For My Dear Friend Stephanie who has enthusiasm for Greece like no one else
Athens (Day One)
We arrived in Athens at around 7:00 AM and planned to get off the ship as early as we could. We made plans to see the city with two people, my friend, MK, and my roommate, Alex. We met them at 9:15 AM and left for Athens.
Upon leaving the port I started to notice a common theme: stray dogs everywhere. They were in the port building and outside by the taxi line. I did notice they were in good condition and found out the taxi drivers take care of them by feeding them on a daily basis. We got in a taxi and headed for what I believe is called the temple of Zeus, although I could be wrong. When we got there we bought tickets for six or seven different things in Athens. The temple was very interesting, but looked as all ruins do. My mom would have said, “seen one seen em all” (jokingly, kind of). After this we walked to the parliament building where the formal changing of the guards would occur at 11 AM because it was Sunday.
This changing of the guards is different from the hourly one that occurs daily because it includes a large procession and is considered formal. This also meant that the attire of the guards would be different. We watched the two guards currently guarding march around, and also got to see two military Greek men wipe the sweat from their faces because they are not allowed to move. A few minutes later we heard music, and a stray dog that had been camped out in front of the parliament ran towards the road. I soon found out why he did this; the procession was starting and for some reason when the stray heard the music he ran for the procession and walked with them. The procession was really awesome, which included many guards and policemen. The guards were dressed in formal attire, adorned with white outfits and puffy traditional shoes. Eventually three guards marched to where the two guards working were. They switched out two for two and marched back into line. Once the music started for the guards to leave, the stray again ran out and joined in front of the march. This was a remarkable experience and very fascinating considering it was parallel to protesters signs across the street that have been rioting in Greece for sometime against the poor economy. In fact, things are so bad they are considering breaking from the Euro, which would be an enormous step backwards.
After this we headed to a main square for some lunch. We strolled past little store alongside the streets and knew we would be back there later. We stumbled upon a place that still had breakfast because some of us wanted breakfast. It was a great traditional Greek meal. Sam and I shared a Greek platter for two, which included beef, sagnaki (fried cheese), sausage, and much more.
We then went back to the shops we had seen earlier. We all bought various trinkets, my favorite being my purchase of a small bronze handcrafted chess set. I bought my mom something beautiful, which I obviously cannot post here. After shopping we decided to brave the trek up to the Acropolis where we could see the Parthenon.
We stopped for some large bottles and began the hike up in the scorching hot part of the day. It was near or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the only benefit of this was that it was less crowded. One agonizing walk later we arrived at the steps of the Parthenon. It was definitely worth the trek. I feel so fortunate just to have been there. It was really remarkable to see the Parthenon and the rigorous reconstruction it has been undergoing for what seems like forever. The view of Athens was like nothing else; the whole city was beneath us. I see now why they call Athens the “high city.” We made friends with a couple of beautiful yellow butterflies and then retreated back down to the city.
The Acropolis Museum was at the bottom and we were going to stop in, but opted out feeling like we had seen our fare share of ruins for the day. Personally seeing such great things is like tasting great wine or seeing great art; you can really only truly enjoy/appreciate the first few glasses or the first few pieces of masterful art. So, we then headed to the Hard Rock Café for MK because she had been getting a shot at each Hard Rock and keeping the shot glass from said location.
The walk there was not as direct as we had thought it would be. I saw an amazing little patisserie and could not refuse walking in to feast on something sweet. I had this amazing version of chocolate mousse with some sort of pastry at the bottom and MK had Cookie flavored ice cream. So yummy! Upon leaving we saw some SWAT Team getting out of their armored car adorned with shields, tear gas, and lots more protective gear. I thought for a minute I would take a picture of them, but it was if they read my mind. They must have seen my large camera, because they turned to me and shook their fingers in a NO manner.
After one shot at the Hard Rock we headed for the Athens Flea Market. It was a disappointment to say the least. Not what we would consider a flea market, and it was mainly full of junk versus flea markets full of junk with stuff you want. At the end of the Flea Market I did see an old man with just a table full of different trinkets. I saw a couple of old film cameras and bartered with him until I got one for 20 Euros. Not a bad price at all considering I looked it up later, and it was a rarer Russian 35MM camera going for over $100 on eBay.
Now it was time to go bar hopping! We first went to a bar in a quiet section of Athens where we each had one drink with the exception of Alex, who does not drink. We also had two shots, one of which was free thanks to the waitress who took a shot with us. We asked about a section of town where a string of bars were that the locals hung out at. It was Sunday, so most bars were closed and we had no choice but to go to this one far out area where local Greeks go. We found out where it was and started walking.
To get there we had to walk through some pretty strange areas, such as factories and other industrial places. I must admit I was nervous of where we were going to end up, but it was still daylight so I felt fine. Finally, we arrived at what at first only seemed like a few restaurants and bars, but we would soon find out was actually a large amount of different bars of all different types. Looking for the first bar I encountered this black dog who reminded me so much of my dog, Esprit. Just like her, he had allergies; he rolled on his back, paws in the air waiting for belly rubs, and even followed us when we went to leave. Ughh he truly broke my heart.
I saw a bar called “Why Sleep?” and thought what could be more appropriate for a first, well actually second bar. So we decided to have a drink and listen to some good music. The scene was great, except virtually no one spoke English because we were in a truly local area. After each having a drink and no shots because this bar was a little pricey we had to make a trip to the ATM. Also, Alex took a taxi back to the ship.
Now we were in search of bar number three. We decided on a bar called “Tramp” because of its stellar looks and rooftop terrace. They definitely had the best drinks and best atmosphere of the night, so overall my favorite bar in Athens. Samantha and MK started off with a drink entitled, Porn Star, which was a thicker cocktail yet amazing! I had a fig-based cocktail, which was out of this world! Then we had ordered a shot that bartender recommended; it was a strawberry vodka shot. It tasted great, but that was not was most amazing. The color of this shot was beautiful; it was a translucent purple color that shined bright neon. After our first drink we headed to the terrace for one more. The terrace overlooked a square that separated the bars, which was chock full of locals and stray dogs. MK and Samantha had the same drink for their second and I had a drink with Makers Mark that was really incredible considering the ingredients. We had another shot, which was like an Apple Martini in shot form. After those drinks we decided to depart this bar.
We decided one more bar and one more drink would be appropriate, which is why we ended up at the “Pink Elephant.” The scene here was really great; it was now nighttime and full of locals paired with some great music. The cocktails were also very good and we had a shaker full of shots. You pay 15 Euros and get an entire shaker full of a shot of your choice and can continue to do shots until the shaker runs out. We had the Kamikaze shaker. What made this bar so good was the wonderful appetizer for-two platter, which we all split. It was perfect drinking food, which included a wonderful mix of different fried foods. We left the bar in debate about what to do next. Somehow we decided one more drink before a taxi back to the ship.
We hit up the ATM again (well I did not because of lack of funds), and headed for the last bar. When we got there I decided a beer was a good idea at this point, and Samantha and MK stuck with cocktails. A great little bar to cap the night probably because of all the great throwback music they played. A little while later we left and returned to ship only a little after midnight. Mind you, this may appear to be a heavy night of drinking, but it was really rather spaced out, considering we went to the first bar somewhere around 6:00 PM.
MYKONOS (Day Two)
We woke up on the ship at 5:00 AM and began to pack for the next three nights. At 6:00 AM we met in the Union to depart with a Semester at Sea trip to Mykonos. We all assembled onto the bus for a short ride to the ferry that would transport us to Mykonos. We quickly encountered an obstacle: all of the taxis in Athens decided to go on strike! Because of this the road the bus was taking to the ferry was blocked. Thus we had to all exit the bus and boogy down to the other side of the port where the boat to Mykonos was located. We made it on in time and I was very surprised by how nice the accommodations were. It was so much nicer than airplane seating. After on and off napping we arrived in Mykonos around four hours later.
We got to the hotel around 12:00 PM and were ready to start exploring Mykonos. But wait there was another obstacle about to get in our way. We could not check into our room until 12:45 PM and this hotel was situated a few kilometers outside of the town, and walking was not a possibility. We were then told we could just leave our bags in a room of the lobby because check-in would not happen until 2:00 PM. Samantha and I planned on getting a taxi into town with a couple of our friends, Kristin and Cat, but another obstacle was ahead of us. The hotel was far out and taxis were always in demand in Mykonos, so we were virtually stuck until 2:00 PM when the shuttle bus by the hotel would take hotel guests into town. I got my room early and although the hotel was really beautiful my room was not. Two twin beds inches apart and that was about it. Oh and a shower that I would find out later was absolutely ridiculous! Finally the shuttle bus came at 2:00 PM, and we missed it because it got full so fast! Luckily it came back in about 15 minutes, so we were finally off for Mykonos. Finally!
We strolled down the white covered streets of Mykonos in search of a bite to eat. Samantha and I had been up since 5 AM, been at drinking the night before, and had not had dinner that night either, so we were starving. I quickly learned the stray population in Mykonos was primarily cats rather than dogs. This was fine with me because I love any animal. After making a few cat friends we stopped in a local Greek Taverna for some local fare. Lunch was so good and I had Sagnaki (again because it is my favorite) and a lamb dish cooked in a form of mustard sauce. Samantha had Moussaca (I don’t know how to spell that) and Gyros. Kristin also had the gyros and Cat did not eat. During lunch I saw a tiny kitten that I picked up and cradled. The owner informed me they feed him and the momma cat as well. After lunch Cat left for the hotel because she was feeling ill, and Sam, Kristin, and I started a search for the bus to Paradise (known as one of the best beaches in Mykonos).
The directions we received from the restaurant were not incorrect, but were misleading. Let me elaborate; we soon found out in many parts of Greece when someone tells you left they mean right and vice versa. Luckily for us when we made the first left, which was supposed to be a left we ran into a local middle aged man wearing a bathing suit. I suppose we looked very confused and he asked us where we were going, so we told him “Paradise.” He informed us we were going the wrong way, and that he was heading for the bus to paradise also so we could just walk with him. Normally, I would have questioned walking with him but I knew the general way, it was daylight, and he was obviously a local. He was very nice, but probably just what I would describe as a horny old man. He told us he goes to Paradise everyday to meet some of his guy friends and also to see his “lady” who is a dancer. He was funny and also very helpful, though sort of stereotypical. We told him what we had for lunch and he told us the Greek Diet was great because you would always be capable of sex, even at a very old age. Anyway, he did lead us to the bus station and show us where to get tickets. We got on the bus about ten minutes later and headed off for paradise.
When we got to paradise Samantha and I did a shot next to the bus station called Northern, and I have no idea what was in it, but it was good. We walked onto the beach of paradise and boy it was something else. People were everywhere, loud music playing from the DJ, women dancers shaking their stuff on tables, and a very clubby feel. We liked paradise, though it was not really any of our scenes. There was barely a spot to lie down on the beach, and it was already around 5:00 PM. I saw a sign saying that boats ran to Super Paradise (another beach known for having a large gay and nude people) for five Euros and found out it would be less crowded there. Despite its reputation we headed to Super Paradise via boat in search of somewhere less crowded.
Around a few cliffs we arrived to the smaller, less crowded Super Paradise. This was much better because there was a lot more room, and though there was the loud DJ with dancers it was located off to the right and not blaring in your ear. Also, the beach was not strewn with nudists as its reputation would have you believe, in fact the only nudity I saw was one topless woman. Finally situated and settled in we began to soak up the rays or what was left of them (luckily the sun sets much later in Greece). I got a cocktail from the bar with blue Curacao, and Sam had a Zombie, which is a common European drink that is very strong and somewhat similar to a long island iced tea. The scene at the bar was crazy! There were people dancing everywhere, people spraying 90 Euro minimum champagne bottles, and people of all different types grinding on each other. The music was actually nice back where we were lounging because they played a lot of good music. The funniest/most annoying/cool thing the DJ did was shout into virtually every song, many times, the word “MYKONOS,” which he would sound out so that it had a dramatic effect. A couple hours later we left Super Paradise for Paradise for a bus back to town.
A little past 7:00 PM we decided to go to a couple bars before dinner. At the first bar Samantha and I both had different varietals of a strawberry cocktail and both were wonderful. We sat right next to water and watched the sun go down while sipping our strawberry flavored cocktails. After the sunset we decided to have another cocktail at one more bar.
We ended up at a bar called Katerina’s, which overlooked the water and we sat on the terrace. Sam had the surprise cocktail which had more fruit that I can remember and I had some extremely tart Gin Fizz full of lemon. Both cocktails were very good and the view was amazing here. Directly in front of us was the beautiful water and off to the left the famous windmills built in 1790 that were lit up by giant spotlights. Then, all of the sudden, the whole city of Mykonos went dark. It was really kind of eerie to be in a foreign place with absolutely no light. We figured out the power outage was probably due to large number of tourist currently on the island and how much electric usage was being utilized. We left the dark bar and wondered down the dark streets in search of a restaurant still functioning in the outage.
Samantha and I were trying to read a menu when Kristin called us over to her. I thought it was going to be a cat because we had searched and found them all day as kind of a scavenger hunt. It was not a cat, but rather a Great White Pelican perched at my eye level on a small step. He was tagged on his foot and everybody was taking a picture with this massive creature. And although I also got a picture with him I felt bad for him that he could not be left alone. A local informed me that he is always roaming the streets and the locals take good care of him because he really does not or cannot fly.
Just around the corner we found a place for dinner. The dinner was really good (as usual). Also, the power came back on during dinner. We had sagnaki, spinach pie, baked calamari, lobster pasta, and I had a whole fish. We also had some wine from Santorini called Santo Wine, which was an amazing dry white. As I said earlier cats were everywhere and they all appeared healthy and well taken care of, and in addition were loved by the locals and tourists alike. So, when I saw a kitten perched atop a stoop above where the diners sat I approached him and gave him a little of my leftover fish. When I sat down these two women who were sitting closest to where the kitten was shot me a look of death. I must have had a “What?!?” look on my face because they quickly started bitching at me. They were British tourist and started to say things like “we do not want some stray near us when we eat”, “that is disgusting”, and my favorite, “what? Do you want to switch tables with us?” I just ignored them, but became more offended when one of them stood up to swat at the innocent kitten. They were really rude.
After dinner we were ready to return to the hotel, but knew getting a taxi would be hard. After stopping in a patisserie for some chocolate cake we found the taxi line. We were grateful and though phew thank goodness we found this. We were not lucky, we waited nearly two hours for a taxi. There were only two benefits to this. One: I met sparkles, twinkles, oscarlaretta, and feisty (all cats, many of which I held). Two: We met a nice Australian man named Steve whom we chatted with and shared a taxi with back to the hotel because he was also staying there. In addition, he also paid for our taxi. Bonus.
We got out of the cab exhausted and ready for bed. When heading to the room we ran into a friend, Coco, who informed us she was supposed to go to Paradise Club, but the people she was going with had fallen asleep. At that club that night they were expecting over 3,000 people because the DJ from the song “Hello” was going to be there. We decided to hang out with Coco for a while and had a lot of fun. We capped the night with a late night swim in the pool, which was a semi-bad decision. Because they had just put chlorine in the pool our skin burned when we got out. Thus we bolted back to showers. My shower was ridiculous; one could not shower without spraying the entire bathroom. Sam slept in my room because my roommate for this trip had told us she should because he probably would be out all night.
MYKONOS/SANTORINI (Day Three)
At 12 PM we woke up to a please check out phone call from the front desk. We quickly realized my roommate still was not back. We told the Dean he was not back yet, and I helped her move his stuff into the lobby. Our ferry was leaving at 2:55 PM for Santorini and since cabs were impossible to get we decided to just wait at the hotel until 2 and catch the shuttle in order to get to the ferry.
When we arrived at the port where the ferry was going to be, I still had to pick up our tickets. The kiosk I had been told of was nowhere in site at the port. I ended up having to run about ¾ of a mile to the ferry office to pick up our tickets. And then, of course, the ferry was late. When it did arrive we boarded and were fortunate on this boat. We had to business class because they were sold out of economy. That meant we got to go to the second floor to sit and have even larger chairs. It was really nice. Sure beats first class on American Flights.
Our arrival into Santorini was scheduled for somewhere a little after six. I had never had Internet like I thought I would, thus we did not get the free pick up at the port from the owner of our villa. Furthermore, our villa was off by itself in a small town, with an ambiguous name (Stone House Villa), and had no address listed. Despite this we got into a cab and told him Stone House Villa in Megalohori (the town in Santorini) and he obliged, but obviously only had a roundabout idea of where it was. He dropped us off at some other villa. We walked into the front desk and told them of our ordeal. They tried the phone, but like us got no answer. Then, a strike of luck! The receptionist knew something I had forgotten, that the owner of our villa also owned a restaurant called, Raki, which would be near our villa. We got typical Greek directions and were off by foot to Raki.
Once on the main road we made a wrong turn and Sam got a large thorn embedded in her hand. I realized or thought rather we were going the wrong way and suggested we turn around. We did and knew we had to turn right at some bakery. Unbeknownst to us what I thought was the bakery was not. I asked the woman inside which way to Raki, but she spoke no English, though I though she recognized Raki and pointed in the direction we should head. Down the dirt road we went with our entire luggage until we encountered a split in the road, which no one told me about. We went left, why, I do not know. We ran into a small family owned winery. I asked the two older women where to Raki, and they just pointed down. I looked and saw some stairs, so down we went. A few flights later we were on a new street, and to my surprise on the right was Raki! So, we had taken some completely convoluted route, but who cares because it got us there. I know we were looking pretty haggard at this point and some man at Raki (I am assuming the manager) asked what we were looking for. I told him we were staying in said villa and trying to get a hold of the owner, Petros. He tried the number and again no answer, but luckily he had Petros’ cell phone number. Petros was obviously confused and told him that we had never let him know of when our arrival would be. Both of them were astonished in some way that we had found Raki. Petros told him he would be there very soon with the keys. While we waited at Raki, they GAVE us some water, which if you have ever been to Europe you know you are never given water. We also made friends with a dog we named Ralph, who we thought was a stray but later found he had a home, but like many pets in the small village, he roamed freely as he pleased. Fifteen or so minutes later Petros arrived and began to walk us to our villa.
It was pretty funny; Ralph followed us to our villa, which was not far but still funny. As soon as Petros opened the gate to our courtyard with our own pool I knew the trek was worth it. The villa was beautiful. When you walked through the white wooden doors you were in the courtyard, which had two lounge chairs, a table for four, and a pool. To get in the villa you could through another set of wooden doors that opened up to a room with a bed, kitchen, and past that on the left was the bathroom. The bathroom had an awesome Moroccan style shower with pebble flooring, and the stone walls in the bathroom were a burnt red color. Now around 7:40 PM we decided to just relax and then have dinner around the corner at Raki.
We went to dinner at nine and loved everything about it. The atmosphere is amazing; the restaurant is outside underneath huge bougainvilleas in a little square of Megalohori. In addition, on that night they had live music, which really made it a wonderful experience. The food was very good and not anywhere near expensive. The wine was so cheap and amazing. You cannot get a bottle of wine at Raki, because they get all their wine from the winery around the corner. You can order half a carafe (about half a bottle of wine) for four Euros or a whole carafe (about a full bottle of wine) for eight Euros. And the wine is so good, and obviously local! Ralph was there for dinner along with some other dogs scoping out possible scraps from diners. We obliged and gave Ralph a few different scraps, which he appreciated.
After dinner we wanted to go back to our villa and go swimming before going to bed. We had white wine at dinner and really wanted to have red when we got back to our villa So, I asked if we could take back a carafe with us and told them I would bring it back in the morning and of course that was fine with me. They were the nicest people in this small village. Samantha and I went swimming, drank our wine, and then went to bed after a very long day.
Santorini (Day Four)
We got up ready for a whole day of adventures in Santorini. We headed to Raki around 12:00 PM to see if they could get us a taxi. And not surprisingly the taxis were all busy, but the manager told us about a bus we could get on near the infamous bakery we had not gone to the day before. We found our way to the bakery and asked about the bus and taxis. And while I was getting a Frappe (iced coffee) I heard Sam yelling my name. I ran out with my Frappe and was so happy to see she had managed to hail us a taxi. It appeared our transportation luck was changing.
First stop: Santo Wines Winery, Megalohori, Santorini. A short drive away we arrived at Santo Wines winery. We walked into the tasting area, which was much different than I had pictured and much different than wineries in California (I think). We ordered the tasting of 12 different wines accompanied by bread, cheese, and a tomato dip. The price? Only 19 Euros for all of that! The wine was so exceptional. Seven white wines, three red wines, and two desert wines. I had to let Samantha drink most of the desert wines as I was already feeling it at just around 1:00 PM. Afterwards we bought some trinkets from the gift shop and got them to call us a cab.
Oddly enough, we got the same taxi driver from earlier. We told him to just take us to the main square in Thira Town, Santorini (one of the main touristy areas). We shopped around for a little bit and then stopped in at a little restaurant for some much needed food. This was a really pretty outside restaurant. We started out with some Sagnaki and Fava Bean Dip, a Santorini specialty. In addition to that they had an extensive beer list. Samantha got the Kwak, which was awesome and served in a crazy glass that you have to drink that beer in. I ordered some heavy, strong beer that to my surprise came with another beer in a huge mug to accompany the heavy beer. I was going to have the ostrich or quail for my meal, but they had already sold out of both. So I got the whole snapper instead. The fish was of course exceptional!
The next adventure was the cable car ride down the mountain towards the water. After waiting in line for a while we took the cable car down to the bottom. Once there we made our way to another activity and by far my favorite: A Donkey Ride up the mountain/hill. I picked out a rather large white donkey and Samantha got a brown one. The whole ride up was really cool. I loved it. Sam and I got a pair of stubborn donkeys that would just stop and not move. It did not bother me though because I felt bad enough making them trek me up the hill. As soon as they saw the man coming with the stick they would kick it into high gear. Samantha’s donkey got to close to mine and my donkey kicked its feet some, which ended up kicking Sam in the legs. Hehehe. It was not a hard kick though so she has minimal bruising from this incident. We made up to the top a little later and were on our next adventure of the day.
Oia has the most beautiful sunsets in Santorini and is the iconic white city everybody sees when they see pictures of Santorini. This was our next stop and we just needed to get a cab. We found one relatively quickly and began the 20-minute or so drive there, which ended up making both Sam and I car sick. Oia was really wonderful once I got to see the all white buildings cascading down the cliff towards the ocean. We made reservations at two restaurants because we ended up seeing one better after the first. We watched the sunset over Santorini as sipped on Sangria and Kir Royal. Then I checked my bank account and realized neither dinner reservation would come true. After sunset we were walking back to where the taxis were supposed to be and Samantha surprised me and took me to one of the restaurants we made reservations at. When we got to the terrace at this restaurant the sky was completely pink/purple and was most magnificent at that time. We had a delicious dinner: Sagnaki (of course), Bruschetta with mushrooms, a seafood pasta to split, and of course a couple glasses of white wine.