Flitting Around the Aegean

So the Greek Islands have been on my to do list for absolutely ages. Some friends went when we were all in college for a few months and then my sister lived in Ios for a summer, back when it was the thing to do. Go off to the Greek Islands and just live there, for a few months. Notions!

Any who, the summer holidays were rapidly approaching and I had nothing booked (which is so unlike me!!) so an island hopping holiday was decided upon. I’m lucky to have a housemate who loves travelling so we picked the Cyclades in the Aegean.

Santorini (because, sunsets), Naxos (because we found great reviews for a day sailing trip from there), Paros (because we’re lazy and it’s close) and Mykonos (because it has an airport from which we would fly back to Athens). Simples.

Teachers have the enviable task of filling their summer breaks with holidays, memories/stories and avoiding the inevitable back to school palava. (It is actually getting earlier and earlier each year. Back to school signs in June. JUNE!) I, like many others, get out of Dodge as soon as I can. I don’t fancy bumping into the kids from school while I’m pottering around Supervalu during the holidays as well as during the year, so off to the airport I went!

Obviously booking in advance gets you more deals and options but since we left it until June to book our accommodation options were a little more restricted than perhaps we would have liked.

Flights from Dublin to Athens return were about €380 not including baggage (I’ll come back to the baggage issue!) and both Ryanair and Aegean Air run from Athens to Santorini daily. We got our flights for €50 each one way. Our return flight from Mykonos to Athens was about the same, but they only run with Ryanair on Saturday mornings. At 7.30a.m. In the morning. A.M.

Santorini

To be fair, we were forewarned that Santorini is a beautiful, honeymoon destination. And it is. Full of honeymooners and couples. Photoshoots, everywhere. But it is a resplendent, mostly submerged volcanic caldera (yeh, I had no idea either. Turns out a caldera is a large volcanic crater, especially one formed by a major eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano. Ta-dah!) and the towns of Oia and Fira are simply stunning. If you aren’t on your honeymoon, which we were not, it is still a photographer’s paradise and we found some great bars and restaurants to celebrate our summer in!

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White washed buildings and narrow lanes lined with blooming, pink bougainvillea, leading to amazing views of blue upon blue. Sky, sea and painted domed roofs. Gorgeous!

Eating and drinking out can be on the pricey side so it is worth doing some research and having a few places to go ear marked so you aren’t over paying. We stopped off in Salt and Pepper along the main road and it is a must visit in my book. Make a reservation to guarantee yourself a table. Very reasonable prices, traditional Greek dishes, huge portions and an entertaining hostess!

I would recommend a small dive bar called Tropical Bar in Fira for great music and a chilled out drink with a covered outdoor area for smoking or scenery spotting. Whatever you’re into.

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We stayed in the Olympic Hotel in Messaria, because as I mentioned before we were a bit relaxed about booking accommodation and a lot of Fira and Oia’s prices were cray cray. Messaria is a little crossroads on the way to Fira from the airport, on the way to Kamari from Fira, on the way to the Red Beach from Fira. You see where I am going with this. It does have a few eateries and I picked up a gyro for €2.50. Yum, yum! It was delicious too and for €2.50, ha not sorry.20160809_214654

The hotel was lovely. The staff, friendly, great pool, quiet and very comfortable rooms, free wifi. A find. The breakfasts were not my cup of tea so I just had – a cup of tea and fruit in the mornings but if you like yoghurts and meats and cheeses and pastries and scrambled egg then go for it!

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Stock photo from Olympic Hotel website of front entrance

There was a handy Carrefour supermarket across the road from the hotel, where you can get picnic-y things and bottles of water for your beach days out. It was a bit of a first world problem having to get the bus into Fira for more variety of restaurants and any sort of nightlife but at €3.60 return, it’s not that bad. If you want to go to Oia, you guessed it, you need to get a bus to Fira and change for the bus to Oia. We had heard soooo much about these Santorini sunsets that we came back from the beach about 5pm one evening and changed for dinner and headed for the bus to Fira. Can I start this story by saying all of our previous encounters with public transport on the island had thus far been a dream. You wait about 10mins max, hop on a cool, air conditioned bus, find a free seat and relax. Should you choose to go to Oia for the sunsets, get your game face on. I am not kidding. So the sun sets about 8.30pm. We were told you needed to be there at least an hour before hand to get a good viewing spot from which to see the sunset because it gets a little crowded. How bad could it be, we thought. Well. When we got to Fira at about 6:15 half the island was waiting at the depot to board the myriad of buses taking people to Oia. I swear if the island had been a boat, we were all heading to the bow and making it precariously tip into the sea. Everyone and their mom was going to Oia, an hour before sunset, to get a good viewing spot. Everyone. Gone were the cool, air-conditioned buses. Gone were the comfy seats. We boarded the bus in a frenzy. Never before have I seen so many shovers. Dude, we are all going to the same dang place! The buses were packed, the air con made no difference because of the sheer volume of people on it, oh ya and you were likely to be standing for the 20+ minute bus ride. All the while watching the sky, racing against nature, in a long line of buses similarly sardine tin-esque with tourists striving to make it to the top of the island to see the sun dip in time.

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Sunset fun

Top tip: At the north of the island is a windmill. It is visible in many of the Oia photos. Beside the windmill is a hotel and pool, complete with bar. Now, I’m not sure if non-residents can bag a poolside spot before the sunset but there is a carpark beside the hotel. It is free and the view is fab. We got there about 7:30 and parked ourselves on a free spot by the wall and waited. Chatting to other early birds. It does start to fill up and the tripods and video cameras and phones come out for the show. The colours are amazing, the photo ops are plentiful and the music from the nearby bar crooning away makes for a lovely way to pass an hour or two. Warning: Leaving the sunset and walking back through the town of Oia is a rookie mistake. Might I suggest finding a spot by the bar and staying put for a while. The crowds are mental. There is no need to stop and take photos every five feet people. It is still the same street. I have no patience for crowds! It is basically a single file shuffle back up the steps and through the lanes and squares back to the bus depot. Where you guessed it, more waiting for buses and more standing on the bus with some guy’s sweaty armpit in your face. The sunsets were fab but I wouldn’t be in a rush to leave Oia straight after. Take your time. If you are near a bar and can get a seat or even some bar space, stay put. The crowds will dissipate as people trickle off to dinner. You will not lose your cool and all will be well!

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Sunset from Oia

It may be worth noting that ATV and scooter rental is plentiful on the island but I am a pussy and chickened out of renting either so public transport was my only option. If you are braver than I you will avoid the bus situation but not the traffic queues, so. It’s six of one, half dozen of another really, isn’t it!

We popped to Kamari beach one of the days and the black sand beach has an abundance of bars and restaurants offering far cheaper drink and meal deals than many restaurants in Fira or Oia.

We saw prosecco cocktails for €6 and set cocktail menus for €5, which was great for some indulgent daytime drinking at the beach and not paying a fortune. Bus goes from, you guessed it, Fira. One other cool thing about Kamari is that it is close to the airport and directly in the flight path of incoming aircraft, so while we were enjoying our afternoon drinkies we could watch the planes coming in to land over our heads. It was a bit like that airport runway in St Maartens. You now the one that’s perilously close to the beach and onlookers hear the roar of a 747 coming in to land over their heads as they sunbathe. Pretty cool.

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Red Beach

Last but not least, the Red Beach is worth a visit. We got a bus from Fira and if I’m not mistaken you can be picked up in Messaria, on some occasions, by the Red Beach bound bus. I couldn’t tell you which buses stop. It seemed a bit arbitrary to me! When you disembark the bus you have a walk of about 10 minutes, uphill, to get to the Red Beach. We set up our sunbathing spot over by the rocks as I think you need to pay for sun loungers and umbrellas on the red sand. Having those, albeit unattractive, water shoes that help when walking over rocks would have been useful as there is nothing but rocks on the left side of the cove. From the view point at the top of the cliff you can see a number of large rocks that have been commandeered as sunbathing spots out in the sea. The people on them reminded me of seals basking in the sunshine. I’m sure the rock sunbathers wouldn’t have been too happy with my observation but it made me giggle!

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Red Beach, seal sunbathers!

To get to those rocks, you need to step on, over and swim around other rocks. Fun day. Loved it! There are tavernas on the walk back towards the bus stop where you can get a cold drink and fava bean dip. Needed. Also there is plenty of parking for your scooter/ ATV. You brave souls.

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Yasas from Santorini!

Right, enough about Santorini, off to Naxos. Now about the luggage! Naturally when embarking on a two week sun holiday you pack all of your summer wardrobe. Or is that just me? I had a carry all as a checked in bag and a small cabin sized wheelie case. Too many bags! One really would have been sufficient. Aerlingus and Ryanair had upped the price of their checked in luggage before this summer (2016) so in hindsight 15kg is loads for a two week island hopping sun holiday. You save on the cost of checked in bags if you are only carrying 15kg and don’t bother packing heels. Don’t bother. You won’t wear them! Trust me. Get some cute, sparkly sandals from Accessorize and you are sorted.

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