Athens & The Greek Islands

My trip to Greece began on Samos, where I arrived after a brief ferry ride from Kusadasi. The travel agent Petros, who works for ITIA travel, was extremely helpful in getting subsequent ferries to Athens, Naxos and Santorini. He was also full of interesting stories about Greece, the Cyprian conflict and life on the islands. If you end up on Samos, he works at the closest travel agency to the port.

On Samos, I met a Japanese couple (Taru and Yoko), who I joined on the overnight ferry back to Athens. The following day, the three of us wandered around the impossibly hot Athens, visited all the major historical sights, ate some really great pita gyros and “hydrated” responsibly by consuming Amstel beer all day long. Athens was pretty interesting, but it was dusty and hot, so in spite of wandering around with new friends, being awed by Acropolis and exploring the Byzantine maze of the bazaar, I often felt like I was on the bring of fever (this in spite of guzzling iced water, slushies and beer).

Thankfully, I only spent a day in Athens. Later that same evening, I arrived at the port of Naxos, where I spent four days in the excellent Soula Hotel. Although Naxos is ecologically interesting, I opted to spend most of my time there relaxing on the beach, enjoying the town and getting to bed early so I could manage a 6 AM run before the sun was really up. I really need a holiday from museums, galleries and sights. Since the bars are open all night long, when I was out running, many people were just coming home from the bars – or, in fact, still on the patios drinking from the night before – and my fitness aspirations elicited no small amount of cheering, clapping and and otherwise friendly mocking.

From Naxos, I headed to Santorini, where I spent a day. Since I had little time on the island, I spent 12 Euros on a scooter and made my way all over the island, visiting Oia, Fira, the lighthouse on the southwest tip, and many villages in between. It’s a lovely place with striking views made possible by buildings and roads that wind their way along the rim of the caldera, leaving plunging cliffs below. My experience on both Naxos and Santorini can be pretty well summed up by a recent tweet:

I arrived in Athens by ferry from Santorini, made my way to the airport and slept underneath an escalator until about 8 AM, when I was unceremoniously awoken by astute security guards, who, in spite of my clever camouflage, discovered me. For the next couple of hours, I read my book, chatted with a young woman from Belgium, and made liberal use of the free internet terminals provided by Vichy. While at the airport, I also had a couple of really good cups of coffee at the McCafe. Although the idea might be foolish in North America, where McDonalds isn’t traditionally known for its coffee (which is actually really good), in Europe, the McCafe is very popular. I poke my head into McDonalds in different cities because it’s fun to see the different items on the menu – Licorice McFlurries in Finland. Many of the European McDonalds allow smoking and the McCafe at the Athens airport was no different: it was full of people smoking, sipping coffee and munching on a variety of pastries. One might assume this was because it was at the airport. That’s not the only reason – there were many competing coffee bars. Rather, McCafe succeeds for the same reasons that McDonalds itself has been such a global success: it provides an consistent product (though not necessarily healthy!) at a fair price, in a safe, clean and friendly environment.

Anyway, after sipping coffee for a couple of hours, my flight was ready to board. I left the Greek men to amuse themselves by endlessly twirling and clacking prayer beads and made my way to Berlin.