Greece: Athens, Santorini, and a Mr. A Watso?
Note: Reposted from RealTravel.com and branded "Editor's Pick".
So I finally reached my 7th country stop: Greece. Exciting, right? Well if you decide to come to Greece one of these days, don’t plan on arriving in August, especially if your arrival date lands on a Sunday. On my way to the hostel, Hotel Diethnes in Athens, I noticed the lack of activity throughout the city. In fact, the streets were barren with the exception of a few locals (or tourists) here and there. I found out from the hostel reception staff that most people are on vacation in August. And on Sundays, most restaurants, grocery stalls, banks and shops are closed. Having nothing to do or eat, I walked to the Larissa Metro station only one block away. To my relief, the cafeteria was open. I ordered a slice of Mediterranean pizza and a Fanta – This was sadly the highlight of my first day. Riveting stuff, I know!
For my 2nd day, I booked a ½ day Athens City and Acropolis/National Architectural Museum Tour via Hopin Sightseeing. There were only 5 of us on this large tour bus meandering through various parts of the city. We navigated past the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathinaikon Stadium (where the first modern Olympics were held), Truman Statue, Presidential Palace, downtown Athens, Syntagma Square (this metro station houses an incredible collection of Greek artifacts) and Parliament House. While at Parliament House, we witnessed the changing of the guards. I have never seen anything like it. There were only 5 guards involved, but the process was interesting nonetheless. The choreography alone is a must-see.
Soon after, we made our way to the Acropolis. What a magnificent place. For only 12 Euros, you can marvel at the various ruins. For 40 minutes, the guide took us through the uphill maze as we “ooh’d and aah’d” our way to the top. The Parthenon is currently under construction since the iron rods encased within the columns will be replaced with titanium rods. Luckily, I was able to get a solid shot of the backside without all the scaffolding.
When we were finished, three of us were dropped off in front of the National Architectural Museum. Since I was the only one who needed a ride back to the hotel, the driver told me I only had an hour to see the museum. No problem until I saw the sign noting that the museum opens at 1pm on Mondays. It was 12:20pm. We waited 40 minutes, then another 5 minutes to purchase our tickets, then I had to check in my bag, which...drumroll please…left me only 10 minutes to navigate one of the most important museums in Athens. This particular museum features masterpieces from various excavations throughout Greece. 6000 years of history under one roof, and I had 10 MINUTES to enjoy it.
If you read my Istanbul blog, you’ll remember that I have 2 blisters on both feet so I had to hobble my way through the museum corridors as quickly as I could before I boarded my bus. I was absolutely livid. Shouldn’t tour companies research museum hours beforehand? My nightmare with Hopin Sightseeing did not end with the museum debacle. I booked a 2 day Santorini excursion through them as well. I think this is the perfect time to introduce you to Mr. A Watso.
I was introduced to Mr. A Watso when I received my confirmed Santorini itinerary via fax. Apparently, the person who booked my tour completely botched my name. How did Ms. M Yatco become Mr. A Watso? I brought this up to the reception clerk who booked my tour on my behalf and he told me not to worry. He reassured me that they would have my correct name on tickets/hotel reservations since we sent a credit card authorization form to the touring company shortly after booking. I trusted him. Unfortunately, this seemingly harmless oversight created a lot of problems for me.
After my 8-hour ferry ride, I disembarked in gorgeous Santorini and searched for someone with a Kamari Tours sign (this is Hopin’s tour partner in Santiorini). I didn’t see anyone after 20 minutes scrutinizing each person’s sign (several times in fact). I walked pass a man who muttered “Kamari?”, and I responded, “Kamari Tours”? He said yes and placed my backpack into the car trunk. We went through this same verbal exchange before I went inside the car. This should have been my first indication that something was wrong since I thought a van/bus would be waiting for me. I put my fears aside since three other people joined me inside the vehicle. After 20 minutes, the driver drops me off in front of Kamari Tours booking facility and asks for 15 Euros. Gasp! He’s a taxi driver. He thought I wanted to go to the booking center, and didn’t realize I was asking if he were from Kamari Tours. Too bad he spoke little English.
Once inside, I complained about the botched pick-up, and they told me someone had been waiting for me at the pier and never saw me. I’m wondering at this point if the driver searched for a man, a Mr. A Watso, instead. Hmmmm. I should have asked to see the sign when he finally picked me up to take me to my hotel on Kamari Beach, Blue Sea Hotel. Okay, so this blog has taken a negative tone, but I have to comment that the hotel never received my reservation. It took me 20 minutes on the phone with Hopin to get this resolved. By now, it’s 5:30pm and I have a few precious hours to enjoy Santorini’s night life so I boarded a bus for only 1.20 Euros and headed towards Fira to salvage what’s left of my day.
Fira is an open air, hillside marketplace with jewelry shops, gelato vendors, clothing boutiques and restaurants. While exploring the town, I came upon the most picturesque hillside I have ever seen. It took my breath away. When I think of Greece, I think of this very spot - stunning and beautiful. I will always remember it. I spent several hours in Fira since there are so many things to see. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Took the bus back around 9pm and got off at the wrong stop. It was pretty dark, but luckily I had one shop owner point me in the right direction. I eventually walked over 200 meters to my hotel – a little terrified since it was pitch black in some areas, and there were no landmarks to guide me. While it was scary, I made it back safely and I am more resilient as a result. Whew!
Instead of giving you a play-by-play account of what happened the following day, I will quickly delineate key points instead:
If you visit Santorini, allocate 2 FULL days there. I spent approximately 19+ hours on the ferry (pre-boarding included/round trip). Because I only had a few hours on day one and a few hours on day two to explore, I had to lop off one of the most spectacular sites on the island – Oia – from my itinerary. So sad!
After chasing and an enormous cockroach in my hotel bathroom, I spent my second morning early afternoon walking along Kamari Beach. There are rows and rows of thatched huts above these lounge chairs. The beach itself is outstanding. The sand was dark gray, and it really brought out the gorgeous deep blue color of the sea. If it weren’t for the heat, and of course, the time limitations, I could have spent the whole day there.
While boarding the Blue Star Ferry back to Athens, I was pleasantly surprised when the ship steward told me I had a first class ticket. I was ushered into this huge lounge at the front of the ship. They even had waiters and a chic coffee/snack bar. Quite a change from my outbound journey to Santorini when I sat in “general class” seating, which is a grab a seat while you can, cafeteria style sitting area, where you share tables with strangers. I thought it was a little strange that I had two completely different seating arrangements on both trips. So I looked at my Santorini bound ticket stub (belonging to a Mr. White) in my packet. Someone else got my first class ticket. At least I didn’t know about the error until the return trip. If anything good came out of this, it’s knowing that someone else must have been shocked when he/she was ushered to first class with a Mr. A Watso ticket. Note: When purchasing a Blue Star Ferry ticket on a journey as long as this one, it’s worth paying the extra 30 Euros for first class (total was 58 Euros). It was worth every penny.
On my last day in Athens, I met up with my mom’s friend Katie. I had been trying to reach her for weeks, so I was ecstatic when I finally met her for lunch. I almost missed her since there were issues with my metro train breaking down because of a fire and other crazy details I won’t cite. We met at Monastiraki Square next to the Plaka flea market district. After lunch, I spent most of my time walking into souvenir shops. After grabbing some lemon gelato, I also went inside Ancient Agora, which is directly below the Acropolis. I walked by the Temple of Hephaistos, Monument of Eponymous Heroes, Palace of the Giants, Ancient Agora Museum, Hadrian’s Library and other incredible ruins. Note: You can get into the Ancient Agoura for free if you show them your Acropolis ticket, which only costs 12 Euros.
At 6:30pm, I took the metro back to the hotel and prepared bags for my 4am airport pickup the following morning. While there were many mishaps on this trip, I know that it is all part of the learning process! At least my trip ended on a positive note. Let’s hope Rome will be stress free and relaxing.