A Rookie European Traveler Visits Athens Mykonos, Ios & Santorini And All The Experiences That Came With It
I have long been encouraged by friends who enjoy my writing to sit down and write a book. But instead of going to a publisher, I am writing it here on my blog. This is a travelogue of stories from my travels all around the world. Chapter 1 details my thoughts, impressions, adventures and misadventures on my first trip to the Greek Islands.
Introduction & My First Business Class Flight
I was traveling alone from Los Angeles to Athens, with one friend arriving a few days later in Santorini and another one stuck somewhere between New York City and Cairo by way of Tel Aviv as I was later to learn. That in itself is a story!
This was my first trip outside of North America and I was excited about it. I had traveled extensively for work – first as a sportswriter, then as a PR representative for motorsports clients – but had never been across the pond.
I had cashed in some of my considerable amount of frequent flier miles to travel business class and liked it immediately when, upon entering the spacious cabin, the Delta flight attendant approached me and asked “you would like champagne or a mimosa?”
Arrival In Athens
It was a long journey from L.A., but I was not going to let any time be wasted during my first trip to Greece. My next door neighbors growing up were Greek and I had always wanted to visit their country.
While my schedule called for me to spend most of my time in Mykonos and Santorini I wanted to spend a night in Athens to, well, spend a night in Athens. I desired to see some ruins and have a few cold beers with a big plate of moussaka while sitting outside a Plaka taverna at the foot of the Acropolis.
The friend meeting me in Santorini worked at the Best Western and had arranged for me and the other friend, whose whereabouts were still unknown, to stay at one of the chain’s hotels in Athens. He even gave me a Best Western map of the city.
The hotel appeared to be about maybe a 15-minute walk from Stygmata Square and wanting to experience life outside the USA where everyone drives everywhere, I decided to take a city bus there from the airport. As I settled into my seat, I saw something that let me know things are a bit different in Europe than they are back in the States.
Two grungy ladies, carrying backpacks, wearing dusty tank tops and camping-type shorts with canteens attached to them, stepped onto the bus. They smelled as if they had not showered in a week but the thing that jumped out at me – startled me, actually – was that they had hair hanging out from under their armpits.
Having spent time in the South, California, cosmopolitan Toronto and other places where the girls take grooming matters very seriously, this was quite a shock to me.
I was still trying to come to terms with this new female fashion style when I stepped off the bus. In Stygmata Square there was some sort of changing of the guard ceremony taking place, tho with only two people and nobody else was watching it.
I actually didn’t know what it was, but two men dressed in those white outfits with the big puffy balls on their shoes – something I had occasionally seen my Greek neighbors wear – were taking a couple of march-type steps forward and to the side. It was my “hey I’m really in Greece now!,” moment.
It took some time to find the hotel. Several hours, in fact. The person who made the Best Western map obviously had never been to Athens. Plus, all the street signs were in Greek, with no English subtitles. All those letters and symbols did not correlate to what was printed on my map. It was my “it’s all Greek to me!,” moment.
The one friend was not at the hotel and when I called the Best Western guy back in California to see if he had any updated information, he said the friend called for about 10 seconds from the New York airport to say “Tel Aviv.” What!?
I settled down for a nap and awoke around twilight, had a nice walk around the town, saw some columns of ruins in the middle of an intersection and quickly surmised it was like looking at an unfinished construction site and there was no need for any further investigating, found a taverna in the Plaka and had a rather pleasant evening.
Getting From Athens To Mykonos Via Olympia Airlines
There are two ways to get to the islands from the mainland, by ferry or to fly. Since I was going to using the ferry at other times, and because I was so anxious to get to an island, I decided to fly from Athents to Mykonos. It was one hour by air, six by sea.
This proved to be a poor decision.
For starters, the cab driver took me to the ferry port, not the airport. “Ships, ships,” he said in a frantic half half-Greek, half-American language. “You want the ships!!!?”
“No!,” I said, “The planes. The planes!”
Now running late and afraid I might miss my fight, I arrived at the domestic terminal to the biggest cluster you-know-what I have ever encountered in my life. There were no lines, just a bunch of people everywhere, screaming in different languages and no one around to help point me in the right direction.
I stepped over some of the hundreds of people who were sitting on the floor, somehow made it to my gate – I went into tunnel vision mode – and walked onto the plane.
Again, like seeing the armpit ladies, it took some adjusting to adapt to what was in front of me. The plane was old and worn, so much so I had serious questions that it could even get off the ground. Once I was strapped in and we did manage to take off, the flight attendants brought around cups of hot orange juice. Hot orange juice!? Yet another new experience.
It was terrible.
Fortunately, Olympus Airlines did deliver us to Mykonos safely and the hot orange juice made for some nice story telling later in the bars.
Based on the recommendation of my hairstylist at the time, who is the one that convinced me to go to Greece in the first place – thank you Dugan!!! – I had a reservation at the Hotel Mykonos, a modest place at the edge of the port town of Mykonos.
Based on her recommendations I did two things first: rented a moped for the next few days and walked through the confusing maze that is the centerpiece of all Greek Island towns. The areas were designed that way to try and thwart sea invaders from slaughtering the local population, something they did in Lebos which left only the women on the island, giving rise to the word lesbian (didn’t think you would be getting a history lesson here, did you!?).
At any rate, Dugan advised me to memorize my way back to the hotel because that’s not something you want to attempt after a night at the Mykonos bars.
I really enjoyed riding the moped. I took it all around the island in the daytime, stopped off late afternoons at Paradise Beach, made it back in time for sunset at the lively Caprice Bar where I got way too hammered the first night – I learned that the Greeks to NOT drink ouzo and nether should I – went to watch Greeks do Greek dancing to Greek music at Bar Mykonos and discovered the awesome Skandinavian Bar, much to my ever-lasting joy.
One night, as I lay sleeping in a kind of passed out state, my missing friend suddenly burst through the door. I was too out of it to do much more than say “what the ???” and went back to sleep.
In the morning, I awoke to find he had taken my moped, leaving me stranded (I did not yet know about the bus that goes to Paradise Beach, which is now my preferred method of transportation), had another wild night out on the town while my friend slept, then boarded the ferry bound for Santorini the next morning.
Onto Ios Via The Greek Ferry System
The ferries – the “big boats” as the agents in the tourists offices where where you buy your ticket calls them – are great. They are old, slow and huge. I quickly learned I could sprawl out on the benches on the deck and sleep off the previous night’s activities in a sound and content slumber.
One other thing I discovered is that the ferries have girls on them! I quickly found one, a cute blonde who started talking about the island of Ios. It’s a small island with nothing to do but party, she said.
Just as I was beginning to have thoughts about her being in my arms as we rolled along a beach and into the Aegean Sea under a star-filled sky, my friend showed up and she convinced the both of us we should put off Santorini for at least a day to check out Ios.
She gave us the card of a place to stay, Francesca’s, and once on Ios we headed there in a van with a dozen other folks.
It was a hot day, with no blowing breeze. When we got to the check-in desk, a dude in his early 20s came out of the office looking all out of sorts. His hair was all over the place, he was rubbing his eyes and he had a hangover so bad that we all started feeling like we were hungover, too.
Before saying a word, he reached over to a shelf, put a dozen shot glasses down on the counter and filled them with some type of alcohol. We all did a shot and that seemed to revive him enough to where he could check us in and give us a key. The room cost $8 a night.
He also told us the hotel owner owns a couple of bars and as guests, we got half-priced drinks. I don’t remember much about that night on Ios or even if my friend was with me or not, but the next day we got back on the ferry and headed to Santorini.
Our other friend was to meet us there and besides, one more night on Ios might have killed me!
The Satisfaction Of Santorini
If ever there was a place that will take not just your breath away but your hangover, too, it’s Santorini. The huge cliffs plunge down to a deep-blue sea and the white buildings are a marvelous match with the setting. The scenery and the feeling of being there is awesome.
The only trick is surviving the bus ride from the ferry to wherever you are staying, which in our case was the party town of Fira.
I’ll let you read all about the harrowing adventure here, but we survived it.
Initially, my friend and I were disappointed by the nightlife. We were there in mid-May, which is about a month before the true party people arrive, and while there was thumping music and laser lights coming out of seemingly every door in Fira, the bars and clubs were empty.
By this time, our other friend was out with us and he said “what about this place?,” pointing to a place down an alley named “Two Brothers.”
Well oh, brother, that turned out to be our hangout. We got to know the bartenders, Nick & George, and spent our nights dancing on the bar with people we met from all over the world. I have seldom had so much fun in my life.
When we were not dancing on the bar, downing shots at an alarming rate, drinking big beers and talking with girls from all over the planet, Nick & George told us to check out a little fishing village at the base of Ioa called Amoudi.
We first arrived at dusk and it was so gorgeous all three of us stopped in silence to take in the moment. Finally, one said, “it’s like walking into a painting.”
The whole trip was like that and I loved it so much I have returned to Greece four more times. Twice was in the peak month of July, the prime party month.
As for my friend who suddenly showed up in Mykonos, that’s going to be a another chapter in this book.