Destination

Santorini and Athens, Greece (August-September 2018)

Blue and white beauty everywhere bathed in sunshine

Every time our friends invite us to a wedding, we excitedly think about celebrating love. And more importantly, where do we get to go?!? In the past, people have told us:

  • Wisconsin? Yay.
  • Washington? Sweet.
  • California? Woohoo.

But on this occasion, they told us… “Greece.” 🇬🇷

Wait, you’re getting married in Santorini? Hot damn!

Now mind you, a lot of people are seemingly going to Santorini or Athens or any of the many gorgeous Greek isles these days. But this trip taught us two critical lessons.

  1. Greece is one of those places where taking your time is really important. We did not allot enough time both before and after the wedding to really be able to enjoy the experience as much as we could have. Learn from our mistake and make sure you soak up the sunshine, fresh seafood, and time in paradise. The salt air, the warmth of the people, and the chance to unwind should not be overlooked!
  2. In spite of what people have told us (or may tell you) about Athens only warranting 1-2 days, I think you should aim to spend at least 3-4 days here. The food itself justifies more time and if you enjoy history like Caitlin and I do, this city has more than enough to satisfy you!

Note: You might be asking, did you really just drop a post in 2020 from a trip that you took in 2018? Sadly, that is correct. When we got back from this trip, we were in the midst of moving from San Francisco to Chicago. Add on a brutal Chicago winter, our son being born in April 2019, and us moving from Chicago to the northern suburbs in September 2019, and my general list of excuses, and well there you have it. But the good news is the post is up, finally! Thank god.

TL;DR

Santorini

  • Stay
    • Airbnb: “Greek Goddess Spicy Indigo B&B”, Περίσσα (Perissa), Cyclades Santorini 84700, Greece
      • Our host Zoi was a lovely ambassador of Greek hospitality and love. Her dogs are super affectionate and will play with you or stay away from you, depending on your preference. And breakfast or cocktails at her bar are always a welcome break from the Greek summer heat.
  • Eat/Drink
    • Fratzesko’s Fish Tavern, Perissa 847 03, Greece
      • The area around the restaurant is, as you would expect, touristy. But the fish was fresh and the salads covered in delicious salty cheese.
    • Atlantis Island Restaurant, Perissa, P.O.Box.24 E, Thira 847 03, Greece
      • Lovely beachside restaurant in Perissa which serves up some wonderful seafood. A laidback atmosphere and great service come with the meal.
  • See
    • Boat Cruise
      • Arranged by the wedding party, this boat took us out from the western side of Santorini (near Thira) and up past Oia so we could see the sunset. Along the way, the boat dropped anchor so we could swim, provided a wonderful Greek meal and drinks, and ended with that epic sunset. While we didn’t get the information of the cruise company, you’ll be able to find plenty of boat companies who can take you onto the water.
    • Cavo Ventus, Epar.Od. Akrotiriou, Santorini 847 00, Greece
      • The wedding venue – and a stunning view into the caldera. This is one of those  views that you’ll write home about. Promise.
    • Eros Beach
      • A wonderful place to relax and escape the tourism with a private cabana. If you can’t find this on a map, check out Theros Wave Bar. It’s right next to the beach.

Athens

  • Stay
    • Airbnb: “Unique Acropolis View!”, Leoforos Andrea Siggrou 69 7th floor, Athina, 117 45, Greece
      • An odd room located on the top floor of an office building was our home in Athens for a few days. It was safe, clean, and comfortable with a deck and view of the Acropolis, but it was certainly odd walking into an office building and going up and office elevator to a stairwell to get to this unit.
  • Eat/Drink
    • Dipylo, Ermou 121, Athina 105 55, Greece
      • Lovely find from my friend George, who described it as a traditional Greek taverna.
    • City ZEN All Day Bar Restaurant, Aiolou 11, Athina 105 55, Greece
      • THE place to be seen. With a drink. And to see the Parthenon at night.
    • Yoleni’s, Solonos 9, Athina 106 71, Greece
      • A lovely hodgepodge of a deli/market, an olive oil bar, and a restaurant all in one. Lots of great beers and wines available, on top of a delicious menu of Greek favorites.
    • Yiasemi, Mnisikleous 23, Athina 105 55, Greece
      • A charming café on the steps of a Athenian street with so-so food but a wonderful charming feel and historic atmosphere.
  • See
    • Mount Lycabettus
      • Every time I go to a city, I like finding the views on high. Some place from which I can see everything, including the sun setting. This is that place in Athens. A 908-foot hill accessed through a funicular rail car with a small chapel and killer views at the top.
    • The Acropolis
      • The area of land that the Parthenon sits on. You’ll be coming here, if you know what’s good for you. 🙂
    • Parthenon
      • The battered building that sits on the Acropolis, which is a must-see for any Athenian visitors.

Trip Background

We have two friends whom we adore from our time in California.

From left to right: Me, my wife Caitlin, Plamena, and Dave (at the wedding where we met)

Plamena is a lovely Bulgarian woman and Dave is a wonderful Wisconsin man – and they met while working together at HP. My wife Caitlin and I met them in the spring of 2016, while waiting in the customs line at the airport in Roatan. We were there for my friend Melissa’s wedding and we struck up a fast friendship that evolved into dinners and game nights. After Dave popped the question, they decided to get married in Santorini, Greece and we were so eager that we literally bought the tickets before any of the other guests in early 2018! We used a combination of miles and cash to buy our tickets and spent the rest of the summer eagerly planning what to do on the island.

Day 0 (August 29-30, 2018)

Because we used miles to get to Europe, our outbound flight routing took us on a red eye from San Francisco to Dallas on the night of August 29, then Dallas to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to Athens on August 30. In retrospect, this was not the best routing nor the cheapest (duh). But we had the miles, the dollar cost was surprisingly prohibitive, and we had the time. Nowadays with a kid, we are much more focused on spending less time in transit!

Caitlin always finds a way to nap before our flight from SFO-DFW (and I am clearly visible in the reflection)

Day 1 (August 31, 2018) – Transit

Arriving at 8:30 AM a day later, we found ourselves at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) with a few hours before our connecting flight to Santorini/Thira. Our first stop: coffee and breakfast.

The Athens airport cafe food bags captured us surprisingly well!

For some reason our Sky Express Airline tickets qualified us for the “Fast Lane,” which made for an easier experience at security (think Pre-Check equivalent). Once through, we spent a couple hours reading and enjoying small sandwiches and cocktails at the Skyserv lounge, courtesy of my Priority Pass. It was definitely not a fancy place, but better than waiting in the terminal with no refreshments!

The flight from Athens to Thira (the island on which Santorini sits) is quite short, and as we approached Thira, the blueness of the Greek waters really hit us. It’s not just the relaxing blueness of the blue skies. It’s the shimmering sunshine glistening on the Mediterranean waters that gives off almost a white sheen. And it’s the realization that the sunshine and warmth of the Greek isles just feels welcoming and blissful.

You just can never escape Ronald’s eyes – even in paradise

We grabbed our luggage and walked outside and were quickly greeted by our driver, whom we had arranged through our Airbnb. The drive to our Airbnb (which you can find titled “Greek Goddess Spicy Indigo B&B”) was marked with unending open blue skies and craggy, rocky areas which surprised me. We drove around Moni Profitou (the highest point on the island and the gigantic hill in the middle of the island) and ancient Thira to wind our way to Perissa, a sleepy area that, while touristy in nature, does not feel like an area overrun with cruise ships.

Our host Zoi was a lovely woman from the moment we arrived, answering all of our questions and being super responsive even before we landed. After we settled in and unpacked, we decided to talk a long walk to explore some of the local scene before finding dinner. We took Zoi’s recommendation and headed to Fratzesko’s Fish Tavern, where we quickly realized how phenomenally fresh Greek food is. The mussels and fish were so good, and of course we had to indulge our obsession with cheese.

Day 2 (September 1, 2018): The sunset cruise

Our first full day began with breakfast in the Airbnb. The house dogs chose to cool down in the pool, and who can blame them – it was hot!

Our morning was spent relaxing and exploring the local beaches. The only knock on Zoi’s place is that it was a bit of a walk to get to the beaches. Nothing a quick 10 minute walk wouldn’t address but if beachside access is a must have, her place is not for you.

After some minor drama figuring out where to meet our tour bus (around 15 emails and texts with the bride and groom), we finally found our driver who picked us up along with the groom’s family. Our ride took us to the Athinios Ferry Port, where a convoy of cars and buses all attempt to descend from the hill to the water to deliver their cargoes of passengers to the various ships waiting to receive them. As we slowly weaved down the narrow roads (and passed a few donkeys along the way), many of us began asking how the bus would eventually get back up the road and away from the port. But that was one question we never got to answer!

Upon arriving at the port, we emptied out from the boss and boarded a beautiful older sailboat for our sunset cruise. Cocktails, Greek appetizers, and the occasional swim were the name of the game for the remainder of the afternoon.

If you’ve never been to Santorini, it’s important to remember that you will NOT be the only ones here off the coast of Tholos for a sunset cruise. People on the island will be waiting patiently in masses clustered by the water – just as every other boat parked in the waters off Tholos will be doing.

The afternoon was idyllic in every way – spending quality time with our friends who were soon to be married and all of their families and friends. As we returned to our Airbnb, we decided to grab a street gyro and some fries to end our day.

Day 3 (September 2, 2018): The Wedding!

Observation: transportation in Santorini is remarkably inconsistent.

I’m absolutely spoiled by easy access to transportation at home in the USA, but in most places I go too. Whether it’s renting a car, getting an Uber/Lyft, or jumping on the subway. But Santorini is a different story altogether. After yesterday’s confusion with where to get picked up, we had a second fiasco involving our transportation on the island. Our friends had organized a bus to pick everyone up, and there was a lot of confusion on where this bus would meet with us. Thankfully that struggle also resolved itself with a few phone calls and texts, and after a short 30 minute ride, we arrived at Cavo Ventus for our friends’ wedding.

Now let me take a moment to try and explain how remarkable this place is. The venue doesn’t present itself as you arrive in the area. There are scattered homes nearby. But the moment you enter through these grand wooden doors, the stunning views and cobblestone-lined walkways begin to wow you. When you ascend onto the main terrace where the event is held, you see chairs and a small gazebo. And beyond that, just the stunning caldera and water. That blue water I mentioned earlier. It’s easy to get lost staring into the combined visual splendor that is Cavo Ventus and the surrounding environment.

The ceremony was beautiful and captivating. Dinner and drinks started not long after and the fun ramped up quickly as sugar and alcohol-fueled energy hit the dance floor in force. But because at the time Caitlin was pregnant, we opted to end the night early and took the first bus back to our Airbnb.

Day 4 (September 3, 2018) – Last Full Day in Santorini

Remember what I said earlier about making sure you have enough time here?

We clearly didn’t, and that makes us wish we had a couple extra days to ourselves. This was our fourth day on the island and the only full day we had to ourselves. We asked Zoi’s driver to take us to a local beach and he brought us to Eros Beach, where we paid for private cabanas to enjoy our afternoon. Our afternoon consisted of reading, snacks, drinks and a couple swims before we drove back to Perissa.

Returning back to the beach near our Airbnb afforded us a lovely long afternoon walk along the beach. It’s hard to properly explain just how beautiful the views are here but hopefully this photograph does it justice.

After some ice cream cones and the chance encounter with the roosters on the fence, we decided to stop for dinner at Atlantis Island Restaurant and enjoyed a far too heavy yet delicious dinner with gorgeous views and some amazing seafood.

What’s nice about this area is that at night, the glow of pools and blue lighting give the boardwalk a really chic and comfortable feel. Afterwards we continued our lupine slow winding walk along the beach back to our Airbnb where we put our heads down for the night.

Day 5 (September 4, 2018): Departing Santorini

Leaving Santorini was actually a sad feeling for us because it felt like we had been here for days but seen very little of the island itself. Don’t get me wrong…the boat cruise views, the wedding itself, the wedding venue, were all stunning and beautiful. But we really could’ve used an extra day or two to explore the island – in particular the northern side of Santorini. And I know it’s lame but I wish we’d seen more of those beautiful cliffside homes/hotels clad in all white, with the blue sea serving as a gorgeous contrast.

Me, Our Airbnb host Zoi, and Caitlin

Our wonderful Airbnb host Zoi asked her colleague to give us one last ride to the airport and he graciously took us. Our experience getting to the airport was pretty uneventful, although the rocky roads involved in getting there were less than ideal. However once we arrived, I experienced two things that I have never experienced previously at any airport in the world.

  • The first was the airport’s outdoor lounge which allows you to sit back and watch the planes land takeoff taxi park and roll up to the gate.
  • The second was an absolutely chaotic experience attempting to board our plane. Unfortunately the terminal is so small and there are so many different people going to different locations, that the boarding process is not as organized as it is in most American airports.

You just need to realize that Santorini’s airport is small. Like, real small. The waiting area was the size of a doctor’s office waiting room and a bit. It’s not like most Western airports with lot of gates and amenities. But in spite of the gate chaos, we got on our plane with no further issues and within an hour, we were landing at Athens international Airport.

Day 5 (September 4, 2018), continued: Arrival in Athens

Upon arriving we got ourselves to the nearby train station and purchased our AthenaTickets to get on the subway. Navigating the transportation system was pretty clear but we definitely had a ~30 minute wait until our train arrived!

Our Airbnb was located on the top floor of what appeared to be a commercial office building, but the redeeming factor was the lovely outdoor terrace with a beautiful view of the Parthenon.

Our patio
VIDEO: The view from the patio

By the time we had unpacked and oriented ourselves, it was late afternoon so we decided to go for a walk and see what we could see in the ruins near the Parthenon. A hot, breezy day awaited us, so gelato and bottled water were our first purchases as we began walking.

Now keep in mind, my wife was nearly three months pregnant as we explored the city so we made sure to keep cool and shaded whenever possible. We took a meandering path around the city, coming close to the Parthenon but not ascending the steps to the top.

After an hour, we met up with our friend Leilani, whose early morning flight had been cancelled. With an unplanned day in Athens, she joined us for dinner at Dipylo, and we were treated to a lovely Greek dinner of baked cheese, dolmas with moist skins, and a hearty meat and potatoes. This comfort meal put the three of us into a wonderfully mild food coma, and in order to avoid falling asleep we continued our walk and found many examples of Athenian street art with society commentary included.

We headed up Mount Lycabettus (via the cable car ride up) so we could get some sunset views of the city – and they did not disappoint. In what can only be described as a wonderful moment of serendipity, we also ran into Caitlin’s friend from Wisconsin – and they hadn’t seen each other in years. It reminded me that when you put yourself out into the world, occasionally wonderful (and unplanned) reunions take place.

With the sun setting around 8 PM, we began our descent from the mountain and walked our way through a bunch of charming neighborhoods in search for drinks or a snack. We wound up setting on City ZEN All Day Bar Restaurant for drinks, which was definitely a place to be seen. We must have increased the average age of the patrons because it seemed like they were all 21 year old’s, dressed to the nines, and drinking heavily.

Day 6 (September 5, 2018): Museums Galore

As our first lazy morning in Greece, we took our time in walking from our Airbnb to the National Archeological Museum. It was a 2 mile walk that took us nearly an hour, given Caitlin’s pregnancy. The museum has a massive collection of sculptures dating back thousands of years that are preserved in remarkably good condition.

After a couple hours at the museum, we found ourselves dining at Yoleni’s for lunch. This place surprised us. A deli and market, an olive oil bar, and a restaurant all in one – plus cooking classes – was a wonderful respite from the late summer heat. We decided on a wrap, some dolmas, and a light salad with a couple beers to cool down.

With the mid-afternoon sun bearing down on us, our legs took us to my favorite destination of the trip: the Acropolis. Just getting up to the Acropolis puts things in perspective. The structure looks brittle, and it should given how many times it’s been blown up, attacked, damaged, and how many years it has withstood the elements. If you come here, you’ll immediately notice all of the scaffoldings in place that are working to maintain, preserve, or restore this iconic building.

Our time at the Acropolis led us to the nearby Acropolis Museum, and I cannot recommend this building enough. It’s obviously a modern building and the items preserved here are both beautiful and reveal much about the thousands of years of Greek history. The staff here are a bit militant about cameras but as long as you’re subtle, you should be able to capture a few memories.

To end our day, we headed to Yiasemi, a café on the steps of Mnisikleous Street. We can’t speak too much to the food quality as we only had a quiche, some chocolate cake and a beer (an odd combo, we know) but the appeal here is just being on a charming street. This is the kind place to people watch and soak up the magic of an Athenian day gone by.

Day 7 (September 6, 2018)

Sadly with that, our trip ended. We had to get back to the states for a friend’s wedding in Wisconsin and boarded our American Airlines flight back to Philadelphia and then connected to Milwaukee. Our return journey was pretty typical – movies, plane snacks (your standard coach fare), and me dozing while my wife struggled to sleep (she always does).

My final memories of this trip include both a lackluster airline meal and the Greek Cheetos I bought before we left, which are wildly different in color and texture than the image. #falsadvertising

Final Thoughts

Greece is a beautiful, storied country that should be known for more than weddings, tourism, and austerity measures/challenges with government finances. People had been telling us for months before this trip that Athens was not worth more than a day and to those people I have one question:

“Are you nuts?”

Athens is WELL-WORTH spending a few days in. Not just for the history or the food or the sights or the street art, but for ALL of it. So if you’re a student of history, a fan of Greek culture or food, or just curious to explore Greece, plan to spend more than a few days in country. And don’t neglect Athens!

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