Prepare yourself to see me a few shades darker, a few pounds heavier from all the feta and in awe of the beautiful historic ruins, iconic history, dazzling cliffside sunsets, and white-washed houses covered with bougainvillea in this post. That’s right I am taking you to Greece: Athens, Crete and Santorini.
Dedicating this post to my friends and my cousin who are going to Greece this summer!
What you should know before you visit Greece
1. Common Greek words/sayings: good morning, thank you, hi, bye
Good morning: kah-lee-MER-ah
Thank you: eff-kha-ri-STOE
Locals love when you talk to them in Greek, even if you speak broken Greek. I suggest you learn a few common words above and more if you really want to make friends!
2. Yes it is true: You CAN’T flush toilet paper!
Majority of Greece’s sewage systems were installed during the 1930’s and 1940’s using small pipe-work that can’t digest paper waste. Used toilet paper must be placed in the pedal bins that are usually provided in all washrooms. This toilet paper issue is serious business. Don’t ignore it unless of course you want to wake up to sewer backups.
We noticed a lot of places had a box of scented nappy (diaper) sacks in the washrooms, which apparently eliminate odour when you place it on top of used toilet papers in the bin.
3. Renting an automatic car is approximately €100/day more compared to renting a manual car.
4. A lot of local markets are closed on Sundays.
Local shops in Greece function very similar to those in India. What is the similarity? Greek shopkeepers close their shops in the afternoon and reopen in the evening when it is a little cooler outside. Indian shopkeepers do the same to avoid the intense afternoon heat, but they also snooze in the afternoon waking up to their afternoon chai. Business resumes as usual only after they have had their chai.
Length of our trip: June 28th to July 9th.
How we traveled and navigated
For the entire trip, we rented cars to get from one place to another. Tip #1: For most places, renting an automatic car was €100/day more compared to a manual car. Learn a manual car beforehand if you want to save EUROS!
Tip #2: Download offline Google maps on your phone for navigation convenience unless you plan on buying a SIM card. You can thank my husband for this tip!
Although traffic in Greece was like India, driving was straightforward. Everyone followed traffic laws, which made navigating easier. Oh and brush up your parallel parking skills especially parallel parking in tight spots!
To get to Crete from Athens and from Crete to Santorini we took an overnight ferry which was approx. 8 hours long. I suggest you take over night ferries to save time and get good sleep on the ferry. Ferries are a lot cheaper compared to flights! Plus, ferries don’t have a limit on luggage!
Our car parked in a tight spot, Athens.
Tip #3: In North America, we take free wifi for granted but in Greece, wifi passwords are provided on purchase receipts which means either you have to buy something OR ask a customer to save the receipt for you.
Where we stayed
Our Airbnb in Athens for the first little bit of the trip was our best one in Greece with the Acropolis in our balcony (literally in the balcony!). Check out the Acropolis at night from our balcony.
This location was central to the main places in Athens (i.e. tourist attractions like Acropolis, local markets, restaurants, bars etc.). Click here to check out the Airbnb.
Airbnb in Athens for the last few days of our trip had no laundry but it was close to local bars, restaurants and most importantly Dominos! My husband and I legit had Dominos for dinner the last few nights of our stay in Athens. More on our food experience below. Click here to check out the Airbnb we stayed at for the last few days in Athens.
Our Airbnb in Crete was this gorgeous red villa! This villa was hard to find because we were given the wrong address but we had a great experience nonetheless! Crete is a beautiful island with lots of water sports for those interested and for those who can swim. Read about our paragliding experience below. Click here to check out the Airbnb in Crete.
Our stay in Santorini was a cave house booked through Expedia. We found the same cave house on Airbnb as well but it was cheaper through Expedia.
Tip #4: check both Expedia and Airbnb for prices before you book through just one because booking through Expedia is sometimes cheaper. Another benefit of booking through Expedia was the fact that we were provided room service (like in a hotel) whereas if we had booked through Airbnb, we would be responsible for cleaning and “leaving the place like you found it”, which I don’t mind however, would prefer a cleaning lady. Although this stay was on the pricy side, it was worth the experience without a doubt! Click here to check out our cave house in Santorini.
Sunset by our cave house, Santorini
Tip# 5: We stayed in Fira (capital of Santorini) not Oia because Oia is an insanely crazy tourist spot. Define insane? Imagine a crowd where you accidently elbow someone with every step you take. No that’s not insane…Now imagine this crowd plus another 15,000 people from cruise ships almost every day departing and arriving at the port in Oia. Now that’s what I call an insanely crazy tourist spot. For this reason we stayed in Fira and not Oia. When we travel, we try to not stay in the super touristy areas because these areas tend to be super modern and busy. We go on vacation to escape the busy, hectic, fast-paced, modern life. We prefer the quiet, suburban feel rather than the urban lifestyle when we are on vacation. Plus, we usually rent a car, so transporting ourselves to the tourist attractions is never a hassle.
What and where we ate
Since my husband and I are vegetarian (yes, fish is NOT vegetarian), we had a rather difficult time finding tasteful vegetarian food, especially near the islands. Crete and Santorini are really popular for seafood but since we don’t eat seafood, our veggie options included: plain, sometimes tasteless pasta, pizza and sandwiches. The first highlight of our sandwich experience was the thick slab of feta cheese Greeks put in veggie sandwiches. I am drooling as I write about my Greek feta cheese experience…my goodness!
The second highlight of our food experience was at the wedding in Crete, which had the best vegetarian options - thank you to Salwan and Diana for being such sweet hosts! Highlight #3 was an Italian restaurant in Crete called Cugini. This restaurant had the best service ever! They offered us complimentary desserts!
In Athens, we went to an Indian restaurant called Namaste. The vegetarian food was decent but my friends really enjoyed their meats! And, the last few days in Athens we had Dominos! We tried Mediterranean food as well. There were many Mediterranean restaurants in Athens (not surprising right?).
All the cafes in Athens had a variety of food and dessert options especially the slab of Greek feta cheese..mmmm. Our favourite dessert was gelato!
I recommend the following restaurants in Santorini:
Senor Zorba Mexican restaurant. Definitely give this place a try! It had delicious, authentic Mexican dishes!
Di Vinci, an Italian restaurant close to our villa. This restaurant was great but a little on the pricy side when compared to the quantity served.
The “best Italian restaurant in Santorini” as per TripAdvisor called Cacio e Pepe was not really the “best Italian restaurant”. Well at least not the vegetarian options.
Drinks: Local Greek beer is called Alpha, which is pretty smooth. Another popular drink in Greece is called Ouzo, which I believe is almost like Vodka, but is not really Vodka?? Greeks are big on smoking though. If you are like me and can’t tolerate the smell of smoke, I suggest you find indoor “smoke-free” spots when you go to restaurants.
Like I said, vegetarians and Indians in general have a hard time finding proper food when we travel which is why we take Indian snacks when we travel. Here is a list of Indian food we took to Greece:
Cardamom Indian instant tea (Chai Gold). Yes, I am a coffee person and I HAVE to say traditional Greek coffee gave my coffee buds an orgasm! But my Indian genes crave Indian chai sometimes especially when we are travelling which is why I carry instant chai :p All you need is hot water and this instant mix!
Gujju thapla. This was heaven especially the last few days when I missed homemade food!
We forgot to take Maggi but that would be another *heaven* moment especially late nights when everything is closed and you are too lazy to drive half-hour for food. Oh, ready-to-eat GITS packages would have been nice too!
Indian dry snacks like kurkure, bhel mixes and homemade masala puri.
Tip 6: buy breakfast (milk, bread, eggs, butter, Nutella spread etc.) and fruits from local grocery stores to save yourself time and euros.
Places we visited / things we did
In Athens we bought a package of 7 attractions for €30/person. Attractions included: the Acropolis, Parthenon, Hadrian’s Library, Aristotle’s Lyceum, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora of Athens.
I will not go into the history of each place. For those that enjoy history (namely my husband), you will really enjoy the ruins and temples in Athens. Out of all temples, my favourite was the Temple of Poseidon! Although the drive to this temple, which is on the South side of Athens, was long, it can be adventurous when you drive a manual car!
Did you know? Greek and Indian temples both face east. I believe it is due to the fact that the sun is the brightest planet known to humans and Greeks and Indians both worship the sun!
For those that enjoy local shopping (i.e. myself) will enjoy the markets in Athens.
Tip #7: When shopping in the marketplace, be sure to visit multiple shops before making a purchase because some shops are cheaper if you buy in bulk…actually, they are cheaper regardless of a bulk purchase.
Greek lifestyle is very similar to India when it comes to walks after dinner. The marketplace at night was always full of families/couples/people walking around and having dessert. Like I said earlier, our favourite dessert was gelato! Nightlife in Athens was busy in the city/marketplace areas. We were told that Greeks love Greek music and try to avoid “North American” music in clubs.
Here is a view from the highest point in Athens. The hike to this point was worth this view and the church on top of the hill!
Our stay in Crete revolved mainly around our friend Salwan’s beach wedding! Below are some photos from their wedding.
Since we were in Crete for a brief time only, we spent most of our time eating, chilling by the water and spending time with friends. We decided to go power-gliding last-minute (i.e. few hours before the wedding!). Amazing experience! Our pilot was the sweetest!
All we did in Santorini was relax and relax anddddd relax especially during the intense afternoon heat! Don’t let the white-washed houses draped with bougainvillea fool you! No doubt it is gorgeous but be-wary of the deadly afternoon heat! No…I am exaggerating! We just stayed inside our white cave to avoid the afternoon sun or went the market and had gelato.
We went to Oia on a donkey one afternoon! Yes you read that correctly…a donkey well a mule! It was quiet an adventure riding on a mule through the volcanic remains. I bet you didn’t know Santorini is the remains of a huge volcanic eruption. We went to one of the highest points in Santorini from where you can see the entire caldera (caldera is a volcanic feature formed when the volcano collapse into itself).
When in Santorini be sure to capture dazzling cliffside sunsets! Sunsets were the highlight of our trip to Santorini!
And that’s a wrap! You can ask me a question any time you wish by commenting on this blog or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next post will be an Iceland Travel Guide!