Once upon an isle

I had mixed feelings about our arrival in Greece. On one hand, the Greek islands were one of the destinations I most looked forward to. But on the other hand, it was virtually my final destination. After a wonderful eight weeks spent traveling, that prospect was a sad one.

We arrived in Athens from Belgrade late on a Sunday afternoon. Wandering around in the evening, I found the city surpassed my expectations. The streets were vibrant; walls covered in street art and buzzing with activity. The area we went to for dinner was full of appealing options, each restaurant and bar packed with people. Unsurprisingly, we very much enjoyed our first Greek meal.

We had only one day in Athens, which was more like half a day once we allowed sufficient time to get to the airport. How we spent the morning was the obvious choice – visiting the Acropolis. The heat was fairly brutal, but it was definitely worth the climb. Seeing the ruins was fascinating, as was learning about the place’s history as the birthplace of democracy. Moreover, from the top we had amazing views of Athens.

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The Parthenon, at the top of the Acropolis.

Off to Santorini we went. We took a very short flight on a very small plane, which is always fun*. Once safely landed on the island, we could immediately see this was a photogenic place. Our accommodation was in an area called Thira, which is central to all the action. We spent our first evening exploring, and eating more delicious Greek food. You can assume from herein that every day we ate delicious Greek food, and I will stop mentioning it.

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This is Thira.

The area was gorgeous. Perched high on a cliff, overlooking the ocean, it appeared watching the sunset in Santorini is effectively a sport. Hoards of people get to the best spots early to hold their positions, poised with cameras in hand, snapping away until the pretty pink sun disappears into the ocean.

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I had no problem with being one of those people.

The streets are as you imagine them: picture perfect. White buildings with blue finishings lining narrow cobblestoned paths. The shops are lovely, selling handmade leather sandals, fine clothing, and souvenirs that are – for the most part – not tacky; things in fact you want to buy. There are restaurants, bars, ice creameries aplenty. It’s a tourist’s paradise.

On our first full day we decided to go on a boat tour which took us to thermal springs and volcanoes. Walking down to the port was probably the only unpleasant half hour of our few days in Santorini. A popular tourist thing to do is take a donkey up or down. We opted not to as it seemed a little cruel, but going by foot meant we were avoiding donkey excrements everywhere. The smell was awful, and many times we had to yield for donkeys seemingly heading straight at us.

But we made it down to the old port, and the first stop on our boat trip was the thermal springs. It was too small an area for our boat to dock, so we had to jump from the boat and swim a short distance to the springs. They were red in colour (I assume this is due to the volcanoes in the area) and really cool to swim in. Well not cool in temperature – warm!
Next we docked at the volcanoes, where we had a guided hike. We saw approximately four volcanoes, one of which was active. The guide had us put our hands under a particular rock, from which you could feel the heat radiating. The whole experience was kind of like walking over big sand dunes made of black rocks instead of sand.

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The orange coloured water is the thermal spring.

The weather was very windy, and sailing back to Santorini wasn’t smooth. But since Sail Croatia I feel as though I’m a veteran of rough seas – the choppiness hardly fazed me and I just enjoyed the views. Instead of walking back up from the port, we avoided the donkey droppings and took a cable car.

That afternoon we spent some time by the pool, enjoying the luxuries of our guesthouse after some weeks spent in hostel accommodation. Later in the day, we walked to a winery called Santo Wines. Perched on the edge of a cliff, the views were sublime. The local wines were delicious, relatively inexpensive, and each of our flights came with generous servings of cheese, bread and olives. It was the perfect situation in which to watch that perfect Santorini sunset.

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Wine tasting.

The next day we were lucky enough to spend with my cousin, who was in the general Mediterranean vicinity and arranged to overlap with us in Santorini. We began our day at the black beach – literally a beach with black sand. I thought it was as beautiful as any white sand beach. The water was glorious to swim in, too. We then made our way to the red beach. Having just come from the black beach, I assumed this beach would have red sand. It did not, but rather was surrounded by brown/red volcanic rock. We had to hike a bit of a way to get there, and had incredible views of this unique beach as we descended onto the sand.

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The red beach.

In my head Santorini was much smaller than it turned out to be. I pictured a little island, but it actually consists of many different and varied areas spread across about 90 square kilometres. That evening, we took a bus to Oia, which is the most famous spot for watching the sun set. By 7pm we’d secured our spot, a ledge overlooking white buildings below and the ocean beyond. Over the next hour the crowds came pouring in. We stayed glued to our spot while tourists hustled and bustled behind us, often squeezing between us to get those unobstructed photos we had unlimited access to in our front row positions. Sipping beers and watching the sun go down, we were fairly pleased with ourselves.

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Waiting for the sunset. Me, cousin Lital, and Leanne.

The sunset itself was absolutely beautiful. You could see why people make such a fuss over it. There was even a round of applause once it completely disappeared. Oia, too, was a magnificent place. Amongst a whole island of beautiful spots, it’s usually the one that makes it onto the postcards. I particularly liked the churches, which were white with distinctive blue domes.

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The sun sets over Oia.

And that was it for Santorini. I could have easily spent more time there, but it wasn’t to be; the next day we were off on a fast ferry to Mykonos. In Mykonos we stayed in a place called Paraga beach. Our accommodation left a lot to be desired, but the fact that we were virtually camping in a cloud of dust was made up for by the beauty of Paraga beach. Just outside our ‘room,’ we had a view over stunning blue green waters glimmering in the sun.

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Okay, our accommodation wasn’t so bad…

After a swim at the beach, we decided to venture into town for our first evening in Mykonos. Like Santorini, the main town caters to a tourist’s every need. Nice shops, delicious restaurants, photogenic streets. It also has some really amazing art galleries. We had dinner and wandered around, loving the place even when we were lost and found ourselves going in circles.

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A wave splashing in front of Mykonos’s famous windmills.

The next day we spent relaxing – lazing by the pool (yes, our accommodation further redeemed itself with a swimming pool) or lying on the beach. In and out of the water, sunbathing, reading… It was a perfect holiday. We repeated this for the four days we were there, and I can tell you I didn’t tire of it. It was ideal timing for me – much needed relaxation after eight weeks on the go, and before going back to work.

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They don’t call it Paradise Beach for nothing, evidently.

Mykonos is known for its party scene. Next door to Paraga is Paradise beach, where all the parties are happening. So we were conveniently located to check it out. For all the hype, I was positively underwhelmed. By coincidence, I’d run into three friends who I met on Busabout in Switzerland who were also staying at our hostel. We had a fun night because we all went out together, but the clubs were really dreadful. I enjoyed the nightlife far more in virtually every other city I went out in.

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Out and about.

So rather than the party vacation every young person goes to Mykonos for, we opted for the relaxing holiday. Earplugs were a lifesaver, with the music blaring every night until daylight. We did check out the day beach parties, which were marginally less seedy than the night time ones. I know I usually tend to write more about our daytime explorations than going out at night, but I just feel so strongly about how unappealing I found the Mykonos party scene. Anyway, rant over.

Given all I’d heard about was the nightlife, I hadn’t given much thought to how beautiful Mykonos would be. In that regard, the place exceeded all my expectations. The beaches are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the water some of the clearest I’ve ever swum in. One day I packed my goggles in my beach bag and marvelled at the abundance of fish we were swimming with. We also did water sports on our last day – a tube ride – which was lots of fun.

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Looking down on one of Mykonos’s many beautiful beaches.

And all of a sudden the sun set on my summer holiday. I said goodbye to Leanne and tried not to be too jealous that she has another three months of traveling ahead of her. Two days in London and I’d be bound for home, undoubtedly planning my next big trip…

Catch you soon.

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