Wednesday, August 2, 2017

10 easy travel tips to better enjoy a Greek vacation

Windmills on Mikonos Greek vacation

10 tips to enjoy a Greek vacation



When you travel abroad or even in the United States many times it is a learning experience.  Recently we traveled to Greece the land of my ancestors. I had always wanted to visit Greece and this past Christmas my husband gifted me with a Greek vacation.  Now don’t get me wrong, I loved it.  There were, however, parts of this Greek vacation that were not as pleasant as I had hoped.  I take that back, I expected some bumps, but I think we discovered there are other ways to do the same things with less of a bumpy road.  So what follows are my suggestions for possibly a few less bumps. As the saying goes forewarned is forearmed.

Greek vacation


1.  Book it yourself. We opted to go with a travel agency.  They booked our flights, our hotels, and our transportation from one island to another.  This vacation was booked 6 months in advance.  I think the next time I will choose to book my own flights, transportation, and hotels.   When you book things that far in advance even as a private person you can get the most reasonable rates. 

2.  Check the airline. Our scheduled itinerary was to fly to London on British Airways, then after a short layover, fly to Greece.  I hate to bash any airlines but the plane we were on was old.  And I mean old.  The seats were crammed as close as possible and since the travel agency booked the flight we had the worst seats on the plane.  There were no windows in the same zip code and we were situated right by the bathroom.

3.  Check the airline amenities. Our short layover turned into several hours (Not the airlines fault) and the second flight, which was 3 ½ hours didn’t even offer a soft drink.  The flight attendants blocked the aisles with their credit card machines for people to pay for drinks or a light lunch for quite some time.  No one could even walk down the aisles to visit the restroom.  When they finally reached us, they were out of everything except some foul couscous lunch salad that after two bites we promptly tossed in the trash.

Arriving in Athens



4.  Use local transportation when necessary. We finally, reached Athens.  Our hotel was nice in the center of the city.  We could see the Acropolis from the roof and as anyone who ever looked off into the distance from atop a building, it looked a lot closer than it really was. While it wouldn’t be considered walking distance to the Acropolis, we opted to walk.  8 miles, we walked, but it was totally worth the walk.  For anyone who has issues walking, I suggest taking a bus or a taxi.

5.  Steer clear of ferries if you have extra money. On the following day (we did lose a day with the flying) we were to board a ferry to the first of our island. The hotel was nice enough to provide us with a bagged lunch. The ferry has assigned airplane style seats? And, they were, of course, the worst seats on the boat.

4 ½ hours later we arrived in Mikonos. Mikonos was a beautiful island and our hotel was fantastic!  The grounds were lovely with plants and flowers galore.  The pool was relaxing with a bar right there for refreshments.  The included breakfast was typical Greek fare and very good. Why such a wonderful hotel? Even a broken clock is right once a day. (Not exactly breakfast items but Greeks don’t usually eat breakfast, which you may read about in a previous post)

6.  Book your own hotels. After our stay in Mikonos were continued on our way to Santorini. Yes, another ferry, that took several hours with the worst seats on the pretty empty boat!  Now, the hotel in Santorini was the worst hotel on the trip.  Actually, it was the worst hotel I have ever had the unpleasant opportunity to endure.  There was no chair in the room, only a bed.  The bathroom was so small that you had to hold the sink while you used the toilet.  The shower was probably 2 foot by 2 foot and the shower curtain would stick to you when you showered.  The water overflowed but they, fortunately, had a drain in the floor.  Camping with Girl scouts, I’ve been in outhouses in the woods that were way nicer than this one.  Wow that the travel agency would use that hotel!  Greece is not known for its great breakfasts but this one with its stale bread, canned fruit and yogurt was by far the worst!  Is there a positive?  There has to be some positive right?  It was close to the main drive in Santorini and the Wi-Fi worked better than all the other hotels!!!!

7.  Skip the extra 4 hours to Oia unless you have a lot of extra time but be sure and visit Akrotiri.  Santorini was beautiful as was Mikonos.  We took a tour of the island, which was totally worth it.  We paid the extra money to go to Oia to view the sunset, which I would suggest you forego.  The extra 4 hours to not see a sunset due to cloud cover was exhausting and I think a sunset from any part of this island would be just as beautiful.

8.  Officially I will never take another ferry I don’t care how much cheaper it is! So our time in Santorini came to an end. The time had come to, yes, board another ferry.  This time we were to return to Athens where our flight would be leaving the next day.  It was at least 12 hours by ferry and we didn’t arrive at our hotel till almost midnight.  Worst seats on the boat, yet again.  What did we learn from this?  Time is money.  Your time is worth money.  Don’t take a ferry if at all possible, even if it costs a little more.  A quick search and I discover some flights start at only $35 for a 35-minute flight one-way.  Not too horrible when you consider the comfort and time.  Again, seeing as everything is booked 6 months in advance, I can’t imagine if you did these bookings yourself it wouldn’t have been a lot better.  You could choose your hotels, your flights and seats, and your tours.

9.  Do it yourself.  All in all, I loved Greece.  I loved every part of Greece.  Too bad I didn’t have the time to enjoy more of Greece. I hate to use another old saying but-- if you want something done right, do it yourself!

10.  Pack some tissues and washcloths.  I forgot to mention, no hotels where we stayed had tissues or washcloths.  You may want to pack some!

Greek vacation







Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What is that old saying about owning a boat?




There is an old saying about owning a boat.  “The happiest days of a man’s life is the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells it.”

My poor husband a living reminder of the truth in that adage.  No, he hasn’t sold his boat as yet, but he sure is thinking about it. 

If you’ve read my blog you know that I am basically an indoor girl.  Especially in the hot and humid Virginia summers.  Although I’ve gone out on the boat with him many times, it was never fun.  It’s too bumpy to read, and bumps, as you know relocate parts of one’s body to places they should not be. 

The scenery starts to look the same as if you’ve already been through that area before.  The river water doesn’t smell pleasant and is a greenish hue. So whenever I’d go out on the boat with him, I’d count the minutes till I return. Don’t judge, indoor girl, remember?

Now the first couple of years the boat worked like a charm.  Then things went south, way south. First, it didn’t like the gas.  Then, parts of the boat started to break.  Doo-dads and thingamajigs with odd sounding names were gunked, stuck or just not working. Poor husband spent more time hunched over an open engine in searing heat than getting a tan on the deck.

And last year, first time out, the boat conked out about a mile from shore making this high tech motor boat basically a rowboat. 

So he had high hopes this year.  He fixed the carburetor; one of many repairs.  Still, the little engine that once could, couldn’t. 

So more parts came.  And still, the boat was basically a land yacht. So as a last resort he checked the gas and it seems the gas just isn’t what it should be.  So now he has to remove all the gas and replace it with good gas.  And then we will see…

Until such time as this boat becomes sea-worthy again, I will sit in the air conditioning and read my books without getting motion sickness. And I will pray, if only for husband’s sake that it will be ready before the first snowfall.

For Vincent a personalized limerick:

There once was a man from up north
Who wanted his boat to go forth
He hammered and oiled
But alas he was foiled
No sailing to be henceforth



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The ultimate Greek dilemma, What no breakfast?

Breakfast in Greece
Santorini



Recently I visited Greece on vacation, and found out something I always vaguely knew.  Greeks don’t eat breakfast.  There is an old joke about breakfast in Greece.  They say a Greek breakfast is basically a cigarette and coffee.  My husband being of Irish descent is a lover of all things breakfast.  He would be happy eating breakfast, morning, noon, night and even midnight snack!

I never could get around the ridged food list that makes up breakfast.  What law saws breakfast must contain, bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, or hash browns? God forbid there be pizza in there unless of course it has bacon and eggs on it.  Usually while husband munches on some crispy bacon and scrambled eggs I eat leftover Chinese food cold from a box.  Guess I never subscribed to what you are supposed to do at breakfast.

So I knew there would a culture clash when we went to Greece.  Each of our hotels included a buffet breakfast.  This breakfast consisted of olives, feta, Greek yogurt, fruits, spinach and cheese pies, homemade breads and usually a tray labeled bacon.  Bacon it seems, in Greece, is masquerading as ham.

A Chronology of Breakfast time


So the first day, poor hubby sat there looking lost while I chowed down on olives and other non-breakfast type foods. He drank a cup of watered down American type filter coffee and waited for lunch. 

On the second day, he repeated his actions of the first day.

On the third day, he tried a little of the fresh bread and complained there was no toaster, but he did go back for seconds, buttering each piece with a generous slab of fresh butter.  He tried the bacon (ham) and some cheese.  He tried some Greek coffee and fresh (yes fresh) squeezed orange juice.  Was that the hint of a smile playing with the corners of his mouth?

On the fourth day he ate with gusto.  He tried the thick creamy Greek yogurt with fig spread, feta, and some warm fresh baked breads and pastries.  He made himself some Greek coffee, and had the fresh squeezed juice.  He had finally come to terms with breaking the rules and traditions of breakfast law.  He found out there was no breakfast police.  And when in Rome, Athens, or Mykonos, you do as the romans or Greeks do. He even said, "Poli kalO" (Which means very good) when asked how it was by a waiter. 

What? No bacon?



I am not a fan of fast food but riding on the ferry for our 8 hour return trip to Athens I ate the only food available on the boat.  (It ate at was what I am sure they viewed as an American style burger stand) I innocently ordered a bacon cheeseburger and opening this sad little sandwich I saw the bland piece of ham.  Yup-- no bacon in Greece.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral



Red beach in Santorini



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Grecian cats--no, not a new, travel version of the musical

The interloper



During my recent trip to Greece I came in contact with cats, a lot of cats.  A quick Google search reveals that most Greeks feel that cats are not exactly house pets, but a wild species best left to their own devices.  As a result they wander the streets and ancient ruins with pretty much no human interference.

Even we Americans know that one doesn’t own a cat.  A cat owns us.  If a cat wants something, it gets it.  All the while plotting their happy little owner’s demise.  When we come home from work the dog greets us with gusto.  He jumps, yelps, and licks while his tail wags at 100 miles an hour.  The cat, on the other hand, stands aloof, as if to reprimand us for not being at her disposal all day.  She may, if it suits her, decide to saunter by and rub against our legs; simply to piss off the dog.  We hear her purr and we imagine it is for us, which in all reality may not be the case.

Grecian cats strolled around many of the outdoor restaurants and cafes.  They sunned themselves on walls and threaded their way through the crowded streets full of multi national tourists.  Most looked well fed and fairly healthy.  They were not pets but not exactly what we Americans would call feral.  They lay beside humans and begged with only their presence.  Who but a local could refuse their enormous staring eyes? These cats have perfected the art of begging.  They remind me of the squirrels and chipmunks in National parks that know just what cute little tricks to do to get the goofy human to toss them a few nuts. 

My husband who fancies himself a Dr. Dolittle tried to pet a docile looking black and white cat lounging on a path and was put in his place with a quick swat of the paw. That’ll teach you, lesson learned.  They are not house cats. 

Evenings in Greece are beautiful, cool and comfortable not even requiring an air conditioner, and there are very few bugs.  So as we went out to dinner in one of the many outdoor cafes, we chose to leave the windows to our hotel room open. Do you see where I am going with this?

Returning to our room after a delicious dinner, we turned on the lights and proceeded to get ready for bed.  A strange sound was coming from the sofa, and, to our surprise we saw a large ginger cat casually using the back of the couch as a scratching post.  It just stared, and not the sweet large eyed, begging stare.  It was a look that said we were the intruders and it was standing it’s ground.

Shaken, I turned to my husband with a look that said, “What should we do?”  "Should we call the desk?"  Or do we just wait and see if it’s friendly?

My husband tiptoed over to the door, and opened it. (Not really sure why he tiptoed since the cat already saw us and they can't fly)  Then he comically deepened his voice and said, “SHOO.”  Seriously?  Shoo?  This was steadily becoming a cartoon.  I almost expected Jerry from Tom and Jerry to jump out from behind the sofa.  My husband repeated his shooing while ridiculously flailing his arms. The cat jumped off the sofa and casually, with a regal toss of it’s head, walked out the front door, but not before I snapped his pic.

Maybe the Greeks have it right after all.  Cats should just be left to their own devices.  They can use people when they want.  They can walk around like they own the place, because in their minds they do.  And nature can take care of the rest.

Grecian cats and Mykonos
The beauty of Greece



Our beautiful hotel in Mykonos





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