A Travellerspoint blog

Greece

Santorini, Paros and Mykonos

Fun in the Sun

sunny 30 °C

Santorini is built on the rim of a volcano overlooking a caldera. Even though we sort of, kind of knew what a caldera was it never hurts to double check. For the rest of you who are also not sure, a caldera is a “large, basinlike depression resulting from the explosion or collapse of a volcano”. Just what we thought but it never hurts to clarify. Lonely Planet advises, on arrival into Santorini, to catch a big open air ferry to receive the most spectacular view of the caldera. However the ferry we caught depended more on budget so we were on the speedy one that was all enclosed. This did not lessen our amazement at the sight of the caldera as we coasted into the port. The sheer cliffs that drop straight into the ocean with their tinges of red and pinks strewn through the rock, give way to the crystal clear waters of the Aegean. You can still tell the outline of the still active (no its not extinct) volcano with the rim almost apparent the whole way around. Along with the truckloads of other eager tourists we nudged (okay pushed) our way onto the shuttle bus and gripped the seats tightly as the bus wove its way up the windiest, narrowest, most gut-wrenching road I have ever been on to drop us off at the bus stop where we then proceeded to board another bus.

We had emailed our hotel previously to ask for directions (remember the 5 P’s) and knew exactly what we were doing. After disembarking off our second bus we then had to walk downhill, lugging 25kg of luggage, praying to God it wouldn’t roll away, dodging traffic to reach our hotel. Angeliki greeted us and showed us to our awesomely located room. We were staying in Firostefani which is the next ‘village’ from Fira (Thira). Fira is the main hub and has the hustle and bustle of all those monster cruise shippers every day. Our hotel was a 400m walk from the hub and even better, we had a room with an ocean view. Before you ask, we didn’t have a view of the caldera because you would have to sacrifice an organ for that but a view of the other side of the island. The first thing to do was to view the caldera from the top so into Fira we went. For those of you who have been to Santorini you understand what I am about to say, for those of you who haven’t….pay attention.
Viewing the caldera from the white and blue of the village is enough to bring a tear to your eye. The absolute and utter beauty and natural wonder lets you know that you must be standing in one of, if not the most beautiful place on earth. Look to your left and you see the escalator of white cubist residences scattered down the hillside with bumpy, lumpy winding paths leading you in, out and around. Beyond them is the endless blue of the ocean until it meets the light haze on the distant horizon. An endless blue sky as far as the eye can see with not a cloud in sight. Look to your right and you see more of the same but with a whole different score of shadows lighting them. The buses and boats down at the old port look like nothing more than toys as they scurry around at the water’s edge. Donkeys ramble up the path of 570 steps, ferrying tourists up and down all day with their donkey bells jangling with every step.
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Then comes sunset……this is when you look straight ahead. Santorini is famous for its sunsets and now I know why. Bars, restaurants, cafes and even the village edge become crammed with people happy to stand for an hour or so to watch the day end. If you can grab a seat then you’re one of the lucky ones. The sun taunts you with its slow descent into the haze. Every few minutes the sky changes colour and the shades of blue begin to change to pinks, reds and oranges. The days we were there, there were no clouds and the colours would radiate straight out along the horizon like spilt paint following a crack in the concrete. All of a sudden it begins to disappear behind the island in the middle of the caldera and then within moments it is gone. It has become sick of teasing us and just wants to go to bed. What amazes me is that something that happens every single day in our life as we are rushing around to do all our ‘important stuff’ becomes like a freeze frame of life when you are on Santorini. Basically nothing I say can really describe the beauty of this moment and the sunset alone is worth the trip. If you haven’t been to Santorini then put it on your list immediately.
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Quad bikes are the main form of tourist transport on Santorini because they won’t let you hire a scooter unless you have ‘motorbike’ stamped on your driver’s license. It was a nice change but we ended up having to swap it because it kept conking out on us and struggled badly to get up any form of hill. We had decided we were going to do a different beach every day and then on our last day pick a favourite. Day two was Akrotiri, the red sand beach. Following a winding track around the headland you stop at a peak and look down to see the steep embankment of red dirt. The sand is reddy brown colour and from a height is quite a vision. Navigating your way down the crumbling hillside is a touch tricky for some, not for us though. As we walked along the beach to find our possy, looking up you were able to see where the natural vertical seams in the 70-80m cliff had given way and slid down towards the water. There were sections of beach roped off as dangerous because of the chance of more landslides; some dedicated sunbakers were lying right in the ‘danger zone’. We parked further up the end where we had a sweeping view of the whole beach area.
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Day Three was Paradissos Beach, black sand, a quiet little stretch that seemed like a secret only special people knew about. We were special. The sea was a bit choppier but Adam still persevered with his ocean swim, such dedication. That night we also headed to Oia (eee-ah) to watch the sunset. Oia is reputed to have the ‘best sunset view’ on the island because it is uninterrupted. We cruised up there about five and were strolling through the village when all of a sudden we heard gunshots, loud ones. We couldn’t see anything but then they went again. It stopped us and others in our tracks. Being a bit hesitant to walk any further in case anything undesirable was happening we waited. Bang again and then again, three in a row this time. We were looking at each other, then at others, then each other again. Just as we were about to run away waving our arms frantically in the air we discovered what was happening……a wedding. Nothing like a shotgun to announce the groom and the guests walking through the village to get to the chapel, maybe their bonbonniere is earplugs. Back to our sunset mission, we scouted for the best spot, rounded up some beverages from the corner store and sat on a concrete wall waiting for ‘the moment’. As the time got closer and closer more and more people began arriving, all there to watch the sunset. When it was finally over we decided to do our ‘dinner dance’. Making our way back up the hill we were met with a traffic jam of people. What we hadn’t realised while we were perched on our concrete seat was that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people had congregated in every available, nook, cranny and perch to watch the sunset. This meant that everyone also decided to move at the same time. Queues and queues of people slowly walking up the hill, through the narrow lanes, deciding what to have for dinner by stopping at nearly every restaurant to view the menu. Heaven? I think not. Due to a mixture of hunger and frustration we chose the first empty restaurant to eat, at this point in time chair comfort and ambience was not a priority.
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The sunset at Oia is supposed to be the best sunset view on the island, we disagree. When the sun sets from Fira, the island in the centre of the caldera splits the light like a rainbow of warm colours making it more magnificent, we think, than Oia.
Day four and five were spent at Kamari beach, which reminded us of Bali only cleaner. Waterfront chairs, waiter service and the shade of an umbrella……perfection. Nights in Santorini were spent walking the lanes, finding good food and wine while days were spent in the sun. It was sad to leave but only because we did not know what awaited us.

Paros was a two hour slow trip on the big ferry and we arrived at 8pm. Naoussa is the village on the north side of the island and where we had booked our accommodation so we had to catch a bus there. I know I rave about the 5 P’s but they don’t always work when other things, namely useless hotel staff, work against you. Hence we arrived off the bus, in the dark with absolutely no idea which way to go next. “Over behind the big church” was as specific as it got from one waiter so into the night we headed. Up stairs, through lanes, past the big church…. and then what? Finally in the darkness of a back street we found it, thank you motorbike man. Reception empty, wide open but empty so we walked around doing the ‘heelllooo’ with no results until fed up we used their phone to ring the mobile number on the door. “I’ll be two minutes” was the response.

In the light of day we were off exploring the village of Naoussa and feeling very pleased with ourselves for where we had chosen to stay. It was the prettiest village we had stayed in so far and we spent the morning wandering its lanes and then catching the fishing boat over to Kolymbythres beach to spend a couple of late afternoon hours. The next day was my birthday, yay me, so it was my choice……..um I choose the beach, duh . That night we splurged on cocktails by the water and found ourselves not really hungry with all the free nibblies they provide with each order. By ten we thought perhaps we had better eat something so shared a pizza. All in all a good birthday was had by everyone, especially me. While sitting at one of the cocktail bars a movie crew started unloading equipment from the tiny three wheel utes they use to navigate the skinny lanes. Apparently an Italian movie company is making a movie in Paros and no matter how much we fluttered our eyelashes (me) and flexed our biceps (Adam) we were not asked to be extras. Hmmmm?
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More beach days and village nights with a quick day trip over to Antiparos, a five minute ferry ride over the channel. Seafood lunch by the water with the octopus hanging up to dry, could this be heaven? I think so. Antiparos is a smaller version of Paros but has the prettier beaches by far. The one we found was a small spit jutting out from the island. The yellow of the sand alongside the blue of the water made it an ideal resting place for the day.

Interesting fact……there are no sheep on any of the islands we have seen, only goats and a smattering of cows but these Greeks can cook lamb like you wouldn’t believe. Lamb in lemon sauce (my personal favourite), lamb in tomato sauce, lamb with potato, I could go on and on. We were eating so much lamb that Adam commented we might turn into one ha ha.

Four days on beautiful Paros was not enough and we both wanted to stay longer, much much longer. However schedules prevail and ours said Mykonos. Forty-five minutes was all it took to dock at Mykonos although we were lucky we made it with the sea angry that day my friends. Swaying and gripping seats while waiting to get off is not my idea of a good time and seasickness was not far off. I have my mother’s stomach.

Mykonos has a reputation of being gregarious and busy and if it was a person it would be that friend that always has to be the centre of attention. We spent our first few hours doing same ol’, same ol’ (exploring). Another island, another scooter, they truly are great fun. We only had two nights and so had to squeeze in as much beach time as possible so it was off to the beach. Mykonos is easily the most expensive and overpriced island we have stayed on, with coffees being up to seven Australian dollars. Ouch! Beach time was great and we were happy lolling on the sand in between dips in the water. After spending way too much money on dinner the first night we decided on pita gyros for lunch and dinner the second night. Considering this is the national food, it wasn’t too hard to find a yummy one.
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Mykonos is like one big catwalk and its reputation for being ‘gay friendly’ and overt is well deserved. It’s a fantastic place to people watch and a cheap way to pass the time. Our second day we parked ourselves on Paradise Beach, one of their party beaches and found ourselves mere metres from some nude middle-aged male sunbathers. It’s hard not to look but if you sneak a peek while one of them is bending over, trust me when I say you won’t look again. The beaches are beautiful and we snuck in a quick visit on our last morning so keen were we to soak it up. We finally threw away the towels we 'borrowed' from the hotel in Turkey. These towels could almost stand up by themselves they were so crusty because they hadn't been washed properly in ummmmm two months. It was a bittersweet moment tossing them in the industrial bin.
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Now as I sit here writing this we are on the ferry back to Athens. It is full of people and filling up even more. Two hours down, three to go. Keeping our heads down and making no eye contact is helping to preserve some personal space with a culture of people who truly don’t understand the concept. Tomorrow we head to Rome….yeah baby.

Posted by Ange and Adam 13:44 Archived in Greece Tagged sunset mykonos beach santorini ferry oia caldera paros perissa red_beach kamaria akrotiri Comments (0)

Athens and Milos

sunny 30 °C

When I was a kid I had a book about Greek Mythology. I can still vividly remember the cover with its picture of Poseidon and his trident and the yellowing of the pages. It wasn’t very thick and was one of those books that just appear, no one really knew where it came from. This book transported me to the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece and I read and reread this book what must have been a million times. I don’t know what happened to that book, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Then last year I read “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” with my class at school (great book too by the way). This book was all about retrieving Zeus’ thunderbolt and included all the residents of Mt Olympus and Hades, including my personal favourite Dionysus (the God of Wine). Seeing how passionate and enthusiastic the kids became reignited my interest also.

Arriving in the place that spawned these incredible stories felt surreal. Numerous times wandering around Athens I felt the need to remind myself just where I was. This, one of the most famous and historical cities in the world, was now graced with our presence. I don’t know who was luckier.

After our flight landed and we went through the rigmarole of baggage it was time to make our way to our hotel. Being conscientious and organised we had already researched public transport and found ourselves on the bus into Syntagma Square. Rolling our luggage over the uneven pavers through the dark unfamiliar streets made us feel like ‘real’ travellers. We found our hotel easily enough and were welcomed by the night receptionist Fiona. She was from the UK and went out of her way to be friendly and helpful, even squeezing our luggage into the lift while we had to take the stairs. There was something not quite right about Fiona though, we couldn’t put our finger on it; was it the rotting teeth or the sallow face or the frame so slight and thin she would be hidden behind a playing card, on its side. Anyway it didn’t really matter just one of those things that filters into your mind in quiet moments.

We decided reconnaissance was necessary the first day so that we could make sure we didn’t miss anything. The Plaka is the central part of Athens and we were staying right in the thick of it. It is a jumble of cobbled lanes and it wasn’t long until we were stopping to pull the map out to work out where the heck we were. Getting lost was the easy part, determining which way to go next caused a small spike in blood pressure. Being the seasoned travellers we now are, we realised the best solution is coffee. Cruising around the streets of Athens, the heart of the Ancient World, felt amazing. You even ignore the filthy pavers that haven’t been cleaned in centuries (?) and the endless graffiti to appreciate the true significance of such a city. We explored the New Museum of the Acropolis and decided to see who could find the oldest artefact. The winner was 700BC which we thought was fairly impressive.

Our first night we ended up drinking far too much homemade wine and consequently were still sleeping the next morning when we should have been at the Parthenon, you know to beat the crowds. However we made it anyway, in thirty-five degree heat, with a pounding in the temples, trying to find the back path up to the Acropolis.

For twelve euro you can buy a ticket to six historical sights around Athens, which is a bargain. The Greeks are pretty organised with their tourism shindigs and so you just follow the arrows up to the top. There are ‘archaeologists’, or so they say, all along the way making sure no grubby fingers touch any of the marble. Anytime you heard a whistle blow you knew someone was in trouble. Walking through the arch into the open area of the Parthenon is truly a spectacle. There is significant damage to the Parthenon and permanent scaffolding hinders some of the view however it doesn’t take away from the grandeur and presence this monumental structure has. The size of the columns and the true feat of engineering to position them ‘just so’ is enough to have people standing in awe looking up. The sculptures or carvings along the gable parts of the Parthenon are all but gone after centuries of war and unrest during Ottoman Empire times. At one stage they even placed a minaret in the Parthenon in an attempt to turn Greece muslim.
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The area that is the Acropolis is lit up so beautifully at night it is like the candelabra in the centre of a grand dining table. All eyes are ultimately drawn to it. Athens is a sprawling city and this is evident from the Acropolis with buildings as far as the eye can see in all directions. Even though we were slow starters that morning, by the time we left the crowds were really starting to pour in so we congratulated each other on another tourist must-do well done.

With two nights down and three to go we visited Parliament where the Changing of the Guard occurs every hour. The traditional Greek Guard uniform is of interesting design and it begs the question – what was being consumed when this outfit was decided upon? The men wear white opaque tights underneath a white pleated almost tutu like skirt. The shoes are the best part though reminding me of elves. They are hard with a sharp point at the toe. This point is covered with a black fluffy pompom. The purpose of the pompom is to hide the sharp point which is there for kicking people if they get in the way (that is true). It’s also for cleaning their shoes but that’s boring. After they do their little shuffle routine you are allowed to have photos taken with them but no touching and as Adam found out no silly thumbs up gestures either. He got in trouble from the big bad army man.

On Sundays they have a parade of guards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and it is popular. We headed down with only about ten minutes to spare and were lucky to squeeze into a spot on the traffic island in the middle of the road. Tourists are everywhere and all desperate to have a front row seat. As the guards come around the corner, that part of the road is closed off and traffic is halted. After the parade was off the road the funniest thing happened. Tourists bolted across the road to then stand in front of the tomb area of the parade. Police were blowing whistles, powerless to stop the tidal wave of people rushing forward to watch the next stage of the parade. The desperation demonstrated by one particular Japanese lady was inspiring. With her little legs pumping and her camera at the ready it was embarrassing to be a tourist. Refusing to be a moron we didn’t run across the road but walked and obviously were at the back unable to see anything. Luckily we had watched the changing the day before and so weren’t really missing out.
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On this particular day, and maybe every Sunday, a dog trotted alongside the front row of guards. He looked like he thought he was part of the whole thing and stayed exactly in line looking around as he ‘marched’ by. The dog stayed with the guards the whole time and even when they marched away he marched off along with them. It really was a funny thing to watch.

Once again dogs roam freely around the streets. There was also some evidence of the recent riots with a newspaper kiosk being a charred burnt out shell and a large presence of police, some with their riot gear at the ready. Fortunately, or unfortunately we never witnessed anything.

Athens really is a tourist mecca and the prices reflect this. Food was quite expensive in the restaurants compared to other places we had been and so we found a souvlaki stall with cheap gyros and ate there three days in a row. We would do our ‘dinner dance’ during the day sussing out menus for the best places to eat. Ambience and surroundings, as well as chair comfort, count for a lot.

Leaving Athens required an early rise to catch the 5.30am metro to the ferry port. After wandering around in the dark for a while we finally found our ticket booth and hopped aboard the Super Jet to Milos (Mee-los). A stunning island with a permanent population of 5000 was our first of four. Our villa was right in the heart of Adamas, the port town, and it wasn’t long before we had a set of wheels and were on the road again. A lovely little scooter we named ‘hunk of junk’.
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An interesting thing about Milos that I’m sure will surprise you is that the famous sculpture ‘Venus de Milo’, created in the fourth century ,was found tucked away in a Milos olive grove in 1820. It now lives in the Louvre. We spent our days cruising beaches. Being the result of volcanic activity, most of the islands are quite rocky and barren. However goats roam freely and there are hundreds. Not surprisingly there are also fields and fields of grapes for their delicious homemade wine. The grapes are not on vines and supports like we are used to seeing but small messy looking shrubbery close to the ground.

Driving ‘hunk of junk’ up steep inclines was somewhat embarrassing when looking behind to see a line of cars eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pass. The beaches in Greece have great names that require a local to assist with your pronunciation as nine times out of ten we were saying it incorrectly. Our favourite beach was Paleohori on the southern coast of the island. From the road it appeared to be nothing more than a deserted dirt car park but like a watermelon the best bit is under the surface. Walking down a pathway through an arch we found ourselves on a big wooden deck housing tables and chairs with some seventies disco tunes (we’re talking Barry White) cranking out of large speakers. Intrigued we moved toward the edge to look down upon a majestic strip of sand and the cool crystal waters of the Aegean. Jackpot! We claimed our beach chair and umbrella for the bargain price of five euro and laid back to enjoy the rest of the day. This was about 11am. There are no waves here and the water laps gently at the shore, just enough to lull you into a relaxed state, so relaxed that an afternoon nanna nap is essential. Adam is ensuring though that he is doing his ocean swims any chance he gets now as we are in fear of becoming Chunky and Chunkier. Although there is some argument over which name belongs to whom.
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Although we found paradise on day one we believed it necessary to give the other beaches a fighting chance and so the next day cruised on ‘hunk of junk’ to the beaches around the island. The northern coastline is home to the small township of Pollonia. This is the second largest village on the island and possesses a small port and a picturesque line of waterfront cafes and restaurants. Wandering along the café strip there were fresh octopus tentacles hanging outside most of the restaurants, like clothes on a washing line, fresh from the morning catch. Drying out for dinner perhaps? Plaka is the capital of the island and where we whiled away a couple of hours strolling the lanes and enjoying some Greek morning tea of coffee and an almond biscuit that was like an explosion of heaven in your mouth. Greek food is fast climbing the ladder of favourites, will it reach number one? Only time will tell.
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After deciding on Paradise aka Paleohori we spent our last day listening to a mix of Greek pop and The Bee Gees back at our favourite beach. Three nights was all we had on Milos and it could have easily been three weeks, it was a great island to start our odyssey on and has us relaxed for destination number two…..Santorini. Can’t wait!

Posted by Ange and Adam 22:04 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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