I had been to Greece 11 years ago, and had many fond memories of azure waters, idyllic beaches, and late night parties.
When I had previously visited Santorini, it was a busy place, mostly with honeymooners and jet setters who were the kind of people whose stories would be interesting to know. There was a magic. When I had to leave, I’d felt that I had left a piece of my heart there, and vowed that I’d be back for it one day with someone I loved.
This trip to Greece was a great chance to see more of the islands, to revisit Santorini, and to take my wife Maria with me on the journey.
Since I had never visited Crete and had heard many great things, we decided to go there first – the furthest point south that we would go, with the plan to take ferries to various islands north and end our trip in Athens.
We started in Chania on the northeast side of the island.
We moved on to Santorini, which I was really, really anticipating. In the past 11 years, I had seen it endlessly featured on TV shows, in magazines, and on Pinterest, and all I wanted was to take Maria there.
Beautiful island, right? So beautiful that everyone wants to go there, and supply and demand have taken its toll. The prices have increased, but more significantly, the foot traffic has gotten way out of control. At any given time there are 3 large cruise ships in the harbor, dumping package tourists who want their fridge magnets into Santorini’s tiny little alleys by the thousands. It just doesn’t work. It wasn’t charming and idyllic, it was overstuffed and obnoxious. I regret having this experience after my first time there, but that’s what happens when a place is as beautiful and as featured as Santorini. Everyone wants their part of it.
I would still recommend anyone go there, but do not go during peak tourist season. I’ve been told that May or September are the best times, and if I ever go back, it will be during one of these months. Or avoid the island altogether. The Cyclades have many beautiful islands, many of which are not overpacked because they haven’t been featured on a travel show.
Ios has long been considered the party island, since a bunch of hippies hijacked one of the large beaches back when hippies hijacked things. Now it’s largely visited by the young crowd who can get cheap flights from European destinations and come party like it’s spring break. We really didn’t see much of that though, since we stayed in a place on the other side of town, and didn’t really stay out late. Ios is the kind of island where there can be a giant party happening over there, while you enjoy your infinity pool and cocktail over here.
The island has endless gorgeous beaches – many of which have only a few (or no) people on them. You’d need to rent a boat, which is easy enough to do if you’re brave enough to skirt the island’s rocks and bumpy waves. It wasn’t that hard, but if you freak out easily, I wouldn’t recommend it.
It was well worth it for us. We had a full day of exploring beaches, and it made for my favorite day of the whole trip.
Naxos was a beautiful island, and certainly less “aggressively touristed” than Santorini or Ios. We had originally planned to visit Mykonos next, but after what I had seen in Santorini, we decided to skip it altogether.
We went in the complete opposite direction of what foreign tourists would do, and went to Syros instead.
It was in Syros (and perhaps Hora Sfakia in Crete) that had made us feel like we had gotten “the real Greek”. The trip had started out a little hectic with trying to beat tourist mobs, but it certainly mellowed out toward the end of our trip. Until Athens!
Naturally Athens is a giant tourist hub, but we just had a few things do there before we returned home to Mongolia.
Like you know, see the Acropolis.
When I had first visited Greece years ago, I had visited this little ouzo bar that had seemed tucked away off the beaten path. But it had never been off the beaten path, it had been in the middle of Plaka, one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods of Athens for thousands of years.
As I walked by and saw it, I gasped that I had found it again. It was what had made me first fall in love with Greece, and made me fall in love with ouzo. The little bar is called Brettos, and though the owners weren’t terribly friendly, they were still gracious enough to let me snap a few photos.
Hope you enjoyed!