In May of 2009 my girlfriend Holly and I traveled to Greece and visited Athens and the Cyclades Islands of Santorini and Milos. I will split this blog post into three parts by destination. You can view all photos of the trip here (my photos) and here (Holly’s Photos). This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here.
Below is a video I created of the entire trip:
We picked this time of the year because airfare and hotel costs are fairly low due to it being low/mid season in Greece, and the temperatures are still warm enough for swimming.
We picked the Fresh Hotel in Athens based on proximity to the ancient Acropolis and good reviews online. We tend to like more trendy design/boutique hotels and this seemed to fit the bill. It even has an Ice bar.
The hotel is absolutely amazing, and even if you do not stay here I highly recommend visiting its rooftop bar for a sunset drink. Yes drinks are expensive but the view of the sunset over Athens makes it worth every penny. If you stay in the hotel the pool is also located on the roof. It is not really a swimming pool as much as it is a small wading pool. It is intended for you to just sort of hang out in and relax.
I found Athens to be a VERY crowded and somewhat dirty city. But give it a break, it is 3,400 years old or so! It was very easy to get transportation from the airport to our hotel by using the bus system and then a short cab ride. You really don’t need to learn any Greek before you go, but I would highly advice you at least learn some basic Greek phrases. They appreciate it, and it is really not that hard to remember once you are immersed in the culture.
The restaurant owners in Athens can be very aggressive in trying to get your business. My general advice for restaurants is, the farther away it is from the hustle and bustle of main tourist areas the better. If their menu is hand-written, even better. This means they change it regularly based on available fresh ingredients. Remember that you should not tip cab drivers in Greece, and you only need to tip about 5% at a restaurant, or not at all. I kept reading conflicting advice and just did 5% now and then just to be safe.
Also eating at a restaurant in Greece is not like in the United States. It is not a speed eating marathon. You can easily spend 2 hours or more on a single meal there. Take your time. The wait staff will leave you alone most of the time instead of constantly checking on you like in the United States, where many restaurants rely on high table turnover to remain profitable. They don’t mind at all if you stay for a long while. Enjoy yourself.
Unfortunately, I am writing this years after the original trip so I am having a hard time remembering where we ate. I know there was a beautiful steep street directly under the acropolis that had many nice restaurants and we found a great one with a rooftop view of the acropolis that was just amazing.
We walked everywhere from the Fresh Hotel. The Acropolis itself is quite beautiful, but a steep climb. The steps rubbed so smooth from centuries of visitors that they are slippery like ice. Wear shoes with smooth grip and be very careful when you climb stairs.
Also something I forgot to mention about the Fresh Hotel, it is right next to a brothel. Some people found this a big negative, personally I thought it was charming. It certainly didn’t feel seedy there, and the ancient Greeks were very liberal about sexuality and legalized state owned brothels were common and not looked down upon. Contrast that with our decidedly prudish modern western view of sex, which is much more severe in the United States than Europe.
While you are in Greece you must try the Frappes. We were wandering around the Acropolis and noticed everyone was drinking this delicious-looking frothy coffee drink. We asked a random person what they were and we were told it’s a Frappe. It is made with Nescafe instant coffee and ice, and it is SO GOOD. We lived off those things while in Greece.
We tried to use the metro system but the direction we needed to go in was closed. We ended up taking a cab to the port to catch our Ferry to Santorini. A word of advice with the cab drivers there: they drive at approximately 600 MPH and your life will flash before your eyes.