Greece, the ancient land of Gods

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In September 2018 my boyfriend and I went to Greece. We visited Athens, Santorini and Mykonos for about a week. It’s a country with amazing views and amazing history.

ATHENS

Facts about the city:

Athens’ history dates back to 3000BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world and Europe’s oldest capital. Athens has been continuously inhabited for those 3,000 years.

Famous as a philosopher, scholar and mathematician, Plato was also responsible for creating the Academy, the first institute of higher learning in the Western world, making Athens the home of the first university.

The Parthenon hasn’t had an easy past. During the 2,500 years it has overlooked the city, the temple has been used as a munitions store, converted into a mosque, looted by Lord Elgin, served as army barracks and been bombarded with canons by the Venetians.

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Our flight arrived  in Athens very late – at around 1 am. We decided to book a room in a cheap hotel close to the city center, since we would have another flight to Santorini the next day at 11 pm and therefore we wouldn’t have a lot of time to visit Athens. We chose Hotel Cosmos and paid around €29 for the night. It was actually a good choice. The room was OK and they even kept our luggage for free the next day so we could walk freely.

We started the day by visiting the low part of the ancient city – the Ancient Agora. The ‘Agoras‘ were public squares where the inhabitants would meet to discuss politics and their quotidian lives. It is also where elections, religious celebrations, athletic competitions and various types of shows were held. Furthermore, they were also important commercial spaces and considered the heart of the city.

The first excavations in the Agora area took place between 1859 and 1912. During the following years, important remains, including large sculptures, were found in a deep trench when the railway tracks were being installed. Subsequently, 360 modern edifices were demolished to expose the whole Agora. When the entire area was excavated, the Stoa of Attalos, a large building constructed during the Hellenistic period, was rebuilt according to the original plans. Nowadays, it features the Ancient Agora Museum.

After visiting the low part of the ancient city, we walked all the way up to see the higher part – the famous Acropolis. This is an old fortification on top of a hill that overlooks the old Theater of Dionysus, which could hold up to 17,000 people and is considered to be the world’s first theater. The sacred buildings on top of the Acropolis include the Erechtheion (a temple known for its “Porch of the Maidens”, with six draped female figures supporting the columns), the Propylaia (a monumental gateway that was the entrance to the Acropolis), and, of course, the Parthenon – all of which date back to the 5th century BC.

The construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.

The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon served a practical purpose as the city treasury. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Athenian Empire. In the final decade of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures.

From 1800 to 1803, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures with the alleged permission of the Ottoman Empire. These sculptures, now known as the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. Since 1983, the Greek government has been committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece. As of 2007 the Greek Ministry of Culture was carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

After the Acropolis, we passed in front of the Acropolis Museum, but decided not to go inside. Instead, we kept on walking and went to visit Plaka, a neighborhood with cute narrow and colorful streets. This area has a lot of restaurants, jewelry stores, tourist shops and cafes.

We also saw the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and Syntagma square, both very close to the National Garden. Another area I liked was Monastiraki. There are a lot of people in that square and some nice shops in a famous flea market close by.

We had dinner in a place that sells the typical pita gyros and then at night we went to the airport to catch our flight to Santorini.


 

SANTORINI

Facts about the city:

Before it was called Santorini, the island was known as Kallístē, meaning “the most beautiful one”. The name Santorini was invented in 1153 by the Venetians and it is the pronunciation of the words Santa and Irene (Saint Irene), one of the martyr virgin sisters of Christendom.

The island sits in the water-filled caldera of a massive volcano. The ‘Minoan eruption’ was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history and it is thought to have ended Minoan civilization. This eruption split the island into three. Many believe Santorini may be the Atlantis Plato wrote about.

There are more churches than houses on Santorini, however most are small and private. Also, there are more donkeys than men.

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We landed in Santorini after midnight. Since we were arriving so late and we had rented a car, we decided that we might as well sleep in the car for the first night and save that money, and so we did.

We rented a car with a rental company called MotorInn. We paid €193 for four days (this amount includes full insurance and a fee for picking up the car out of working hours) and they gave us a Fiat Panda.

My father gave me a Ford Fiesta when I turned 18. I drove that car until I moved to Malta. In my current job, the company gave me a car – another Ford Fiesta. I realized I don’t “know” how to drive a car other than that one! At first it was a bit stressful trying to get used to this Fiat Panda, but actually by the next day I felt more confident already. By the end of our stay in Santorini, I felt like I was back in my own car.

Like I was saying, we slept on the car on our first night in Santorini. We stopped at a beach close to the airport – Monolithos Beach. The next day our backs hurt but it was fun. We watched the sunrise from the car. It was beautiful.

Then since it was too early to check in at the hotel, we decided to drove around the coast and visit some Greek beaches. We visited Kamari Beach and Perissa Beach. These beaches are very close from the archaeological site of Ancient Thera.

The scenery that the black lava sand along with the sandy sea bottom and the dark blue, crystal clear waters compose is impressive. These are two of the longest and most famous beaches in Santorini, a characteristic sight of the volcanic island. Due to its volcanic past, Santorini has white, black, AND red beaches.

One of the things I loved the most about these beaches are actually the bars and restaurants next to them. They all have this cool beach vibe decoration and look super cozy.

On our way to the hotel, we made a stop in Pyrgos. The former capital of Santorini and the best-preserved medieval settlement on the island, the village of Pyrgos is really a hidden gem. Pyrgos affords panoramic views. Yet, located a bit further from the famous caldera, it has been spared the terraces, balconies, infinity pools and master suites and it remains a bit more authentic.

After Pyrgos, we went to our villa to do the check-in. We stayed at Agia Irini and paid €216 for three nights. That place was amazing! It’s a family-run business, owned by a Greek family. They don’t speak English very well, so their son decided to hire the services of Milan, a tourist guide that also works part-time there, helping the guests to check-in and to know more about the island.

Milan was super helpful. He gave us a map of Santorini and explained everything about the island. The places we should visit. The restaurants where we should eat. The history of the volcano and the Minoan civilization.

Santorini is one of a kind. This series of volcanic islands in the Aegean Sea is the only inhabited caldera (underwater volcano structure) in the world. The Minoan Eruption at Santorini created a devastating tsunami in the Aegean Sea, believed to have destroyed the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

More than 3,600 years ago, someone saw the signs and knew when to get out.  Scientists believe the nearly 30,000 residents of the island successfully evacuated prior to the volcanic eruption. In the late 1950’s archaeologists uncovered the near perfectly preserved city of Akrotiri encased in three to six feet of ash.

Artifacts recovered from the site indicate the city was active in trade with other parts of the world and sophisticated in design. The site, now open for tours, reveals multilevel buildings, indoor bathrooms, sewage systems, and elaborate frescos. With no trace of human remains or valuable objects left behind scientists believe the residents most likely successfully evacuated the island.

After resting for a bit and taking some nice pictures at the villa‘s pool with the sea in the back, we drove to watch the sunset. Milan told us that it would be best to watch it from Ammoudi Bay, down there, and not from the top of Oia, where all the tourist gather around. We had bought a bottle of wine and sat there on a wall to see the spectacular colors in the sky. It was a magical moment! It’s very cliche to watch the sunset in Santorini but now I understand why.

After the sunset, we went to one of these fancy restaurants in Ammoudi Bay, called Sunset Ammoudi Taverna. This place had the pictures of some famous people that had visited the site, like Oprah Winfrey or Dani Alves. The fish was OK but for the price we paid, we expected to have something else other than a basic salad to go with the fish.

After dinner, we went for a walk across Oia. It was a bit more peaceful at night, but still packed with lots of tourists. Oia’s name should be pronounced “Ia“. It is the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its quiet life and fantastic sunset, and is certainly the most beautiful and picturesque village of Santorini. The village is also situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the caldera.

The next day we went to visit Imerovigli. Its position at the highest, most central part of the caldera gave it visual command of the whole area. There is a path from Imerovigli caldera walkway to Skaros Rock. We didn’t go to this rock, because we already had a pretty amazing view from the village. Imerovigli has many lovely churches, all made in the Cycladic architectural style.

Then we went to Thira, the capital. There are lots of cafes, bars, restaurants, all with views and some with several levels of patios and balconies to make the most of the space they have and the fact that when there are several cruise ships sitting below the town is packed with tourists. We stopped close to the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and watched a live concert there. We were lucky enough to be there for the Ifestia Festival 2018, which celebrates the birthday of the big eruption in the volcano. There were fireworks in Volcano island and we watched the colorful lights in the sky from Thira.

The day after we went to see Oia again, this time during day time. I loved the charming houses in narrow streets, blue domed churches, and sun-bathed verandas. Its streets have plenty of tourist shops, taverns, cafes, art galleries and other shops.

We walked all the way to the Byzantine Castle Ruins. Everything is white and blue in Oia and every place is a good opportunity for a nice picture – and we took many.

We ended the day with a visit to several beaches. We went to Theros wave bar, to the Red Beach and ended the day in the Black Beach, close to Akro, with a nice relaxing swim. When we got back to our villa, we swam at the pool as well, and went outside to watch the stars in the sky and try to meditate together. Very nice! Another thing I forgot to mention is that the previous day we woke up super early to watch the sunrise again, this time from the swimming pool of our hotel. It was worth it 🙂

We had dinner in an amazing place close to our villa, called Aēdáni. We both ate fish (octopus and squid) and some typical fried tomatoes (tomatokeftedes) and it was delicious! This place is a family-owned business and the guy serving us was super friendly. He even introduced us to his parents and his mum prepared a nice typical digestive for us after the meal, with cinnamon.

It was similar to another typical drink I had tried in Athens, called Rakomelo. which is made by combining raki or Tsipouro with honey and several spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, or other regional herbs. Ouzo is the national drink, a dry anise-flavored aperitif and we tried it as well.

For our last day in Santorini, we didn’t do much. We went to the port to catch the ferry to Mykonos, but the ferry was delayed by two hours.


 

MYKONOS

Facts about the city:

The windmills of Mykonos are some of the most recognized landmarks of the island, some of them date back as far as the 16th century.

The only colors allowed for doors and windows are blue, green and red. This dates back to the old days when sailors painted doors and shutters blue, farmers green and the other red.

‘Petros The Pelican’ has been a local celebrity and it became the mascot of Mykonos. Back in 1958, a local fisherman discovered a wounded pelican, and decided to take of him. When the pelican finally regained his strength and was set for release, he decided not to leave. When Petros died, everyone on the island went into mourning. With many donors throughout the years, Mykonos welcomes three pelicans in and around the main town, with one always given the name of Petros.

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Our last top in Greece was Mykonos, the party island. Many top DJs have played sets on the island of Mykonos in recent years. It’s now an island that has two of the best 20 top clubs in the world because of this. In our case, we didn’t go to Mykonos to party, but to enjoy the views and beaches.

We went to Mykonos by ferry. It took us about three hours to get there from Santorini and we paid €85.50 in total for both of us. You can buy the tickets here.

We rented another car in Mykonos, this time with a company called Car n Motion. We paid €87 for two days and they gave me a Suzuki Alto. It is important to note that for both I paid for full cover insurance, just in case. This car was awful! I really didn’t like it.

The guy from the company gave me the keys and just left, and I couldn’t make the car move at first, because the crotch was in a really bad shape. By the end of the trip I kind of got used to it. But still, I really didn’t like this car. Also, when we tried to return it at the airport, on our last day, there was a queue of people waiting to do the same, and no one was there. We had to wait approximately 20 minutes. I actually don’t recommend this car rental company.

In Mykonos we decided to stay at Mykonos Pro-care Suites. We paid €159 for an apartment for two nights. The apartment was so nicely decorated and so cozy that I even said I wouldn’t mind having a place like that one day. The villa had a nice swimming pool and an amazing jacuzzi. We followed the advise of the girl who welcomed us there and decided to try the jacuzzi at night. It was very cold and windy at night, and the jacuzzi was outside, but with the hot water you don’t even feel the cold and it is actually a very relaxing experience!

On our first day we had dinner in a small town called Ano Mera, in a restaurant located in the main square (I confess I forgot the name). We ate so much meat there that I felt full for the entire night!

My favorite places in Mykonos were the beaches. First went to Super Paradise Beach. This is a magnificent beach with crystal clear blue water in a small, deep bay. It is one of the busiest and youngest beaches on the island, with a restaurant and a nice beach bar with music all day long.

Then we went to Psarou Beach. This was my ultimate favorite, as you can see from the videos we recorded at the end of this post. I know I live in Malta, another summer island, but nothing can compare to this amazing sandy beach. It is one of the most popular and famous beaches on the island, with pure and clean white sand and crystal clean waters (the waters are always calm, as the beach is enclosed by mountains around), ideal for sunbathing and relaxing and also for watersports. Psarou attracts many movie stars,the world famous celebrities. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone!

We also visited Kelafatis Beach. We didn’t go for a swim on this one, we just went there for a nice walk. We wanted to go to Delos, another small island that belongs to Mykonos, but we didn’t have enough time.

Apart from beaches, we also visited the main town, Hora. I loved it. Hora is a warren of narrow alleyways and whitewashed buildings. The streets are crowded with chic stores, cool galleries, jangling jewellers and both languid and loud music bars – plus a catwalk cast of thousands.

White cube-shaped houses with colorful wooden balconies, the circular-shaped white spots on the floor and the tiny churches with blue and dark red domes – the locals claim there are 700 churches on the island – make it memorable as one of the most beautiful places among the Greek islands.

In Hora there is the famous Little Venice: two storey buildings built literally in the sea with colorful wooden balconies hanging over the water, facing one of the most beautiful sunsets in Greece.  The Greek version of Venice is full of bright sunlight, colors and sea breeze.

The Venetian connection dates back to the roots of Mykonos. Whilst Greece and Mykonos is connected with the Roman Empire, the island was under direct rule of the Venetians from 1390. The final Venetians left the area in 1718 once it was conquered by the Ottomans.

Just across Little Venice of Mykonos there are the famous Windmills. Don’t miss the chance to visit the islands most visited and photographed place and feel the Aegean Sea winds blowing your minds away.

After a week in Greece, it was time to go back to Malta. It was a very nice and relaxing trip. ευχαριστώ – efcharisto – Greece!

 

Main Budget

Flights – €180 total per person (€78,50 Malta – Athens / Athens – Malta, €40 Athens – Santorini, €61,50 Mykonos – Athens)

Ferry – €42,50 per person (Santorini – Mykonos)

Accommodation – €202 total per person (€14,50 Athens, €108 Santorini, €79,50 Mykonos)

Car Rental – €140 total per person (€96,50 Santorini, €43,50 Mykonos)

Total – €564,50

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