One Perfect Week in Greece: Athens, Santorini, Crete

Before we start conjoining our first week of our two-week Greece and Italy trip, allow me to have a brief fangirl moment celebrating my 51st post:

Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays defending the new United States Constitution, entitled The Federalist Papers. The plan was to write a total of twenty-five essays, the work divided evenly among the three men. In the end, they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months. John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one!

In the span of six weeks, Gloria wrote the other fifty-one! ….Okay, that’s that. Let’s begin.

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Day 1: Athens

Today/yesterday (due to time differences, I can’t even figure out how much time has elapsed) we spent most of our time traveling from a) Beijing to Abu Dhabi and b) Abu Dhabi to Athens.

Pictures are uploading really really slowly so I will revisit this post and put the pictures in to match the descriptions later! My apologies..

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Before leaving, I made sure I learned the Greek alphabet and basic pronunciation.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten started on Italian yet. We still have..what, one week? Cultural immersion, here we go!

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Our plane left Beijing at 1 in the morning. What a long wait!

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All aboard Etihad Airways! Settled in for a nice long nap.

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Airplane food. Didn’t expect much. Looking forward to amazing Greek and Italian food in the upcoming weeks though!

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We could see the sun rise from the window.

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Boarding another plane!

It’s a snazzy looking one too. (Formula 1)

Another long ride.

Over some Middle Eastern desert lands we go.

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Albert watches The Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time. With Arabic subtitles!

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Our first glimpses of the Greek islands!

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And of the mainland…

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Greek is such a deep language. 

I mean, ‘exit’ is ΕΞΟΔΟΣ, or ‘exodos’.

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Ready, Mr. Ovid? Greece, here we come!

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Five Sun kids crammed in the 3-seat back of a tiny car. I’m pretty sure that’s breaking some rules here?

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This water is so blue it’s literally bluer than the sky.

Got lost and found a tiny beach off the beaten track.

Here we are, at the Temple of Poseidon (god of the sea, aka Neptune) at the tip of Cape Sounion. Hiking up would cost 8 EUR, so we decided it wouldn’t be worth it.

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According to legend, the ancient king Aegeus leapt off the cliff here to his death, and the sea afterwards was called the Aegean Sea. Also according to myth, Odysseus was here!

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Then we had some refreshment at the restaurant overlooking the temple and the sea. I think my views may be turning on coffee. This serving of Greek coffee was too cute!

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Another beach. Too rocky for comfort.

You can never be too careful when it comes to walking down slopes. My mom took a tumble a little further along this path and sprained her ankle.

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And another beach. I’m a little annoyed now, if you can’t tell from my face. I’ve never understood why some people are fanatical about visiting beaches. I get super bored after an hour or so.

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And then, wet and sandy, we got into our car and drove off to our temporary home for the next two days.


Day 2: Delphi Day Trip

Δελφοί is known as the place of the oracle from the ancient days. It has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its heavy impact on the progress of civilization, and was also previously believed to be the “navel” of the world. A two-hour drive from the center of Athens, that’s where we headed off to today.

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It was interesting to see how the scenery gradually changed. First from yellow plains and mountains in the distance…

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To nice green fields…

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And gently sloping hills with some shrubbery…

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To some rockier mounds/hills/mini mountains…

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And finally, into the mountains…

…Through this cutesy mountain village:

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And a few more nice views…

….To the ancient ruins of Delphi! Here’s the Ancient Gymnasium:

The Kastalian Spring supplied the sacred oracle with water and purified the priests and the faithful entering the sanctuary. Over centuries, the spring underwent many renovations, and now it flows from a smaller and less impressive fountain, which we drank from before entering Apollo’s sanctuary.

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Now entering Apollo’s sanctuary! I can’t believe people used to travel here for months by foot. It must have been magnificent in its time.

Okay, so according to legend, Zeus wanted to know where the center of the earth was. He sent two eagles from opposite sides of the earth and they both landed here. So he threw this stone down to mark the “navel” of the world. I think that’s a pretty cool story. I just wonder where the actual stone came from?

For 4 EUR, we refreshed ourselves with some nice cold artificial flavors (mine was pomegranate…bad choice):

Now entering the museum with a bunch of old and really cool artifacts:

Going there and back again, we got lost trying to find the Golden Age Mall, and found the 2004 Olympic stadiums instead:

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In the Golden Age Mall, we went to this amazing little bakery called “Τερκενλης Plus” with little macaroons, cakes, and chocolate-covered bread. We ended up getting these tiny chocolate-covered cones, which were delicious.

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GJAEO also paid a visit to Sephora, where we picked up some free samples while we were at it.

Then we went back to our rented apartment, before heading out for a really nice and reasonably priced dinner (less than 40 EUR total):

Since today was Oliver’s third birthday, we picked up a cake and sat out on the deck to celebrate. It’s a great view. We’re situated in the middle of Athens and can see a lot of the city from here.


Day 3: Archaeological Hub of Athens

Instead of driving around, we braved the Athens metro crowds and soon found ourselves in the Acropolis.

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We fondly nicknamed it the “Helm’s Deep” of ancient Greece, because of the high walls and sanctuary it provided for the people of the area.

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Climbing higher, we saw this Arena.

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The Parthenon

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The ruins of Diana’s temple (not much left, is there?)

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And Athena’s temple

And a nice view from the top:

 

After a long hot walk back down, we trekked through some narrow streets with shops and restaurants.

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Of course, we stopped by one of them for lunch. Gyros chicken!

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And a vendor sold me this artist’s postcard for a euro.

Next we went to the Stoa of Attalous, part of the Agora, and one of the best reconstructed buildings of antiquity.

For our last stop we paid a visit to the Temple of Zeus.

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The day was hot and the gelato was cold.

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Then we came back to our little apartment and made ham and cheese sandwiches to wrap up our day!

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Day 4: Santorini Island

This morning we had to wake up at 5am to catch the ship to Santorini Island. After a long and rather uneventful (albeit comfortable) eight hours watching half a season of Steven Universe, eating cheese pastries and donuts, etc. we arrived at the Santorini port!

The first thing we did was pick up our rental car. In contrast to our time at Athens, all seven of us had a seat for each head.

The roads are quite narrow and bendy in Santorini, so after some careful driving and a stop by a gas station, we found ourselves in the cave house we booked beforehand. Cool in the summer, warm in the winter, practical, and also extremely cute, we dropped down our stuff, thanked our gracious hosts, and headed off to the nearby Wine Museum.

For 9 EUR we were able to go through the museum and sample the local wines. We had portable audio guides which told us about the brewing process and historical development of wine brewing in Santorini and of the specific brewery we were on. The exhibit was very lovingly made by the family and I really think it was worth our time. The sampling was also very fun, and we ended up buying two of the four wines we tasted, because it was of such a high quality!

After resting and purchasing a few things from the souvenir shop, we drove off to a black volcanic sand beach, where we had our dinner as well. I would really recommend wearing shoes, because those rocks, even though they’re pretty, hurt when you walk on them!

For dinner we went to a nearby restaurant called Mamma Mia. I didn’t really approve of the music playing there because they were all some lukewarm covers of a few songs that I know and love. However, the service was absolutely amazing – the people in Greece are super polite and accommodating – patient with large groups such as us – and totally deserving of our tip. I got the Greek Platter, which was an extremely hearty portion, followed by some dessert.

Santorini is apparently very famous for its beautiful sunsets, but we didn’t see one today. The sky just gradually became a deeper shade of blue and eventually black. Hopefully tomorrow will turn out better.


Day 5: Santorini Island

Today was our second day on the Greek cyclades island of Santorini. We arrived yesterday afternoon and visited some beaches and tasted local wines. Today we explored one of the towns, Fira, and went on a boating trip to take a look at the other sections of the island.

Fira is essentially the capitol of the island and is chock full of little shops, restaurants, and surprises. We saw typical t-shirt and magnet merchandise, but also pumice stones, natural sponges, and olive oil soaps on sale.

We took it in mostly through our eyes – except for a gelato ice cream.

Then we visited the Archaeological Museum, which was more interesting than it sounds, not mentioning a much-needed break from the intense summer heat.

After returning to our cave house, we were picked up by a van to go on our boat tour of the island.

This boat ride may have been the best thing to experience thus far on our vacation! You can find their company on Instagram @sunsetoiasailing.

Apart from some great views, nice ocean winds, and a comfortable boat (a brand spanking new one, too!), Sunset Oia provided us with a hearty barbecue dinner, several stops at the most exciting locations in Santorini, and amazing crew service.

We stopped at this beach:

And then at this one, where we got out our snorkels and saw schools of fish right underneath our feet:

And finally the hot springs, where the water went from green to red and cold to hot (a little overrated, but not a complete waste of time).

By the time we got back, it was late and we could see the moon. There wasn’t much of a sunset because of the cloudy cover, but the night view was still very pleasant:

Overall, I’d say it was a very productive day. We saw many things and tasted them too. Tomorrow the Sun family will be heading off to the Grecian island of Crete!

 


Day 6: Santorini and Crete

Today was mainly a transitional day for us as we continued island hopping, going from Santorini island to Crete.

Since our boat didn’t leave till the afternoon, we spent the former part of the day looking for things to do. After packing all our bags and placing them in our rental car, we went to Santo Wines winery, where we sampled 18 types of wines and got a tour of the facilities. The tour guide was interesting and engaging, and really enthusiastic about her work.

We also spent a lot of time in the shop, where all sorts of nice, high-quality items were being sold, such as olive oil, soaps, fine wines, cosmetics, candles, tomato paste, and other edible things.

Our boat departed from the same port that we arrived on. After a brief two hours, we found ourselves on the much larger island of Crete. The weather was tangibly different. Santorini was dry and very hot. Crete was moister and more temperate.

We followed the yellow line into the center of the city, like in the myth of Ariadne in the labyrinth, where we found our hotel, Hotel Castro.

After settling in, we explored the area, watching the sun set (although it was still cloudy over the horizon, like the previous two days) while eating a pleasant dinner at this restaurant on the boardwalk, if I may so call it, called “Mermaids and Rascals”. I had this rather yucky-looking but very authentic dish called “Cuttlefish with Ink”:

The service was really nice and there was a really large selection on the menu. The portions were also more than reasonable for the price, and we even got dessert “on the house”!

So after that, we called it a day. Crete has many things to offer and I am excited to see what it has in store for us tomorrow!


Day 7: Crete

Our first stop today was the Palace of Minos in Knossos. This place is one of cultural significance, because the myths of Daedalus and the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus happened here.

The living quarters were advanced way beyond expectation. They had already developed plumbing back then, along with the ability to build several stories for living. Not to mention the beautiful art and carvings everywhere.

After that we went to the CretAquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the entirety of Europe. It was a lot of fun looking at the huge variety of fish, sharks, jellyfish, etc. that we actually have in our oceans, especially here in the Mediterranean.

We had our lunch outdoors at the aquarium restaurant.

And then stayed several hours more because of the perfect beach situated nearby. The sand was fine and the water was both blue and shallow, and if you observed closely, you could have seen many small fish!

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When we had enough of the waves, salt, and sand, the seven of us bundled together in our five-person car and drove off to our apartment where we stayed for the night.


Day 8: Crete

In comparison to Santorini, one of the smallest islands of Greece, Crete is huge. Crete is a large island by any standard, at any rate. So we had a lot to cover before departing back to Athens in the evening.

After splashing around in the apartment pool for the former part of the morning (don’t blame us, check out the view!), we found a really nice place to take our breakfast/lunch/dinner – that turned out to be the only meal we had that day.

Again, dessert came on the house! I’m beginning to think that’s a thing that restaurants do here in Greece. Either that, or people are just exceedingly nice.

We wanted to stop by Elafonissi beach before heading off for the dock, so we had many hours of driving to do…through mountains, olive groves, and fields. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the scenery, but I don’t think the driving was a waste of time because we were able to see the island.

We bought some local homemade products from this man selling from his stall by the road.

When we finally arrived, we realized that even though the beach of Elafonissi was beautiful, the weather was definitely not right. The wind was really intense and the sand being blown around felt like tiny darts all over our bare skin. After staying for half an hour and realizing we couldn’t just rough it out, we got back into our car as soon as possible and started heading for the dock.

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Safely on the boat, we settled in for an eight-hour trip to Piraeus, the major port of Athens. And that concludes our week here in Greece, pretty much! Next stop, Italy!

Thanks for reading!


Read about the Sun family adventures in Part 2: One Perfect Week in Italy: Milan, Verona, Venice, Siena, Florence, Rome

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6 thoughts on “One Perfect Week in Greece: Athens, Santorini, Crete

  1. E von Boxofpages says:

    The like button currently isn’t working on my browser. So, I’ll just let you know with a comment 🙂
    Your family vacation seems really great, I can’t imagine taking 5 kids around in a car… in Greece from one beach to another. Your parents are great!

    I noticed that you really like to read & learn, I think it really awesome!! You got a new follower now 😀

    E.

    Liked by 1 person

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