Our session included beautiful locations in Fira and Oia, which Dimitiris navigated with expert precision, having shot many wedding and honeymoon couples here. You can view some of our photos on Dimitris' blog, here. He does beautiful work.
After our shoot, we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the caldera with Dimitris and his friend and son, who also acted as his hilarious assistants throughout the shoot, though his ten-year-old son was a bit unenthusiastic about his assignment ;) They were wonderful, and after our early morning shoot, we rested for a while before heading back out.
We took the bus to Kamari Beach, which is famous for its black lava sand. We dipped our toes in the Aegean, hiked around the base of the mountain and saw some ruins and crazy cliff divers. We rode the bus back to our hotel just in time for dinner on our rooftop patio.
On Thursday, we went back to Kamari beach, and after a failed attempt at getting a motorcycle (apparently you need a European license), we rented an ATV for the day, and rode up the paved switch back about 600 meters straight up to ancient Thira. There we toured the ruins of ancient inhabitants dating back to the 9th century BC. Very impressive. After that, we went back down the mountain, and around through Pyrgos to ride up to the top of Mt. Elias (aka Profitis Ilias for the prophet Elijah, named for the monastery at its peak). We enjoyed a 360 degree view of the entire island from our perch - some 956 meters high above Pyrgos. After returning our ATV, we rode the bus back to Fira, showered and freshened up and spent the early evening taking photos during the ‘golden hour’ in Fira before enjoying our last sunset on the Island, and of course visiting the donkeys one more time.
On Friday, we caught a morning flight to Athens, where we toured the Acropolis and the Parthenon. It was amazing to see these ancient grecian structures still standing in modern day Athens, against the backdrop of the metropolitan city. Very cool. After walking around till our feet were aching, we capped off the day with an authentic greek dinner at a café with Hadrian's Library in the background. Lovely!
Saturday, August 27 Day Eight
On Saturday morning, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the terrace of our hotel overlooking the Parthenon before heading to the airport, hoping to beat Hurricane Irene back to JFK. Unfortunately, our one shot had already been canceled due to fears that Hurricane Irene may move faster than anticipated. Sunday's flight was canceled too. We spent all day in the airport, trying other options, but to no avail. We decided to camp out two more days and booked yet another hotel - on the metro line, with a rooftop pool and free wifi - and headed out again, luggage in tow.
Sunday, knowing we had nowhere to be, we had a leisurely day. We slept late, and ordered brunch in our room before spending the better part of the day at the lovely rooftop pool with views of the Acropolis. Shannon worked his magic to find a creative way for us to get home on Monday.
Monday, August 29 Day Ten
Monday morning we woke up bright and early (3:30 am!) to make it to the airport in time to try for a 5:45 flight to Frankfurt to connect home to Atlanta. We made it to Frankfurt (thank you Lufthansa!), but once there couldn't get on the Atlanta flight, so we listed standby for the Detroit flight instead. While waiting in the Frankfurt airport, we were so American - eating pop tarts and drinking coca cola while making fun of the harsh german accents on the loudspeakers. We also made sure our papers were in order. Luckily, we were cleared, first class, for the flight to Detroit from Frankfurt. Hurrah! Once on board, we toasted our good fortune once again, ate, watched a lot of movies and tried not to sleep. We arrived in Detroit and made it onto the second out of three flights we were trying for from Detroit to Atlanta. We arrived back safe and sound at home sweet home by 8 pm (or 3 am Greece time;).
While we found most everyone we encountered very helpful (lots of English speakers, too, which was nice!); we certainly found the rumor true that the Greek hospitality workers are more indifferent than friendly, but they were still helpful in answering our questions and we managed to get everywhere we were going thanks to a little bit of luck and a whole lot of Shannon's excellent travel sense.
Over the course of our trip, we stayed in 5 different hotels, took six plane rides of varying lengths, as well as 8 bus rides, an ATV trek, three train rides and one cab ride, and took over 1,200 photos!!! You can view an abbreviated photo album (promise: it's just over 100 photos) here.
And, we took a few videos while there as well. Enjoy!
PS - The title of this post is ATL-ATH, but as you now know, it should technically read ATL-JFK-ATH-JTR-ATH-FRA-DTW-ATL ;)