Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blog Update

Hi everyone,

I've been sick with a fever for the last two days. I'll be back as soon as I'm feeling up to sitting behind a computer for more than 5 minutes!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 8-10, Crete

We left Santorini at about 5pm on a ferry to Crete. The ferry took about 3 hours and put us into Heraklion around 8:30pm.

We had heard that there wasn't much to do in Heraklion and that it was 'just a city' so we only booked one night there.

As soon as we got off the ferry, I knew that Heraklion was wildly different from both Athens and Santorini. We were staying about a 20 minute walk from the port and the walk was just so refreshing. Despite it being mostly up hill and us lugging our suit cases up those hills, I instantly knew I loved Crete. The streets were quiet and peaceful, there were tons of families out and about, and it just felt so much more relaxed than either Athens or Santorini did.

Our hotel was gorgeous, and immediately upon checking in, we regretted the fact that we only had two nights in Crete.

(We actually thought we had three nights and realized in Santorini that we miscalculated everything by a day. Oops!)

We were starving when we got in so we went to an adorable little pizza place across the street from the hotel and ordered a bottle of wine and a pizza complete with yummy Greek toppings. As sad as it is to say, it was the best meal I'd had in Greece. Post-pizza, we took a walk and stumbled on Georgiadis Park, which, despite being really late at night, was very well-lit and packed with young couples and students walking around, reading books, and just hanging out. I loved it!

The next morning, we got up and started our day with the most unbelievable breakfast spread I have ever seen in a hotel. Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, cheese, freshly-baked bread, and delicious desserts like halva and baklava.

After breakfast, we made our way out and about to explore the city.

The harbor
The Pilot and I immediately fell in love with Heraklion. As compared with Santorini, this was much more our speed. It was very cultural, and we absolutely loved walking around the city. The harbor area was a little bit touristy, which is to be expected, but other than that, it was a city where everyone was just going about their days.

More shots on the harbor
Once we left the harbor, we made our way back through the market, which was starting to wake up and become a lot more active.

TL: The bust of Nikos Kazantzakis, BL: The Morosini Fountaion, whose center statue of Poseidon was destroyed during the Turkish occupation
I took that picture of Nikos Kazantzakis because, not only is there a bust of him in the center of the city, but the airport is also named after him. He was a writer (famous for Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ). I just love that a city honors their authors in this way. It's such a testament to what they value as a culture.

After exploring Heraklion, it was time to head back to our hotel and grab our bags to catch the bus to Rethymno,  the next stop on our trip. The bus ride was beautiful and took about 90 minutes.

Once we got to Rethymno, we walked took an exceptionally long roundabout way to get to our hotel, which we were so excited about. It was a mansion built in the 15th century!

Our hotel.
We checked into our hotel and the woman at the front desk greeted us in the most traditional way possible...with shots of raki! Raki is what's left over from the grape during the wine-making process...and is basically pure alcohol. The shots definitely had a bite to them but we enjoyed them nonetheless. 

Once we checked into our room, we headed out to go explore the Old Town.

Exploring the Old Town. The fountain (BL) still functions and was built in the 15th century.
Rethymno was gorgeous and so full of history. We LOVED it. Aside from a handful of German tourists,  it was definitely not a tourist destination! We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then just walked through the town. The streets were so quaint and filled with historic Venetian history that it almost felt like we were back in time.

As we were walking through the Old Town, we passed a fish spa. We had seen tons of these in Santorini and we're intrigued by then but never took the plunge (no pun intended). When we saw that the prices were better in Rethymno, we made our way in. 

It was so weird! You dive your feet into a bucket of (toothless) fish and let them go to town on your feet, eating away at the dead skin.  I was giggling uncontrollably the entire time, but you know what? It actually felt good! I had some blisters on my feet from running and dancing at the wedding and after my 10 minutes was up, they were mostly gone. It was amazing, but also super weird.

Guys, I think I found the cure for runners' feet!

Post-fish spa, we made our way to the fortress, which overlooks the entire city.

It was insanely hot that day so by the time we were done at the fortress,  we decided to make our way back to the hotel to cool off by the pool.

That night, at the recommendation of the hotel, we went to dinner at a place called Pigadi, which was built into the yard of a 16th century stable. (Are you noticing a pattern here?)

Here, finally, was the unbelievable Greek food I had been waiting for. The food was incredible...and the wine, even better.

We spent a few hours at that restaurant...and were served shots of raki with our bill. Then, we decided to have a night out on the town. We went to a bar for some more wine...and were again, served shots of raki with our bill...and that's how the night went. We had so much fun.

<3 Honeymooners
The next morning, slightly worse for the wear, we decided to head to the beach. It was almost 100 degrees but the water was gorgeous. We spent a few hours in the water before heading off for lunch and a day spent walking around the Old Town. 

That night, we again, went to another phenomenal restaurant, where The Pilot ordered some kind of phyllo dough stuffed with chicken and spinach that looked so good, this vegetarian had to try it...and would probably revert to eating meat if I could eat that every day for the rest of my life. I had a truffle oil risotto which was equally as good.

We were really sad that it was our last day in Greece, especially since we loved Crete so much. One of the things we desperately wanted to do was hike the Samaria Gorge, but it would've taken us close to three hours just to get there. We went to bed that night with solemn swears to return to Crete, and spend much more time there.

The next morning, we left Rethymno around 9 to make our way back to Heraklion for our flight back to Paris.

When we told people we were going to Crete, we were met mostly with surprise. It's definitely more of an off-the-beaten-path destination and I have no idea why. We fell in love with the island, the people, the history, the food...everything.  Rethymno is so well preserved, and really pays homage to its Ventian roots, which I loved. It was such a refreshing change of pace from Santorini...and much easier to get to from mainland Europe, so we will definitely be back. I'd love to explore Western Crete, and just more of the island in general!

The Details
In Heraklion, we stayed at the Galaxy Heraklion Hotel for $123 USD per night (amazing breakfast included). I couldn't recommend this place enough.
The bus from Heraklion to Rethymno cost about 8 euros each.
In Rethymno we stayed at the Palazzo Vecchio for 120 euros per night, which I would also recommend.
The fish spa in Rethymno cost 8 euros per person.
Crete was much cheaper than both Athens and Santorini, which was awesome!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 4-7, Santorini (Part 2)

So, where did we leave off? Ahh yes, watching the sunset in Oia!

We spent about an hour waiting for the sun to set and then just sat back, relaxed and watched. The sunset really was absolutely gorgeous.

Once the sun set, we tried to make our way back into town to find a place to eat. The streets were insanely packed though and it took us a really long time to get back to the center of town.

The crowds just to get up the street after the sunset.
The streets were so crowded that we snuck into a bakery for some baklava to bring back to our hotel. 3 days in Greece and this was the first place I found baklava!

Since everything was so crowded, we decided to make our way back to Fira for dinner. We had an ok meal and sampled some of the locally brewed Santorini beer before calling it a night.

The next day, we slept in and took an afternoon bus to Akrotiri to see the ruins. Akrotiri is a Minoan settlement which was discovered in 1967 after being buried in volcanic ash since about 1600 BC. It's often thought to be the lost city of Atlantis.

It was incredible. The site is a living laboratory where archaeologists continue to work to this day. It is enormous, and impeccably preserved and pictures do not do it justice.

The Akrotiri ruins of Santorini
We spent well over an hour perusing through the city. It was awesome. I wish we could have done a guided tour, but we weren't willing to cough up the 60 euros to do it!

When we left the ruins, we were pretty tired. We didn't get to Akrotiri until two hours after we had wanted to because of some issues with the buses, so we made our way back to Fira to get in some pool time before doing a little shopping, since it was our last day in Santorini.

L>R: The Pilot in front of the volcano, Us at Akrotiri Beach, Me in front of the caldera
The Bold Honest Truth

Sunday was our last day in Santorini. We were taking a 5pm ferry to Crete, so we woke up, had breakfast and spent the day by the pool, reading, sun bathing, and just relaxing. We really didn't have much of a desire to do anything else. To be honest, I really didn't like Santorini.

When cruise shops dock and unload anywhere from 800-1,000 tourists on the island each day, it's really hard to feel like you're anywhere but a cruise ship. The fact that the entire island seems to be comprised solely of tourists left me really missing the culture that I expected to find in Greece, and we were there during what is considered the off season!

I was also tremendously disappointed to find that the food was not very good. Rather than serving traditional mezzes (small plates), the whole island caters to Western style portions of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, which left a lot to be desired.  I was also really disappointed to find that all of the seafood is frozen! I was happy that the menus stated this, but I expected to have fresh-out-of-the-water seafood for almost every meal of the day. I also hated the bus system. It was chaotic, the drivers were rude, and it was not at all uncommon to be on a standing-room-only bus, weaving through the cliffs of Santorini.

The island was beautiful, there's no denying that, but it wasn't at all what I expected and we were both disappointed. We still had an amazing time, how could we not? We were on our honeymoon after all, and weren't going to let anything bring us down, but the is land was definitely more chaotic than relaxing.

Now, I can definitely say that Crete was completely different; but that's a post for another day!

The Details
We stayed at Anamnesis City Spa Hotel for 78 euros per night. It was a perfect little oasis that we adored coming back to every night.
Buses around Santorini cost anywhere from 1.40 to 2.50 euros. 
Our highlight was the Akrotiri ruins. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 4-7, Santorini (Part 1)

When The Pilot and I started planning our trip to Greece, we knew we wanted to go to Santorini. There were a few other islands we were interested in, but Santorini was at the top of our list.

We woke us in Athens at 5am on Thursday and made our way to the port to catch our ferry. Boarding was pretty seamless and before we had even taken off left port, I had fallen asleep. We took a high-speed ferry which took about 4 1/2 hours. I slept the entire way.

When we docked in Santorini, the port was absolute chaos. We were staying in the town of Fira and found the bus that was headed toward Fira, about a 20 minute ride away.

Once we got there, we had a really hard time finding our hotel. Not that it was particularly hard to find, but that we couldn't find anyone to give us clear directions. We ended up walking into another hotel where they generously gave us a ride to where we were staying.

The view from our hotel balcony, complete with donkeys!
Once we finally checked in, we were ecstatic with our hotel choice. It was perfect. We took some time to settle in and then headed out to grab lunch and explore Fira.

Scenes from Fira. (Right: The view from where we ate dinner)
Fira had quaint, narrow streets and abundance of shops and restaurants. I was surprised to see that almost all of the shops were souvenir shops and jewelry shops though, and that the town was almost exclusively tourists.

We had dinner at a famous wine bar, with decent food and a spectacular view. (See above).

The next morning, we got up and hopped on a bus to Perissa Beach (about 20 minutes from Fira). Air-conditioned coach buses are the primary way to get around Santorini and the bus stations are chaotic, but somehow manage to work.

Perissa is famous for its black sand beaches. We spent about half the day lounging around the beach, eating gelato and finally relaxing after spending the last few days bouncing around from Paris to Athens and then Santorini. The water was really cold and it was pretty windy, so we just spent the day sun bathing.

After spending half the day in Perissa, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up before making our way to Oia, where the sunsets are supposed to be the most beautiful.

Oia was gorgeous. I immediately loved that the shops seemed to cater less to tourists than those of Fira and that the city just seemed a bit more cultured. That said, it got more and more crowded by the minute. We perused the shops, and found a book store that I could have spent hours in. Atlantis was incredible and had first edition copies of such an amazing selection of books. I picked up a signed novel about Santorini that I still haven't started, but am really excited about.

After spending time looking through the shelves of Atlantis, we made our way to see the sunsets.

Clockwise from Top Left: Watching the sunset together (my favorite honeymoon picture), a street in Oia, the caldera cliffs of Oia, the famous Santorini sunset.
With that, though, I'm going to wrap up this post because it's getting long and I'm getting tired! I'll be back tomorrow to share more sunset pictures, plus a bit more about our trip to Santorini!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Honeymoon: Days 2 and 3, Athens

Our flight to Athens was at 5pm on Tuesday. This gave us the morning in Paris with plenty of time to get to the airport.

We landed in Athens at 9pm and took the Metro into central Athens. The ride took about an hour and by the time we got back to our hotel, we were pretty tired.

We checked into our hotel and promptly headed upstairs to the rooftop bar for a glass of wine, and immediately saw this.

The view of the Acropolis from our hotel bar.
It was breathtaking. All of a sudden, it hit us...we were in Greece. I mean, this was Ancient Greece...and it was gorgeous.

A few glasses of wine and it was time for bed. We wanted to get an early start to the next day since we only planned one full day in Athens.

We had planned a tour that was gifted to us from our honeymoon registry and we started at the Acropolis. We didn't go through the central entrance (which I've heard is the easier one), rather, we started at one of the side entrances near the Theater of Dionysus and then walked all the way up to the Parthenon.

We spent a few hours just wandering around the and the Acropolis grounds. From there, we ended up in Monastiriki, where we stopped off for some gelato. I hate pistachio and The Pilot had chocolate strawberry. It was really hot out, so it was a nice, refreshing snack before we continued on our way.

From Monastiriki, we took the metro to Syntagma Square and started by watching the changing of the guard at the Greek Parliament.

From the Parliament building, it was just a short walk to the National Gardens, which we cut through to get to the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first Olympics were held in 1896.

The Olympic Stadium was awesome. It was so cool to see. Not only is it the site of the very first modern Olympic Games, but it was the Finish of the 2004 Olympic Marathon and is the Finish of the Athens Marathon! I loved that they had a podium set up with an Olympic crown for us to play with!

They even had a room which has all of the Olympic torches from every Olympics! Above, the torch from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I loved that they pay homage to the Olympics, year after year, not just the 2004 Games in Athens. The bottom left picture lists the location of every Olympics since the first one held right there in that stadium. It was so awesome!

After visiting the Olympic Stadium, we meandered over to visit the last of the ruins that we hadn't seen before grabbing a late lunch.

The Temple of Zeus & Hadrian's Arch
After lunch, we made our way to the Port to pick up our ferry tickets for the next day. We were taking a 7am ferry out of Piraeus and we wanted to pick up our tickets the night before. I'm so glad we did, because it took us close to an hour just to find where we needed to pick up the tickets, since the confirmation we had listed the wrong dock. Since we had such an early start the next morning, we picked up our tickets and made our way back to the hotel to get some rest before our early wake up call!

We had been told not to spend more than a day in Athens, and that was exactly what we needed. We skipped all of the museums. Had I been there for another day, I probably would have gone to the Acropolis Museum, but the idea of seeing items that had been taken off of the Acropolis and put into a museum didn't appeal to me as much as seeing them in their 'natural' habitats, so we skipped that.

One day in Athens was perfect. We saw everything there was to see, explored the city a bit, and got a good introduction to Greece.

We stayed at the Dorian Inn Hotel for 69 euros per night. The hotel had a good breakfast, was close to a metro, and had a great view, but it wasn't in the best neighborhood.
We got around using the metro. We each bought a 24 hour ticket for 4 euros.
Our highlight was definitely the Olympic Stadium.