After the, shall we say, trying experience that was our short stopover in Prague, we were all too happy to head to the peaceful sun-drenched beaches of Greece. The culture! The history! The beaches! The feta cheese! Oh, the feta cheese!
(An aside, before we continue. If you just stumbled on this post and aren’t sure what we’re doing in Greece, check out our previous posts in this travel series, including stops in Munich and Prague. You can also check out the later posts about the trip, including Florence/Rome and Budapest).
We hopped on a plane and jetted from Prague down to Athens. We checked into our hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner of lamb kebabs, beet and goat cheese salad (clichéd to be sure, but also delicious), and THE creamiest, most luxurious tzatziki we have ever had.
A little spin through Syntagma Square to walk off dinner and a refreshing night’s sleep was just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing first night in Athens.
The next morning, we rose early for an INTENSE day of sight-seeing. We had exactly one day in Athens to see everything and wanted to make the most of it. We passed the parliament building and snaked through the National Garden of Athens, a perfect little oasis in the middle of a bustling city, which, surprisingly, felt a lot like Beijing to us. Something about all the mopeds, the architecture, and the general rush of things felt a lot like our old Chinese stomping grounds.
From the park, we entered the Acropolis, where the Parthenon loomed large over Athens. We saw a ton of other old structures as well, including an old amphitheater and the Temple of Athena. As we walked to the Parthenon, it was hard not to be in awe of just how impressive the structure must have been when it was first built. You can still see the seams in the Corinthian columns and how the ancient Greeks stacked these huge carved pieces of marble one on top of the other with sheer manpower.
From there, we took an AC and wi-fi break in the Acropolis Museum (AC and wi-fi breaks are MUSTS to maintain sanity when traveling abroad during the summer!).
We also had THE most delicious pasta of mint pesto, oil-cured smoky fish, briny olive leaves(?) (at least that’s what we think they were…maybe some of our Greek readers can enlighten us in the comments. Any ideas Panos & Mirella?), and kalamata olives at the museum restaurant (a cliche touristy decision that turned out to be surprisingly okay). It. Was. Delicious. Just writing about it now is giving me intense cravings for this pasta!
From there, to the ancient agora of Athens! We got a little lost walking through the complex of ancient structures (“We just came from that big pillar over there!” “I thought we were by those other pillars!”…Not that easy to navigate ancient Greece in the 21st century) but, happily, ended up in the Plaka, where we saw some wonderful traditional Greek homes.
As we headed back to our hotel, we ended up in a young, “hip” (as my dad would say) neighborhood on the other side of the parliament building, and, on the way…we passed an Indian restaurant. Now a lot of people would scoff at such a thing. Indian food? In GREECE?
But after a long day of trekking over old bits of GREEK marble, looking at never-ending statues of GREEK gods, and winding your way through seemingly infinite pillars from GREEK temples, something NON-Greek starts to sound mighty appealing. So, we’re not really ashamed to say that THIS happened in our hotel room:
In other news, we now know that chicken tikka masala gyros are a thing. A very very delicious thing.
The next morning, we boarded a little plane to Santorini at 5am. The sight of the clear blue water and the glorious black sand beaches was amazing after 4 days of city sightseeing.
We decided to spend the morning exploring the town of Fira, just a short drive from our hotel. We walked up the narrow, steep cobblestone paths of the city, stopping for a nice breakfast with a beautiful ocean view.
After exploring the rest of the town, we zig-zagged our way back to the base of the city, where we headed back to our hotel for a little poolside relaxation and a homemade dinner! Armed with a few key provisions purchased at the local Carrefour, we made an amazingly simple pasta with tomatoes, mint, and parsley, which Sarah is going to post later this week. There’s nothing like cooking a homemade meal when you’ve been on the road for a while.
The next day, we enjoyed the glory that is the black sand beach of Kamari. It was all turquoise water, black sand, and sun—enjoyed, of course, with the requisite reclining beach chair and palm frond umbrella.
After a morning of beach bumming, we jumped on a bus to Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was excavated and preserved for public viewing. It was pretty amazing to see the walls of the old buildings, and even pots and basins that were used at the time.
From there, we walked along the coastline to the red sand beach.
We had to hike up and down a fairly intense cliffside to get to the beach, but the views were well worth it.
On the way back to our bus stop, we had a tasty dinner of freshly caught fish, tomato fritters, brined caper leaves (surprisingly delicious, though, sadly, hard to procure in the US), and the requisite greek salad (Let’s be real. We basically ordered it for the feta cheese).
The following day, we decided to tackle the 3 hour hike from Fira to Oia, a neighboring town. The hike would basically take us from one end to the other of the island of Santorini; Rick Steves described the hike as “strenuous,” but we thought we could take it.
(If we were characters in a Greek play, this is what you would call some serious dramatic irony. Sure! We said—a little “strenuous” hike will do us good.)
We got on the hiking path, and, as we walked, the weather started to take a turn for the worse. Clouds darkened into a misty gray, and they were sagging low over our heads.
It started drizzling. A little rain is no big deal, we said. We pressed on.
Then the wind picked up. The drizzle started to turn into a pelting rain that hit our faces. A middle-aged couple on holiday who had been walking ahead of us spotted the now dark and stormy expanse of rain clouds that shrouded the island up ahead and promptly turned around as fast as their sensible Merrell walking shoes could carry them.
By now, I’m taking breaks to huddle against the low rock wall just to get out of the wind and rain, and I’m seriously regretting my decision to wear shorts. But we press on.
As we traverse the island, winding our way up and down alternately wide and narrow paths, the wind whips around us. Hair becomes increasingly disheveled.
At one point, we see this sad donkey shack:
Alas, no donkeys are to be found to carry us up the mountain. But even so, the views from the top of the hills are amazing, so, still, we press on.
Luckily, after a while, the rain stops, and magically, the clouds part. It’s a miracle! We cheer like the cheesy tourists that we are…Except, after mere minutes, the rain and clouds give way to an intense beating sun and uncomfortable humidity levels. The path gets craggier and we practically climb our way along a steep, donkey-poop-covered path to make our way up and over a series of hills.
By now, the clouds are moving so fast over the island that we feel like some schizophrenic weather man is controlling the climate. Hot, cold, cloudy, sunny, damp, dry. After FOUR HOURS (not three, RICK!), we reach Oia, which is, as promised, gorgeous and distinctly more refined and pretty than its neighbor, Fira.
We stop in an amazing bookstore called Atlantis Books and buy a delightful Greek cookbook and a few good reads for plane rides and train journeys.
Walking around Oia, we can definitely see why people like to hunker down for a solid week or two and just enjoy the sights and views.
Of course, we can’t miss the famed Oia sunset, so we stake out a spot along one of the stone walls that overlooks the ocean. It’s not quite the hallelujah chorus moment that’s advertised, but it was pretty spectacular.
The next day, we relax our achy bones on the beach. Joking aside, we all agree that our four hour hiking adventure was the best part of the trip so far.
Next in our European adventure—a carbtastic jaunt through Florence and Rome!