Santorini, Milos, Sifnos and Athens in two weeks
15.06.2013 - 22.06.2013
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I finally find the time to update the blog! It has been so long since I could sit down to write our travels memoirs. The 7 week trip to Europe did not end in Spain but in Greece, our favorite country, I must say.
My mother was right... as usual. Greece is gorgeous! No wonder why there were so many greek philosophers and poets. The scenery is amazingly inspiring... crystal clear waters reflecting the blue sky, islands scatered around, pristine colorful beaches and the mighty wind make you realize that truly God is the best artist ever. So much beauty in one place is hard to believe.
Santorini is one of the most beautiful therefore most visited islands in Greece. Gladly, Jay had already arranged a week of accommodation in Perissa beach for a great price (~25 USD/night) over the internet. Our small but cosy room had a balcony that overlooked the little village with the sea in the background and surrounding hills. We were literally 3 mins walking distance from one of the best black sand beaches of the island.
It takes forever to get ready to go out of the room with a baby. "Dont forget the diapers!", "Do we have clean bottles?"" Does she have sun block on?"... "Oh! Dont touch that, Ylla!!" And suddenly she hits herself on something and the crying begins. We did have a lot of fun times in the room though. It is so funny how babies try to imitate all they see... this kind of behavior later become sweet and fun memories.
The best way to explore Santorini, and most Greek Islands, is by car. The island is quite big and diverse: beaches with red, white, black and everything in between sand colors; archaeological sites; beautiful viewpoints; picturesque little villages; fishing coves and wineries. Our favorite attractions were definitely the beaches, even when some of them were quite crowded it was well worth it. "We have never seen a beach like this" said an Argentinian couple in Red Beach. "We have been all over the caribbean and Europe but nothing like this," he continued.
"Two days by car should be enough to see all the main attractions" said our friendly host. "You mean I will have to be driving a standard car in the steep and windy roads?" I said surprised to Jay. I haven't driven a mechanic car since I left Peru (~8 years ago). "Well, there is no alternative unless you want to pay almost double for the scarce automatic ones" said Jay.
Anyhow... I nervously had to drive all over the place. We got lost so many times... tension was in the air. The thing is that the signalization system sucked, big time, without mentioning that some of the off-the-beaten-path signs were written in Greek only! This forced me to pick up the Greek alphabet at light-speed... having learned quite a bit of science -math- in school and knowing the Russian alphabet became very handy, at last!
Ancient Thyra was the only archaeological site we explored while in Santorini. It is just not that fun to go see ruins when you have a toddler that all she wants is to pick up rocks and could care less about Apollos temple and amphitheaters where greek philosophy was discussed thousands of years ago.
The site happened to be on a ridge top which offered great views of the surrounding. The road to the top proved to be the most challenging thing I had ever driven through until then. It was rocky and narrow, steep and extremely curvy. Thank God we were able to make it to the top safely.
Exploring the Island on our own took us to Mesa Pigadia a rocky beach totally off-the-beaten-path. There was only one restaurant that seemed to host the handful of tourists that visited that day. I was surprised to see doors sticking out of the cliff. I kept wondering if that would be the entrance to a cave or some sort of house... Was that for real or just for display? i wondered. The mystery didn't resolve until I saw a local lady on her way to run errands walking out of one of the doors.
Chilling out on black sand beach Perissa was our daily routine the days we didn't go for a ride. Most, if not all restaurants on the beach front offered umbrellas and sun beds for customers. Some even had free wi fi on the sand! Aeolos, the greek god of the winds, made its presence clear everyday... not that I believe in pagan gods but it was a nice way to say that it was pretty windy most of the time. Not bad for some otherwise burning days.
Jay's favorite thing to do was a 24/7 local bakery. In addition to the yummy pastries, the owner of the place was by far the main attraction. An old sweaty chubby but very friendly man wearing a wife beater and a waist down apron greeted all the new customers: "Hello, my friend"! He also liked to warn his customers about the local dangers "Be careful today is very windy" or "make sure not to walk on the side of the road, tourists are not very good drivers..." That in addition to the free fresh cookies he gave us every time for the baby totally won Jay over. He made runs to the bakery everyday, and sometimes more than once a day. He loved the massive chocolate filled donuts and I enjoyed the ice creams.
Ylla loves the beach. She used to be afraid of it. The first time we took her to Pensacola beach in Florida she cried as she set foot on the sand and even more when the tiny little waves of the shore broke next to her. Her conversion from beach hater to beach lover happened quite fast, as we let her play with stones and the sand real close to the water, dip her feet in the water and splash it showing her it is fun. But the part she loved the most was when both mommy and daddy got into the water together to swim and play with her.
Ylla is extremely social, a little flirty i would say! She smiles, waves and even approaches other travellers with boldness. She gets smiles out of everyone. Awww! We get to hear a lot as we pass by. Look at the baby with the bull! Most people find it funny to see Ylla grabbing Bevo's tale as she falls asleep. "You are from Spain!" A local guy said... "I know because of the bull (longhorn)".
The south end of the island is where the Faro (lighthouse) lays. "This would be a great place to pray" Says Jay as we watched the awesome scenery... Oh Lord! How great are your wonders, how mighty is the power of your hand to create. So simple yet so complex... Water, rock and wind was all you needed to make this spectacle of beauty, just for mankind to enjoy!
The North end of the Island where the touristy town of Oia is located is what people have in mind when they think: The Greek Islands. The place is very traditional looking with narrow rocky streets -filled with souvenir shops-, blue domes and church bells on steep cliffs....just beautiful.
But what Oia is most famous for is breath-taking sunsets. "People applaud when the sun sinks into the horizon at dusk" said the greek consul in Houston as I was getting my visa. And they do indeed! we found a good roof-top restaurant to have a romantic dinner as we witnessed the beautiful event.
We normally had quiet lunches and dinners as long as we coordinated them with her naps or bed time. The down side of this was that sometimes we would have to eat really early in order to avoid her toddler curiosity and destructive behavior in the restaurant.
The best you can do in the Greek Islands is to become a "Sunset hunter." Profitis Elias hill top also offers a great views of the Island as the sun resides. The hill is the tallest in the Island and host a Montastery at its top. We drove there and waited patiently to see the sun set. Very few other couples had thought the same way, although not all of them could take the long wait.
Santorini has an active crater called the Caldera. It warms up the water near by creating hot springs. We took a boat ride to the center of the Islands cluster more for the views than the warm waters. It ended up being an adventure in itself.
Ylla fell asleep on the boat so we had to improvise a way to not miss out the two hour time spam we had to climb up to the top of the volcanoe and back without waking her up. So we strapped her to her stroller and Jay carried her all the way up, like a slave carrying a queen in ancient times. Most tourists were amused at the situation and some even took pictures of it.
The views were well worth the strenous hike with a baby in your back. We enjoyed the time and Jay took the chance to swim in the hot water and paint his face with volcanic mud as Ylla and I waited on the boat.
Romantic and beautiful Milos was our next island to visit. You may have heard of the Venus of Milos statue? yeah the one with the arms cut off. This is the island where they found her. She was actually complete before they tried to ship it to Paris (it is now in Louvre) for what they had to cut her arms off in order to facilitate the trip.
We had good luck since the moment we arrived from the two hour fast boat ride. Our backpacker hotel had been overbooked so the owners put us on a nicer and well located one for the same price. We had a nice balcony overlooking a busy street and a kitchenette among other amenities.
We decided to hop into Milos because of the amazing looking beaches and the laid back atmosphere. We were right about that. There are some really strange looking beaches that make you feel you are in another planet.
Sarakiniko was on the top of the list for that. The white rock formations by a blue sea contrast beautifully. The beach was not as big as you may expect but we still loved it, we ended going there twice. Here Jay found his favorite spot for cliff jumping and we got some really nice sunset shots.
Again, the best thing to do to explore the island was to rent a car, so we hired it for a couple of days. Now with a bit more of experience driving a standard I was able to drive through some crazy unpaved roads in the middle of no-where. I must admit we still got lost but it was worth it. This is how we "discovered" an amazing beach called Ag. Ioannis.
It was actually a trilogy of beaches separated by small hills. The first one was accessible by car therefore there were a hand full of people at the beach. We decided to hike up to the next beach were we found paradise.
The beach was all to ourselves! there was no shade but the one created by some rocks so we had to shelter ourselves there to escape the burning sun. Ylla loved the place so much we ended up changing the name of the place to "Hola Gordita Beach."
Another trilogy of islands were located near Ag Ioannis, I don't remember the name of them and had actual sand on the beach. these beaches were so isolated that the only people we saw were either napping in a cave in the main beach or naked in another cave in the third beach. I had to climb a hill to see the third beach but had to hide as soon as I saw the naked guy. We decided to hang on the second beach which was again all to ourselves.
Other amazing beaches in the island include Paliachori for which we took a bus across the island, and Papafragos. The latter is just amazing. It looks likea canyon with crystal clear waters and caves around.
It was a bit too hidden and when we arrived we were the only ones in it. There was a warning sign on the parking lot saying that it was dangerous to climb down to it, but we made it safely thank God. It was well worth it.
After a 4-day lovely stay exploring beaches in Milos we took a ferry to Sifnos. We mainly chose this Island for its tranquility and the fact that was on the way to Athens. The Greek islands seem like the perfect gateway for older couples, newlyweds and single girls.
Sifnos was so laid back. You could feel the difference between crazy touristy Santorini, and Milos were you could hear children playing on the street at 11:30 pm. Sifnos is the perfect combination of mountains, beaches and litlle cozy vilages. We couldn't find a desolate beach as we did in Milos but the ones we found were so chilled and beautiful that we didn't even miss the luxury of being by ourselves.
We stayed in Vathi, the longest and my favorite beach on the island said the guy in the information office. We ended up renting a car, which is the best way to move around and explore the island, specially with a baby. We would have used the excellent bus service if we had more time and where not dragging a baby around.
Vathi was indeed our best option. We loved the tranquility of the bay. We were concerned we were not going to find accommodation because everything looked booked online, unless you want to pay double what u normally would. However, walking along the beach and into the tiny village I found an awesome hostel on top of a bakery.
They gave us a lovely room, or studio with a balcony overlooking the beach and village. They also had a common area with was a bigger terrace wit a nice view of the sea as well. Jay spent most of his time there either working, surfing the net or reading. The hostel was literally on the water.
Playing by the beach in Vathi we came across a retired french couple, they loved Sifnos so much that they come every year to spend their vacations. They had been in most of the Greek Islands and they said this one was their favorite. The lady seemed surprised we had come here because it is not really on the touristy route, but we were glad we did.
Sifnos had the some of the best food we tried in Greece. We found this good restaurant with a lovely view. Is it early for dinner i asked the waiter. No, it is ok he said. For us greeks it is. We dine after 10pm. It is so true, on our second night in that same restaurant at about 10:30pm we were still the only ones.
Other than driving to the main town for dinner late at night, we used the car to explore other beaches in the Island as well as a cozy little town on a hill top called Kastro.
One interesting thing about the greek island is that they all have a sort of monastery or orthodox church at a hill top called profitis elias ( Profet Elijah) I am not sure if it os just a coincidence that all three islands we visited have them or if they are everywhere. Anyways, I am going to miss this island, and Greece in general Jay said as we sat on the beach of kamares, waiting for our ferry to Athens.
What an awful surprise we had in Athens. "I dont like your area," said the taxi driver as we dropped us off in one of the worst parts of Athens. Jay had booked the hotel there because it was near Acropolis and it was cheap. The dirty streets looked like the ugly parts of Manila, Lima or even Delhi (maybe not as bad cause there weren't any cows roaming around).
"Some reviews of the area said it wasn't that bad unless you don't like immigrants," said Jay. But it is not just immigrants but the fact that in these areas tends to be a lot of burglaries and we had a baby with us! The guy at the reception was smoking when we walked in. There was a bar on the first floor. Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse we were sent to a small hot room that didn't even have ac.
This is false advertisement i complained. The room was supposed to have a furnished balcony and AC. It was all my fault cause this hostel didn't have any reviews. Lesson learned! Jay talked to the boss the next morning and they moved us to a better room the second night, thank God.
Things got better the next morning. We walked towards the touristy area a midst old buildings and graffited walls. As we approached the massive archaeological park there were hundreds of little shops, shacks, stalls, and even tricycles selling antiques. Are they selling antiques or just all their belongings that may have value to cope with the crisis? I wondered.
You could see anything between old coins, lamps, and chandeliers to plates and plastics for domestic use. In one of this shops is where I found an antique marble phone for 20 Euro that I ended up carrying to the States.
We walked in the Agora for hours. It was hot and sunny but well worth it. As we approached the Parthenon I noticed a wooden cross on a small hill (Mars Hill). I had no idea what it meant until I saw a group of tourist guided by an american guy talking about the Book of Acts and the beginning of Christianity in Greece.
"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. The God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." Acts 17:22-24.
I was so excited to have set foot on such an important place, although I couldn't help to notice the difference between the monument (cross) set to represent Christianity and the impressive marble temples made to the pagan gods...
We only stayed in Athens for a day, and it was more than enough for my taste. It was very interesting to see the center and birthplace of ancient western culture but after 7 weeks on the road with a toddler we were ready to head home. The flights back were very hard on Ylla, thus us, but we made it safe which is what count.
On the next entry I will narrate out latest trip to Panama from which we returned only a few days ago (Dec 23rd) a totally different experience, yet lovely. Stay tuned and til then!