Our trip turns to Europe after six months of Australia and Asia. It is funny to have our Asia leg come to an end and know we will not get chop sticks with our meals for who knows how long. We loved it so much more than we expected. Now we start a whole new phase of the adventure. We each feel more comfortable, for some reason, starting this leg. Maybe it is just that we have been here to explore before – Judi and I together, when Kate was a baby and several times when we adventured as a family. It is not that we know any of the languages and every destination is new, even if we have visited years ago.
Athens, Greece was such a pleasant surprise. I could only recall the Athens of diesel exhaust and crowed streets. We know that even going to a place you have been before creates an entirely new experience. Why does this happen? Because we are different, the place is different, the people we are with are different. I think we can’t help but expect a place to be just like our last experience, but travel certainly teaches me over and over that this is not a good assumption. We stayed at the Student and Travelers Hostel right in the Plaka District, at the foot of the Acropolis. It was a perfectly located place that had a four bed room with bathroom at a reasonable price.
We arrived in Athens tired from our long haul flight from Hong Kong and layover in Dubai. The taxi driver couldn’t find our hostel because it is on a pedestrian street but I was glad that we had looked up that hotels some the airport to the center of Athens is a flat 38Euros fee. It took the pressure off of the circular driving and puzzle of finding our place. We wandered our wonderful area that is just ten minutes from the ticket office to enter the Acropolis and to the Acropolis Museum. We waited the next day at a cafe next to our hostel for our good friends, the Jenkins family, to arrive. It was so wonderful to have another family from home to hang out with and the kids were happy to have people more their age to be around after six months of 24/7 parent time.
We rallied early in the morning to explore the Acropolis Museum before going up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. We found coffee just down the street and then bought pastries at Lulu’s Cafe, which were all fantastic. It was wonderful to enjoy this museum and learn the history of Greece through the life of the Acropolis. There were no crowds of tours first thing and after soaking up all the history on the second floor, we spent most of our time with the kids learning all about the Acropolis by studying the Lego model of it and all the characters (like Indiana Jones in the caves and Gandalf arriving at the gates of the Parthenon).
Half the way up the Acropolis John announced he needed a bathroom, which is clear at the top and all the way across, so John and I sprinted to the top an then enjoyed the views of Athens below. The entire site has also been so well improved since my visits 25+ years ago – both in way of signage and upgrades to the site.
We managed to find the second oldest distillery in Europe just down our street so the adults enjoyed nibbles, ouzo and brandy at Bretto’s. It is a classic and beautiful little bar that is a must visit if you getting lunch or dinner in the Plaka after a visit to the Acropolis area.
From Athens we took the Blue Star Ferry to Santorini, heading out from our hostel at 6:00am to catch the 7:45 ferry. There were lots of people just sleeping in the seats all over our early morning ferry, but we had gotten the family deal on a cabin so we enjoyed a place to throw our bags and take a few naps on the way to Santorini.
The island of black sand beaches and romantic sunsets did not disappoint. We stayed in Perrisa, a beach town at the south end of the island. The four kids had a big room with four beds and each couple of adults had a room at Stellio’s Place. It was a wonderful and charming hotel. We found a little 24 hour bakery / cafe that we adopted as our own and felt like we were locals and even hung out enough that we felt a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhogs Day as the events unfold the same day after day – cue the dog… now the street sweeper guy…. bakery truck pulls up about… now, etc. We even got up (thanks to Anne Jenkins) for a couple of amazing sunrises. Life here is really good – enjoying the local Crazy Donkey beers, swimming in the sea, playing on the black sand beach (when dogs weren’t stealing and popping our beach ball), enjoying a coffee or bun, swimming in the pool at Stellio’s Place or just playing cards. It is easy to see why people from everywhere choose to come here.
But the pay off is the sunsets. We enjoyed two spectacular ones – one from Oia, which is the classic playground of the rich and famous and the cliff hanging restaurants are legendary. We got reservations at Pelekanos, which has amazing food, a 360 degree rooftop view of the sea and perfect service. We couldn’t have been happier with the experience. It came at the end of a full day adventure we booked – going by boat we explored the volcano in the center of Santorini (which is basically giant caldera, like Crater Lake in Oregon), jumped off the side of the road and swam in volcanic hot springs water and then had a great lunch in Thirasa before riding donkeys up the side of the cliff from the harbor up to Oia proper. Oil is where the beautiful people come to wear their beautiful fashion stuff apparently. It was good to wander among them and wonder how much some of the amazing outfits cost (and why anyone would pay anything for some of the outfits).
Our other great sunset adventure was a bus ride to Fira (in the center of Santorini) to enjoy the Santo Winery. We had the best winery views you could imagine. The flight of 12 wines was good too. We also loved the best Mexican food we have found since leaving Oregon – at Sr. Zorba’s next door to the winery. The view was no less amazing than the winery and we had a great talk with son of the owner who was born in the US, raised in Greece, and went to school in Denver.
Leaving Santorini could have been put off a few days or a few weeks and we would have all be fine with staying here. It is easy to see how the sisters from Switzerland, who checked us in at the airport for our flight to Rome, had decided to stay here for the foreseeable future. If we were cute 20-somethings from Switzerland, we would stay here too. But as it is, we will have to be content to plan to return someday. We did start mapping out where you can catch a direct flight right into Santorini.