October 31, 2022

Our last full day in Greece, we started by doing laundry so we could hang it up after we got back from our street art tour and it would have enough time to dry before we pack tomorrow morning.  We met our host, Pascal, at 9 and set off to tour the local street art scene.  Most buildings in Athens were built during the post-war or interwar periods and so are big concrete boxes (similar to Wynwood in Miami).  They make great canvases for street artists, though, and there were some really great examples that Pascal showed us, teaching us a little about some of the local and international artists who created them.  We especially liked the ones done by INO and there are a couple by the Carpe Diem collective, a non-profit that trains local youth in street art, which were really cool.  We were lucky that the photos did a good job of capturing what we saw.

We had made a reservation today for lunch at another Bib Gourmand restaurant, Nolan, because we couldn't get a spot for dinner.  Nolan is Greek/Japanese fusion, and it worked really well.  Again, it was small plates and we got 4 to share: 2 veggie, one seafood, and one chicken.  The calamari in a coconut basil sauce was outstanding, as was the green bean/orange/pear salad which we think we will try to replicate.  Dessert was pretty good too; it was chocolate tart with lemon glazed walnuts with just a hint of lemon that was perfect.  Total was $72 which is still amazingly reasonable for the kind of food on offer.

We thought about going to one other museum we had missed, but decided to come home and relax after a filling meal, catch up on blog entries, and Stephen has a phone conversation with someone in the Boston area about possibly doing some part-time college admissions counseling.  

October 30, 2022

We felt like we had seen all the ancient sites in Athens at this point, and so we decided over the next two days that  we would do some AirBnB experiences that relate to more contemporary themes.  We both looked at our options and decided on a political history tour focusing on the Greek financial crisis for today and a street art tour which we'll do on Monday.  We've had lots of success and have really enjoyed the experiences we've booked through AirBnB so we tend to look there first; we've felt like they were more homegrown than some of the ones we've found on other sites like Viator and Trip Advisor.  Our tour today didn't start until 4:00pm, though, so we decided to check out some of the museums we had wanted to see on Oxi day that ended up being closed.

We started at the Jewish Museum.  While not really an extensive collection, there were some cool artifacts; Stephen was most interested in the bronze stamp that showed that Jews were present in Greece as early as the 3rd century BCE.  The best part of the museum was the historical commentary on the development of the community here in the area.  Particularly it was interesting to note how the community changed as it incorporated Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century.  There was also a very moving description of how a Greek Orthodox priest on an island community shielded the Jews of the community from the Nazis during the German occupation.

From there, we headed to the National Museum of Contemporary Art.  There isn't much of a permanent collection here, but they did a really great job of curating the temporary exhibition we saw, all about the concept of the nation-state post Cold War.  We thought the museum was pretty impressive for a town not generally known for its art (although the tour we do tomorrow may change our feelings on that).

At 4pm we met our guide and about 6 other guests outside the European Commission headquarters for our Athens Social and Political Walk.  Our guide, Isaac, is from Spain, but came to Greece for an internship while he was in college to study the financial crisis here and then never left.  We actually felt like this gave him a way to view and explain Greek politics that would not be colored in the same way as someone who was local.  It was interesting to hear about the development of the contemporary Greek state, to understand how that impacted how the financial crisis played out, and how society today (for example the anarchist neighborhood in Exarcheia) is a result of that.  The anarchists are not very tourist friendly.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the Greek economy is now supported by tourism for the good and bad.  Isaac shared that if you want a typical job that would require a college education, though, there is very little opportunity for that in Greece (although the situation is improving very slowly).  While different, it made us think about some of the financial distortions that we witnessed in Cuba when we visited there where you could make more money ($10 a pop for a cab ride in an old 1950's car) being a taxi driver vs. being a teacher or doctor or physicist.  It's not like sending the tourists home solves that problem, but those distortions need to be addressed.

For dinner, Eli was jonesing for Ethiopian food and had found a couple of restaurants in a northern neighborhood.  We tried to take a bus, but it didn't show up as scheduled, so we hopped in a cab.  The place where we went was clearly a hangout for the community and it was very informal.  It didn't have any menu and it wasn't very well marked.  The owner?/chef? was outside chatting on her phone when we arrived.  In trying to communicate she kept saying "tibs and salad" and we asked a couple of other things, but the communication wasn't going well (certainly not aided by the loud music coming from the stereo) so we just settled on tibs and salad.  Luckily the tibs and salad were very good, and it was accompanied by the largest single injera roll we have ever seen... She must have used a pan the size of one of those huge paella pans to make it.  It's the first time we didn't have to ask for additional injera to finish our meal.  The meal was $25. 

On the way home, we got on a street with better bus service and were able to catch the bus back home.  A note about buses in Athens: we haven't paid for one yet.  You're supposed to get a ticket and then activate it on the bus, but tickets aren't sold at locations near where we've needed to be and you can't pay on the bus.  They don't open the front door near the driver anymore (not sure if this is safety or COVID related).  In any case, the only danger is that a fare inspector may come on the bus and demand to see an active ticket, but based on the fact that we didn't see anybody else ever validate a ticket when getting on the bus, and the fact that when we asked the receptionist at one of the hotels we were staying at in Greece about the cops checking for speeding and she kind of laughed, we didn't think we had to worry too much about not getting a bus fare ticket to validate.  We do however, get tickets when we use the metro.

October 29, 2022

Since we were out late last night, we slept in and then decided to take an easy day.  Stephen wanted to pick up some linen pants so that he has something cooler than jeans to wear in Egypt when we visit Muslim religious sites (where you're required to have your knees covered).  They have this kind of stuff, even though winter is coming, in the touristy area alongside the Acropolis.  As we were walking, we saw a number of stores that sell robes for Orthodox clergy.... like, TONS of them.  We wouldn't have imagined there would be this kind of a market for that sort of thing.

In any case, we found the linen pants Stephen was looking for almost right away and since we were in the neighborhood of the Acropolis, we decided to check out 2 of the additional sites that are included in our combined ticket.  We saw the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, and decided to skip Hadrian's library.  We were kind of confused by the restoration on the Stoa at the Ancient Agora; it was basically completely rebuilt.  So, while you get an idea of what it would have felt like to be in the space and wander the stalls, the construction was almost 100% new build materials and they clearly didn't use materials as they would have been at the time (ie. lots of concrete and faux wood was used instead).  

We came back to the flat, rested a bit, and the decided to have a quiet night at home.  We picked up some take-out souvlaki and watched "The Good Nurse" on Netflix.  

October 28, 2022

Today is Oxi Day in Greece, a national holiday.  It celebrates the day in the runup to the invasion of Greece by the Axis forces during the war that the president of Greece, in response to a demand by Italy to acquiesce to the placement of Italian forces on Greek soil, responded "Oxi" or "No!"  The parade was going to travel near to our flat, so we thought we would check that out first.  It's always interesting to see how countries interpret celebrations like this.  This parade was mostly school children in uniforms marching together with their school groups carrying the Greek flag.  It was also mostly proud families who were lining the parade route.  You could hear them cheer specifically when their child walked by (and then the proceeded to leave the route as soon as their kid walked on by).  We stayed for about a half and hour to see if the parade changed at all, but it didn't, so we moved on.  Apparently the parade in Thessaloniki is more extensive, with military planes, tanks, and all kinds of stuff (we saw pictures online the next day).

Museums and archeological sites around the country are supposed to be free today.  We didn't have much luck, though,  at seeing the museums we wanted to see.  Most ended up being closed.  We did get to make it to the Museum of Folk Instruments.  You may know that we collect folk instruments during our travels, but since we've started traveling full time and rented out our home back in Delray, we didn't think it made sense to continue.  Some of the stuff we saw at the museum, though, was absolutely interesting a beautiful, so it was hard not to follow up and try to find a craftsperson in the area who makes instruments so we could look to add to our collection.   We were going to stop by the market on our way home so we could pick up meat for sandwiches, but they market was closed for Oxi day, so we broke down in hunger and ended up stopping at KFC, our first time at a US fast food joint in 4 months.  It left us with a bit of a bad-for-you-food hangover, so we headed back to the flat.

Dinner tonight is at Oikeio, a Bib Gourmand restaurant.  We went vegetarian again.  Stephen's dish of chickpea stew was the standout.  Eli's baked eggplant was just okay.  They did have some interesting dishes that we saw on other tables, like rabbit and a roasted chicken dish, but we were committing to veggies. 

After dinner we went back to rest before heading out at midnight to the drag show (show starts at 1) at Koukles.  We had a feeling the show there would be more on the traditional side, but the story of the bar unfolded as we spent the evening.  On arrival, we were greeted by an older transwoman who looked to be in her 60's.  Once in the main space, it was hard not to notice the large wall filled with pictures of famous people (some international, like Jean Paul Gaultier, and some clearly Greek) with the drag queens.  The photos spanned a wide range of years (you could tell by the clothing styles).  We noticed that there was this one drag queen who appears in most of the photos and kind of looked a lot like a younger version of the woman we met at the door.  This prompted us to do some online investigating to find out more, and Eli stumbled upon this academic article about the history of trans sex workers in Greece, and the bar is mentioned.  We read into the article, and we put together that the woman we met at the door was one of the subjects referenced in the article, and had opened the club in 1994... Koukles has been going strong for almost 30 years and she has been at the helm.  We thought that was pretty impressive.  With that said, the show wasn't exactly our taste in drag; it was very much in the style of impersonations with Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Tina Turner, all making appearances.  Some of the performers definitely looked like they had been performing there for quite a while.  The stuff that got the crowd going, though, and that we enjoyed most, were the Greek torch standards they performed.  It's well worth a visit to be a part of that kind of history.

October 27th, 2022

We pulled the car out of the garage today to take a trip to the Peloponnesian peninsula.  There are a bunch of interesting sites there and you could easily spend 2-3 days exploring, but we didn't want to worry about finding a hotel when we already had our place in Athens.  We made a pit stop in Corinth to check out the ruins and museum there.  The Corinth museum was famous because it was targeted for an antiquities heist back in the 1990s and with FBI help,  all of the materials were eventually recovered.  We then stopped at Mycenae.  The Mycenaean civilization predated classical Greece, and was the primary civilization in the area following the decline of the Minoans.  This period (with lots of artistic embellishments) is what Homer recounts in The Iliad and The Odyssey.  The ruins here definitely felt much more Minoan in style than classically Greek.  Same with the artwork (mostly frescoes and pottery).  Definitely worth a visit to see something a little different from what we had seen at other sites.

From there, we went to Epidavros, known for the Sanctuary of Asclepius, which was an ancient healing center.  It also has a huge amphitheater that would seat about 20,000 people.  The theater is in incredible condition and you can imagine all those people in the stands watching a performance.  They are working on restoring some of the buildings, particularly an interesting  circular design that is unusual for the period it would have been built.  Again, they have a museum that stores and protects most of the art from the buildings and we think it's a good idea to visit that first.

On our way back we stopped to get a photo of the Corinth Canal.  The isthmus was first crossed by boats in 600 BCE near this location when Periander built a "ship railway," small boats being carried on wheeled cradles running in grooves. They used this likely until the 9th century. The canal opened in 1893.  It's quite dramatic with the deep an narrow cut and the ability to see from one end at the Gulf of Corinth to the other at the Sardonic Gulf.

We headed back home and got back by about 5pm and rested before dinner.  We did another meat-gasm.  This restaurant was Mavros Gatos, and they sell lamb chops for dinner by the kilo (35 euros per kilo).  We split a kilo for the two of us, plus a couple of veggie small plates.  The lamb was tender and flavorful.  We did mixed sauteed greens as well that were really good and helped cut the richness of the lamb.  The zucchini fritters were pretty good as well.  Total for the meal was $53.

October 26th, 2022

After taking a day to do laundry, catch up on trip planning, and take care of things like haircuts, we figured we'd hit the most important site today, the Acropolis.  We got up early to try and beat the crowds and were there by 8:30.  We started from the southeast entrance, which is supposed to have fewer tour groups entering (which we did notice) and first saw the Dionysus Theater and the Odeon.  From there, we worked our way up the hill.  The site is still an active archeological investigation and restoration.  It has changed quite a bit, in fact, since Stephen was here 20 years ago.  It was really cool, though, to see the active work of the archeologists on the site.  There was one guy cataloguing items on a laptop and another group slowly and painstakingly brushing off rocks of the retaining wall using brushes the size of a watercolor brush.  It would probably take them a millennium to finish at that rate.  There is also a relatively new archeological museum that goes with the Acropolis (which was not open when Stephen was here last).  We suggest that you visit the museum first before going up to the site, as things there will make more sense.  They do a really great job of telling the history of the site in all its incarnations.  Definitely make sure to visit the 3rd floor of the museum, as the pediment and friezes from the Parthenon (what wasn't stolen by the British Museum) are housed there.  Eli noted that the 3rd floor is a actual same-size replica of the Parthenon building.  The ticket for the museum is separate, but you can get a combined ticket for the Acropolis that also includes other sites around town.

We headed to the Temple of Zeus, which was included in the multi-site ticket, on the way back to our flat to take a nap before dinner.  For dinner, we went to Ergon.  It is housed in the lobby of a hotel and is a fascinating concept.  They have a general store that carries fresh, packaged, and refrigerated ingredients from all around Greece (including fresh meats and cheeses at deli-style counters).  You can then book a chef to cook the food for you or do a cooking class (you need to make a reservation for that), or just order off the menu at the restaurant where everything is made from the items in the store.  We chose that latter.  Again, we did a bunch of small plates (3 is probably the right number for 2 people, but we ended up doing 4).  Again we tried to skew vegetarian, and everything was excellent and again around $60.

October 24, 2022

We drove from Meteora to Delphi, which is slightly out of the way of a direct line to Athens, but enough on the way that it made sense.  Delphi was one of the most important sites in classical Greece.  While the ruins are not as restored as they are at the Acropolis, it was still an amazing sight to see.  The temple of Apollo is the main building where the Pythia inhaled the fumes from the earth and rattled off her prophesies.  Around the temple and on the path up to sanctuary, there are ruins of treasuries, votives, and celebratory buildings that the city-states built to honor their victories as prophesized by the Pythia.  They have images of what the site would have looked like with everything constructed, and it would have been impressive.  There is also an archeological museum on the site that has all of the decoration and statuary that was found there and that needs to be protected from the elements.  On a side note, it is interesting that classical Greek buildings would have been polychromed and not have been complete plain white stone as we see them now.  But when they do the restoration and reconstruction, they do not usually repaint the buildings as they would have appeared at the time.  Delphi also has a restored theater, so we got some good shots of that.

We drove into Athens, got settled in our AirBnB, which has a nice outdoor patio, and then headed to dinner.  We went to Steki tou Ilia, a bit touristy, but well worth the $45 we spent on dinner.  We did a variety of small plates, most of them vegetarian, and we were full by the 4th plate.  

October 23, 2022

Wow! We thought Mt. Athos was neat, but it has nothing on Meteora.  Meteora, which means "suspended in air," is like Mt. Athos in that it is a collection of Orthodox monasteries perched in impossible locations. These were built later than the ones in Mt. Athos. The Athos monasteries were built starting in the 10th century; the monasteries at Meteora were built starting in the 15th century as monks were escaping Mt. Athos and the arrival of the Ottomans.

We drove about 2.5 hours from Thessaloniki, but you can also get here from Athens with about a 4.5 hour drive. We're staying the night in Kalabaka at the Theatro Odeon Meteora hotel. It was listed in the Lonely Planet guide, and each of the rooms is named after a Broadway or West End show, which we thought was cute for a couple of musical theater gays. Our room is "Illya Darling" which we had never heard of before. Parking is onsite and breakfast is included. The rooms are simple and clean; we didn't love the mattress on the bed, though.

The pictures below don't do the scenery justice. Stephen thought this was more incredible than the Grand Canyon, and Eli said this usurped a location in his top 3 (which had just recently been usurped by Plitvice).

The monasteries are cool, but you are somewhat limited to the spaces you're allowed to tour and take photos of. There are 6 monasteries still operating (at one point there were 24 monasteries in the area). We would recommend stopping into 2 or 3, but they got repetitive after a while. We stopped in to see the Great Meteoron Monastery, the Varlaam Monastery, and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.  We stopped by St. Stephan's so Stephen could get a selfie with his namesake monastery.  Definitely stop at the vista points along the route. There isn't much parking at the monasteries, so if you're here in high season, you may want to do an organized tour. Even for us, we had to park about 1.5km from a couple of the monasteries and walk.

We headed to the hotel for a quick shower and then drove back to one of the vista points to watch the sunset. On the way back, a couple of gen-z'ers asked us for a ride down the hill (they had hiked up but it was getting dark at this point). We obliged. One was Swiss and the other was Dutch. They had just met at the hotel.

For dinner, we went with the recommendation of the reception desk and went to Restaurant Meteora. The eggplant saganaki appetizer was awesome, and Eli said his pastitsio was the best he's had. Stephen's lamb in wine sauce was fall-off-the-bone. They all definitely felt like old family recipes.

October 22, 2022

We caught some of the sights today that we didn't get to see our first day here. We started with two early Byzantine churches (which we feel like we should call chapels since they're so small). Latamos monastery was built in the 5th century and restoration done in the 1980s revealed one of the original mosaics from that period. It also has some frescos from the 13th century.

From there we walked to Vlatadon monastery, on the way catching photos of the old town walls. Note, we would suggest seeing these two in reverse as Vlatadon is uphill from Latamos; take the bus up the hill and walk down. We caught the tail end of morning mass and then we're able to get some photos of the altar and frescos and the wood beamed ceiling.

Next we headed down to the bottom of the hill and to St. Demitrios Church and the Roman forum. St. Demetrios is built on the ruins of an earlier 5th century church which they are now excavating. You can see some of the old decorative items they've found lying around the courtyard. In the current sanctuary, they've done a good job of uncovering some of the old frescoes and mosaics that had been plastered over across the centuries while still having the church have a more contemporary look. 

The forum is also undergoing current excavation. They've done some good work showcasing parts of the floor mosaics that they've uncovered. You can also virtually explore how the forum looked with a video tour at the Archeological Museum. 

We stopped for lunch and smoothies at The Garden Bar and then headed back to rest before heading to our hamam experience. Since we weren't able to get our massages in Santorini, we thought this would be fun. The place we went was in the Makadonia Palace Hotel. They have a variety of packages, but we did 30 minutes in the hamam plus 30 minutes of massage and scrub. The masseurs work on you wile in the steam room.  They exfoliate your skin, use olive oil soap to wash you and then do the massage while they're lathering you. It was great, and we can feel the difference in our skin (and muscles).

Dinner was a place that Eli found online, but it ended up being a really good choice, SinTrofi. They also do small plates so again we did 2 veggies and then 2 meats this time. The pumpkin with sausage, Bleu cheese, and hazelnuts was our favorite, but the sauteed kale was also really good; it was creamy without having any cream. The schnitzel was with black pork, and the rooster was very tender. This is another one we'd highly recommend.

October 21, 2022

When we started looking at traveling to Greece back in July while we were in Copenhagen, we looked into the possibility of hiking to some of the monasteries in Mt. Athos. Mt. Athos is a self-governing community of 20 monasteries dating mostly to the 10th through 12th centuries. They only allow 100 male visitors a day into the area (women are not allowed) and only 10 of those male visitors can be non Eastern Orthodox. You hike from one monastery to the next and they out you up and feed you for the night.

They did have available entries for the days we would be in the area. But the more we looked at it, we thought there would be no room for error if our plan didn't go exactly right with timing pickups of tickets and everything, so we decided to not take the entries. Instead, we booked a tour by boat that takes you on the water past 8 of the larger monasteries. We booked with Athos Sea Cruises.

They are absolutely incredible to see, even from afar.  Many are perched on strep cliffs (vs. on hills) overlooking the sea.  The whole boat ride takes 4 hours (the last two hours are just returning to port), and it was about a two hour drive from Thessaloniki to where the boat left from, but it was worth it just to see them. We both remarked that now that we have a better idea of what's involved, we'll have to return and visit on foot some other time.

For dinner, we made a reservation at a spot recommended by our Lonely Planet guide, Mourga. It's another farm/sea to table establishment and the menu changes daily.  Everything is served to be shared at the table. We did 2 vegetable dishes (string beans in a Kaffir cream sauce and beetroot and beetroot greens) and two seafood dishes (mussels and amber jack). The mussels were the plumpest and most tender we've ever had. The veggie dishes were standouts also.

October 20, 2022

Our flight took off about 15 minutes late from Santorini, and we had a short connection in Athens for our flight to Thessaloniki, so we booked through the terminal and made it just before they closed the gate. The rest of the flight thankfully, was uneventful.

We are renting a car because we wanted to see some sights along the way between here and Athens. The cheapest we found was through Centauro Rent A Car, but we can't recommend them. First, though, something funny….

When we arrived on the shuttle bus to the car rental desk (Centauro is located off airport property), Eli noticed a vending machine and went over as he was thirsty. The vending machine serves beer….. in a CAR RENTAL AGENCY….. where people are about TO DRIVE.  That probably should have been our first clue. The entire check out process took about an hour, and that's mostly because the desk clerk kept trying to upsell us on a higher category of car. We had gotten a Peugeot 208 which is in the economy category, and they tried up selling us to an SUV and to a diesel something. In the end though we got an Audi A3.  Apparently, they didn't have our category of car and so were trying to get us to pay for an upgrade before having to give it to us for free.  There is also this sketchy thing where they pre charge you credit card for fuel and then refund it back when you return the car.  We weren't happy, and if we had another option at that point to use another agency, we probably would have.  We will say, though, that the A3 is very fun to drive.

Thessaloniki is Greece's second biggest city, and it's got a cosmopolitan flair, although most of the architecture is post war concrete brutalism. Traffic is also a problem; it took us an hour to get from the edge of downtown to our hotel. It's also a very young city. The area we're staying in is the commercial hub that goes on for about a mile in each direction. Our hotel, Colors, is literally steps from restaurants and the waterfront. It's small and basic; there are 12 rooms across 3 floors. Our room has a mini fridge but other than that, no real extra amenities. There's also some deferred maintenance that could be taken care of; our bathroom door didn't close all the way.

We checked in, parked the car, and then headed out for a bit. To orient ourselves to the city, we decided we'd start at the Archeological Museum. On the way, we stopped at the White Tower and at the umbrellas to snap some photos. Google Maps doesn't display public transit info for Thessaloniki, but they do have an app from the local transportation agency, OASTh. Unfortunately, the app is not the easiest thing to use. Luckily we got a bus going in the approximate direction we were heading and figured we'd jump off if it took any unexpected turns.

Thessaloniki has history as part of Greece, as part of the Roman empire, and as a major city in Byzantium. The museum was a great way to string all of that history together.  You can get a ticket for this museum only for 8 Euros, or you can get a combined ticket that covers the museum, the Rotonda, and the Byzantine Art museum for 15. You're still ahead if you do just 2 of the 3.

From the museum, we walked to see the Rotonda and the Arch of Galerius, both of which date from the Roman period. The arch celebrates a local prominent citizen and general.  The Rotunda was originally built as a mausoleum for Galerius but was converted into a church in the late 5th century.  During restoration in the 1920s, they uncovered some of the original Roman mosaics. There are some partial frescos dating from the 10th century as well. 

We walked back to the waterfront, checked out the sunset and then went back to the room to rest up before finding something to eat.  We did some "fast food" at a local Bao bun joint.  It was just what we needed.

October 19, 2022

Tramonto Secret Villas is owned by a company that has a number of hotels in Oia, so they gave us an option to take breakfast in our room or at the restaurant at their sister property on the caldera side.  We opted for the latter.  Since we’re really in a resort town, we decided to indulge a little and scheduled a couple’s massage for ourselves at a local spa.  It would have made more sense had we been able to do our day-long hike in Samaria Gorge before coming here, but a massage is always good.  When we got to the massage place, though, we had committed a typical "gringo" error.  We thought we had booked 4:30pm, but the email was written in military time and we didn't look closely; they were expecting us at 2:30pm (14:30), so we didn't end up getting our massages.  We watched the sunset from our balcony again, and then headed to dinner.

For dinner, we decided to follow our host’s advice and go to Roka.  The appetizer we had a Roka was excellent: a fava an onion tart.  Eli's main was better than Stephen's, but mostly a very solid meal.  We ended with a chocolate tart for dessert.

October 18, 2022

We got up bright and early to head to the port to take our ferry to Santorini.  Stephen took Dramamine to hopefully stave off the effects of seasickness because, based on the winds and the level of the seas we could see crashing against the fort the day before, we knew the ride would be rough.  In fact, they handed out seasickness bags to everyone before we left.  Eli decided to take a Dramamine too.  The seas were pretty bad for the first 2/3rds of the journey, but the sun came out and the seas calmed a bit as we got about a half hour away from Santorini.  We were glad we pre-booked our transfer, even though it wasn’t as crazy at the port as it would have been during high season.  Our driver whisked us quickly to Oia, which is on the northwest tip of the island.  Stephen had been to Santorini about 20 years ago, and at that time he stayed in Fira, the town in the middle of the island.  Oia is considered a little more exclusive, but both towns basically have the same look to them.

We booked at Tramonto Secret Villas, which is in the town and has a sea view, but not on the caldera side.  In the intervening years since Stephen was here last, prices have gone up significantly and it wasn’t in our housing budget to stay in one of the cliff houses.  In the end we spent about $180 per night (which was still more than our housing budget long-term) for a spot with a private pool and a sea view and that included breakfast.  A similar spot on the caldera side would go for close to $350/$400 a night, even in the shoulder season.  Eli booked this hotel using but through his benefits with the Capital One Venture X card.  We get 4% back through the portal for  You do, though, have to register to take advantage of this promotion.  There are other partners where you get as much as 10% off.

October 17, 2022

We knew this was likely to happen, but we got a phone call late yesterday that our planned hike of the Samaria Gorge got cancelled due to the crazy weather.  We were looking forward to this as it was something Stephen hadn't done the last time he was here and it's one of the top 10 hikes in Europe.  We'll have to hope that we are able to get back here eventually.  

Since it also wasn't a very nice day, we slept in late, Stephen went to scout out Lactaid pills at the pharmacies, and then we walked around looking for lunch.  Had just an okay meal at a cafe that reminded us of Next Cafe on South Beach ( a little bit of everything on the menu) and then came back to the room to get caught up on blogging and getting ready to head to Santorini.

We booked our transfers for the port and airport in Santorini.  We used Welcome Pickups, although you can get to Oia by public bus for much cheaper.  We couldn't get an accurate timetable for the buses from the ferry port to Fira, where we would have to transfer buses to get to Oia, and we were worried that in lower season they wouldn't be running frequently.  Apparently, though, during high season it's tough to get a spot on the bus anyway.  Our transfer was about $53.  Since we were only really going to be in Santorini for a day and a half, we thought it was worth it.  We also requested an early check-in for our room (which we were able to get).  

Dinner, again based on the recommendation of our guest house hosts, is at Peskesi.  We’ve had great success with host recommendations, and this was no different.  The restaurant is truly farm to table; they have their own farm on the island, grow all their own produce, press their own olive oil, tend their own livestock, and whatever else they need they source locally.  Michelin hasn’t visited the island, so there were no listing, however, Peskesi definitely would be in the Bib Gourmand category.  All the dishes we had were local recipes; simple food very well done.  

We had an opportunity to chat with the hostess who we had noticed had a very standard American accent when she greeted us at the door.  She had come over to the table because she was joking with the staff about a phone call from an American she had taken with a very particular American style accent.  We had overheard her and were chuckling a bit as well, so she was concerned that we were American and that she had offended us.  After acknowledging that, yes, in fact we were from the US, we assured her that we were in no way offended and were kind of in on the joke as well.  It turns out she was from Ohio but her family is Greek, and they all moved back to Crete about 6 years ago.  In any case, as we were chatting, the restaurant sent over dessert (complimentary) and a rose water liqueur (also complimentary), and they sent an extra liqueur for the hostess to drink with us.

A note about Greek hospitality and service.  This is the 3rd restaurant where they have served some complimentary meal ending dish along with some sort of liqueur (typically ouzo).  With that said, sometimes tracking down someone to get the check or something that might be missing is quite an ordeal.  Stephen noticed this the last time he was in Greece as well, so it’s just a part of the restaurant experience here.

October 16, 2022

Today was blustery and overcast, but at least it wasn't raining.  We had planned on going to Knossos Palace to see the Minoan ruins.  Stephen had been before when he was in Greece 20 years ago, but Eli hadn't been.  When Stephen had been there the first time, he had rented a car to get out there, so we did that again, even though it's only about a 15-20 minute drive from the city center.  There is now, though, a public bus that goes out there (it leaves from the same central station that the airport bus drops off at).  We're not sure how frequently it runs but unless you're combining Knossos with something else you need a car for, we would recommend trying the bus option.

The Minoan civilization was at its height from about 1800-1400 BCE, this is prior to classical Greece and between the Middle and New Kingdoms of Egypt.  The restoration of the site at Knossos is quite controversial, but we thought it balanced the need to maintain the ruined structure as is with allowing visitors to see sections and how they might have looked at the time.  When paired with a visit to the Archeology Museum (which Stephen didn't visit the last time he was here) in Heraklion, the restorations make a lot more sense, as some of the original frescoes and items taken from the site are there.  You can see, then, how the archeologists used this information to do the recreation at the site (although we both commented on how far some of the extrapolations had gone with just small pieces of original finds).   We also thought it was interesting to see the influences across cultures in the art of Minoan civilization, and this was something that they highlighted in the commentary.

At the recommendation of our guest house hosts, we went to Apiri for dinner.  It was a great recommendation.  Eli had the tomato and feta salad as his starter and Stephen had lamb meatballs; both were excellent.  Eli had the sea bass with a sea urchin sauce with fish croquette for his main, and Stephen had a goat stew.  The flavors in the goat stew were really satisfying and the meat was very tender;  it felt like they may have marinated it in yoghurt for a while.  He liked it as much as his favorite curried goat we used to get in Delray.

October 15, 2022

Our luck with flights seems to be running about 50-50 right now.  All was good on the way to Athens, but Crete has been experiencing some once-in-100-years weather, and the airport in Heraklion has been closed all day so far.  What was supposed to be a 1.5 hour layover has turned into 5 hours.  We used our Priority Pass membership that is free through our Chase Sapphire Reserve Cards to hang out in the contract lounge.  The contract lounges at most airports aren't really much, generally, but they offer free drinks and more comfortable seating than in the gate area.  Finally, around 5pm we took off and arrived at the airport in Heraklion around 6.  The airport, which is tiny, was a complete zoo.  We think all of the flights that had backed up throughout the day all landed together within the last hour.  We had to check our carry-on bags, so we waited at the belt; luckily they came after about 30 minutes of waiting.  We had originally thought we would just take a cab into town to save some time.  However, when we saw the taxi line about a football field long and 3 people wide, we decided to take the public bus.  The stop wasn't visible from where we walked out of the airport, and there were no directional signs, but we asked around and it was literally just past the taxi craziness.  Tickets for the bus are 2 euros and 20 cents each, and busses run every 10 minutes or so.  There is a booth where you can pay for your tickets for the bus using credit card or cash (which we were worried about because we got 50 euro notes out of the ATM and didn't think the driver would be able to make change for us).  There was a bus waiting and it left 2 minutes after we got on.... with about 5 people total on the bus.  We had more space on the bus than we would have had in the cab.  It goes straight toward the town center, with maybe 2 stops on the way.  Not bad for about $5 total.

We are staying in a small guesthouse, Porta Medina Boutique Hotel.  It has been in the family since the late 19th century, and they've been running it as a guesthouse since 2018.  It's got beautiful old wood floors, lots of exposed stone, and cute patterned glass windows.  With the crazy weather, though, the power went out in the middle of the night, turning on the bright emergency light in the room, which woke us up.  Annoying, but we understand it's a safety requirement.

We were hungry and looking for something fast, so we decided on an informal dinner.  Heraklion has a nice town center with lots of activity, even though it isn't very cohesively historic.  There were, though, a few nice buildings in the neighborhood.  We headed to Konostimie, as it was listed as small plates, which we thought would work and it had a 4.8 rating on Google.  It's a family run enterprise, and clearly known with the locals.  Thinking we were getting small plates, we ordered way too much food, as what we ordered were really full meals.  It is clearly a family run restaurant; the son is the host and waiter.  He was very energetic and conversant (and we thought he might be on the spectrum, as he had a unique interest in the Everglades, as well as some other signs like lack of eye contact).  He was super nice and generous, though, asking if we were gay "just to check his gaydar" and offering a complimentary crepe for dessert.  We were appreciative.  

We were so tired out from our journey, we didn't get any pictures from the travel day.