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Three Weeks In Greece

Prelude: I changed locations more than many on the forums would recommend, but I was happy with my trip. The Cyclades Islands/Athens part of the trip was booked with Aegean Thesaurus; the rest was arranged on my own. I'm a solo traveler, middle-aged American male.

Places I Visited: Western Cyclades (Santorini, Folegandros, Milos, Sifnos), Athens, Trikala/Kalambaka/Meteora, Sporades (Skopelos, Alonissos, Skiathos), Thessaloniki

Time Frame: Mid June to Early July, 2019

I’ll post a day or two at a time. WARNING: I’m quite snarky and irreverent, so if you don’t like that, avoid this thread.

Day One
I had flown to Amsterdam and spent the night at the Schiphol Yotel as my jet-lag day, then an early morning flight on Transavia Airlines direct to Santorini. The Rich Young Chinese Kids in front of me getting on the plane obviously hadn't read Transavia's rather strict rules (only 1 bag, with a 10kg limit). They each had 2 bags and weren't going to be able to combine them into 1, so they got pulled aside and I'm pretty sure they ended up paying the 40 Euro fee to check a bag, as they ended up being the last ones on the plane. I had combined my small day pack into my Rick Steves style soft convertible backpack, and they didn’t even bat an eye as I showed my boarding pass.

As we near Santorini, I try to identify islands that we are flying over based on my vast experience with Greek geography and looking at Google Map. I think I did identify a couple of other Cycladic islands that I will visit later.

We land and my shuttle has the requisite crazy driver, British couple, and me. The driver almost runs over someone on a scooter, drops off the British couple at their hotel, then gets to Firostefani (narrow streets! buses! cars! quads! scooters! pedestrians! chaos!) and he has no idea where my hotel is. After driving for a few minutes, I just have him drop me off, as my Google maps shows that I’m just a short walk away from my hotel. The roads are incredibly narrow and clearly the road network isn't adequate for summer season traffic. I'm very glad I'm not getting a vehicle here.

Check-in at hotel is fine (Hotel Margarita), room is already ready at 11:30 AM. My room is not in the main building, but a smaller building near the pool. I don't have an ocean view from my room (I can see the pool. The caldera is a quick walk, and I do walk up for the spectacular views (this place is very touristic but there's a reason why) and get lunch with a view. Lunch was a Yellow Donkey beer: Santorini has a craft brewery called Donkey Brewing, with Yellow Donkey, White Donkey, Red Donkey, Crazy Donkey, Slow Donkey, and Lazy Ass, and the Santorinian garlic pasta. Food OK, WHAT A VIEW!

I buy some supplies. Big 1.5 liter bottles of water are 1 Euro each (SPOILER: I learn that this is actually quite expensive by Greek standards), but they gouge you for the sunscreen (not surprised). Couldn't bring my own, as I don't check bags anymore. Since my heritage is 25% Greek and 75% Pasty Northern European, I need the sunscreen!

Go back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a quick nap. I get up at about 5:30 PM and I've got just enough time to walk about 10km to Oia for the classic touristic sunset. I did get to chat with an American family making the same hike. There's some buff dude trail running on the trail so we can admire his superior conditioning.

Oia's way too crowded, but there's a reason why. Pretty epic views, and my smartphone photography posted on Instagram doesn't do it justice. I'm not walking back (it would be dangerous after dark, as you can't see on the trails and there are also spots you walk on the side of the road and I'm NO WAY not doing that after dark). There's a huge queue for the bus back to Fira, but it's more orderly than you would think. E1,80 back to Fira and a 15 minute walk to Firostefani. I stop for late dinner of fried fish and turn in.

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Day Two

So today was a boat tour. I was to meet the transport at the Agios Gerasimos bus stop (which is a 2 minute walk from my hotel) at 8:40. It's late, of course, and I only see vans and minibuses for other companies. Finally I just start asking everything that pulls up and the second bus I asked (which had no markings) was my bus.

We picked up more people and went down the steep windy road to the port. Here, we were divvied up into different boats. All the Spanish/French people went to one boat and Greek/German/English speakers to a different boat. My boat had 2 native Greek speaker guests, several Germans, and many English speakers (or at least people whose native tongue wasn't represented).

Our first stop was the Greek National Geological Park of Nea Kameni. This is a volcanic island off the coast of Santorini and it and a nearby smaller island of Palea Kameni are the most recent islands created in the Mediterranean. The age of the islands is measures in hundreds of years and the most recent eruptions were in 1950 or so.

We hiked up to the top--lots of people ignored the advice to NOT have sandals/flip-flops but rather decent walking shoes and I'm sure that sucked for them. Very stark volcanic landscape and nice views. We then returned to the boat and went to Palea Kameni for a swimming stop. There's a "hot springs" (which is pretty lukewarm), we jump in about 60 meters from shore (you can take a noodle to help float if you like) and swim towards shore and the slightly warmer waters.

After that was done, we then went to Thirassia. This is an island with a few hundred inhabitants that was probably connected to Santorini at some point thousands of years ago before the island blew itself apart. We have a couple of hours here. The harbor has a row of several restaurants and a very rocky beach to get in the water. There's also a steep path up to the town, which is said to be a time-warp back to before Santorini was commercialized.

I chose not to hike up but just to eat, drink beer, and take a dip. I had octopus pasta (OK, not awesome), and a Mythos beer (Mythos is Greek for Budweiser) as my restaurant didn't have any other beer.

We get back on the ship, cruise around near Oia, see some of the huge cruise ships. Eventually we return to port and then a fairly chaotic scene of getting everyone from the excursion ships on the correct shuttle back to their hotel.

I do get back, nap for a couple of hours, and then go out on a hunt for gyros and craft beer. I get a good pork gyro and buy a couple of bottles of Volkan beer at the mini market by my hotel (they didn't have Donkey). Volkan is "lava rock filtered"; their pilsner was pretty ordinary but the "Santorini Black" is a black wheat lager which was pretty tasty, the best of the Greek beers I've had so far. (I’m much more of a beer person than a wine person, so there will not be much wine-tasting in this thread).

The Firostefani sunset is just as good and not nearly as crowded as Oia IMHO.

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2873 posts

A trip report with attitude and craft beer info - I like it!

I've avoided Santorni because of how touristic it is. Curious if you think it's worth it. Still want to visit the Sporades. Keep it coming!

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11 posts

I like your (writing) style.

Carry on ... (as the Brits would say, meaning “continue.” Not a reference to luggage...)

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Day 3

Today is my last day on Santorini. Got up early, saw a bit of sunrise, went back to bed for a bit. Then I walked to the Fira Bus Station (about 15 minute walk), which is the main bus terminal for the island.

What's the etymology of the word "clusterblank", because that's what it is.  A parking lot full of people, buses pulling in, buses backing up, somehow the drivers manage to almost but never actually hit other buses/vehicles/humans.

After waiting a while, the bus to Perissa is boarding.  E2,40 to the black sand beach on the other end of the island.  Perissa has a totally different vibe than Fira/Firostefani/Oia.  Not as ritzy, a bit grittier, but I kind of like of it and I could see staying there if I ever return.

The black sand beach is really just crushed volcanic rock, but the water is clear and awesome.  Saw some fish and had several refreshing swims.  Lunch was mixed souvlaki plate and a Fix beer (tastes like Mythos). I ended up drinking very little of the Donkey craft beer since most places don't carry it.  Then I went all Gabriel Traveler style (a semi-famous Youtuber/travel vlogger) and hiked up to a tiny old church up above Perissa; if you keep hiking, eventually you get to old ruins.  The church is locked, but a brilliant view of Perissa and the surrounding area.  Greece has tons of tiny old churches in the middle of nowhere.

HIke back down, take another dip of course, have some ice cream and walk around before boarding the bus back to Fira, passing "Senor Zorba", a Mexican restaurant, along the way.  As I'm walking back to my hotel, I pass by "Murphy's", the requisite Irish bar.  The bartender was nice and for a Greek knew a bit about American sports (I'm from Kentucky, "Wildcats", the guy from Ohio, "Bengals or Browns?", he was Bengals).  Just got an overpriced Mythos, and this place gets ripped on Trip Advisor, as it's popular late with younger people who complain about the prices.  

Back to the hotel, chill for a while then I go to "No Name Grill" (yes, that is the actual name) for dinner.  It's about 7 PM which is late for me to eat but only Americans eat this early.  I have some fried feta cheese, local sausage, and the Volkan blonde beer (they have only this brand from the two craft breweries from Santorini).  This place, like my hotel, is a few blocks off the caldera rim where the expensive hotels/shops/restuarants are.  No caldera view, but I get to watch people negotiate the intersection of two windy streets--the tentative wuss tourists (this would be me), crazy people on scooters and quads, shuttle buses, etc.  The driving scene here is totally nuts.

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Santorini and Athens were certainly the most crowded places I visited. Plenty of Americans and lots of tours with Chinese and Indian visitors. The other islands were almost all Europeans. I'm glad I visited Santorini as it has stunning landscapes, but is the place I went on this trip that I'm the least likely to revisit.

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First hop, from Santorini to Folegandros!

Day 4

Instead of relying on the Santorini KTEL Bus, which would be likely overcrowded, I decided to get a shuttle arranged by my hotel. We were ahead of the traffic down the steep road to the port and I was there by 7:20, actually a bit too early. As a captive audience (like being at the airport too soon), I get an overpriced Greek coffee and chocolate croissant.

At 8:30 AM I board the "Naxos Jet", which is one of the high-speed ferries. It's only an hour to Folegandros and the ferry isn't crowded. I have no trouble finding the van to my hotel (Hotel Polikandia) for the short drive up to the main village of Chora. Two other people (a couple that must have been on the same ferry) are on the ride as well.

My room is ready even though it isn't even 10:00 AM yet! Cool. About the same price as the hotel on Santorini and better value for the money. The town is cute and it's much cleaner than Santorini. Santorini is a bit grimy once you get off the super main drag--there was a children's playground right by my hotel there and it was in a terrible dilapidated condition.

The landscape of Folegandros is quite stark and it must have been a tough place to live back in the day. I decide I want to hike into a beach (many of the beaches can be accessed only by foot, some only by boat), so I hike my Folegandros to "Fira Beach", which is near the small beach village of Agkali. Hike is a bit over an hour, challenging terrain so again I'm glad I brought good footwear.

I reach Fira Beach and I'm all alone. No sand, just rocks. You can see the Agkali beach and small village, but there's no one here. Take a dip, again the water is so clear here. Eventually a couple hikes in, and I learn that this is the clothing-optional beach. A couple of other couples arrive as well, one of them swam in from Agkali with fins and mask, and everyone but me (shy American who doesn't want a sunburn down there) is sans clothes.

I then take the 15 or so minute walk to Agkali. Parts are quite steep, and this path is too tough for children. I get to Agkali. This is a sandy beach, but with none of the endless rows of sunbeds that annoy me. There are people here, and this is a good beach for kids. I swim here as well (I love how easy it is for my fat ass to float in the sea) and eventually go up to one of the taverns to eat. Since I've been eating too much meat and not enough veggies, I get salates Ellenika with a megalo bukali Fix bira. Wow, what I'm brought is way too big for one person to eat. I got the local cheese rather than Feta and that was a good choice.

I then take a different hiking trail back to Chora so most of my path was a loop. A tough hike, but it would have been much tougher if I had done my hikes in the opposite direction. Return to Chora, a quick nap and then hang out by the hotel pool.

I eventually go out; the square of the town is shaded and has several outdoor cafes. I pick one and since I ate a ton of veggies for lunch, I get the lamb kebab with yogurt sauce and paprika for dinner at “Souvlaki Club”. A great choice, and the best meal of the trip so far. The disposable tablecloth has an English lesson and I practice some stuff with my waiter ("kalo fogito" is good food, etc.). Comp shot of ouzo at end of meal, like what “The Way We Saw It” (other Youtuber vloggers that I like) experienced.

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1530 posts

Cool report! We go to Greece in Oct and while not going to the same places, it fans the flames of excitement.

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Day Five

Breakfast buffet at the hotel. Seems that the typical fare is coffee, juices, yogurt, fruit salad, cold cuts, and cheese. They also have bacon and sausages (English style) here.

I decide to return to Agkali Beach, this time via the local bus rather than on foot. I do so, arrive and take a swim, then decide to walk the opposite direction from yesterday. Only about a ten or fifteen minute walk away is a tiny secluded rocky beach called Gerifos. There are rooms for rent here (very rustic, as there is no electricity) and there is a shack where you can get an ayurvedic massage, which I did not do.

This is a great beach, again clothing optional although there is an old battered sign there that reportedly says nudism is forbidden; that sign is ignored. Most European thing ever: Naked man lying on a rocky beach smoking a cigarette. Felt like asking him to put his cigarette out.

I didn't go, but another ten to fifteen minutes walk away (you can see it) is a larger beach called Agios Nicholas that is accessible via foot or boat. My understanding is that there is a very good seafood taverna available there, one of you will have to check it out for me. Oh, and I think half of the places in Greece are named Agios Nicholas, Agios Georgios, or Agios Dimitrios, sort of like every street in Atlanta is Peachtree.

In all seriousness, I think Folegandros is awesome. Santorini has stunning views but just too many people and it's fraying at the ends. Folegandros, you are actually among the locals’ homes, kids playing (some 12 year old kid accidentally hit me with a soccer ball, I tried to tell him to show me a better shot I could watch but he didn't understand me). Their soccer field is just bare hard dirt but the playground is OK.

I take the bus back to Chora (the main town where I am staying) and hang out at the pool. The hotel pool is very nice, but I'm not just not as much into lying around a pool as a lot of people are.

I have my first transportation mishap. There is another smaller town called Ano Meria with a small folklore museum that I wanted to check out. The museum is open from 5-8 PM so my plan was to take a bus at 6:15 PM there and take the 8:30 PM bus back. I get to bus station just after 6:00. There's a bus loading up a bunch of people who look dressed to run. That can't be my bus, it's too early. About 6:15 a bus comes, but it's the bus that goes back and forth to the port, and another bus comes that goes back and forth to Agkali Beach. Ask both drivers "Ano Meria?", one of them finds someone with better English and I find out that there's a 10K race tonight from Ano Meria to Chora and that the bus ran early (at 6:00 PM) to take the runners there. Arrgh, there was nothing posted about this and I should have boarded that bus. The next bus to Ano Meria is too late to go to the museum, so I just stay in Chora. I did end up seeing some of the runners finish the race later on.

I get dinner around 7 PM, which means you are dining virtually alone as this is like eating at 4 PM in America. I (sort of) impress the waitress with my ability to order "Matsata El Pesto" (matsata is the local version of pasta, don't think pesto is the traditional sauce though) and "Megalo Bukali Mythos Bira" (this is the larger 500mL bottle of Mythos beer) in Greek. However, I look up how to ask for the check on my phone but when I say it she has no clue what I'm saying. I was saying the wrong thing. Apparently you say "tolo logariasmo" which translates to "the account" rather than “the check”.

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1101 posts

We went to Greece last May/June. It is so fun to read your report. Keep it up!

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Day 6

Folegandros to Milos

After a quick 90 or so minute ferry ride ("Naxos Jet" again), I arrive in Milos. I get the car in Adamantas (the port town) and drive up to Plaka.  I park the car and go hiking/exploring for a few hours, seeing such sites as the Venetian castle, Milos stadium (football is podosfairo, so now I can talk to the Greek boys playing soccer on basketball courts), the Milos Catacombs (OK, not as macabre as you might think), the place where the Venus de Milo statue was found (I looked for those elusive arms, couldn't find them), an ancient theater, and finally a steep downhill hike to the fishing village of Klima.

Klima is quite the postcard kind of place, and I have lunch at might be the only cafe (Astakas).  I have the Prawns Saganaki (big ass shrimps in a tomato sauce with feta), the Septem Thursday Red Ale (another Greek craft beer, this one from the big island of Evia), and water (for the trip back up).  Their menu conveniently has asterisks by the seafood items that are frozen and not fresh so you know they are telling you DON’T ORDER THIS.  There was an annoying British woman going "DO YOU HAVE A CLUB SANDWICH?" which is like the dumbest thing to want to eat in a Greek fishing village.  (sorry for the snark) This might have been the best meal of the trip (up there with the lamb kebab w/yogurt sauce and paprika at the Souvlaki Club in Folegandros). 

The hike back up the hill and eventually to where I've parked the car was quite steep.  I guess I look like a local now because an American couple on a quad asked me for directions, which I was completely unable to provide.  I then drive west about 10 km towards the town of Pollonia, as my hotel is there.  I check in, nap and then use the pool.

Eventually I walk into town (my hotel is just slightly before town, about 500 m to the sea from my room, which does have an ocean view).  I get dinner at one of the tavernas along the port, getting an appetizer of fava beans and a main of steamed mussels.  OK, not as good as lunch.  The same couple (from Idaho) that I ran into at the catacombs and in Klima were at the same restaurant at the table next to me, and next to them was another American couple.  I guess that’s a good way to find Americans on the Greek islands, eat dinner early.

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Day Seven

Got up early, roosters crowing all around, as the hotel is just slightly out of the small town of Pollonia, near olive trees.  I walk down by the port and up to a church on a point that has a sea cave below it. Return to the hotel, have breakfast, then take the rental car to a famous sight called Sarakiniko Beach, with moon-like white rocks and a nice inlet to swim in.

I then return and park because the main plan for the day is a boat tour on the Perseas, run by Captain Andreas.  The tour goes by the neighboring island of Kimolos and then to the uninhabited island of Poliegos (many goats). He has an assistant, a young man from Pakistan (Imran) who was great. 

He's quite the polyglot as he speaks decent English, also Greek, Arabic, Urdu, and Pashto (his native language, I think).  Andreas is middle-aged and is pretty much what you'd expect a Greek guy running small boat cruises to be--he hams it up a bit with his crazy oldGreek dad persona.

We go by the island of Kimolos, a smaller inhabited island very close to Pollonia that looks quite charming, and then make our way to Poliegos.  Most Milos boat tours circumnavigate Milos and go to famous sea caves called Kleftiko on the SW corner of Milos (Pollonia is NE corner), but Andreas intentionally chose to do his tour the otherway where far fewer boats go.  I did see some large yachts and some smaller personal craft and a couple of other tours, but not near the traffic that goes the typical route.

We get some paxamadia (Greek biscotti) to snack on then the first swimming stop.  After we get back on Andreas has honeydew melon and apricots from his garden for us to eat.  I show Imran pictures of the murky water of Kentucky Lake near my house as a contrast to the crystal clearwater here.

 We continue by stunning scenery of the very rugged coast of Poliegos and eventually stop at a small beach where there is a steep trail up to a lighthouse, as this is our big stop for a few hours. We swim as Andreas & Imran feed the goats that come down to see us and start to prepare the beach BBQ meal.  The first course is Greek salad (the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers all from the
Andreas garden and cut up on the beach), along with some cheeses and some bread.  There is also rose wine (local, served from a big plastic bottle), Fix beer, Cokes, and water to drink.

They grill up some fish (I didn't catch what kind) that had been caught that morning.  Andreas was "Sorry no calamari, last year calamari every day, this year no calamari", so I guess they are having difficulties fishing for squid right now.

We then get bread with tomato sauce that Andreas spread into a heart shape ("you have to have big heart to be a ship captain", he has tour guide schtick), and then we get pork and chicken, along with some eggplant and a vegetarian pizza for the non-meat-eaters on the cruise.

We hang out, Andreas takes a short nap, and then we continue around Poliegos and back to Milos, visiting the small volcanic islet of Glaronisia as the sun starts to set.  Glaronisia also happens to the name of my hotel that I return to.  Oh, and we had dessert (baklava) and shots of ouzo on the way back to port.

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Day Eight

Milos to Sifnos

So I checked out of my hotel and used the rental car to visit a couple of beaches. Papafragas Beach and Caves is a nice sightseeing site. It was a windy day (the windiest I've had so far on this trip) and it made sense to go to the south coast of Milos, which is more protected from the prevailing winds. I went to Paleochori Beach, which means "old village". The cliff walls are quite red here, I set up under a rock wall to use as nature's beach umbrella. I take some swims here, the water seems colder and choppier today.

Lunch is at Sirocco Restaurant at the beach. This place has what they call "volcanic cooking"; there's geothermal activity underneath the beach so they take advantage of this to slow-cook meats overnight and to cook fish in foil (you'll see the stuff burying or digging up the foil-wrapped fish). I got the lamb shank (that had the slow "volcanic cooking") and a Nissos beer. Tasty.

Later on, I return the rental car in the port town of Adamantas and have some coffee and a chocolate pastry at the bakery that is next door to the car rental place I then go to the port to wait for the "Super Jet" to Sifnos. Ferry is about 15 minutes late, get on at 6 PM. it's smaller than the Naxos Jet that I've been on for the other ferry rides. With the windy choppy conditions and the smaller size, this is a very bumpy ride. People that can't handle small planes would not like this ferry one bit. I was glad I was only on for 45 minutes and not for several hours all the way back to Piraeus.

Get off, meet the driver for my hotel. This time I am staying in the port town Kamares. There's a busy scene near port, a nice sandy beach, and my place is a short drive away in an area with several small hotels/pensions along with actual homes. I'm staying at "Mosha Pension", which shares the reception and pool with Hotel Nymfes next door (same owners) that I think is a bit fancier. Check in, shower, and walk along the beach and into the main part of town (only 10-15 minutes) to find dinner.

I want to order the spanakopita and the grilled sardines. They don't have the spanakopita (spinach pies) today so it's tiropita (cheese pies) instead. Sardines is something I'd never order in America, but they are tasty. I read somewhere that claimed the quality of Greek seafood is inversely related to its price, and the sardines were the cheapest seafood on the menu! Oh, and when you order grilled sardines in an outdoor cafe, all the local cats gather around your table. I did drop "by accident" a few pieces for the cats, which of course only guaranteed their continual presence.

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Day 9

Sifnos has the reputation as the "hiking" or "trekking" island.

After breakfast at the hotel, which served me coffee in an individual sized French press (and also has the best bed so far, the other three hotels were all pretty hard mattresses), I took the bus from Kamares up to Apollonia, which is the main inland town on this island. While there, I noticed the office for the Aegean Thesaurus travel agency, who I used to help book hotels & ferries for the Cyclades/Athens part of my trip, and said hi to Caroline, the agent I worked with. I then hiked down from Apollonia to Kastro, which is a traditional village.

After walking through the narrow old streets, I took the bus back up to Apollonia and got lunch. The woman at the restaurant didn't speak any English, but I was able to successfully order a kebab and a bottle of mineral water. I can say yes/no/hello/please/thank you/large bottle of beer/wine/souvlaki/pork/chicken/gyro/salad/good/food and read Greek letters, although I can have problems pronouncing words that I've read in a way that is understood (my pronunciation/accent must be terrible).

After lunch and a bit of exploring, I do the trek back down to Kamares. Sifnos has a series of trails and even an app. The hike is mostly downhill, and I don't encounter anyone over the 6 km walk once I get out of Apollonia. This is Trail #10, which the website calls "The Cursed Trail". I go back to hotel, take a nap, and then swim in the pool. I decide to just go to a grocery store and buy some food to eat on the balcony as the sun sets, so I get some salami, cheese, Greek cookies, and Eza beer.

Day 10

I take the bus from Kamares up to Apollonia again. Today's goal is Trail #5, the "Hidden Sides of Sifnos" whjich will take me to the beach village of Vathi. This is about 3 hours. It starts by going down the narrow streets of Apollonia and the neighboring village of Katavati, then the next hour+ is mostly uphill, going through the hidden valley. Along the way, pass by yet another Orthodox church and ruins of a monastery and a cave. Fortunately, there is a strong breeze and some clouds today.

I reach the high point and start what is mostly downhill for the remainder of the hike. At a junction with another trail, I meet up with 3 Swedish guys, all a bit older than me, that are also going to Vathi. I go ahead of them for a while, then they pass me, and so on. We take pictures of each other and we decide to have a beer together when we get to the bottom.

As you can probably imagine, some pretty stunning views once you can see the sea. We make it to Vathi a bit ahead of the predicted time on the map and signs, as I didn't want to be shown up by old guys and they didn't want to be shown up by a fat American. Of course, they had started in Kamares earlier in the morning and had done a longer trek .

We reach the sea--literally as you reach the town you go down steps and then BOOM there's the ocean. The very first taverna is called Sifnos Beer Station. I guess they specialize in rewarding trekkers. We get a round of Mythos. After our beers we split up, I go off to swim. The water is choppy today (windy), but the beach is sandy and it would be good for kids because it is shallow for quite a ways. Not very crowded at all.

After a few hours, I'm thinking about finding an ice cream or some snack (not getting a full lunch since I had a big breakfast and will eat the rest of my salami/cheese/cookies when I get back to my room), and at another taverna I run into my Swedish friends again and help them finish their wine. They sing a Greek song in their Swedish accents, ha.

We take the bus back to Kamares and stop at the Old Captain's Pub, where another guy and their wives are at. We get a round of cocktails. I got the "Sifnos Sunrise" which is some sort of fruity rum drink. Since they did all the paying on Vathi, I buy this round.

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Day 11

Got up, lazed around my hotel room and had a late breakfast. My ferry from Sifnos to Piraeus (the main port of Athens) was due to leave at 11:40, left more like noon. About a 3.5 hour journey to Athens, with one stop at Serifos island (which I did not visit ).

Get off along with everyone else at Piraeus, plan is to take the metro to Monastriaki Square in downtown Athens, as my hotel for the next 3 nights is a few minutes walk away. It's very warm in Athens, hotter than any of the islands, high was about 36 (97 F). Get to Hotel Attalos and I'm on the 4th floor. Check in, walk around for a while. The hotel is such that basically you leave the metro to Monastriaki Square and walk north a couple of blocks with your back to the Acropolis.

Basically I'm sort of at the intersection of three neighborhoods. West of the hotel is the Psiri neighborhood, It's a hip neighborhood with lots of bars/cafes and is pretty cool. I ended up getting an early dinner here--got dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice) and a sausage dish and Alpha beer (tastes like Mythos, or maybe more like Fix). The wait staff did attempt to correct some of my terrible Greek pronunciations of basic words that the islanders allowed me to butcher.

Walking back to the hotel a bit south, it gets more touristic and you see the usual tacky souvenir stores, some chains like Hard Rock, and the like. I haven't gone to the Plaka neighborhood yet, I hear it's the main tourist area.

North of us, and I saw just a few blocks, is a rougher area with a lot of graffitti, some homelessness, a lot of closed shops, also some business catering to recent immigrants. Apparently further north is where the alternatives and the anarchists hang out. Has the reputation of being dicey, especially at night.

Day 12

Today was classics day. I had booked a guided tour of the Acropolis and its museum, starting at 9 AM. Some confusion at the beginning, as the tour company rep thinks I haven't paid for my trip yet that I prepaid for, but that is settled, but kind of annoying.

The guide Antonia was great and had nothing to do with this confusion. My main complaint about the Acropolis is that it's just way way too crowded. It's hard to get good pictures or even just relax with all the people. I usually like to be self-guided, it was nice to have someone knowledgeable about the history, archaeology, and geography. Maybe I would have been happier on my own with Rick's audio guide?

After a few hours, we come down to the New Acropolis Museum. We get to hear about how the British Museum has a bunch of the antiquities and won't return them. After the tour ends, I go off on my own to explore the Panathenaic Stadium. This is the old marble stadium used for the 1896 Olympics and in 2004 for archery and the end of the marathon. The layout of the track doesn't meet modern standards (the straightaways are longer, the turn is much tighter, and the infield is much smaller). For 5E to enter (or you can just take pictures from the outside for free), you get an audio guide, you can climb up to the top of the stadium, sit in the VIP seats (marbles seats with a back), and go down the entrance passage, which is almost like a cave and hidden under the stadium is a small museum that has some memorabilia, including many of the torches used in past Olympics.

I wander around for a bit, going by Syntagma Square. Eventually end up at a cocktail bar called The Clumsies. This had actually been recommended to me by some people I randomly met in Chicago at a bar. It's a nice place, good but expensive cocktails; not the place you'd go just for a cheap beer. I had a Negroni. They have a quirky website and cocktail menu.

Back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. Our hotel elevator is tiny and is marked (Maximum 3 persons 225 kg). So this is: 3 Europeans or 2 Americans. Just get some cheap but good gyros for dinner.

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Day 13

So I didn't do anything too "special" today. I did watch the Sunday morning changing of the guard ceremony at Syntagma Square, but otherwise was just walking around some of the neighborhoods near my hotel.

I went to Six Dogs for lunch and had bahn mi. Yes, I had a Vietnamese/French sandwich rather than a gyro or a souvlaki. This was a place where cool Greek millennials (OK, the really cool ones are obviously hanging out somewhere that middle-aged Americans don't know about) and the lunch/brunch menu isn't Greek and looked quite similar to what you'd see in a
similar place in America (avocado toast, bagel with salmon, etc.). Also had a fancy juice there.

After that I walked through the Plaka, which is the standard touristic spot where you can play "Spot The Americans" (fat guy with goatee, golf shirt, cargo shorts, and Crocs, I don't even need to see your Cincinnati Reds cap; Euros only wear New York Yankees caps) and walk by all the restaurants the cool Greek millennials would never go to. I did hit up The Clumsies again for another fancy cocktail (the "Red District" which was aged rum, berries, pomegranate molasses, and spices) and I found out via the internet that it has made a list of Top 50 Bars in the World.

I had dinner in the Psyri neighborhood again, a nice pork souvlaki, and then did the sunset on my hotel's rooftop bar (a Cosmopolitan, not as good as The Clumsies in terms of cocktail quality but a stunning view of the Acropolis).

Day 14

I took the train from Athens to Trikala. A bit over a four hour ride. I was seated by some older Greek people in our first class compartment. A retired man in his 70s had lived most of his life in the USA (New York City) and was now spending much of the year back in Greece. They were surprised that I was also going to Trikala rather than Kalambaka, where most tourists going to Meteora stay.

Once you clear Athens, there's a lot of agricultural land, not as stark as the islands. There are mountains to see as well. I arrive in Trikala a bit after 11 AM. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from the train station to the Central Square of town, and the town is very lively. Tons of people out, there's a bunch of people campaigning for some political party (elections in a few days), some boys and a girl playing podosfairo (soccer) with absolutley no regards for passers-by or the patrons of the outdoor cafe. It's also a bicycle mad city, tons of cyclists, and Greeks are as crazy on bicycles as they are on scooters and in cars!

A small river flows through the center of town with several bridges. There's also a statue of a proudly peeing boy that ended up on my Instagram. I find a place for lunch. Menu's totally in Greek and English is barely heard hear, unlike the islands or (at least the tourist core) of Athens. I manage with my limited Greek to order chicken (kotopoulo) skewers and a Lemoni Coca-Cola Max (in the cute not quite 12 ounce European can) for lunch.

After hanging out for a few hours I check into the Hotel Panellinion. It's an old hotel right on the central square, and the halls and the room is sort of like staying in your Greek grandmother's house. After a nap (and the streets cleared out from about 2 to 6 PM even more than other places), I went out and saw some of the attractions, including the old Ottoman era mosque (now a museum, was closed when I got there) and the Byzantine Castle (also didn't get to fully see due to arriving too late) which is on higher ground (the city is pretty flat in general) and gives great views of the Pindos Mountains to the west.

I had dinner at Pikla, a fancy grocery store & small plates (mezze) place. Again, no English menu, so I worked on my reading skills (I can read Greek a bit, just can't understand it when spoken) and get some salami, some feta, and some Greek potato salad, along with a dark craft beer from Northern Greece whose name I have forgotten.

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So just wondering which of the islands you liked the best. Are there any you would return to?

Beth

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Of the five islands that I spent time on, I'd rank them:
1. Skopelos (I haven't even gotten to the Sporades part of the trip yet)
2. Sifnos (my favorite of the Western Cyclades)
3. Folegandros
4. Milos
5. Santorini

I'm happy to have visited all of them, and as I said earlier Santorini is the only one I probably wouldn't choose to revisit on my own, and that's due to it being the most crowded/touristic of the islands.

I spent one day on Skiathos and part of a day on Alonissos (the other two main islands of the Sporades group). Skiathos is the most popular of that group and (largely for that reason) is probably not high on my list of places to visit. I doubt I'll be able to visit all the Greek islands I want in my lifetime, not to mention the Peloponnese, Pelion Peninsula, Mt. Olympus, the mountains of western & NW Greece, more of Thessaloniki and points further east, etc, not to mention lots of other countries and places in the USA I haven't gotten to yet (Alaska, for example).

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Then I went to Meteora.

Day 15

Bus from Trikala to Kalambaka. I'm doing a late morning hiking/nature tour and then a sunset bicycle tour, both found through Airbnb Experiences.

After a breakfast of a circular bread ring and juice, I meet up with Dimitrios for a nature tour. Most people get on a tour bus or maybe hike themselves up to the monasteries in the morning, so they can give the monks 3 Euros and take some pictures. Dimitrios (probably early 30s) and his wife run a small guesthouse that caters towards people that are vegans, into yoga, etc. He also does some tours and does massages. His family has been from the area for generations, one of the towers built when the Greeks overthrew the Ottoman Turks was built by his great-...-great-grandfather.

We take a short drive, then stop at a natural spring under a giant tree similar to a maple. He knows a lot about the history, geology, and ecology of the area, and is constantly pointing out a lot of the wild herbs and vegetables in the area. We then do some hiking, near a monastery that is not open to the public but where with permission people go to confess to the monk.

He talks about the original hermits that would go live in the caves of the area on their own seeking some sort of spiritual answer. It's a very hot day (the hottest of the trip) so we spend most of our few hours together in the trees and inside some caves. We were lying in one of the caves, having a snack. I got to try a Greek organic banana from Crete that his friend had brought. It's really just a tiny banana. He said "we are the only ones here but there's probably a thousand people at Grand Meteora Monastery right now!"
We conclude our time together with a short drive to Kastraki. A good tour if you like nature and don't really care about going inside the monasteries, which isn't on this tour.

Dimitrios drops me off in Kalambaka and gives a suggestion for lunch. Valia Calda is a nice place, concentrates on local products. There's the "mountain" part of the menu (west and north are the Pindos Mountains) and the "valley" part (Greece's valley that includes Trikala and is the agricultural basket of Greece). Several vegan options (Dimitrios is vegan), but I go for the grilled trout and some hearty whole-wheat bread and a glass of wine (not really a beer kind of place). Very good.

Afterwards, I have some time to kill before my sunset tour so to avoid the heat (39 C, over 100 F), I visited the quirky Meteora Museum of Natural History & Mushroom Museum. The first floor is stuffed birds and animals. The second floor is mushrooms; it's a big area for foraging for mushrooms and a local enthusiast who is the head of the Greek Mushroom Society donated his time to help set up the exhibits.

At 6 PM I go to the Meteora E-Bike shop to meet up with Vasilis for the E-Bike Sunset Tour (Instagram: @meteoraebike). He's really cool too, early 40s, has similar taste in music to me. He's also from the area, came back after some time in Athens when he went to university. He also used to race mountain bikes. Like me, he hates the widespread smoking in Greece; they have laws about smoking in restaurants, etc. that aren't enforced.

If you've never tried an e-bike (as I hadn't), they really do help on the uphills. I felt like I was 21 again, as we pedaled up, with plenty of stops for pictures and some information. For much of our time, we do a pretty good job avoiding crowds, but it's not possible to avoid tourists if you want the standard touristic sunset shots of Meteora.

Both tours were awesome, and I'm pretty tired. By the time we descend back to Kalambaka, I've just missed the 9:15 bus to Trikala so I have a beer at a local pub before catching the 10:15 bus to Trikala!

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Day 16

So the forecast was even hotter today in Trikala, around 40 C. I had thought about going to one of the mountain towns via local bus and hiking around, but I was worn out from the previous day and decided to just chill in town.

I ended up visiting both the Byzantine Castle (cool arrow slits, unfortunately the clock tower was closed for renovations) and the Ottoman era Mosque (this was actually pretty boring) and hanging around. Trikala has about 80,000 residents, and between 11 AM and 1 PM it seems that half of them are dining in cafes and the other half are working in those cafes. You just don't see this level of activity in American cities of a similar size--cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians.

I ate the hotel breakfast (Greeks aren't into gluten-free or keto diets, as I got served like 4 different kinds of bread). In lieu of a formal lunch I just bought some juice (orange/apple/apricot mix) and some cookies.

From about 2 PM to 6 PM or later there's much less activity, and it's more pronounced here than in central Athens or the tourist spots on the islands. There aren't that many tourists in Trikala even though it's a cool city and I've heard way less English than anywhere else I've been so far. Kalambaka is more touristy (although nothing like Santorini) but does have the advantage that the rock formations are RIGHT THERE to see. You see more young backpacker types there, haven't seen them in Trikala although there is a hostel here.

Dinner was a bunch of freaking meat on a combo plate. Pork skewer, chicken skewer, local sausage, even a small hamburger patty (they could have left that off) and a spicy feta sauce that was a change from the usual tzatziki.

The Greek communist party, KKE, was having some sort of campaign rally downtown. I can't tell you what was said. Some other party was out the day before, the Greek elections are coming up in a few days.

Day 17

So I'm spending much of the Fourth of July as a travel day, as this is my most complicated travel day of the trip. Board the train heading to Thessaloniki; I get off at Paleofarsalos (a junction of rail lines) to transfer to another train. I have to ask around to make sure I get on the correct train. I do, a short ride to the city of Larissa, which seems like a very non-touristic place. I carry on and board the bus to Volos. This bus meets up with the train sort of like the Amtrak Thruway buses in the US. The same loud angry woman that was on my train is also on this bus, a few seats in front of me, complaining about everything.

After an hour arrive in Volos. I have two hours until a ferry. About a 15 minute walk to the port, then I run into more Swedes, a couple about my age on their way to Skopelos (the island I'm going to) with their 3 teenagers off running around. I have a mediocre lunch (too) near the port.

The ferry takes about 3 hours to get from Volos to Skopelos Town. I disembark and it takes only about 5 minutes from the time I step off the ship until I find my way to Pension Kir Sotos. Only 30 Euros/night. I'm met by Alexandria, who runs this guest house. It's a walk up with stores below and a couple of levels of basic old fashioned rooms and a couple of rooftop balconies (you can almost spit into the Aegean Sea from here). It does have good wifi and A/C though. The town is super quaint and postcard worthy. The town beach is very close, but is honestly the crappiest beach I've been to so far. I hear there are much better beaches to explore in the next few days. The Sporades islands are further north and are greener and less stark than the Cyclades.

The town runs up a hill so you can climb these super narrow alleys and go by restaurants, stores, homes, etc. I find a market and buy some snacks, including Greek potato chips (basically ended up being oregano flavored Ruffles) and a can of Romanian beer. It's called Zimbru and it was the worst beer I've ever had.

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Day 18

Take the bus from Skopelos Town a few kilometers to Stalyfos and walk down to the beach. It's a nice but fairly popular beach, and I'm back to the nice crystal clear water. There's another beach called Velanio Beach that's a very short hike away. It's even nicer, the first stretch has the stereotypical beach bar pumping out the terrible EDM, selling Sol beer (what, no Mythos? At least it isn't Zimbru!), with the sunbeds that I never use. Past the sunbeds and a big rock that blocks the view you enter NEKKID GERMAN TERRITORY (i.e. the clothing optional portion of the beach, and yes I know not all nudists are German).

Skopelos has a different vibe than the Cyclades. I think you get more Eastern European tourists here. I saw lots of license plates from Serbia and Romania and heard various Slavic sounding languages. I'm not a good enough linguist to identify most of them, and yes I do know Romanian is a Romance language more akin to Italian, French, and Spanish than the Slavic languages.

After a few hours swimming I decide to walk back to Skopelos Town, it's only about 5 km and the walk is pretty easy. The temperatures are milder here than in Trikala on the mainland, so high 20s rather than high 30s. I stop at the supermarket on the outstretch of town; there was another non-Greek guy (looked English or maybe Scandanavian) walking the same way that did the exact same thing. I get some sliced pork, cheese, a Skopelos cheese pie, a big bottle of juice, and a 1.5L of bottled water for under 8 Euro. The 1.5 liter of water was 0.32E. That's by far the cheapest I've seen. I got ripped off on Santorini!

Go back to the hotel, have my picnic lunch, Alexandra (the guesthouse proprietor) declares it's far too hot outside. I think she has a Californian's sensibility on temperature and has a very narrow band of temperature deemed acceptable (i.e. it will be far too cold by October).

Later on I venture out, get some pistachio ice cream at the place that's immediately outside the steps up to our rooms, then go to the fancy cocktail bar that I randomly discovered via a poster on some pole on my walk. It's a few minutes uphill hike through the maze of streets and alleys, it took me 10 minutes to get there but I think one can do it in half the time if they choose the alleys correctly.

It's called Paraporti (The Hidden Door) and the online reviews indicate the owner is an obsessed mixologist. I have a couple of fancy cocktails; the first was Hazelnut's Nightmare which mixed Frangelico, Midori, and a bunch of other stuff but was too sweet, the second one, Lazy Plum, was awesome. Local small batch plum spirits, bitters, absinthe, grapefruit and lemon juices, and I think something else that I've forgotten. There's also a page with more standard cocktails if you don't want to experiment. It was pricy. I spent almost as much there as I do for each night at the Sotos Pension. One must budget with priorities.

Oh, stuff I observed while sipping my cocktails:

  1. The Greek barman/owner arguing with his employee in English (I think the employee was Serbian, a lot of the seasonal employees are from the Balkans or other eastern European countries)
  2. The employee's girlfriend's dog almost getting into a scrap with one of the local cats that was extremely pissed off by the dog.
  3. Older British couple randomly shows up (I don't think they are the target audience) and storm off when they see the prices. It's not the place to go for a cheap beer or well drink with Happy Hour prices.

I walk back down towards port (much easier, just walk downhill) and hit up the souvlaki truck for cheap and dirty night eating. Quite popular on a Friday night. Watch some of the local teenage boys bicycle down the main road, popping wheelies, getting in the way of cars, and being general pains-in-the-ass. I guess this is the Greek Island version of what we called "cruising" when I was a teenager.

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Day 19

Did a day tour via boat to the nearby island of Alonissos. Much of the northern part of Alonissos Island, the surrounding smaller uninhabited islands, and the sea is part of a national marine park, partially for the benefit of the endangered Mediterranean seal.

We left the harbor of Skopelos Town around 10:30 AM. A short cruise to Alonissos, where we see dolphins along the way, which is typical for that stretch of water. Dolphins are way too smart and crafty to take good cell-phone photos of. We land at the port of Patitiri, and I go on an optional bus excursion to the more interesting Chora (the old village located in the hills above the harbor).

Walk around the alleys of Chora, nice views, I have a Skopelos tirapita (cheese pie, sort of like a cheese danish). We get back on the boat and go up the coast, see some sea caves where the seals are located (although they tend to hide and are difficult to see, we didn't get lucky to see them). Our first beach/swimming stop is Agios Dimitrios, not exactly an uncommon name for a geographical location in Greece.

Later on we stop at a even nicer beach, although with more sunbeds/tavernas/beach bars, called Leftos Gialos. I have a late lunch and watch the teenage boys dive off the boat, as unlike the other beach, the water is deep enough here where the boat is moored for diving to be OK. Then a return to port, a pretty cool day.

Later that evening, I venture out to the Spira Ale House. This is a small bar near my room; Spira is the craft brewery of Skopelos. Craft brewing is more niche in Greece than the US, they have 4 beers here, a Golden Ale, an IPA, a Stout, and a Weissbier. I try the first two, they are fine, I've had better in the US but more interesting than another Mythos/Fix/Alpha (the Bud/Miller/Coors of Greece). Beer flights unfortunately don't seem to be a thing here.

Day 20

So today starts with getting on the bus to Milia Beach, a longer ride on the same bus I took a few days ago. Again, you get dropped off on the side of a mountain road and walk down about 10 minutes to the beach.

I think this beach is even prettier than Stafylos/Valanio Beaches from a few days ago. The first part I swim in has a lot of fish and would be great for snorkeling. There's some rocks in the water and a nice small island a few hundred meters off shore. As that area gets more crowded I move further down the beach. Swim here for a while, then I actually visit a beach bar. I liked this one for two reasons: (1) they have Spira Golden Ale, the local craft beer; and (2) playing Bob Marley rather than terrrible EDM.

I take the bus back to Skopelos Town, just bum around the afternoon and at 6 PM local time find a seat at the nearby International Cafe for some ποδόσφαιρο γυναικών (women's football). This is a restaurant near my guesthouse which is the kind of place Rick Steves tells you not to go (menu too large, translated in way too many languages, you know the locals don't eat here) but they've got two big TVs set to the BBC feed (so I can get Hope Solo for buffoonish studio commentary rather than Alexi Lalas). My room has a TV that I finally figured out, but I only get Greek basic cable so I could have watched the election results.

I have a few beers and (not my) grandmother's mediocre meatballs whle watching the final. I'm outnumbered by the Dutch supporters. US is dominating play but the Netherlands keeper makes several good saves in first half. US breaks through in second half, first with an obvious penalty for a high boot that somehow took VAR to call. Megan Rapinoe scores to make half of America happy. Then Rose Lavelle's golazo makes it 2-0. US spurns several good chances to really wrap it up, but a 2-0 final score secures back-to-back championships.

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Day 21

So I am leaving Skopelos. I go to the juice bar for a fresh juice (apple/orange/carrot mix that seems to be popular in Greece) and "toast", which is more like a breakfast panini than an American avocado toast. Mine is the "exotic toast" with cheese, pineapple, and peppers.

Board the Express Skiathos ferry, which isn't an express ferry at all. Unlike the other ferries I've ridden, this is the large traditional ferry when you can sit on deck on benches rather than being inside in airplane-style seats. This ferry goes to Alonissos first, then goes to Skiathos (my destination for tonight) before returning to the mainland. Originally my plan was to take a ferry to Thessaloniki today and be there for two days, but that route didn't run this summer, so my options were to either ferry back to Volos and train or bus to Thessaloniki, or ferry to Skiathos and fly out. I chose the latter and will stay one night on Skiathos before flying to Thessaloniki (the flight was quite cheap, less than the ferry/train or ferry/bus combo would have been) for a short stay there.

Just like on the tour boat, we see dolphins between Skopelos and Alonissos, actually more than the other day. The dolphins seemed to enjoy playing in the wake left by the large ferry. I enjoyed the "slow" ferry more than any of my "high-speed" rides.

After a few hours, arrive in Skiathos. This is the most popular and touristic of the Sporades islands, and I can tell that I don't really care much for the port area with all the obvious tourist trap restaurants. I have a theory: the aggressiveness of waiters to get you into a Greek restaurant is inversely correlated with that restaurant's rating on TripAdvisor or Yelp.

I'm staying just one night, at a "studio" (small apartment with kitchenette) about a 20-30 minute walk away from the port. Studios Dimitris is in a rather unfashionable part of this fashionable island, a bit out of town near the airport and not by the nightlife or the popular beaches. This is fine by me, as my trip is almost over and I'm kind of taking a vacation from my holiday, if that makes sense. So my visit to Skiathos is rather short and rather unusual.

After checking in, I nap a bit and then walk back into town, as Google Maps sends me through side streets to go to the grocery store. I'm gonna do what the Brits call "self-catering", so I buy some cold cuts, bread, cheese, juice, a couple of cans of Mythos, and a yogurt for dinner and breakfast. Notice a bunch of nerdy Brits who gather near the airport to watch planes take off and land (it's a small airport, so not too often), I guess it's sort of like trainspotting. There's a big sign in English telling you it's dangerous and to not stand there.

After I get back, eat and drink my beers on the porch. Chat with Lefteris, the son of the owners, also saw his mother. He's a single guy, probably 35ish. HIs English is decent, it turns out his sister is a professor at the university in Volos. I told him I was from Kentucky when checking in, later he remembers it as Tennessee and asks me if I like Jack Daniels and Coke. Heh, I say I'm from Kentucky, not Tennessee, so we drink bourbon instead. He knows Jim Beam but not any other bourbons. He want to visit America and go to New York City, Los Angeles, and Alaska! That will be tough to do in a single trip. I bet he'd actually like fishing and eating BBQ around where I live.

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Day 22

I get up early in the studio, walk a few km to Xanemos Beach. It's an OK beach located near the end of the runway of the Skiathos airport and is the closest beach to my place. Only a few people here, seems to be more of a locals beach which isn't the most stunning but doesn't have the crowds.

Go back, prepare to leave as Lefteris is dropping me off at the airport, which is only a few minutes drive away--I literally could have walked to the airport in about 20 minutes. I think most of their business is Eastern European families prosperous enough to travel but not able/willing to pay the big Euros for hotels/apartments in the more fashionable areas. If you have a car, you can get around and I'd want a car/scooter if I was to stay there again for a longer visit.

Skiathos Airport is pretty small. Security has me open my bag but decline to further scrutinize my dirty laundry. Lefteris hilarously chooses to tell me about how dangerous the Skiathos Airport is on the way there. I told him he could have failed to mention that. He was fishing earlier that morning and showed me a picture of a fish he caught.

Flight to Thessaloniki leaves on time, it's only a 45 minute flight and not full, so I move to an empty row. Once we land I find my way onto the X1 bus that goes to the city center, 2 Euros. Bus is pretty full and cramped. Get off and go to The Caravan, which is a modern boutique hotel so a definite step up from my modest accommodations of the past week. I had paid 78E for their smallest room, and get a free upgrade to a suite for my one-night stay. I know this means that they probably screwed something up in booking but I won't complain. It's not like when a car rental place tries to give you a huge gas-guzzling vehicle when you wanted a small economical, easy to park car.

Kiki is a nice lady at the front desk that gives me a map, a suggested route for "Thessaloniki, Rather Too Quickly" and some places to eat/drink. There are lots of ruins interspersed with the modern city. The Ottomans ruled for several centuries and have an influence, along with stuff from Roman and Byzantine times. A major fire in 1917 resulted in a hodgepodge of architecture from that time period, along with some ugly concrete apartment blocks.

I see the Roman Forum and the Rotunda from the outside. These monuments are closed on Tuesday. On Kiki's advice, I stop at the Trigona Elenidi which is her favorite place to get the "trigona" which is a triangular shaped pastry filled with cream. Here, they put in the cream right when you order it!

One of the major attractions of the city is the White Tower. I go inside and climb up the various floors with museum exhibits and the audio guide. Nice views of the sea and the city from the top. I continue with a stroll down the waterfront, trying the Greek "Green Cola" which ends up just being a Diet Coke knockoff with a nastier aftertaste.

I get to the main square and an area with lots of bars and cafes. One of the things I've liked about Athens, Trikala, and Thessaloniki is that the locals are active and in the downtown area to a much greater extent than most cities/towns in the USA. Again I take Kiki's advice and go to "Full of Meze" for dinner. "Meze" is small plates but the Greeks put a lot more food on their small plates than the Spanish.

I have the beetroot salad Byzantine style (so boiled beetroot mixed with yogurt and walnuts, served cold, freaky purple color) and the Yulbasi From Smyrna, which is lamb, veal, and pork with cheese & spices baked in parchment paper & foil. Good, and generally I think the restaurants that aren't serving mostly tourists are better. I do skip Dubliners (Kiki's favorite Irish pub) and walk back to the room.

Tomorrow is last day and travels home...

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Day 23

I forgot to mention, The Caravan has a "pillow menu" where you can choose from one of five different pillows. I had never seen this before (maybe I stay at cheap places too much? is this a thing?), but honestly the pillows in the room were better than any place I had stayed on the whole trip.

This morning, I went to the Kapani Market near my hotel in Thessaloniki. It's what you'd imagine, stalls of fish, meat (including some gnarly stuff like a whole lamb including head hanging up), nuts, spices, baked goods, olives, candy, shoes, cheap t-shirts (I'm pretty sure those 5 Euro t-shirts dissolve when placed in a washing machine), luggage, etc.

Took the bus back to the airport, got to stand. Uneventful flight to London Gatwick. My Norwegian flight to New York JFK was delayed several hours and I ended up flying on the largest commercial airliner in the world, a double decker Airbus A380. Apparently a Portuguese company called HiFly specializes in charters, particularly what is called a "wet lease", where they provide the plane, pilots, and flight attendants to bail out airlines that are in a pickle.

I was reassigned to Row 77 and was a bit concerned about where that would be. I ended up being one of the passengers in the upper-deck economy section and had an entire row to myself, with no one behind me, so I ended up being able to sleep on the flight pretty well for being in economy, which was good because my intended "bonus day" in NYC before returning home ended up as arriving at JFK in the middle of the night. There's lots of complaining about HiFly in online reviews, but I was able to sleep for almost the entire flight across the ocean, so I was fine with them.

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Thanks for taking the time to post this fantastic report!

You obviously did a lot of pre-trip research. What sources did you use, particularly since you got to many places off the American typical tourist trail?

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Thanks to those of you that liked my report. Not sure where and when my next foreign travels will be.

Resources included this and a couple of other well-known travel forums, the RS and Lonely Planet guidebooks (the latter was more helpful for this trip since besides Athens I didn't go to the RS places, i.e. Peloponnese and Hydra), Matt Barrett's web pages (very helpful, I got the idea to go to Trikala from him and I'm now a big advocate for going to that wonderful little city if you are also visiting Meteora), advice from Caroline at Aegean Thesaurus who I used for the Cyclades/Athens portion of the trip (she helped a lot with choosing hotels and especially the a logical set and sequence of islands to visit and dealt with some ferry schedule changes), and some travel vloggers on Youtube, particularly Gabriel Traveler (even though I went to some islands he's never made videos of, more the general inspiration for Greek Island travel). The island of Sifnos has a good website and app for their network of hiking trails.

I also spent a fair amount of time just staring at Google maps and researching websites for local areas. I like doing this, did similar for my Canadian Maritimes holiday from 2018. The Captain Andreas boat tour from Pollonia in Milos was just stumbling across it on Trip Advisor and people raved about it, especially the focus on a near 0 Km meal. Sounded good to me so I did it. I discovered both the nature hike and the e-bike tours of Meteora on Airbnb Experiences; I think the e-bike tours are on the Visit Meteora site but not the nature hike, which is admittedly quirky and doesn't go inside any monasteries.

Posted by
11154 posts

Thanks for that list. I don't know when I'm going to Greece, but now I know where to start my research.

Posted by
287 posts

I really enjoyed reading your detailed trip report! Thanks for taking the time to share your journey with us!!

Laurie

Posted by
5738 posts

It was a treat to read your report and visit so many less touristed areas of Greece with you. Thanks.

Posted by
78 posts

Thanks to those that enjoyed my report. I'm currently in the early day-dreaming stages for summer 2020. One possibility is a return to Greece-I'd love more time in Thessaloniki and northern Greece and to see some North Aegean islands. I've never done a RS tour--might do the Athens/Peloponnese trip some day but probably not next year. Also want to do Crete some day.

I also have north Atlantic on my bucket list--I loved my trip to eastern Canada (Nova Scotia/PEI/New Brunswick) a few years ago and I have Newfoundland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Ireland, and Scotland as places I want to go.

I'd say either a return to Greece or an Iceland/Faroes trip are the early favorites for next year. I'm intrigued by the idea of the north Atlantic ferry that goes from a small town in eastern Iceland to Torshavn and then to Hirsthals in northern Denmark.

Posted by
13972 posts

I'm making notes as I read your excellent and entertaining (so far) trip report. I'm leaving in 5 weeks and will visit Santorini and Athens, and some other places not on your itinerary. I'm late to the party because back in July, Greece wasn't on my radar.

I'm staying very near where you did in Firostefani. Glad to hear I won't need to go all the way to Oia for sunsets. Questions:
How easy is it to walk to/from Fira after dark? Tips for where to watch the sunsets? Was the sunrise worth getting up for?

Is your Athens hotel rooftop bar open to the public? I'm staying not far away and have 3 nights in the city?

Now that I've finished reading your report, I'm already wondering when I can get back to Greece to visit more of the islands. Thank you!

Posted by
78 posts

Chani,

The walk from Fira back to Firostefani is easy. I went down some alley off of the caldera view, as it was a bit shorter back to my hotel, but you can also walk along the caldera, where there will be more people and might be better if you are staying close to the caldera.

As far as sunset from Firostefani, I didn't do anything special, just walked up to the caldera and found a spot I liked. Not as crowded as Oia was, although you certainly won't be by yourself.

Sunrise is cool, you'll look the opposite direction to the non-caldera side of the island. I tend to not stay up late and to get up early anyway, and I enjoy walking around early in the morning in places like Greece or Italy before most people are out and about and I think it's worth it just for that.

I don't remember if the Hotel Attalos rooftop bar (Athens) is accessible for the general public or just guests. I know there are several other rooftop choices for bars in the area near Monastriaki Square that I'm sure are just as good for the view and might easily be better for the quality of the cocktails.

Posted by
13972 posts

Thanks again, window. I will now check out Matt's guide - he seems to know every bar in Greece :-)