General Notes on Visiting Greece

–Throughout our three week trip in Greece we noticed that the Greek people working in tourism do not make things easier on you when it comes to explaining how things work or posting signage. For example, we arrived on Santorini and went to the bus station; at the station, there is a kiosk with a person sitting inside. It appears that this is the person from whom you would buy tickets or to whom you could ask questions. When we asked this person questions, he seemed annoyed at having to answer them. Another example is that all the local buses on Santorini begin and end at the bus station in Fira. One would think that putting a sign in the front window of the bus listing the route would be helpful, but they do not do this. It begs the question: if Greek people are frustrated by having to help tourists repeatedly, why would they not make travel clearer and easier for tourists and locals alike?

–Greek house wine is cheap, but it is usually young wine and not amazing. Also, Greece is known for their white wines, not their reds as I would have hoped.

–Most restaurants charge around 1 per person for a basket of bread. If you do not want it, you can usually say so and not pay for it. However, if you are going to eat it, don’t let the charge bother you and eat up. It’s usually delicious. We tended to ask for olive oil, salt, and pepper if they weren’t already on the table. Also, if we didn’t finish all of the bread, we would take it with us. If we paid for it, it’s ours.

–Sometimes, at the end of a meal in a restaurant, you get a free dessert or a shot of ouzo or raki. This seems to happen in the less touristy areas and restaurants. This definitely did not happen on Santorini, ever.

–Here is the rule of thumb I used when it came to drinking tap water: If restaurants serve you glasses of water (as many do and it’s free), it’s generally safe. If restaurants serve you bottled water (it is not usually free), it’s unsafe to drink the tap water. Generally the tap water on the mainland is drinkable and the tap water on the islands is not drinkable, but ask to be sure. We also tended to ask for tap water on the mainland to save some money. All of the waiters we asked either gave us tap water or gave us a reason why they only serve bottled water.

–Water (tap or bottled) is generally given for free with the purchase of coffee but not tea.

–My friend Rheanna and I found that we could easily share one appetizer and one entree and still be stuffed after eating at most restaurants.

–I would recommend visiting Greece in September or early October. We were there is late October and early November and while we really enjoyed ourselves, we definitely missed out on restaurants and shops that were already closed for the season. And after talking with locals, I cannot recommend going during the summer months. Everyone I spoke with said June through August is so overrun that it’s not as enjoyable for tourists as it could be earlier or later in the year.

–Learning about 50 words of Greek was very helpful. As usual, it endeared us to locals and helped us visit restaurants and bars that were off the beaten path.

–Here is a link to the ferry schedule. This site was much more accurate than we had expected even in the off season.

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General Notes on Visiting Greece

Athens, Greece

I spent three days in Athens so I definitely didn’t cover the entire city. It is a city full of ruins and history but also full of lovely restaurants, shops, and cafes around every corner. We took a free walking tour while in Athens which lasted about three hours and we saw a lot of site. Our guide Marija was very helpful on explaining the history as well as what modern day life is like there.

The best souvlaki we had in Athens was at a little place called Souvlaki Kostas. The line was out the door and we definitely had to wait about 15 minutes to order, but it was worth it. Also, a handful of Greek words definitely helped though the man cooking and taking orders did speak English to me (I was the only foreigner in the joint).

While I was only in Athens for three days I would love to return and spend more time seeking out the hidden bars and quaint restaurant to see what the nightlife in Athens is really like. Here are a few websites that I found helpful.

http://athensguide.com/nightlife.html
http://athens.angloinfo.com/whatson/
http://www.athensfreewalkingtour.com/afwt/index.php/en/

Note: If you are flying in or out of Athens’ airport during the day, take Metro to and from the airport to save yourself a lot of money. The average cost of a taxi from the city to the airport is about €50. There is, however, a bus that runs 24 hours a day. Here is the link for the stops and schedules. At €5 a person, it is well worth waiting for the bus. But, note that it only makes stops going in one direction so check the bus stops on both sides of the street before waiting. 

Athens, Greece

Santorini, Greece

My friend Rheanna and I spent two days on Santorini. We were skeptical about our visit because of the high profile of the island. We stayed in Fira because it is so centrally located and we had limited time on the island. It’s definitely not a beautiful town, but it worked for our needs. We stayed at the Fira Backpacker’s Place. We booked a private room through Airbnb.com. For $71USD a night, it is one of cheapest places to stay on the island.

The town of Oia is worth visiting and is the quintessential Greek town. If you are going for the day, I highly recommend going early in the morning before it gets too busy. Keep in mind it is incredibly expensive compared to other Greek islands and towns. The rest of the island has a lot to offer so don’t spend all your time and money there. We visited a few of the wineries (check opening hours if you’re there outside of the tourist season), hiking trails, and beaches. The bus system was very helpful, somewhat easy to use (with little help from the drivers), and was the only cheap thing on the island.

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We used the buses to get to some of the wineries on the island as well. We took the bus towards the airport/Kamari. On the route back, it stops near the town of Exo Gonia. There are a handful of wineries that are walking distance from each other. We visited Art Space Winery and Estate Argyros as well as Artemis Karamolegos, which also has a restaurant. Here is a link that helped us find all of the wineries.

 

 

 

Santorini, Greece

Naxos, Greece

We took a ferry from Kea to Naxos. We had planned to stay five nights and use Naxos as a base camp to visit one or two of the small Cyclades Islands. Neither of these plans went accordingly. The first night we were there, we stopped into the travel agency (which is also where you buy ferry tickets). I asked about getting to and from one of the small Cyclades Islands. I was told that, at this time of year, I could not get to and from any of these islands (Iraklia, Schoinousa, Koufonisi, etc.) in the same day. When I tried to ask more questions, I was rebuffed and simply told no. This was not the helpful or positive information I was looking for. Then, on the fifth night of our stay, we discovered there would be a ferry strike for the next two days. However, between these two unfortunate pieces of information, we thoroughly enjoyed the island of Naxos.

We stayed in the Old Town at an Airbnb.com for about $89 a night. While this was more expensive than I would have liked, it was a great location. We felt like we were living in a piece of history as the apartment was built into a structure that is centuries old.

We found some amazing little restaurants and bars in the Old Town of Naxos. One such restaurant has a logo of two fat men drinking. Even though we had dinner there three times, I never learned the name of the restaurant, but it was consistently delicious and I can highly recommend the meatballs and the carbonara pasta. Follow the signs; you’ll be happy you did. We also frequented a bar called Elia. It is in the Old Town and has a red door. It may look closed, but keep trying. The wine options are lovely and not your average young, Greek wines, especially when it comes to the reds. Also, the bakeries around town, even near the port, are great spots to grab a filling snack like spanikopita for around 2-3€.

When we ventured out of the Old Town, we found Nostimon Hellas among many other shops and restaurants. The restaurant takes a creative spin on Greek food and the service was very friendly.

We rented a car for two days while on the island. We drove to a few other towns and spent an afternoon hiking between five towns. We used this link to plan one of the hikes.

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A view from our hike around Naxos.
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After hiking, we stumbled upon this abandoned building complex that was covered in extremely beautiful graffiti.

The hiking route was well-marked once we were on the trail. When looking for other hiking trails and information on things to do around the island, these two websites were very helpful.

http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/naxos/
http://www.thisisnaxos.gr/eng/page.aspx?itemID=SPG1

Naxos, Greece

Kea, Greece

After a week on the mainland, my friend Rheanna and I returned the rental car to the airport and caught a bus to Lavrion. When I read online that you had to take a bus to the town of Markopoulos, I was concerned that we wouldn’t know where to catch the following bus to Lavrion. In actuality, it was quite easy. The bus stop for the KTEL (suburban buses) was outside the airport near the escalator that takes you up to the Metro line to the city. I also asked for help from the tourism booth inside the airport. Once we arrived at Markopoulos, we hung out and waited for the next bus. We weren’t at a bus station, just a corner in town where all the buses stop. The whole trip took under an hour, not the 2-2.5 hours that we were told. Check out this link for the bus schedule. I was surprised to find that the buses in Greece were on time consistently. I can’t say this would be true in high season, but it was in October.

We spent two nights on Kea in an Airbnb.com in the very small town of Otzias about 5.5km from the port town. We knew the buses were no longer running so we grabbed a taxi for 8€ to get there (after buying provisions in town).

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The view from our room rented through Airbnb.com.

In my opinion, Kea was too small to really need a car/pay for a rental car but being there longer without bus service would have been tough. We spent one day hiking the footpaths that, while not well marked, were enjoyable–taking us through pastures, over rock walls and fences, and sometimes into farmers’ backyards. The routes are marked, but we didn’t see any markers until a few hours into the hike. I used Google Maps and the location feature on my smartphone to help us along (thanks T-Mobile global coverage!). We hiked 2.5 hours up to the town of Ioulis, the capital of the island. It had more restaurants and shops then we expected, though a lot of them were closed this late in the year. We grabbed lunch and then headed down to the port town of Korissia. We grabbed an early and cheap dinner in Korissia (location coordinates 37.658647,24.311807). The gyros were 2€ each and the wine was cheap at 3€ for a half carafe.

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Along the way, I took a moment to turn around and look back on how far we had hiked.
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We didn’t find many of these trail signs, but here is what they look like.

In summary, I would recommend visiting Kea but before the buses stop running at the end in September. You could easily spend a few days hiking from town to town and swimming in the small bays around the island. Also, this site seemed to have the most accurate ferry schedule including the changes in low season.

Kea, Greece

Daytrips from Kalamata, Greece

We took a day trip westward from Kalamata to see the Messoni fortress. It was so much more impressive than we expected based on the information we had found online. It’s free to enter and the grounds are vast.

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After exploring all morning, we drove back up the coast to Pylos for lunch. We chose one of the many restaurants on the water and, while the service was slow, the food was tasty. Once again, the three of us were able to leave lunch fat and happy (bottled water, bread, salad, entree, and wine) having spent about 15€ each.

After lunch, we headed for Voidokilia Bay. My husband ran up to the fortress on the hill while Rheanna and I enjoyed the view from the bottom as we weren’t sure if we’d have enough time to hike it before the sun went down. We were determined to get to the actual bay for sunset. We took the “shortcut” through the rough roads that Google pointed us towards. It was a white-knuckle driving experience as we took our tiny Suzuki Celerio through muddy ruts and puddles. I would recommend entering the bay from the North not from the West.

The view from the fortress overlooking Voidokilia Bay.
The view from the fortress overlooking Voidokilia Bay.
Voidokilia Bay
Voidokilia Bay
The sunset from Voidokilia Bay.
The sunset from Voidokilia Bay.
Daytrips from Kalamata, Greece

Kalamata, Greece

After our Bulgarian adventures, we flew to Athens to meet our friend, Rheanna, for a few days of travel. We rented a car at the airport and headed for the town of Kalamata. We stayed in an apartment rented through Airbnb.com for $75USD a night. The apartment was a 10 minute drive to Kalamata’s town center and five minutes down to the beach. While it was hard to find, it had an amazing view.

The view from our apartment was stunning.
The view from our apartment was stunning.

While in town, we ate at the Oino Cafe. Three of us shared five small dishes and drank wine for about 10€ each. It was delicious and a great change from traditional Greek dishes.

kalamata

Kalamata has a nice pedestrian area for shopping as well as a strip of bars and restaurants for hanging out at night. There are a handful of souvlaki shops with delicious pitas as well as very friendly staff. At about 5€ for a pita and a drink, they are great places for a good, cheap meal out. Kalamata definitely had lots to see and we definitely didn’t see if all. Check out the Kalamata page on Wikitravel.org for more information.

Kalamata, Greece