A week for a wedding. 10 days for us to recover from it. On the fourth day after our marriage, Tuesday, June 14th at 4 am, we left Delhi by Turkish Airways. We reached Istanbul around 7:40 am local time and spent a grueling 9 hrs at the airport. Apparently as Indian nationals we needed an embassy visa to enter Turkey so we missed our opportunity to enter the famed city of Istanbul. From Istanbul to Athens it took us an hour. We reached Athens around 8 pm Athens time and took the subway train to Omonia Sqaure where our hotel, Dorian Inn, was located.
Day 2: We did a self guided tour of the historic sites. We took the metro to Syntagma Square and walked from the station to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
This is the biggest Temple of antiquity and is dedicated to Zeus – the father of the Gods. The imposing columns of the temple were magnificent. Hadrians Arch was right outside one of the gates and we could see the Acropolis stand tall in the distance. It was a long walk to the Acropolis through the winding steep cobbled streets of the Plaka. There were numerous shops for most of the way and the whole place wore a very festive look. The best times to view the Acropolis are early morning and late evenings. We choose high noon and were crisply sun burnt. The sun can get quite sharp and the climb left us breathless. But at the end we saw one of the most recognized monuments in the world. The Parthenon. The Acropolis area was filled with archaeological wonders and the 4 Euro lemonade we had didn’t seem to matter anymore. We also went up Mars hill, where the gospel was first preached in Athens by the Apostle of the Nations, St.Paul. We spent the rest of the day in Omonia Square.
When sightseeing in Athens buy a combined ticket at any of the sites, which includes admission to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Theater of Dionysos, Keramikos Cemetery, the Roman Agora with the Tower of the Winds and the Temple of Zeus. If you have a student ID take it along as you get a 50% discount on the 12 Euro ticket.
Day 3: We took a guided bus trip to the historic ruins of Delphi which is one hundred miles northwest of Athens, and nestled in the pine forested slopes of the holy mountain called Parnassus.
The ancient greeks called this the center of the world or the “Navel of the World” and even without the ruins Delphi would offer a breathtaking view of the olive groves on the slopes and the bay below. We visited the Museum, the ancient ruins which included the Temple of Apollo, a grand sporting stadium and a theatre. There was a brief stop over at the village of Delphi as well. Avoid shopping here as most of the things are priced higher than what you could get in Athens. The trip costs 88 Euros per person including lunch. Ask for discounts from any of the travel agents.
Day 4: We took a ferry from Rafina (one of the ports in Athens) to Mikonos island. The ferry ride lasted about 5 hours. Mikonos is one of the most famous Greek islands and is a grand example of unique Cycladic architecture set around a picturesque fishing-village bay. It is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Aegean Sea’ and is lined with whitewashed cube-like buildings that fit closely together to form a kind of haphazard maze of narrow alley ways and streets.
The earthen colors of the bare hills which surround the town’s gleaming whiteness is set between the aura of an incredibly blue sky and even deeper blue sparkling sea.
Its many well preserved windmills and hundreds of tiny red-roofed churches adds a flavor of culture and custom to the scene. We stayed at San Antonio’s Summerland hotel. This was just 2 km from the port. There are plenty of taxis that take you to the hotel for about 4 Euros from the town center. The resort was very comfy and was family run so it had a very cosy and homely atmosphere. We spent the evening exploring the tiny streets of Mikonos.
Day 5 and 6: Elia beach. Yes, we spent two days just sunbathing. The pleasure of it all! Easily accessible by bus from Mikonos port and a regular boat service from Plati Gialos, Elia beach is the largest of the south chain of beaches on the island. Good restaurants, hotels and bungalows provide beach-side refreshment and accommodation with the added attraction of the island’s only water park situated just minutes away from the beach.
In designated sections nude bathing is allowed and Mikonos is known for its gay crowd so chances are you will see more naked men than women.
The water is cold till around 4 p.m. when it warms up sufficiently for you to take a very relaxing dip in the sea. Take cash with you as everything from the beach chairs and umbrellas, to the food costs in excess of 10 Euros.
Day 7: We bid good bye to the ‘gay’ Island and set sail for the volcanic island of Santorini by ferry and the ride lasted again about 5 hours with a brief stop and transfer at Paros.
The approach to the port of Santorini or Thira was beautiful. The bare brown walls of the caldera stood imposingly on the sparkling calm waters below. Santorini was called Greece’s Sensuous Daughter of cataclysm by the National Geographic Traveler and in every way this place brings out the sensousness of mother earth. The tantalising aqumarine waters hug the towering caldera…its a breath taking view. Santorini’s flooded volcanic caldera was created by a huge eruption in the Bronze Age. There are only two inhabited islands now Thira and Thirasia. Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni are the old and new burnt islands respectively, with Nea being created just 50 years ago from an eruption.
We stayed at The Costa Marina villas. Another friendly, cosy, family run place. You can get accomodation for as low as 10 euros a night in Santorini so finding a place is not difficult even in peak tourist season. However book early if you want a good hotel. The whole island is built around tourism. The villages are all built on the peaks of the volcano with the underwater crater being filled by the sea. You can go up to the villages from the port by either taxis or by bus. This time around we decided on the bus and it was just 1 euro. The bus is a very convenient way to move around in Santorini. Thira has a lot of beaches but do not expect white sands. Instead the beaches are filled with volcanic rocks and pebbles and end abruptly at the waterfront. We visited Kamari beach in the evening and it was quite a surprise.
Day 8: We took the cable car down to the port and boarded a Greek yacht for a trip around the crater and to the newly formed islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. At Nea Kameni we climbed to the peaks and was caught unawares by the 360 degree gasping view of the volcano. It was the beauty that made us gasp and not the sulphur fumes that could be seen slowly rising from the rocks. From there the boat took us to Palea where there is a natural sulphur spring and we were allowed to swim. I swam while Karthik took pictures of me. The water was lukewarm but very murky and shallow. It wasn’t refreshing. The boat’s next stop was at Thirasia another peak surrounding the crater and we climbed the 200 odd steps to the village and ate a deserving meal. There are always donkeys that you can rent for the climb, but rather than spend 4 Euros we decided to spend energy. After returning to the port, the boat dropped us at one end of Thira, below the village of Oia. A stairway snakes up russet layers of ash to link the cliff-top town of Oia with its port and we climbed again. Oia is a beautiful village that was destroyed in the 50s by an earthquake but has now been resotred as a traditional Greek village.
Any picture of Santorini that you might find, the blue domed churches, the beautiful villages adorning the slopes and the blue-green waters below, it has most probably been taken in Oia.
We took our pictures and then took a bus back to Fira, the capital of Thira. Our dinner was most exclusive, sitting on the edge of the cliff, watching the sun set over the islands and into the sea. It is sight that neither these words nor the pictures (sunsets gallery) will due justice to. We read a very interesting note that said “In Santorini there are more donkeys than people, more churches than homes and more wine than water”. This was almost true coz thankfully we saw more people than donkeys.
Day 9: We made a 8 hour ferry journey back to Athens and ventured out in the evening to Syntagma Square and shopped in the equivalent of 5th Avenue NY.
Day 10: We returned again through Istanbul, back to Gurgaon. To the grind.
Journey dates: 14th June – 23rd June, 2005
Travelers: Shwetha and Karthik
Blog author: Shwetha Shrivatsa