We continue with our 2015 trip from Budapest to Istanbul. Our arrival in Greece coincided with the Greek financial crisis of 2015. At that time, locals could not withdraw more than 60 Euros per day from ATMs, Greece defaulted on its debts, and newspaper headlines posited that Greece might be kicked out of the Euro. Fortunately, the situation has improved since then for the people of this beautiful nation.
But, with that backdrop, we did actually debate briefly whether it still made sense to go to Greece – it’s hard to believe now, but it’s sometimes hard to tell at the time what to make of a situation. Disruptions happen all the time in travel – how big of a deal is the latest potential transit strike or tropical storm?
As a contingency, we did actually take out enough cash for our time in Greece, and padded it somewhat. We also made mental notes of ferries that went to Turkey or Italy. Regardless, none of the contingencies were needed, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this country.
The locals were very warm, despite the economic problems in the background. It turned out that the [rapidly changing at the time] restrictions on ATM withdrawals ended up applying to locals but not to us, so we did make a point to pay bills in cash instead of by card, which seemed to make them happy.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Our arrival to the island of Santorini from Dubrovnik (via a hop in Athens) was quite late, but we made it to our hotel in Fira without incident. The hotel clerk was very friendly and our room was cute, if slightly less central than we intended. The boys were thrilled that they were in a loft with two twin beds. The balcony was quite comfortable and had a nice view of the back side of the island. From our room, we could see both the ocean (a plus for me and Jeremy), and the airport – a huge plus for James, although he would have preferred to be even closer to the airport.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
In the morning, after a few pastries from a nearby baker, we decided to take the 7 mile hike from Fira to Oia. There’s a nice trail from effectively the middle of the island to the top tip that we followed, and it was punctuated with several snack and soda breaks.
So, yes, we had our kids take long walks from a very young age. When John was just under 5, he managed a 10-11 mile downhill hike. This particular hike ended up taking a little over 3 hours, with an arrival just after noon in Oia.
We had great views of the deep blue ocean all around on this volcanic island, with hillsides of full of lime-washed buildings.
One thing that we noticed quickly was that Santorini was a bit drier than we necessarily expected – while we weren’t expecting the lushness of Switzerland, we may still have implicitly expected more green like in Italy. In contrast, the hillsides were probably more like California in that respect.
Upon reaching Oia, we were immediately struck with the beauty of the white walls and bright blue roofs. It’s an awesome place to take photos, or just to revel in the the architecture. John said that it reminded him of his vision of Bethlehem from picture books. Having been to Bethlehem a few years later, the picture books were wrong.
In retrospect, I think we would have preferred to stay in Oia. Fira is more central, better for shopping, and for more reasonably priced hotels. But Oia was so beautiful that I would have loved to spend more time there.
We wandered a bit, and I had some nice moussaka (eggplant casserole) for lunch. When we were done, we thought about catching the bus back to Fira, but were feeling lazy and hopped in a taxi instead.
For dinner, we weren’t super hungry and decided to get some baklava and other treats. It ended up being super sweet and syrupy. Not sure if that was the typical way they make it in Greece, but I definitely preferred the baklava I had in Turkey a few years earlier, and would be confirmed again a few days later.
The sunset was nice enough, but clouds moved in and we didn’t get the full effect.
Still nice though.
Monday, June 29, 2015
This morning we grabbed some pastries on the way to the bus stop and took the bus to the beach in Kamari. To our surprise, it was a very pebbly beach and not at all what our California brains envisioned. It would have been fine with water shoes, or even flip-flops, but we had neither.
When we travel, we rarely bring beach towels. Instead we often purchase a “souvenir” towel. John still loves using his Santorini towel today.
After “massaging” my feet a bit on the “sand,” Jeremy and I decided that the rocks were uncomfortable enough that we would rent beach chairs and enjoy the view from there.
The water was a little cool, but nowhere near as cold as the Pacific, so the boys were happy with it. The waves were fairly gentle and the drop off steep, which was a good combination for our boys. If your kids can’t swim, you may want to find a beach with a longer section of shallow water.
When the boys were satisfied with their play time, we went to get lunch. The waiters were a little over-friendly with the boys, but they didn’t mind as much as with random strangers. e.g. In both China and India, our boys were magnets for all kinds of people wanting to take insane number of pictures with them.
We we went up to the restaurant, which had a great view, and had a delicious lunch. I decided on a tasting menu with Moussaka, Pastitsio, a stuffed tomato, some sort of meatball, and some veggies.
After lunch, we wandered a bit, then boarded the bus to take the boys back for a nap. They were really over-tired, but felt much better after a rest.
We spent the late afternoon and evening wandering around town. We picked up a few t-shirts and stuffed animals for the kids, then spent some time enjoying the sunset. The best place to see the sunset is supposed to be in Oia, but with kids and being tired from the day, we were quite happy to see it in Fira.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
On our last day in Santorini, we thought about taking a boat to go see the volcano, but given Jeremy’s sea-sickness in Dubrovnik, we decided to skip.
Breakfast was a flop for me. My “sausage bread” that I ordered from the menu turned out to be a hot dog in some mediocre bread. Yuck! Everyone else was happy though. You win some, you lose some. After finishing, we went back to pack up our bags and stored them with the front desk.
From here, we decided to take the bus back to Oia.
After wandering a bit, we got a nice lunch where I thoroughly enjoyed both the view and my octopus.
Again, Oia is a really beautiful city – I know where I want to stay if we come back.
We wandered down to the bottom.
The woman at the front desk had told the boys that they could “ride the donkeys” there. We were reluctant given concerns about the ethical treatment of the donkeys, but the boys were so excited that we decided to go with it.
Before getting on, John said something like, “I hope we see a sign that says ‘Donkey Race’, and I get to be in it!” Alas. Little boy dreams. But, at the end he said, “It was even better than I thought it would be,” so he must have not been too disappointed by the lack of a race.
On the more responsible side of things, the guy in charge of the donkeys spent the whole time yelling and yanking at them to make them go up the hill. I felt a bit sad for the donkeys. It is a common way to get all the cruise ship passengers to and from the city, so if you have the opportunity to take a donkey up the hill, you may want to skip it.
More wandering, then we went back to Fira, but discovered that the Archeological Museum was closed for the day. Big frowny face.
So we did some more wandering, then got dinner at a crepe and cake place.
After dinner, we picked up our bags from the hotel desk and took a taxi to the very small airport. On to Athens!