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My big fat Greek holiday

Our guest post writer – Naresh Shah from Mumbai, India, shares his experiences of a 10-day holiday in Greece

Why Greece – An Accidental Holiday!

Long background! I took a trip to Leh with couple of friends sometime back and to relive the experience we decided to take another holiday together with the same group to Sikkim! For some strange reasons which I seriously still can’t figure out why, we all developed a cold feet at the last minute and called off our plan to Sikkim! The search for next destination begun – toying with the idea of Turkey! While researching on Turkey I accidentally stumbled on an itinerary to Greece with a cruise covering Greek islands and captivating pics of Santorini. I instantly fell in love with blue and white domes and started checking flight options to Athens. As luck would have it, an airline which I had never knew existed, Royal Jordanian, was offering a round trip to Athens for about Rs.29,500 (approx US$655) between 16 April 2011 to 24 April 2011. I just couldn’t resist and booked the tickets and everything else followed.

Santorini

Love at first sight with these blue domes in Oia

Visa

Greece is part of Schengen region. I planned the trip at very last minute and could not apply for visa at Greek embassy as they take at least 2-3 weeks to process the application, as told to me by travel agents. Since Greece is a part of the Schengen region, I could apply from any of the other member states. In Mumbai, Belgium Embassy is the fastest to process the application. It took them just three days to grant the visa and courier it at my doorstep. As a thumb rule for Schengen visa, you can always apply from any of the member state for access to the Schengen block as long as it’s going to be the port of entry or a stay for the maximum length in the country. Later, I had to explain immigration officer at Athens why I obtained visa from Belgium, his face turned fuming red to hear the Greeks were slow in that matter! The visa costs about €60 for a short stay category.

Accommodation – Location, location, location!

Athens – Tempi Hotel
A quiet hostel located in Monastiraki area with comfortable beds and clean “common” hot showers. It’s only a few minutes walk from Plaka, Acropolis and Monastiraki metro station (this station would connect you to direct train to port of Piraeus to catch the ferry to Mykonos in only €1.40 in 20 minutes). It cost €40 a night when I booked online for my first night stay, but to my surprise when I got back from Santorini to stay here I only paid €35 a night. So booking online in advance may not be the best thing to do always.

Tempi Hotel
Address: 29 Eolou Street, Athens 105 51
Tel: +30 2103213175

Mykonos – Poseidon Hotel
Poseidon Hotel is located very close to the Mykonos Town area and at a five minute walk to the bus stop of Fabrika in southern part of the town. The spacious rooms are very tastefully done in shades of aqua and sea green with little detailing as side lamp with cats on it, my own music system in the party town of Mykonos, personal jacuzzi and views of the sea and the sunsets. I got this hotel at a super deal on Expedia at a steal of €40 a night for such a luxury and breakfast included. The hotel is located at some distance from the new port of Mykonos where most ferries stop these days, so I had to take a taxi to hotel setting back €8 located in the main town. Later, I got to know that the hotel could have arranged for a free pick up on a prior request. So it’s always good to check with hotel if these things can be arranged at no extra cost.

Poseidon Hotel
Address: 846 00 Mykonos
Tel: +30 22890 22437
Open: April – October

Santorini – Golden Star Hotel
In all the hurry, I didn’t have time to book in Santorini. So I thought I will take it as it comes and just go with the instincts. When I got down from ferry to Santorini I looked around a bit for the tourist information center and an old man approached me. He took me to his booth and showed a couple of options based on location (you can either stay at Fira or Oia towns in Santorini) and price ranges. Hotel Golden Star was very conveniently located near Fira Square, the bus stop and cafe’s and clubs overlooking Caldera (inactive volcano). I was merry happy to choose them as the this family run hotel was pretty friendly and had location as a major advantage at a price of just €40 a night.

Golden Star Hotel
Tel: +30 22890 23883

Mykonos

Mykonos - A magnificent sunset from blue balcony of my hotel room #10

Day 1: Athens – Flea Market, Monastriaki Area

I took an early morning flight from Mumbai to Athens via Amman (red eyes flight, I hate them!) reaching at my final destination around 3 PM. Extremely pleased to choose Royal Jordanian as service on the flight was impressive and tons of option to choose on in-flight entertainment on my small little personal screen. There is a direct metro line from Airport to main city for €8 taking about 40 minutes to reach heart of the Athens.

Being April, the city was bit wet and chilly. Finding hotel in narrow lanes of Athens was not a big trouble as Greeks are good with giving directions and speak manageable English. I had a nice view of Acropolis from my hotel room. After quickly freshening up I took a walk around the city gazing through colorful district of Plaka with numerous tavernas (Greek cafés), high street shops and the flea market. Nothing like soaking in the smell and sounds of a new city! Thinking of calling it an early night on my way back to hotel, I was passing by Monastriaki square and found bunch of young Greeks having a party of their own. Local music and local dance blended with cheerfulness of the youth made me fall in love with Athens instantly. I had an early ferry to Mykonos next morning, so I asked the hotel reception to give me a wake up call – they gave me a sweet little alarm clock!

Sight at Monastiraki Flea Market

Sight at Monastiraki Flea Market

Saturday Night Party at Monastiraki Square

Saturday Night Party at Monastiraki Square - the Greek youth need no clubs to have a good time!

Day 2: Mykonos – Walk into Chora

I took the green metro line to get to Piraeus taking about 20 minutes from Monastriaki. Ferries to Mykons leaves from Piraeus port in Athens at about 7:35 AM. It’s a five hour journey costing €34 on Economy Class operated by Blue Star Ferries with two stops, before final arrival to Mykonos. Ferry ride was fabulous, cutting the waters to get my location at fastest possible speed. There was an ATM machine, a coffee shop on the sun deck and a burger chain outlet, Goody’s, on the ferry! I reached Mykonos in the afternoon and to my greatest disappointment it was all gloomy and rainy with Mr. Sun playing hide and seek. Nonetheless, my awesome hotel room with great view of the Mykonos town and sea cheered me up and my own music system was a great plus for a music maniac like me! It was time to get lost into narrow alleyways and maze of white houses of Mykonos town. Walking around the town, I bumped into a Pakistani whose way of greeting me was “Aaare yaar hara diya hum logoon ko!!” (buddy, you made us lose). It took me a moment to register it was the Cricket World Cup 2011 Semi-finals he was recalling.

"Crisis Prices" What better way to illustrate the Greek debt crisis!

"Crisis Prices" What better way to illustrate the Greek debt crisis!

Walking through the maze of white lanes in Town of Mykonos - Chora!

Walking through the maze of white lanes in Town of Mykonos - Chora!

Day 3: Mykonos – Little Venice, Paraportiani and Windmills

After eluding for most of the previous day, the sun emerged in its full glory bringing the whiteness of Mykonos even more striking to contrasting blue skies, waters, windows and doors. Took a climb to top of the town to take the aerial view of Mykonos town and the old harbor. Roamed around the windmills and Paraportiani waterfront. Set in a trendy cafe to experience the postcard perfect sunset in Little Venice area.

The iconic windmills overlooking the wild Aegean Seas

The iconic windmills overlooking the wild Aegean Seas

Panagia Paraportiani, a whitewashed church which building dates back to 1425

Panagia Paraportiani, a whitewashed church which building dates back to 1425

Gorgeous Sunset at Paraportiani Waterfront

Gorgeous Sunset at Paraportiani Waterfront

Day 4: Mykonos – Paradise!

I didn’t know you can take a bus to Paradise! Today was not the day to hit the beach with the no-so-perfect weather to plunge in the water. Took a quick 20 minutes bus ride from Fabrika bus stop to Paradise beach. One of the most beautiful beaches I have seen with all the possible shades of blues and greens. Listening to Saibo (from Bollywood movie “Shor In The City“) in Shreya Ghoshal’s captivating voice while leaving my footprints in moist soft white sands to be washed away by clear waters of Paraidse beach was a perfect day off.

Literally "the Paradise" Beach!

Literally "the Paradise" Beach!

Lazy afternoon at Paradise beach!

Lazy afternoon at Paradise beach!

Day 5: Mykonos to Santorini

After a king-size breakfast at my hotel’s kitchen, I headed to book my ferry tickets to Santorni and explore the old port area of Mykonos. The ferry was in the afternoon with journey of little more than 2 hours 30 minutes to reach Santorini operted by Hellenic Seaways costing about €50 (freaking expensive!). The gushing winds were splashing the water on me as I walked on the old port of Mykonos. There are lot of interesting cafe’s around the square overlooking the old harbor with wi-fi access, in case you need the feel to get connected to the outside world. With a hot chocolate I started reading the book “The Beach” at the cafe. The book is a travelers delight.

After bidding my goodbyes to Mykonos I boarded the ferry. I like catching up on movies when I am travelling, had “Hangover” on my iPod so two hours passed by pretty quickly! Zach Galifianakis is hilarious, his questions to the receptionist at Caesars Palace in Vegas “Is this hotel PAGER friendly?” and “Did Caesars live here?” makes me giggle even as I type this.

Reached to the cloudy and cold Santorni in the evening. Went off for a walk around ally overlooking Caldera and the Fira Square after “checking in” to my hotel. There are numerous cafe’s with brilliant views of Caldera and the sunset. Just picked up one with a terrace, great Greek sea food and house wine. Santorini offers sumptuous sea food, fried Kalamari will be my top pick!

Old Port at Mykonos

Old Port at Mykonos

Welcome to Mykonos

Welcome to Mykonos

Wine in Santorni with setting sun overlooking Caldera

Wine in Santorni with setting sun overlooking Caldera

Day 6: Santorini – Trek, Oia

There is small little hill adjoining 400 meters high rock on which Fira is inhabited. It makes a good 3-4 hours round trek around the hill with panoramic view of volcano and Fira, with bit steep climb on the rocky stairs. I bumped into an American family on that almost-deserted trek, and the father won’t stop talking, an enthusiast photographer daughter in her twenties and a mother with great sense of humor! On the other side of the hill we reached a small little church that was marked as “Private Property”, I made the Americans stand proudly next to the signboard posing as they are the owners of the property for a Kodak moment.

Later, I took a bus to Oia the village for world famous Santorini sunsets. I reached too early for the sunset, days in April are really long with the sun setting at around 7:30 PM, so found a nice little cafe, Bluesky Restaurant, that served exquisite house white wine and pastas the Greek way. Got on with The Beach by Alex Garland, so aptly describes my philosophy of travel “You keep planning Borneo forever. Book a ticket, get the visa, pack a bag for yourself. And things will happen”. The sunset at Oia was majestic and the white buildings turned into pastel shades of purple and pink after sun submerged in the waters.

Small trek near Fira

Small trek near Fira

The Beach, White Wine and Bluesky Restaurant!

The Beach, White Wine and Bluesky Restaurant!

Sunset at Oia

Sunset at Oia

Oia, this sight has inspired many artists

Oia, this sight has inspired many artists

Day 7: Santorini – Black for Beaches and Caldera

After breakfast at Corner Restaurant, gorging best waffles in town with strawberry banana and Nutella, bought few postcards to be sent to near and dear ones. This is a new trait I have developed after few pals insisted on writing to them from my holiday destinations. I thought it was stupid at first, but when I took the pen to scribble small notes on the postcard, parking myself on the bench with the view of volcano in middle of huge blue ocean, I created fond memories forever, capturing the whole moment so deep in my mind that I am going to remember it with nostalgia.

Then, I took the state run bus to Kamari from Fira bus station, the ride took about 20 minutes costing €1.60. There are frequent buses running between different locations in Santorini with time table available at the Fira Square bus stop. Bit strangely, in Santorini, same place had two different names in English and Greek, like Fira will be English for the Greek Thira and English name Kamari will be Kampi in local language, so it’s good to remember both names if you want to get to right destination.

Kamari has a long stretch of black pebbled beach, a visual retreat. The blackness of land and blue waters create a sight I hadn’t seen anywhere else before. It was so therapeutic to walk on those black pebbles. In the afternoon, I took a pirate-sailor-boat ride to the inactive volcano that gave birth to Santorni Island, in a half-day trip for €20, covering one hour stop on the volcano and dip into the hot water springs created by the lava. Volcano land was covered with black lava rocks. The trip to hot water springs was super exciting for me. Due to cold winter month, waters were at 14°C and “hot water” was more of warm water at 19°C. The springs are in a bay, so the big boats could not get there and we had to swim some 50 meters in the wild Aegean waters to reach to springs.

Jumping in those cold water is something crazy that I hadn’t done in long time. Being not a very good swimmer I was advised to get back on the boat as quickly as possible. I ended the day with another awe-inspiring sunset from the terraces at Fira square. In all the travelling I totally forgot it was Good Friday. The lady, at cafe where I was dining, told me I should look at the hill, Pyrgos, in far-sight that was illuminated with candles, looked like the whole hill was decorated with thousands of diyas.

Then, I briefly joined a procession going to the church, a scene from movie like “End of Days” where everyone is trying to say their last prayers before the Armageddon.

Waffles at Corner Restaurant

Waffles at Corner Restaurant

Black pebble beach of Kamari

Black pebble beach of Kamari

Visit to the volcano and hot springs bay

Visit to the volcano and hot springs bay

Sunset with volcano from Fira

Sunset with volcano from Fira

Day 8: Santorini – Red Beaches

It was my last day in Santroni and had to leave for Athens in the afternoon. I booked the tickets with Blue Star Ferries from Santorini to Piraeus port in Athens for €35.

After white beach of Mykonos and black beach in Kamari, I thought I had seen it all, that’s when nature surprised me yet again. In the village of Akrotiri, accessible by state run buses on a 45 minutes ride costing €1.80, I reached a beach, enclosed by the slabs of red and black volcanic rocks behind it. This is truly hidden gem, requiring bit of a struggle to find the place and a rocky climb. If there was a beach on Mars, it would look something like this. While I was waiting for bus back to Fira, I set in a cafe for some coffee.

The ferry leaves for Athens at around 3:30 PM from Santorini. My hotel owners were kind enough to drop me to the new port which is about 20 minutes ride from Fira town snake-ing through mountains of Santorini. What I was about to board on, was the longest ferry ride of my life, eight hours to get to Athens. For the first few hours, I was on sun deck with Richard, Étienne, Françoise and Sal (characters from the Beach) curiously reading how long the alternate world that they had created for themselves will last. Why do we need to have a world of our own, isn’t the reality of the world around us so very amusing in its all strangeness? The ferry reached Athens at 11:30 PM. There were no metro available at that hour so hailed a cab to get to core of the town and stay near Acropolis area. I shared the cab with two American teenage girls on their own exploring the world at leisure.

Red Beach at Akrotiri

Red Beach at Akrotiri

My trilogy of White, Red and Black!

My trilogy of White, Red and Black!

While waiting for the bus

While waiting for the bus

Day 9: Athens – City Tour and Plaka

Last day of my holidays and too many things to be covered in majestic Athens. I had a flight to catch to India, leaving just few hours to explore the city.

Eureka moment, as I was walking by one of the main squares in Athens of Syntagma, I saw a City Sightseeing hop-on-off bus. From my previous experiences with the bus company, I immediately decided to take the bus setting me back €8. In 90 minutes, I was narrated with history of Athens and key spots to see in most educating and entertaining fashion.

We toured around Plaka, Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, National Gradens, Panathenaic Stadium, National Library and Omonia Square. On every Sunday at 11:00 AM, there is a change of Guard performed at Parliament House, interesting to see those guards changing positions in white skirts with some 400 pleats.

After that I headed to Acropolis, only to find out the last entrance was closed at noon on occasion of Easter. There is a small hill very close to entrance of Acropolis from where I saw the views of the mega city of Athens.

Later, walked around in Plaka, actually got lost for sometime and could not find my way back to Monastriaki from where I was to catch metro to the airport. I took the direct train to airport listening to Joni Mitchell humming “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, Traveling, traveling, traveling….. Looking for something, what can it be…”.

Back on flight, it was movie time again with Royal Jordanian – “Due Date”, “Accidental Husband” and “Morning Glory”. After one stopover, two and a half movies, I was back home feeling totally blue!

University of Athens

University of Athens

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

Aerial View of Athens

Aerial View of Athens

Things I would have done differently

The long eight-hour ferry ride from Santorini to Athens was excruciating, so flying now seems a lot better option as frequent flights are operated by Aegean or Olympic airlines. The cost would be slightly higher but that would given me more time in Athens and respite from the dizzy head I got after such a long time on ferry.

As I flew Royal Jordanian via Amman to Athens, I could have done stop over to Amman for two days and visited magnificent sites of Petra and floated in Dead Sea. In Jordan, on-arrival visa is available for Indian citizens at JRD 20.

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