October 2019
  • Day1

    On our way to Greece

    October 2, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Well, we made it to the Chicago airport, though our flight from Champaign was a bit late, and our next flight boards in about a half hour. This is a trip Joe has wanted to take for many years, so in the spirit of Carpe Diem, here we go. We fly to Santorini (Chicago - London - Santorini), have four nights there with me learning how to drive in Greece, boat to Mykonos, three nights there. Fly to Athens and pick up rental car for about a week to Delphi, some monasteries, some Byzantine churches, some mountains. Then we will relax for a bunch of days in a nice Athens hotel. I fell for the view of the Acropolis from the breakfast room and the snazzy fitness center with ellipticals.

    I am a little out of my comfort zone, but I remember that I have driven in Hungary where the road signs were equally unintelligible. I ultimately decided to buy a real paper map for Santorini, because when I did a google street view of the route from the Santorini airport to our hotel, I saw that google was taking me on dirt roads, one of which seemed to end in a dump. So I figured I will be a lot better off with a real map. Lots of hours traveling ahead of us, but the excitement will make it bearable.
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  • Day2

    Made it to Santorini!

    October 3, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    The flight to London was smooth, the flight to Santorini bumpy, but we arrived right on time at 4:15 p.m. The one little passport control cubicle was empty when we arrived, but thankfully we were the only flight arriving. By 5:15 we were through passport control and were driving out of the airport in our rental car. Joe had not brought the car GPS, though he thought he had, but in an uncharacteristic stroke of tech skills I was able to download google maps for Santorini and mainland Greece. And, even more amazing, it worked offline as it was supposed to!

    The touristy side of the island rings the volcanic crater, called the Caldera. We are about a two minute hike up to get to the Caldera side, but our hotel is on the other side of that high ridge, which means a sea view but no Caldera view. But the real benefit is that it is much quieter. Truth be told, though, it was one of only two hotels on the island that has an elliptical — and this one has a sea view!

    The island is very small, so by 6, Joe was taking a nap and I was on the elliptical. I also had time for a short walk along the Caldera, it was just gorgeous. We ventured out for dinner in the car around 8, but were gobsmacked by the crowds in Fira. I thought this wasn’t high season!!! We just kept driving till we found a place to park the car. It was in front of a supermarket, with not a restaurant in sight, so we just bought some food and wine (choice in red wine was one labeled “dry red wine” and the other “sweet red wine.” It is not up to my wine cellar friends’ standards.)

    But we are now on the terrace of our room, overlooking the pool, eating very yummy sheep cheese and salami on pita while sipping “dry red wine.”

    Tomorrow Ancient Thira and some island exploration. I will not be spending a lot of time shopping in Thira, of that you can be sure.
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  • Day3

    Ruins!

    October 4, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Ruins and more ruins. First, we went to the Greek and Roman ruins of Ancient Thira, from about 900 BC to several centuries AD a city way up high with ruins of a theater, a garrison, lots of temples. Then we went to the really old ruins, a Minoan city from about 3000 BC. It had been buried in a volcanic eruption about 1500 BC. No human remains were found, so they must have had warning. Half the island was submerged, leaving the Caldera/crater, which has led some to speculate that this is where Atlantis was. Too bad that at both sites, all the frescoes, and most of the pottery and statuary have been placed in the Thira museum (and some, probably the best, went to Athens). So tomorrow we will have to go to the museum.

    After lunch on the Red Beach, we decided to brave the crowds and head for either Fira/Thira or Imervogli. Fira was just way too crazy, so on we went. Found a primo parking place in Imervogli, so we took advantage and spent several hours walking around, it is beautiful. Joe stayed in a cafe hanging on a cliff while I walked out to a nearby rock with gorgeous views. Unfortunately, I did not think I should do the last 50 m or so, it was pretty much scrambling on rock. But it was a good bit of energetic walking and nearly top views, while Joe sipped his 5 euro iced coffee.

    Crowds are pretty crazy, this is nothing like Sicily in October, where we had enormous parking lots all to ourselves! To give you some idea of the number of tourists — I was just looking for driving directions to the archaeological musem tomorrow. And google maps shows several stretches of “red” on the route now. And this is 9 pm on October 4!!!! I would not venture here in high season.
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  • Day4

    Day in Fira

    October 5, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We woke up to bright sunshine, and decided to head for Fira — main city, cruise ship central, tourist shopping heaven. Our hotel had offered us a spot on a fancy boat tour around the caldera and to the volcano, but at 160 € a head, we thought it was a bit much. So we headed into Fira, found the big parking lot (which still had a few places at 10 am, thankfully), and walked down to the old port. From 1200’ above sea level to the port took about 20 minutes. We could have taken a donkey, but decided to walk. Once at the old port, we easily bought tickets for an 11 am boat tour, 20 € per person, thank you very much.

    We went to the hot springs, then to the island nearby where the only live crater is. It was a good climb up through the lava field, and it was so easy to see the outline of what used to be the island, till the volcanic eruption in 1500 BC that is. Amazing views.

    Once back in the port, Joe took the 3 minute cable car while I walked back up, dodging lots of donkey poop, hoping to beat him because the line was long. But he got there first. After lunch, we went to the prehistoric museum — I had never focused on Minoan artifacts and art, but these were really beautiful. Then some more walking along the twisty top paths with gorgeous views out, over the cliff towns, the sheer cliffs, and the turquoise water. It is truly beautiful, most beautiful view while eating an ice cream ever, but the tiny alleys of every kind of tourist trinket is not for me. We bought some great takeout and will soon be chowing down on our little terrace once again. Very happy to be here. 😋
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  • Day5

    Perfect Day

    October 6, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Today was one of those “it doesn’t get any better than this” days. Our first stop was Oia, another village on the Caldera with impossibly white houses and all those white and blue churches. With clear blue sky and water, and strong sun, it was dazzling.

    I had read about the oldest church on the island, 11th Century AD. Had to find it of course — google maps took us on some crazy dirt roads, and at one point a very nice young guy had to get in the car and turn us around where we were stuck in a dead end. But we did make it only to find it closed up tight, with its mosaics visible from the window. In the parking lot, a villager dinged our rental car. Luckily there was a young guy nearby who spoke English and seemingly took care of everything. We’ll see if that’s the case when we drop off the car tomorrow morning.

    Last stop Pyrgos, highest town on the island. We had a massive kebab lunch at a lively outdoor terrace. Great views, more blue domed churches, less touristy — at least so we thought till three busloads of tourists descended on the town — time for a quick getaway.

    Ended the day with one more sunset, one more elliptical workout, one more dinner on our room terrace. Tomorrow we drop off the car at the airport at 8, take a van to the port, and hopefully hop on a boat to Mykonos.
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  • Day6

    Island hopping

    October 7, 2019 in Greece ⋅ 🌧 20 °C

    It was a bit complicated to drop off the rental car and get to the port in Santorini for the ship to Mykonos. The port is a teeny tiny place, no room for car rentals, lots of crowds and chaos. So we dropped off the rental car at the airport and took a van to the port. As we waited for our boat, we watched in amazement as busload after busload got picked up and others got dropped off. Pretty well organized, I must say, and those bus drivers can turn their huge vehicles on a dime. Very entertaining and a bit scary to watch them back up a busload to within 6 inches of the end of the dock, with no guardrail, no nothing. And then they maneuver around like they were riding a bicycle.

    The boat stopped at Ios and Naxos, and by 1 or so we were in Mykonos. We took the bus into town and then had about a half hour walk from the very top of the old town, down to the old port/harbor, and around to our hotel. Very nice views from where we sit! It has been cloudy with a few showers, so we have limited our time to a few walks around the port. I have NEVER seen as many tourist shops in one maze-like set of twisty-turvey lanes. There is absolutely nothing else here — it’s all for the tourist trade. Shopping on Mykonos, or anywhere for that matter, is not high on my list, but being here was the only way we could get out to the ruins on the uninhabited island of Delos, birthplace of Apollo among other things.

    We are going to have a late dinner and sleep in tomorrow. Looks like the rain is gone but we may have some clouds. So we will save the trip to Delos till Wednesday, which is forecast for cool and sunny.
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  • Day7

    Tourists in Mykonos

    October 8, 2019 in Greece ⋅ 🌧 0 °C

    So, today we had no plans, other than to spend the day walking around town and chilling out. This is NOT my normally preferred itinerary. But hey, it worked! We just had a lazy day, up to the iconic Mykonos windmills, down to the touristy trappy lanes, round and about. Saw a great sunset, enjoyed sitting on the water, and we were just generally in relax mode.

    I continue to be stunned by the numbers of people who get off a huge cruise ship, wait in line, and then come and walk around to shop and eat. They then have long lines at the old port to get a bus to the new port, to get a boat to the cruise ship. My good friend at the hotel reception (who turns on the AC when I go down to the fitness center) tells me that it is just a fact of life on Mykonos, and that the island very much depends on this tourist onslaught.

    Finally had a really great moussaka, and a bite of Joe’s amazing baklava. Tomorrow Delos!
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  • Day7

    Tourists in Mykonos

    October 8, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    So, today we had no plans, other than to spend the day walking around town and chilling out. This is NOT my normally preferred itinerary. But hey, it worked! We just had a lazy day, up to the iconic Mykonos windmills, down to the touristy trappy lanes, round and about. Saw a great sunset, enjoyed sitting on the water, and we were just generally in relax mode.

    I continue to be stunned by the numbers of people who get off a huge cruise ship, wait in line, and then come and walk around to shop and eat. They then have long lines at the old port to get a bus to the new port, to get a boat to the cruise ship. My good friend at the hotel reception (who turns on the AC when I go down to the fitness center) tells me that it is just a fact of life on Mykonos, and that the island very much depends on this tourist onslaught.

    Finally had a really great moussaka, and a bite of Joe’s amazing baklava. And a perfect ending on our hotel balcony with a view of both th old and new ports. Tomorrow Delos!
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  • Day8

    Delos

    October 9, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    After a quick trip to the archaeological museum to see an amazing huge urn depicting the Trojan War, we hopped on a ferry for the half hour ride to the very tiny island of Delos. It is now uninhabited, but was settled about 5,000 years ago. It is the birthplace of Apollo, so that makes it pretty sacred. For centuries it was a prosperous commercial port. The whole place was destroyed by pirates in about 60BC and has been uninhabited since then. Excavations are ongoing. We spent hours walking around, climbing up and down, enjoying great views over the Aegean, and in a nice change from Mykonos, there were no crowds!

    Tomorrow we get an early plane to Athens, and head northwest in a rental car. Monasteries, Delphi, and some mountains are our desination.

    But now time for one more stroll around the harbor as night falls.
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  • Day9

    In Arachova

    October 10, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    I was not expecting today to be so easy and hassle-free. We had about a 20 minute flight to Athens, picked up the car and were on our way. Google maps offline worked perfectly and we made our way the 200 kms to the monastery of St. Luke (Ossios Loukas), a hermit. When he died in the 10th century, the monastery was built. It is in a gorgeous valley setting (the monks almost always picked beautiful spots to settle). Two churches in the monastic complex, which is still functioning, and the Byzantine moisaics from the 10th and 11th centuries were amazing. Can’t get enough of this ancient architecture! Either Joe is becoming more of a fan or he is just being more patient, because we both were happy to just sit at a lookout and soak in the architectural and natural beauty. No surprise that this is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    We are in the mountain town of Arachova, overlooking the Delphi Valley. That’s where we’ll head tomorrow!
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