Wednesday, September 25, 2019

My Big Fat Greek Honeymoon: Athens, Asopia, Delphi

Second stop: Athens

We spent 2 nights and 1 full day in Athens before starting our road trip through northern Greece. Upon leaving Athens, we stopped in Asopia and Delphi for a few hours before reaching our hotel in Meteora. Because the stops were so quick, I decided to include them in this post!

Getting there: Ferry

Ikies, our hotel in Santorini, scheduled a taxi to pick us up and take us to the docks where we boarded a ferry to Athens. The taxi from Oia to the docks takes about 45 minutes.

The ferries depart for Athens several times each day, and the tickets cost about 40€. 

It’s a bit chaotic boarding the ferry. We felt like a herd of cattle, and there wasn’t anyone directing passengers where to go. But the ferry itself was very nice. There was plenty of room to spread out, and it was a very smooth ride. The only downside was it took about 5 hours. 

Where we stayed: Electra Palace Athens

Once we arrived in Athens we took a 10-minute taxi ride to our hotel, Electra Palace. It was a beautiful hotel, and the staff was very friendly. It’s located in the Plaka district. I highly recommend staying in that area. It’s very safe with lots of restaurants and shops, and it’s right at the base of the Acropolis, which is obviously the biggest attraction in Athens.

One of the best parts about Electra Palace was the rooftop restaurant and bar. It has a great view of the Acropolis, and it’s especially pretty when it’s lit up at night. It’s also the location where they serve their complimentary breakfast buffet. There were a wide variety of options, including traditional Greek selections like spanakopita and bougatsa, as well as typical English breakfast offerings like bacon, eggs, and croissants.

What we did: The Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, other miscellaneous ruins

We spent one full day in Athens, and to be honest, that’s all you really need.

We started the day bright and early at the Acropolis because we knew it would get very hot and crowded. The Acropolis was less than a half-mile walk from our hotel. We got there before it opened at 8 a.m. and a line had already formed. I believe it was 20€ for an adult ticket or 30€ for a multi-site ticket which enabled you access to other ruins throughout Athens, so that’s what we purchased.

The Acropolis is probably the biggest reason anyone visits Greece. I had dreamt of seeing the Parthenon in person ever since I was a little girl, and I was not disappointed. The size and magnitude of the site was truly breathtaking.

The Acropolis consists of 21 archaeological remains. The most well-known is, of course, the Parthenon, but all the structures were awe-inspiring. It is definitely something you need to experience in person.

Make sure you bring sturdy walking shoes because you’ll walk up and down a lot of slippery marble steps!

From there, we walked to the Ancient Agora of Athens. To the untrained eye it looks like just a bunch of rocks (I must have an untrained eye), but William was a classical studies minor so he was able to tell me about the bustling marketplace it once was. 

From there we went to the Acropolis Museum. It was very beautiful inside, and there were a lot of cool statues. If I’m being honest, I was very tired at that point and just wanted to nap, so I probably didn’t get the most out of my experience there. But it is definitely worth visiting! Tip: Book online before you go to the museum so you don’t have to wait in line.

Where we ate: To Kafeneion, A Little Taste of Home

Our first night in Athens we just wanted traditional Greek food and nothing fancy. We landed on To Kafeneion. It was a very old taverna right by our hotel with a lovely outdoor dining area.

We ordered an egg plant salad, meatballs with “THE” sauce, marinated pork, and chocolate trunk (like chocolate biscuits). It was all very tasty, but I wasn’t necessarily wowed by anything. It was a little frustrating because a lot of our initial selections from the menu weren’t available. 

We ate at A Little Taste of Home on our second night in Athens. It is in the Gazi neighborhood, which is no where near our hotel. But it had rave reviews, so we decided it was worth the taxi ride.

The atmosphere was very cozy, and the staff could not have been more friendly. Christos, the manager and our waiter, was clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about the food. 

We ordered the Greek salad, meatballs in cherry sauce, and lamb tagine. It was one of my favorite meals during our trip. Everything was so flavorful and fresh! It was a very special dining experience, and you must eat there if you visit Athens.

Overall impression of Athens

You have to visit Athens for the sake of seeing the Acropolis, but that’s pretty much it. One day is plenty. There was graffiti everywhere, and it felt dirty.

It’s very clear the people in Athens are struggling. We spoke with numerous residents who told us they lived and worked in Athens their whole lives, but they lost their jobs and had to move when Greece went bankrupt.

I really hope the country can climb out of their financial hole so Athens can become a flourishing city once again.

Road trip to Meteora with pit stops in Asopia and Delphi

The road trip portion of our Greek honeymoon began in Athens. We picked up a rental car and left the city to visit the bustling metropolis of Asopia! 

That was a joke. Asopia is a teeny tiny village about an hour and a half north of Athens. There’s a beautiful church and one place to get drinks, and that’s about it.

So why in the heck did we visit Asopia? Because it’s where my Yiayia’s (grandma’s) family is from!

Yiayia’s maiden name is Kouroubetes. She wanted me to visit Asopia and see if any of our relatives were still there. So we visited the local watering hole, and I asked the owner if he knew any Kouroubetes.

His response was, “Half the town is Kouroubetes!” So I was happy to tell Yiayia the Kouroubetes are still thriving in Asopia! 

After visiting Asopia, we drove an hour and a half northwest to Delphi. 

Delphi is an archaeological complex that contains the remains of the sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena Pronaia. People from all over Greece and beyond would visit the Oracle of Delphi to ask the priestess of Apollo questions about the future.

Delphi was so beautiful and not crowded at all. It offered amazing views of the valley, the mountains, and the sea. The history was fascinating as well.

We stopped in the nearby village to grab dinner before heading to our next destination: Meteora. We just wanted something quick, so we stopped at Dionysios Souvlaki Gyro Shop. It ended up being one of the best gyros I’ve ever had. Everything was very fresh and cheap. The owners were friendly, too!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

My Big Fat Greek Honeymoon: Santorini

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I took a few weeks off last month to go on a honeymoon with my new husband. I had always wanted to visit Greece. My mom's side of the family is Greek, and I've always felt a sense of pride in my heritage. As expected, we had the most incredible time. We traveled throughout the entire country during the course of 2 1/2 weeks, and we fully immersed ourselves in the culture. I feel so lucky to have had this experience. I knew the country would be beautiful and the food would be incredible, but what I didn’t realize was how much my relationship with my husband would grow while traveling together.

I’m going to spend the next few blog posts going into detail about our journey, including the places we stayed, what we did, and obviously the FOOD!

My husband William planned the entire trip, and he did the most incredible job choosing lodging and authentic Greek restaurants.

Many of the places we stayed were not typical tourist areas, so I hope these posts help others who are considering traveling to Greece.

First stop: Santorini

Getting there: We took the direct flight from the Indianapolis airport to Paris, and I’m telling you, it was the best traveling experience ever. The Indy airport is consistently voted the best in North America because of its accessibility and ease at check-in and security.

We parked, checked our bags, got our boarding passes, went through security, and arrived at our gate in a matter of 30 minutes. That is not an exaggeration—I timed it!

We boarded the plane around 6:30 p.m. Indy time, and we arrived in Paris around 8 a.m. their time. I slept the entire way, which made the experience even easier.

We actually stayed in Paris for a few days because I had never been, but I’m going to write about that last because we stayed in Paris at the end of our trip as well.

From Paris, we got a direct flight to Santorini. It’s about a 3-hour long flight.

Where we stayed: Ikies Traditional Houses

Before arriving to Santorini, I didn’t realize how big it was, and there are actually a lot of towns on the island. We stayed in Ikies Traditional Houses which is located in Oia (pronounced eee-uh). 

Oia is said to be the most picturesque village on Santorini, and it was the perfect first impression of Greece (think white buildings, blue dome roofs, and windy walkways). Oia is where everyone visits to take pictures of the famous Santorini sunsets.

Ikies Traditional Houses is on the south end of Oia, so we had incredible 180-degree views of both the caldera and the whitewashed buildings. Also, I liked that it was on the quiet end of the hotel zone. That made it very peaceful and relaxing in the evenings and morning. But we were still just a short walk away from the rest of the town’s shops and restaurants.

All the Ikies houses have a private balcony and most have a private pool. There are only 11 houses, so the staff was very attentive and helpful. They even gifted us with a free bottle of champagne and rescheduled our dinner reservation when our flight was delayed.

One of our best parts about our stay was the breakfast. Every evening they give you a sheet with a wide variety of breakfast meal options, meats and cheeses, coffee drinks, fresh-squeezed juices, and pastries. You can pick anything and everything you want. You give the sheet back to them with your preferred time to eat, and the following morning they set everything up on your private patio. Everything was incredibly delicious. It was an absolute dream. I can’t recommend Ikies enough!

What we did: Catamaran cruise of the caldera

This was one of my favorite things we did the entire vacation—a 5-hour cruise around the island. There are a couple of different options and tour companies. They all seem to be about the same price and same experience. We chose the company Sunset Oia. 

Someone from the company picked us up from Ikies around 10 a.m. and we returned around 4 p.m. There were 10 people on our boat, so there was plenty of space to spread out. We made 5 different stops where we could swim and snorkel. They also made us authentic Greek BBQ on the boat for lunch. We had grilled chicken, pork, shrimp saganaki, Greek salad, and dolmades.

Where we ate: Pitogyros and Ammoudi Fish Tavern

The first night we arrived in Santorini, we just wanted gyros. We googled “best gyros in Santorini” and landed on Pitogyros. It ended up being one of William’s favorite meals the entire trip. 

We had lamb gyros and Greek salad. The Greek salad was very large with a big block of feta. The gyros were large as well with fresh pita and plenty of tzatziki. You could watch them cut the meat from the spit, so it was clearly very fresh.

Ammoudi Fish Tavern is the most beautiful restaurant I’ve ever been to. It is right on the water, and we had an incredible view of the sunset.

We ordered Greek salad, anchovies marinated in vinegar, grilled sun-dried octopus, and grilled sea bass. Everything was very fresh and prepared perfectly. The fish was served with lemon and olive oil dressing on the side. 

Make sure you make a reservation in advance though! It gets very busy. Also, forewarning if you decide to walk there: You have to walk down about 300 steps and they’re very slippery. You also have to dodge donkey poop. So no heels!

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