Monday, May 9, 2011

Greece Anniversary Trip

Finally it was time for our Greece trip. We had been so looking forward to this trip and couldn't believe that it was finally here! We visited Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini. Here's our trip report :)


Day 1-2: SFO-Athens-Mykonos

Our first day was spent mostly on the plane: SFO to JFK to Athens. And then we had a connecting flight to Mykonos. We had a really long layover in Athens. I read that there was a Sofitel hotel across the airport and thought that it would be a great idea for us to freshen up and get a quick massage. It turned out to be a wonderful idea. After the long flight, it was so nice to be able to rest, shower, and relax before we caught our connecting flight to Mykonos.

We always make it a point to try the local McDonalds when we travel. This is interesting because we don't even eat McDonalds when we're in the States. :p We don't know why but there is something about McDonalds in foreign countries. On this trip, we tried the Athens McDonalds at the airport. Dan ordered the McFarm (interesting name, huh?), which was a pork burger with this spicy mayo sauce and onions. It was actually quite delish! We also saw a shrimp burger that we might have to try next time. ;)


The flight to Mykonos was only 30 minutes or so. Since May is still considered low season, the flight was empty! There were probably only 20 people in a plane with 80 seats or so. When we arrived in Mykonos, the hotel had arranged for a pick up. We stayed at a beach town about 10 minutes away from town called Platys Gialos. The hotel that we stayed at was called Petasos Beach Resort. It was a beautiful boutique hotel. We booked the sea view room and had a wonderful balcony overlooking the pool and the sea. It had been a really long travel day, so we wanted to have dinner close by and then rest.

Petasos Beach Hotel
Hotel lobby
Beautiful, airy room
Our balcony

There was a restaurant row across the hotel. These restaurants were along the beach overlooking the water. Whenever we passed a restaurant, the greeter would "semi-harass" us to get us to eat at their restaurant. They would try to thrown in perks such as free appetizer, free dessert, etc. Not sure if this happens all the time or just in low season.

Platys Gialos beach - a short walk from our hotel

I read about this restaurant on Trip Advisor called Avli Tou Thodori which was the second restaurant on the row. The greeter actually didn't harass us that much so we decided to eat there. :p The restaurant was empty! There was only one other couple. We ordered Moussaka (similar to lasagna) and the BBQ mix plate. Food was pretty good and portions were huge!!! We probably only ate half of the food. Service was really really slow even though it wasn't crowded. We later realized though that this is normal. Everywhere we ate, service was super slow. Maybe in the US people are just always in hurry?

Greek BBQ Mix Plate
Moussaka

Day 3: Mykonos

Mykonos

We woke up around 4 AM local time and couldn't go back to sleep. Watched TV for a little bit and then went back to sleep. When we woke up again around 10 AM. We were worried that we missed breakfast. Thankfully they serve breakfast until 11 AM! Phew! Breakfast was served at the main hotel restaurant overlooking the ocean. It was too cold though to sit along the window so we took the inside seat. The breakfast spread was good, and I loved this sweet cream cheese pastry thing that they served!

We then went into town by taking the bus. The bus runs every two hours and takes about 10 minutes each way. The town was really cute. Narrow walkways, whitewashed building, tourist shops. I read that during peak season it gets so crowded you'd be shoulder to shoulder when walking along the street. Oh, and we got to see the famous resident pink pelican walking around :)


The pier area was really cute. Lots of cafes and tavernas overlooking the water. We went to the famous windmills to take pictures. It was super windy that day though! Dan was hungry so we looked for a place to eat. We stumbled upon this cute restaurant in Little Venice called Katerina's, which happened to be recommended in Lonely planet. We took the window seat overlooking the water, and it felt like we were on a cruise ship. They were famous for their baked feta appetizer, so we ordered it. When it came, it looked like cheese mixed with tomato sauce. We shared a mushroom risotto entree which was probably one of, if not, the best risotto we have ever had! It was super rich though and we were not able to finish. :p

The famous Mykonos windmill
So happy to be in Mykonos!

After lunch we walked around a bit more. We had gelato and got free wifi :) There were lots of cafes that had free wifi, so it was nice to be able to check Facebook and emails for free! At our hotel, it would have cost five euros for one hour of Internet.

I wanted to go to this honey shop called Nektar and Ambrosia, which we found to be closed unfortunately (maybe because it was Sunday?). We then walked back to catch the 4 pm bus but missed it by mere minutes. So we had an extra two hours to kill. We went uphill to visit the Belvedere hotel, which was the house of Nobu Mykonos. The hotel was super cute and luxurious, with views overlooking the town. We went back to the pier area to have drinks and get another wifi fix :)

Drinks & Wifi Fix
We took the 6 pm bus back and went for dinner again at the restaurant row. This time at a restaurant called Atlantida which was just next door to last night's restaurant. The "salesman" for Atlantida didn't recognize us from the day before when he gave us his 10 minute pitch. So we heard the same thing again which was free bruschetta and free dessert! That was all we needed to confirm and so we went in. This place was much more crowded and ambiance was nice. We ordered the octopus salad and Greek pizza. The salad was a tad salty but refreshing! The octopus was not very chewy at all and had the perfect consistency. Greek pizza was nice.

Octopus salad
Greek donut

Service was really slow (as expected). We were not sure if they were really bringing out the free dessert since it had been a while since they checked in with us. It was getting late, so free dessert or not, we wanted to go back to our hotel. Thankfully the waiter brought the free dessert with our check :) btw, the free dessert was this Greek doughnut drizzled in honey which was pretty good!

Day 4: Mykonos

We rented an ATV so we could drive around the island. Our hotel receptionist suggested that we check out this small town called Ano Mera that has a small town square and monastery, and then go visit a couple of beaches. So after we picked up our ATV, we headed to Ano Mera. When we got to Ano Mera, we weren't sure exactly what to expect and where the monastery was, so we drove around and found this old ruin and a tiny monastery. We thought that was it, but on our drive back, we then found the signs for the actual monastery and the town square. They were cute but we enjoyed the ride more than the actual destination. It was really cool to drive around the island in an ATV.

Dan riding in an ATV
Us in Ano Mera

After Ano Mera, we wanted to visit a couple beaches. First stop was Elia beach. When we got there, there was only 1 other couple on the beach, and only a couple of people at the bar. The sunbeds were not setup and the beach was actually a little dirty. Looks like it wasn't quite ready for visitors. So we decided to go to another one called Paradise beach. When we got to Paradise beach, the outer area looked a little shady, but the actual beach area was quite nice. The sand was a little rocky and the water was really cold, so we just hung out on the daybed for a couple hours. Our guidebook mentioned that some parts of the beach were clothing optional. Thankfully we didn't see anything that we didn't need to :)

Paradise Beach - Mykonos
Beautiful, clear, blue water

We went back to our hotel and hit the pool area. The weather was amazing and since we didn't swim on the beach, we wanted to take a dip at our hotel's pool. Unfortunately, the water was also freezing cold! We only lasted 30 seconds before moving to the jacuzzi.

For dinner, we went back to town to eat at this restaurant I read on the forum called Avra Garden. I was also finally able to buy honey from the honey shop that was closed on Sunday.

Day 5: Delos - Santorini

Delos

The island of Delos is a short 45 minutes ferry ride from Mykonos. We took the earliest ferry from town which was at 9:00 AM. We did a self guided tour based on lonely planet and the map provided at entrance. At first it was confusing since most of the ruins did not have signs explaining what they were. But after a while we got a handle of what things were. Delos was the birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis from the Greek mythology. Some of the highlights from the ruins include the outdoor theatre that could seat 5,000 as well as some luxurious houses with wonderful mosaics.

Taking the ferry from Mykonos to Santorini

We took the high speed ferry to Santorini which took around 3 hours. The drive from the port to the town was pretty interesting. The port was located at the base of the mountain, where the main towns are all located on the top of the mountain, so it was a very steep drive. Neither of us realized this but most of the towns are set atop the mountains and are very steep. Lots of the hotels were built cliffside to take advantage of the gorgeous caldera view. Our hotel, Remezzo Villa, was located in Imerovigli, a small town 20 minutes away from Fira, the main town. There were quite a few steps to get to our room. However, it was worth it since the view from our room was absolutely breathtaking. Most of the hotels in Santorini are small family owned boutique hotels. We did not see any big name chain hotels while we were here.

Beautiful view from our hotel
Since we had a long day, we ate at a nearby tavern coincidentally enough called Imerovigli Tavern. Originally we sat outside but it was so windy that we moved inside. Food was pretty good, Dan ordered this stuffed burger served with both rice and fries, but without the buns. I had the stuffed tomato and bell pepper, Greek traditional food.

Waiting for our dinner at Imerovigli Tavern
Stuffed Tomato and Bell Pepper

Day 6: Santorini

We both woke up so hungry and didn't have breakfast included for our hotel in Santorini. So we ate some snacks and went to Mylos Cafe for a late breakfast. Mylos was a cute snack restaurant in Firostefani, the town between Imerovigli and Fira. Dan ordered the ham and cheese omelet and I ordered the waffle. The waffle was excellent! It had this praline chocolate sauce with biscuit topping. Crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. We walked around the main town, Fira, after breakfast.

Mylos Cafe
Yummy waffle for breakfast!

The walk from Imerovigli to Fira was beautiful! We'll just let the pictures do all the talking :)

Dramatic, rugged coastline
So pretty!

We booked the 2 PM volcano boat tour, which took us to the volcano for a hike, and then swim on the warm springs. Since the port to catch the tour was located at the bottom of the mountain, we had a choice to either walk down, take the cable car down, or ride the donkey. Dan wanted to walk but I wanted to ride the cable car. I won. :) It cost 4 euro per person for the cable ride. 

Inside the cable car

We then boarded our 2 PM boat tour. We arrived at the volcano island 15 mins later. The view as we left the port toward the volcano island was breathtaking. You can see Fira on the background on top of the mountain, and you see the cliff with various colors. When we got to the island we hiked the trail to the mountaintop. The hike was pretty nice and not too hard, though it was a bit rocky. The next stop was the warm springs. We didn't come prepared so we didn't swim in the warm springs. Supposedly the warm springs were just somewhat lukewarm than really warm anyways :p

Look at those volcanic stones
Hiking the volcanic island in Santorini

After the tour, we rode the donkeys up to Fira town at the top of the mountain. Poor donkeys looked overworked and hungry, some of them kept trying to eat off the branches on the walk up. Not to mention carrying us and walking uphill. It was a pretty neat experience though, the view when we rode the donkey was just breathtaking. Supposedly riding the donkeys were used to transport goods from port to town in the old days.

Dan riding the donkey

We had dinner at a small tavern in Imerovigli called Aviogi Tavern. The food was a little bit different from the typical Tavern food. We ordered the baked feta with honey, baked pork with rice, and this seafood orzo dish. All the dishes were amazing, and this was probably our best meal so far.

Day 7: Santorini

The Remezzo Villas hotel owner who had been very helpful throughout our stay suggested that we rent a car for the day. We decided on a Smart car. Neither of us has ridden in it before, and didn't realize how spacious it actually felt, at least from the inside.

Dan & our rental Smart car
Our first stop was the red sand beach. We didn't realize this but you actually had to do a short hike from the parking lot to get to the red sand beach. We only took a quick look and then headed to the black sand beach. The black sand beach area is a pretty long stretch (4-5 miles) with sun beds setup and cafes all along the shore. The sand was rocky, and we imagined it being really hot in the summer. We only stayed for a little bit before going back to our hotel to get ready for the next half of the day: trip to Oia.

Red sand beach
Black sand beach
Oia is the picturesque village with the whitewashed building and blue top rounded roofs that you always see of Santorini. The drive to Oia was actually pretty intense. The roads were cliffside and quite curvy. On the way to Oia, we visited a winery called Domain Sigalas. It's a very cute winery...reminded us of a less developed version of Napa.

Domain Sigalas - Santorini

We then walked around Oia village. It's truly a cute village, but there were lots of tourists and cruise ship passengers. I wanted to get a massage at one of the spas overlooking the caldera. However, we had trouble finding this boutique spa. We almost gave up and decided to have dinner first since Dan started to get hungry. We found this restaurant called Nectar and Ambrosia. Interestingly enough, the massage guy actually works at the restaurant part time so our server was able to call him and book our massage appointment. However, by this time it was too late to do a couples massage on the balcony overlooking the caldera :( so we had to settle for a individual massages at the cave room. By the time we got done with our massages, it was 10:30 pm and the village was soooo quiet. We were so tired by the time we got back to our hotel.

Day 8: Santorini - Athens

Today was our last day in Santorini. It was hard to leave this beautiful island and we knew we would surely miss the view from our hotel balcony. Hopefully we can come back someday, and we will be sure to book one of those cave hotel rooms :)

The flight from Santorini to Athens was a quick 45 minutes. We stayed at the Intercontinental Athens, which is not quite at city center, but they provide hourly shuttles to the city center. Our first impression of Athens was how much busier and crowded it was compared to the islands. We also noticed a lot of graffiti everywhere, which made the city look a little dirty. Traffic was pretty bad and lots of tall buildings. It reminded me of Jakarta.

Intercontinental Athens
The room was nicely decorated

We got to our hotel around 2 PM. We took the 2:30 PM shuttle into the city center and walked around a little bit. Our friend told us about this gyro place which was supposed to be the best, next to the monastery but we couldn't find which one since there are so many gyro places, so we just chose a random place to eat. For dinner, our hotel concierge recommended a Greek restaurant with acropolis view called Strofi. By this time we were a little tired of Greek food but we went to that place anyway. We asked for a rooftop seating with view of the Acropolis and it was great! Food was good too and decent pricing.

Parthenon

Day 9: Athens

We booked the Athens walking tour which was rated pretty high on Trip Advisor. It seemed to be a pretty popular tour since there were 3 groups that day. Our guide was awesome, her name was Vicki Krikki. We started at the metro (subway) station and she explained that the station was built for the Olympic in 2004, and during the construction, everywhere they dug they found some old ruin or something, which was pretty cool. The tour lasted 3.5 hours and we visited several key places—Syntagma Square, Parliament, National Park, Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Acropolis/Parthenon. We would recommend this tour for a good overview of some of the major sights.

Syntagma Square
Temple of Zeus

After the walking tour, we stopped for a late lunch at a random cafĂ© in Thissio and then finally found the “famous” gyro place by the monastery.

The BEST gyro

We then took the shuttle back to the hotel and rested before getting ready for dinner. We stopped by the bar at Premier restaurant in our hotel for a glass of wine while we waited for our time for dinner. We splurged for dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary and booked a table at Varoulko, one of Athens’ best restaurants.

Inside Varoulko

It was also our first 1 star Michelin rated restaurant outside of the US. Varoulko is a seafood restaurant and their menu changes every day. When you get to the restaurant, they will ask you what allergies you have or what do you not eat, and then the chef will come up with four different dishes. We decided to do the four course tasting menu and were extremely pleased with how everything turned out. The first dish was this seabass carpaccio (Dan’s favorite). The second dish was a crispy snapper (My favorite). Not sure what they do with it, but the crispy part was soooo yummy! The third dish was grilled squid with this creamy lobster bisque sauce. Excellent! And the last dish was grilled shrimp with butter sauce. Tasted similar to lobster. We also ordered dessert which was yogurt ice cream with lychee pearls and strawberry sauce. It was very light and refreshing.

Seabass Carpaccio
Crispy Snapper
Grilled squid with lobster bisque sauce
Grilled shrimp with butter sauce
Yogurt ice cream with lychee pearls and strawberry sauce

We truly enjoyed our anniversary dinner celebration at Varoulko and would highly recommend this restaurant. I read that in the summer you can sit outside in the terrace area with a great view of the Parthenon.

Trip Highlights & Tips:

We had such a great and memorable trip to Greece to celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary. We planned the trip ourselves and booked via Europeandestinations.com. They were pretty reliable, and we were able to book flights, hotels, ferry, and airport transfers.

Highlights:
  • Taking in the magical and wonderful views of Santorini, especially the sunsets
  • Dinner at Varoulko. We really enjoyed our dinner, and for a cost of around EUR 60 per person, we thought it was well worth it.
  • Donkey ride in Santorini 
  • Athens walking tour was very informative and fun 
  • Finding the famous gyro place in Athens, by the monastery in Plaka
  • Greek frappes. Definitely try them if you get the chance!
Tips:
  • If you are worried about riots/unrest in Greece, you can skip Athens altogether and head straight to the islands.
  • The best time to go would be early summer or fall. We went in early May and it was still a little chilly, and some restaurants were still closed.
  • Stay for at least 3 nights in Santorini. The island is so beautiful. We wished we had stayed longer!
  • Book a cave room at one of Santorini's boutique hotels - it would be truly a memorable stay!

5 comments:

  1. Great travel blog - very useful as I figure out my own Greece trip. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Glad you find it useful. Have fun in Greece!

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  2. Hello - I will be staying in Santorini for a week. Do you have any recommendation of an itinerary for each day?

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    1. Hi Sandy, you can use our Santorini post as a guide. Have fun!

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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