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Our first RS tour-Greece is Great!

My husband and I took our first Rick Steves tour on October 7th to October 20th. We left Anchorage at 12:50am on Alaska Airlines, had a stop in Seattle and continued on to Newark, where we had a 7 hr layover. We used our AS miles to get to Newark and then we left at 11:50pm on Emirates direct to Athens.
I know from this forum that many would not do this as it involved two separate airlines, but I wanted to use some of our Alaska airline miles (and I have had no luck using them on Emirates even though they are partners with Alaska) and figured with the long layover in Newark, even if we were delayed a bit, we would be ok. Fortunately, all went as scheduled and we arrived in Athens on October 6th in the late afternoon. Two nights on an airplane (in coach), not fun, but we managed to get a bit of sleep. I had scheduled Welcome Pickups to pick us up at the airport (great tip from this forum) and it was a welcome sight indeed with our driver waiting for us holding a sign with our name on it. He took us to our tour hotel, Acropolis Select, and after checking in, we headed to the rooftop restaurant for a drink and some food. I had my first WOW moment as the restaurant had a great view of the Acropolis and we were in heaven with food and drinks as it began to get dark and the lights lit up the Acropolis. After dinner, we retired to our room for some much needed sleep.

Day 1-After breakfast at the hotel, we headed out with the plan to do the RS audio guide Athens City Walk which we had previously downloaded. This 90 min tour took us 5 hours with a stop for lunch because we took pictures and had a few wrong turns! This turned out to be our most strenuous day by far of our whole time in Greece! However, we loved it and it gave us a great overview of the central Athens area. While Athens is crowded (4 out of 10 live here), polluted and noisy, it is just amazing to turn the corner and see Hadrian’s Arch or the ruins of The Temple of Zeus. Athens is oozng with so much history and I love history!
That evening we met our tour mates and guide Apostolos Douras. Apostolos was born and raised in Greece, but had schooling in England and spoke perfect English. Our tour mates were mostly retired and I was a bit surprised that most were in their 60’s and 70”s. My husband and I and one other were the only 3 in our 50’s. I had thought the age range would be a bit more all over the board. No worries though as we all enjoyed each other’s company. There were also 7 solo’s on this tour, six female and one male. Many in the group knew each other and there were three couples traveling together. There were 25 of us altogether. I found out later that two people had to cancel for health reasons.
Day 2- After fueling up at breakfast, we headed up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. What a marvel of ancient engineering! Our next stop was the New Acropolis Museum and met our local tour guide. I did not particularly enjoy this tour guide as I found she was a bit all over the place in her commentary, so it was hard for me to follow along ( I do have ADHD issues). After the museum we had free time on our own. My husband and I were joined by one of the solo’s when he found out we had plans to head to the Ancient Agora. We had Souvlaki for lunch (we repeated that cheap and delicious lunch as often as we could during the tour) and then walked to the Ancient Agora site where my husband and I used the Rick Steves audio guide to the site. Unfortunately, our solo tour mate did not have this downloaded and so used the map of the site instead. We enjoyed this site and the little museum there and then walked back to our hotel. We had dinner that night at Mani Mani, less than a block’s walk from our hotel. It was very good!

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Day 3-In the am, we boarded the bus and headed to Delphi where we met up with our local tour guide, Penny. I recognized her right away from Rick’s PBS show. She was great! We learned so much and were just in awe of the beautiful setting and history here. We had time to wander on our own and take pictures, then we walked back to our hotel (Hotel Leto Delphi) and had dinner as a group. We had just one night here as we had already seen the main attraction.

Day 4- We had our breakfast and headed to Lagkadia and on the way stopped and boarded a cog railway train for a one hour ride up to the town of Kalavryta. I spent most of the train time talking to my tourmates and when we arrived in the town we had time to walk around for a bit before we boarded the bus to a small mountain village where we had a freshly caught trout lunch in a beautiful wooded setting. It was funny to me that some of our tour mates were a bit unsure about what to do with a fish that still had it’s head attached. We did have some rain here that got most of us glad to put on our rain jackets. This turned out to be the only rain on the whole trip, after this we had absolutely glorious southern Greece weather. That night we had dinner together as a group at our hotel (which was good) and after we walked across the street and enjoyed some traditional Greek dancing that got our whole group participating. Our hotel this night was Hotel Kentrikon.
Day 5- Back on the bus in the am, we headed to Olympia. Here we met up with our local tour guide, Nikki. She was fabulous and brought this ancient site to life. My husband and I had to pinch ourselves, we were really here at the site of the first Olympics over 2, 700 years ago! It was fun to see my husband get into it as he had to run across the stadium. Fun pictures taken of us at the starting line. We had time to wander here on our own and then we got back on the bus for a relaxing drive to the Mani Peninsula. We stayed 2 nights in the town of Kardamyli at Hotel Esperides. I will also mention here that so far, no hordes of tourists at any of our stops and sites. Not a single selfie stick to be seen. Joy!
After a brief rest in our room, we met in the courtyard of the hotel for a special happy hour that Apostolos had arranged. He provided drinks and some light snacks. Everyone showed up and we enjoyed our drinks and conversation. After, my husband and I went to Lela’s Taverna, located right next to the water for our 14th wedding anniversary dinner. We watched the sunset as we enjoyed our drinks and food. We marveled that the same meal and location in Hawaii would be triple what we were paying! After, we went to a jazz taverna called 1866, which had such a neat, cozy ambience. We were the only patrons in this place and we enjoyed the music and would try to guess the singer (we were usually wrong) and then used our Shazam app on our phone to identify the singer.

Day 6- We had an orientation walk with our guide Apostolos and enjoyed some fun interaction with the locals, who all seem to know him. One elderly lady came out of her house and wanted to give us some of her walnuts, which we all happily took, along with many photos. One man showed off his garden with pride. All of these interactions seemed to happen spontaneously much to my amazement! We went up to the tower house and then we were free to do as we pleased. My husband and I went to the beach our guide had recommended. We had lunch at a taverna across the street and changed into our swimsuits. Many others from our tour were also here. We enjoyed our first ever swim in the Ionian Sea and spent several hours here enjoying the azure blue/green of the water.

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After a brief rest at our hotel, we went to dinner at the same taverna as the night before. Lela’s, only this time we had one of the tables right next to the rocks and water that I had coveted from the night before. Tim had Moussaka and I had Seabream, both very good. We also went back to the jazz taverna, 1866 to listen to some more jazz. Again, we were the only folks in the place. We took a walk around the town and then headed back to our hotel for the night.
Day 7- After breakfast we headed to Monemvasia. We stopped in the charming town of Kastania, where we took a walk with our guide to the Byzantine St. Peter’s Church. This church has been restored and won an award for best restoration in the whole of Europe. After, we enjoyed some coffee prepared by the local coffee shop, and then we got back on the bus and continued to Monemvasia. We checked into our Hotel Panorama, and I had been secretly hoping we would get one of the rooms with a balcony facing the rock, well, you just don’t know what room you will be assigned and I was so excited when we opened the door to our room and we had a wonderful view of the rock from our balcony. Happy hour on our balcony was much enjoyed! Dinner was on our own, but our guide invited us to join him in town, so we did along with other members of the tour group. It was gyro’s for us again. We just loved these and for such a reasonable price! Gelato for dessert made us happy travelers!
Day 8-Our group got on the shuttle for the ride over to the rock of Monemvasia. Oh boy, I was excited for this and I was not disappointed. Being in the lower town was so cool. You had to walk through this large gate to enter and well, it feels like you are entering a castle, but actually it was a fortified city. We loved this place! We walked the narrow cobblestone paths and did the hike up to the Agia Sophia church, which got me sweating! The views from the top were spectacular of the Aegean Sea. After hiking back down, we had a delicious pizza for lunch and poked around in some of the shops. That evening we enjoyed a cooking demonstration and had dinner together at the hotel as a group. It was our best group dinner yet.
Day 9-We boarded our bus and headed to the ruins of the fortress town of Mystras and it’s Byzantine churches. I had many moments when I was glad to be on this tour as opposed to doing it independently and this was one of them. So the tour bus took us to the top of the mountain, so we only had to walk down a gazillion steps to get back to the bus. If we were doing this independently, we would have to have hiked both ways. We had a local guide to tell us all about this Byzantine center of power. After, we stopped in the town of Sparta for lunch on our own and then we got back on our bus, tired, but happy and headed to the lovely seaside town of Nafplio. We checked into our Hotel Marianna and loved our room and the breakfast terrace here. The owners were so nice to carry everyone’s luggage to their assigned rooms. I guess they feel bad there are so many steps at their hotel.
That evening, we had wine and ouzo tasting at a local wine shop. I was happy to do this as both my husband and I love wine (particularly red wine) and I had been finding that most of the Greek wines we had while very drinkable, were a bit too light on the finish for me. The shop owner, who was very knowledgeable, told me that the wines by the glass in the restaurants we had been having were not the best quality and we should order bottles if we wanted to get good wine. Ahhh, ok, bottles it is! I Guess I will just have to drink more!! I never did try the Ouzo, I smelled it and it was not for me, but my husband liked it. After our tasting we found a little taverna and had our gyros for dinner.

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Day 10-We toured the ancient site of Mycenae with our local guide, Patti. We took the requisite pictures of the Lion’s gate. How did they move those large stones? Back in Nafplio, we had the afternoon on our own to explore. My husband and I decided to take the lovely seaside promenade walk back to the hotel and enjoyed this very much.
Day 11-We toured the ancient site of Epidavrous with the same local guide, Patti, who showed us the incredible acoustics of the theater. Loved this place and just enjoyed soaking up the incredible ambiance. That afternoon, we headed to Hydra, and checked into the Greco hotel. We also enjoyed our room and the lovely courtyard at this hotel. We then headed out on our own to explore and had dinner at a casual taverna.
Day 12- Although this day was a free day, Apostolos invited anyone to join him on a walk to the other end of the island. I think everyone joined him and we enjoyed the lovely walk along the sea to a very uncrowded beach, where we changed into our swimsuits and braved the slightly cold water. It did warm a bit after you were in, but mostly we just relaxed on our chairs. The beaches are very rocky, we did not have beach shoes, so just braved the pain of walking in barefeet on the rocks. We just lazed away the rest of the afternoon. We had the option of taking the water taxi back to town, but we chose to walk back the way we had come.

After a rest in our hotel room, we met our tour mates and guide in the courtyard for a happy hour and snacks courtesy of our guide. He had a little gift for everyone, which was fun. I almost didn’t need dinner, but my husband never skips a meal, so after we went to and had dinner. Then we took a walk out to the harbor and sat on a bench to enjoy the view of the town, its boats and harbor. We were joined by six cats and one of them even became my lap kitty for the evening.

A word about the cats……..At first, I thought we would just see them in Athens, but no, they were everywhere we went. I bought food for them at stores I came across and had fun feeding them. The cats on Hydra seemed to be doing well, but some others we came across definitely needed food. So, if you take this tour and you like cats, they really appreciate it if you feed them!

Posted by
78 posts

Cool, thanks for sharing your report!

I've never taken a RS tour. I might do his Greece tour someday, as I haven't explored the Peloponnese yet.

I'm guessing your tour skewed older as being in October would rule out people with school-aged children and people such as myself that teach for a living.

Oh, and cats always found me whenever I dined outdoors. I remember a night on Sifnos when I ordered grilled sardines, which made me a cat magnet, especially once I "accidentally" dropped some pieces of fish.

I'm probably doing eastern Austria/Slovenia/northern Croatia next summer rather than a return to Greece.

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Day 13-Oh no, our tour was almost over! We headed back to Athens very early in the am. The hotel was so nice to provide our full breakfast for us. We took our final tour with a most excellent local guide, Johanna, who showed us the highlights of the National Archeological Museum. This was a great museum. That night we had our final farewell dinner at Mani Mani and said good-bye to many of our tourmates who were leaving in the early am. Our flight was in the afternoon.
Day 14-Tour over after breakfast. We had a few hours before our flight, we just walked around the Plaka area and then took Welcome Pick ups back to the airport. We had to overnight in Newark and then took our Alaska airline flight back to Anchorage.
Final thoughts- We loved this tour! I had high expectations as I am fairly active on this forum and read all the tour reports, but my expectations were met and exceeded. Our guide, Apostolos, was amazing and added so much to our enjoyment of the tour. We are a bit worried though, as we are already signed up for another RS tour and whoever our guide will be has big shoes to fill! These tours really maximize our short two week travel time (my husband is still working and we have kids at home). We can’t wait for our second tour!

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1666 posts

Thanks for the report, this tour is on my radar.

Was your guide good at filling in the long travel times on the bus with information/stories, etc? That was one of my Wow moments on our RS tour in France last May. Our guide gave us French lessons everyday on the bus, language, culture and history.

Would you recommend spending more time in Athens before or after your tour?

What is one supposed to do with a fish that still has its head??😁

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8008 posts

"This 90 min tour took us 5 hours"

Oh gosh, Tammy. I burst out laughing at this! That's happened to me as well.....

Love your Trip Report! What a fun time you had.

As a solo traveler, one thing I realized early on with RS tours was if the guide offered any meals/walks/experiences during free time to take them up on it! Since they are frequent visitors to the same places they always know the best spots. I understand if people want to go off on their own but I never want to miss anything the guide suggests!

I suspect your next guide will be just as good if not better, lol! Where are you headed to?

Thanks for taking the time to write this up and post!

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1042 posts

Tammy, this is a wonderful tour report.
I took The Best of Greece in 2009 and your descriptions brought me right back!

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1683 posts

@Allan-Apostolos was outstanding. He gave us just the right amount of information on the long bus rides, along with some very funny stories about being in the army (which is required of all male youths in Greece). We learned so much about the culture of Greece, the Greek Orthodox church, and history. But, he didn't drone on endlessly, which I have experienced before as well on other day tours and don't like. We had our quiet time to write in our journals, or stare at the scenery or take a nap.
@Pam-we are signed up for Paris & The Heart Of France at the end of April. The last time I was in Paris, 1984, for one day!

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2258 posts

Tammy, your wonderful report brought me back to my own excellent RS Greece Tour in 2017, virtually identical to yours, with a different guide, and some different hotels and restaurants. On 11 RS tours, I have found that all the RS guides are excellent, very well-informed, good communicators and attentive to individual needs and preferences of their group members. I've especially enjoyed some of the off-the-beaten-track experiences and interactions with "ordinary people" who do not spend every day serving tourists. We had our final dinner in Athens at another restaurant, but I had lunch at Manh Manh twice, and loved it. Next spring, just when you are on the 2020 RS Paris and the Heart of France Tour, I will be on the new Best of Tuscany Tour in Italy, my 12th! Bon Voyage!

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2504 posts

Hi Tammy, I’ve been looking forward to your report and it didn’t disappoint! So glad you enjoyed the tour. It truly transported me back to 2017. I had to giggle that only three of your group were in your 50’s! Have to say it has been the opposite on most of our tours. Mostly active 60’s to 70’s + ;) Not an issue, everyone mixes well! We loved Mani Mani. We ate there 3 times.

Last weekend we met up with friends who were on our tour in 2017. It was nice to reminisce. Your report brought back fond memories. Our friends have since returned to Athens. They hired “Faye” the wonderful RS local guide.

Thanks for sharing!

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1892 posts

I so enjoyed reading your wonderful trip report! Thank you for posting. I took this tour in 2010 and while we had a different guide, he was equally as impressive. I loved the tour so much then I will happily be repeating it in April for the celebrating of Greek Orthodox Easter. I can't wait to revisit Greece and your retelling of the special times you enjoyed is just extra incentive. I appreciate the addition of the restaurant names and locations and am keeping notes! Thank you again.

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8008 posts

Oh, I loved the Paris and Heart of France tour! This has a wonderful variety of sights and you drive thru some beautiful countryside. I had Rebecca for this tour and she was amazing.

If you have any family members who were in the Normandy Invasion force, do some research ahead of time and see if you can come up with information on their combat units. Usually the local guides here are so knowledgeable they can tell you (and maybe show you) where they landed. Amazing depth of knowledge. On my tour one person's Dad was in the invasion and he had the particulars. When we were standing on Utah beach the guide pointed to some markers and said that was where your Dad probably came ashore. I nearly cried. Do watch The Longest Day (the old 70's film) before you go. It is fairly representational, according to the guide we had (whereas he felt Band of Brothers was not).

If you all can take extra time off, DO plan to arrive at least the day before or if you can, 2 days before. The 2 full days on tour is not enough for Paris. I think I stayed for a week after but I'm retired and I understand people not having leave time, plus kiddos.

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12 posts

Thank you so very much, Tammy for this detailed trip report. I will be on this tour next April for Orthodox Easter.
.Wonder if Andi is on my tour with Holy Saturday in Monemvasia. I also appreciate your restaurant and especially
the jazz club mention Just saw Wynton Marsalis here in Boston this weekend. I love jazz and hope I can convince
someone in the group to go with me.
You will love the Paris and the HOF tour. Our group encountered the first heatwave with temps at 102 and 98 in
Amboise spent in a hotel without AC Our tremendous guide, Linda kept us all in good spirits.
I am flying to Anchorage this week as my daughter, husband and 6 month old, first grandchild live there!
Hope to meet up with you on a RS tour in the future.

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216 posts

Tammy, thank you so much for your detailed report! I am excited about going on the RS Greece tour in May 2020. I have one question: you mentioned going to the new Acropolis Museum but not to the Acropolis itself. Did the group visit the Acropolis...or was that an option during free time?

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1683 posts

@Elizabeth-going up to the Acropolis is the first thing we did on our first full day of the tour. It is included in the tour. While it is incredible to see the Parthenon up close and marvel at the most amazing building of Greek architectue, I actually enjoyed the view of it from the rooftop restaurant more. Especially at night with the lights. You will love this tour!

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218 posts

This trip report brought back such great memories of our RS Athens and the Heart of Greece tour! Thank you for taking the time to write. Your memories of RS tours will last a lifetime, so glad you’ve booked another one!

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13 posts

Thanks for writing this trip report - I love all the details! My husband & I are signed up for this tour next September (our 1st tour too). I'm going to be ordering my tour kit this weekend! I have two questions:

Do you recall any opportunities for laundry, either laundromat or done by any of the hotels?

Towels for swimming/beach time - do the hotels provide any or should we bring (RS microfiber towel?) or buy in Greece?

Thanks!

Tina

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1683 posts

@Tina-the Hotel Panorama in Monemvasia was our first chance to have laundry done. 10e totally worth it, done in am and on your bed that evening all folded neatly. The hotels provided towels, no need to bring your own.

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1 posts

Hi Tammy,

Thanks for the detailled report of your trip! I have two questions :
1. What was the total number of hotels for the 14 day trip? All with private washrooms? All to your liking?
2. What time did you typically start your day? Were the tours in the very early morning (8:00 am?).

Thanks!