Greece: The Cyclades
To celebrate our 14-year anniversary, we decided to explore the Greece archipelago. Out of the thousands of islands, we choice Santorini, Milos and Crete. We began our trip in London. On the way there, our 6am plane was diverted mid-flight due to protests on the runway in London and re-routed to a rural airport in southeast England. Dave chose not to notify the sleeping Erin until we landed. The highlight of this portion of the trip was Erin's invitation to attend a formal business lunch at the Ivy, where she spotted a few celebrities. After a few days participating in the hectic London workday commute, the crowds, noise pollution and lack of nature gave us a hankering for the sea. We woke before dawn and lugged our bags through the empty streets to the airport.
We flew directly from London to Santorini and were stupefied by the landing maneuver, which is a complete U-turn at low altitude over the ocean to a short runway on the Aegean isle. For our four-day stay on Santorini, we chose an Airbnb in Oia, the less crowded town on the tip of the island famous for its windmills, white cavern-like buildings and sunsets. Our Airbnb was a former boat-building house which featured antique boat making tools, a roof deck, high curved ceilings (to fit boats being constructed) and an outdoor courtyard with hammock. It was along a narrow, stone, pedestrian only street just down from the main walking and shopping area. The owner was born and raised in Santorini in the house and he treated us like family.
We spent our first day renting a scooter, walking around the hilltop town and scaling down hundreds of stairs (narrowly avoiding donkey droppings) to Katharos Beach, where we took a swim in the sea and ate a sunset dinner of Greek mezes, including homemade hummus and the best grilled shrimp we ever tasted. We took a long walk back up to the top of the volcanic island and enjoyed watching the stars from our deck.
The following morning we woke up at sunrise and took a taxi to the main town of Fira to start the 7 mile hike from Fira back to Oia. The hike took us through small towns and across craggy outcroppings studded with bleach-white churches. We scrambled along cliffside rocks with epic views of the caldera. We paused to stare out at the sapphire blue water sprinkled with yachts. On part of the hike we were unexpectedly escorted by two local dogs named Steve and Max who are apparently well known for accompanying tourists. We went out of our way to boulder up Skaros Rock and by the time we returned to Oia, we had worked up a huge appetite.
Back in town, we picked up fresh-made spinach, feta and phyllo pies and wound down to Ammoudi Bay for cliff-jumping and snorkeling to cool off. After an afternoon nap, we motored toward Fira to Santos Winery for a 12-glass wine tasting at sunset. Greek wines have a very distinct taste (putting it nicely) due to the volcanic soil, but we did enjoy the views and experience. For dinner we headed out on our scooter to a rural taverna recommended by our Airbnb host and enjoyed a feast of puréed garlic and olive oil fava beans (Erin's new favorite), taziki, grilled fish and tomato balls. We treasured the challenge of navigating and figuring out our way as a team despite negligible signage. We drove on our scooter through the pitch black, winding seaside streets and made it home to Oia late into the night.
For our second full day in Santorini, we picked up snacks at the local market and cruised to Kolumbous beach to start the day. We enjoyed laying in the sun and swimming with the entire beach to ourselves. We returned to Oia to shop for some linen outfits but were greeted by a bus full of cruise ship tourists, so we were glad to head out of town for an all day catamaran trip around the island. We joined 5 other couples on a luxury cat for the day to hit different beaches and snorkel spots around the island. We lounged in the nets at the front of the ship as we sailed from spot to spot and then jumped in off the boat to check out hot springs and reefs and to cool off in the gorgeous water. Before jumping into the hotsprings, the crew warned us that the sulfur would dye our suits orange. When we returned to the boat, Dave complained that the hot springs dyed his beard red. Our captain and crew cooked us a traditional Greek meal on board as we sailed back toward Oia at sunset. We met a newlywed couple from San Francisco on the boat and chatted and drank wine as the evening ended. From Ammoudi Port, we hiked the stairs back up to Oia, a little tipsy from the sundowners, which made avoiding the donkey leftovers even more challenging.
The following morning we went back to Kolumbous beach and again we appreciated having the whole beach to ourselves. We enjoyed morning yoga, filled our lungs with the sea air, and took a chilly dip. From there, we ventured out on our scooter for an epic hour-long ride across the island to Akrotiri, a BC Bronze Age settlement. Tragically, Akrotiri was buried by volcanic ash during a catastrophic disaster and then rediscovered, almost completely in tact. We were stunned that the inhabitants of this town, thousands of years before Jesus, were so advanced as to build multi-story houses with indoor plumbing and frescoed walls. While fumbling to grab his wallet and simultaneously finish his snack of Ritz crackers, Dave reached out his hand and asked the ticket lady, "Do you accept crackers?" Wishing we majored in archeology, we engaged in a nerdy conversation about ancient civilization while riding to Kamari beach for more climbing, swimming and jumping. Dave bouldered over the water til exhaustion and Erin pushed her limits. Then we rode to Ammoudi Bay near Oia for a lunch of sea bass (Erin got to pick her own fish and was very excited), stuffed tomatoes, garlic sauce and fava beans. When the time came to pay, we realized we left our cash at home, so Dave headed back to town on the scooter while Erin stalled the waiter by ordering a giant baklava - very hard work.
For our last night in Santorini, we headed to Katharos where we spent our first night for sangria, sunset views and more of the delicious shrimp. The SF couple we met on our boat met us there and we hung out at the corner table until well after dark. We said our goodbyes and returned to Oia for one last evening stroll. We found Santorini to be a must-visit place. Despite the cruise ships and some crowded, touristy areas, the unique contrast of the volcanic mountainous terrain with the white buildings and blue water is wondrous and the steep angle of the cliffs makes you feel like you're floating atop the clouds.
At sunrise the next morning we embarked from the Santorini Port on a giant inter-island ferry toward the off the beaten path island of Milos. For the 6 hour ride we were blasted with super bright interior lights and too much air conditioning as we tried to sleep in one of the boat's restaurant booths. We gave up a couple of hours in and watched Jean Claude Van Damme movies on Dave's laptop while scarfing down spinach pies. Our next Airbnb host picked us up at the port of Milos and drove us to the dreamy hilltop town of Plaka, which used to be the capital of the island.
The tiny town was picture-perfect - it featured bright white buildings with blue doors along narrow winding streets that ended with sea views. Our Airbnb featured a huge private deck with loungers facing down to the sea and curved white concrete ceilings. We headed out to walk around the winding streets, rented a four wheeler for exploring the island and had a huge lunch of fava beans, taziki grilled vegetables and Greek salad. Dave enjoyed playing with the local cats while we planned our next few days over lunch.
In the afternoon, we headed to Sarakiniko, a seaside series of curved, smooth white rock that look like the moon. The afternoon waters were super rough, but we climbed around, checked out some caves and made plans to come back later in the trip. Next, we drove our quad to Alogromandra Beach where we enjoyed swimming and body surfing in the giant waves. On our way back to Plaka, we headed to the recently-restored ruins of an ancient Roman theatre. We played some Frank Ocean in the middle of the theatre and were wowed by the still-perfect acoustics. We marveled at the detail in the columns dating back thousands of years and Erin enjoyed reading all of the historical plaques around the site. We drove back to Plaka and picked up an early-evening snack of the famous Milos chocolate pie as well as a delicious airy mille feuille. For dinner we ate at a small tavern in town and enjoyed swordfish, potatoes, dolmas, seafood pasta, Greek beer and some local rosé.
We woke up early the following morning and had a traditional Greek breakfast of yogurt, honey, fresh fruit and an omelette and headed to the port for another all-day boat trip. This time, we would circumnavigate Milos and explore a few nearby islands. Although this boat was a bit less luxurious than the last, and we were soaked by the choppy waves just outside the port, we were stunned when we stopped off in a cove on a nearby uninhabited island. The water was so bright and so blue and so clear it was almost electric. We immediately jumped off and took the plunge. We were both so thrilled with the colors and clarity, Dave didn't even get mad when a Frenchman in daisy dukes stood in front of our perch on the boat blocking Dave's view of the sea as we headed to our next stop.
We spent the day stopping to swim, snorkel and climb and enjoyed lounging and having snacks on the boat. Our favorite spot was Kleftiko, an old pirate hideout of craggy white cliffs and caves with bright blue waters running through. We swam through water tunnels and explored the caverns. Back on board, Dave met an 83 year old Brazilian grandfather with a sweet Milos hat and we met a couple from Kentucky on their honeymoon. On our way back to port, we passed by Klima, a traditional fishing village where each house is painted a different bright color. We landed back at the Adamas Port and picked up dinner at the local market - homemade focaccia and veggie flat bread and warm coconut cake. We both woke up at 4am, looked out the window and noticed a giant, bright orange September moon. We savored the 4am heat out on the deck and pondered the universe while staring at the giant moon and shooting stars.
For our last day in Milos, we embarked on an epic quad adventure to hit every beach we hadn't yet seen on the island. We started our morning by driving back to Sarakiniko for cliff jumping and swimming. Erin discovered a rock channel filled with water leading out to the sea and took a tumble, sliding down the rocks like a slip'n slide. Despite the fall, we both had fun being in the moonscape and swimming around the caves and rock arches. While Dave was lining up a jump, a woman approached Erin and asked in broken English, "are you no 'fraid?" Next, we drove across the island, down a rocky, dusty bumpy mining road to an abandoned oceanside sulphur mine. We climbed around the ruins of the 1930s mine and explored the old living quarters which still included beds and kitchen supplies - Dave remarked "hello tetnus" as we climbed around the rusty ruins. Erin swam around in the sulphur hot springs while Dave climbed through an old mine tunnel while dodging pigeons to the top of the rock cliffs. After the mines, we headed to Tsigrado beach, which is only reachable by using ropes and ladders to scramble down. The sketchy hike down was totally worth it. We enjoyed perfectly clear pools, sandbars and caves. On our way up, Dave helped some stranded tourists who chickened out on the climb and carried another couples bags down the ladder for them.
By this time it was 2pm and we hadn't eaten, so we headed to the local market for lunch and Milos watermelon pie. We ate our market purchases out on the deck and took a nap before heading back toward the ancient Roman theatre for our last dinner in Milos. We ate at a farm restaurant where all of the ingredients are harvested same-day. We enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, cod and cabbage rolls and crazy good truffle green beans as the sun dipped down below the sea.
Our next day involved riding numerous vehicles - quad, hydrofoil, smart car, ferry, taxi, Pugeot rental car. We decided to finish our Greek island journey in Crete. To get there from Milos, we had to strap our suitcases to our 4 wheeler - MacGyver style - and drive down to the port. Erin doubted that it would work, but Dave repeated a Terry Romp-ism from our moves to Oxford and Boston, "Everything always fits." From there, we took a very bumpy 2 hour hydrofoil ride back to Santorini for a 5 hour break before taking hydrofoil to Crete. We scheduled massages in Fira for our break, but were surprised to find out that the port had no taxis. To make our appointment on time, we had to rent a beat up convertible smart car on which we had to use a pencil to change gears. We headed up for some great massages followed by a sub-par lunch at the port, and boarded our cruise-ship like boat headed for Crete. We watched the sunset from the top deck and spent the next few hours disembarking and waiting in line at Avis to pick up our Pugeot for the remainder of the trip. We headed down the coast from the gritty port town in Crete and spent the night recovering for out next adventures. After an exhausting day, the road to our hotel became totally blocked as two huge trucks created an impasse. The perturbed truck drivers yelled at us and even climbed trees to try to figure out the situation. Like Sean Connery entering Alcatraz in The Rock, Dave timed it right and managed to squeeze through.
The following morning we woke up and headed to Elafonissi Beach, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The beach is a giant sandbar, with lagoons on both sides, crystal clear waters and pink sand beaches. Tiny red microorganisms mix with the sand to make sparkling pink stretches as far as the eye can see contrasted with the turquoise water. To reach the beach we had to drive 3 hours past tiny towns, olive groves and along a one-lane cliffside road, but the drive was worth lounging and swimming in the perfect beach location. Around lunchtime we headed into Kissamos to our next hotel and took an air conditioned nap.
Erin woke Dave up a couple of hours before sunset and convinced him to take a drive to the "nearby" Balos Lagoon for sunset. "Nearby" ended up being a 40 minute harrowing drive down a boulder-filled dirt road along a cliff that dropped off into the ocean, with no guard rails in our mini Pugeout. We pulled off in a dusty parking area, walked past several "donkey taxis" and hiked down another 30 minutes to a thin strip of sand bordered on either side by clear turquoise sandbar lagoons, leading to a massive island. We walked for 10 minutes out into the water and it never got deeper than our knees. After a nice sunset float, we hiked back up, took the perilous road back toward civilization narrowly avoiding mountain goats, and headed to a taverna in the woods for our last, and most delicious, meal in Greece. We ordered off the Cretan specialties menu and chose chicken stew, taziki, rice and veggie stuffed roasted tomatoes (best single food item on the trip), zucchini blossoms, dolmas, a layered vegetable lasagna-type dish, homemade bread and fresh fruit. While our meal was being prepared, Dave played with some kittens and chatted with the proprietor's elderly mother. After dinner, we headed home for one last night of stargazing.
We woke up early, headed to the airport in Crete, flew to Frankfurt airport, and took a bus back to Luxembourg. All in all, we were gone for 2 weeks. We left Luxembourg in summer, and came back in fall. Greece has been on our list for a long time, and the food, water and freedom definitely exceeded all expectations. Up next, some chill time in Lux followed by truffle season and fall hikes in Istria, Croatia.
Check out the full travel montage: Moonage Daydream
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