This is a series of posts sharing what I liked best about the countries I have visited. Something particularly annoying might get a mention too. This will not be everything we did, just some of the memorable bits, and perhaps some useful tips. It will give you an insight as to what to expect when you visit.
Greece – April 2016
Greece became a destination for me when the Bookcrossing 2016 Anniversary Convention was announced. (See here for more about Bookcrossing) My immediate thought was “Fantastic! I can go to the convention then head to Turkey for the rest of the month.” My job has always meant I could only take leave from about the 5th of the month until the end. The year before the convention had been the 10-12th April, so I was expecting the same. This suited my plans for a few days in Greece then onto Turkey. When the dates of 21st-23rd were announced, I had to rethink. In the end it was Turkey first, then onto Athens for the convention and six days afterwards to spend on the Greek Islands. We chose Naxos and Santorini.
Greece was a hard one to judge regarding the people. We didn’t do any tours in Greece. During the convention we met some fantastic locals who showed great hospitality and showed us around. Some of them had previously met others in our Australian group so it was different to meeting people as a tourist.
When we moved onto Naxos it was with two other Australians who we don’t see often back home, and thus we tended to socialise with each other rather than seek out locals. On Santorini we made the most of our beautiful lodgings and mostly kept to ourselves and relaxed while gazing at the views across the caldera.
Our almost bad experiences were when we first arrived in Athens. On the train from the airport we got our first look at the gypsies trying to scam visitors. The next morning one of the first things we saw was a lady pickpocketing people in one of the main shopping streets. In Athens this was commonplace, and we were luckily not affected. Three people from our Bookcrossing Convention group unfortunately could not say the same, so be vigilant with your belongings.
In Athens we didn’t have a lot of spare time because we were there for the convention. We did get time to head up to the Acropolis though. While it really is one of those things you absolutely have to do in Athens, we were a little underwhelmed. Not so much by the ruins, but by the experience. The Acropolis was still really crowded even though we went in the morning. There was no way to take a photograph in any direction without a dozen other people in it. It was also hot with no shelter once up there. The mild and sunny streets below did not hint at the heat above.
On another afternoon, one of the Greek Bookcrossers took us for a walk around the city to see the changing of the guards, the original olympic stadium, the Agora, and the Temple of Zeus amongst other things. Unfortunately I am not a Greek history buff, so I enjoyed this afternoon more for the company than what we were looking at.
Naxos was amazing. There was just the right mixture of old and new. Searching for Naxos Castle in the maze-like alleyways was a great way to spend a morning. We eventually asked a local for directions, and were embarrassed to learn we had been walking around in the castle all morning. It wasn’t an attraction, it was just part of the old town. Whoops! Another day we hired a car and drove around the island. The driving was easy and there were some great little towns to visit along the way. Naxos is home to hundreds of churches, we could always see at least one. It almost became a game to spot the most strangely located church. The winner was either floating in the harbour, or right up on the peak of a hill that we could not see a path to get to.
Santorini was as beautiful as all the pictures. Unfortunately by the time we arrived I had a slight cold, so we mostly ended staying in our room looking at the view! When we did head out, I found Oia very touristy and busy. I am not a fan of big crowds.
Greece was easy to get around. We were able to get the train to our accommodation, we shared a taxi to the port, then ferries to the islands. The prices were all reasonable and information was easy to find.
The food was relatively cheap and very plentiful. When we ordered we ended up with what felt like a whole loaf of bread, some olives, sometimes dips and other finger food on our table to eat while we waited. At one memorable restaurant on Naxos we also received baklava after our meal, then a round of raki, all for free. By the end of our visit we were ordering one main and a Greek salad to share between us and with the extras that was plenty. Wine was cheap, about $5AUD for half a carafe.
We stayed in a great AirBnB in Athens. Probably one of the best we have ever stayed in. It was a little pricey, but was a nice oasis after the crazy Athenian streets. We also stayed in an AirBnB in Naxos. We had to make our way through the maze of alleyways in the old town to get to it. I had to ensure I had dropped a pin on Google maps before I left the room, because I wanted to find my way back. This all added to the charm! The room was tiny, but clean with everything for around $75AUD per night. In Santorini I wanted caldera views, so we stayed in a traditional cave hotel. The place was expensive (over $250AUD/night) but the views were amazing. It had a full kitchen, which meant we could eat in rather than battle with the crowds.
I bought a Greek SIM card for data. It’s not recorded, but I think it was around $10AUD for 10GB. I remember thinking it was cheap. The only problem was that reception was extremely patchy on the islands. Even where we were staying in the old town of Naxos was not great. It got us through though.
Would I go Back?
Well, yes and no. I have no real desire to go to Athens or Santorini again. While I might visit Naxos again, there are so many other islands to visit I could chose rather than return to where I have already been.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.