Monday, July 16, 2018

Our Heavenly Hellenic Honeymoon: Part Four: Paros

The final stop on our journey was at the recommendation of Lenni's parents. The island of Paros had been their happy place during the earliest days of their relationship and we couldn't say no to their romantic descriptions of private coves and traditional Greek island life.

Parikia, Paros ended up being our favorite place that we honeymooned. It has been challenging to gather the words to accurately illustrate our experience. As we stepped onto a 600 person boat with only about 50 other passengers, we knew we were about to experience something much more personalized than the touristic island life that we had left behind on Santorini and Mykonos.

Our AirBNB
This traditional blue and white bougainvillea draped home was just the right place to end our trip. Our AirBnB hostess made arrangements to have us picked up from the ferry, although it was only a 5-7 minute walk from the harbor. Almost immediately, we realized that this home was in the best possible location: 3 minute walk to beachfront and 2 minute walk from the main restaurant and shopping strip in the center of the traditional town of Parikia.

With two bedrooms and a full kitchen, the space was almost too much for us. We decided that we would be remiss to not at least cook our own breakfast in this beautiful space, so we made a short walk to the grocery store. Making our own meal in this home sounds forgettable, but it was a highlight of our stay. The windows, balconies, and decor had us daydreaming about what it might be like to leave our home in Boston and put down roots in Paros.

Must- Dos
The best advice we can give you when traveling to this beautiful island is the same advice Lenni's parents gave to us. Pick up on the slow pace of this stunning island, revel in its beauty, listen to the water and relax in the sand. Talk to locals as you wander in and out of the beautiful shops. Have a true Greek experience with no frills.

Beaches and Sunsets
If you are at the harbor with the ferries behind you, take a left
and follow the road along the beach. Walk past the tavernas directly on the beach until you hit a narrow and rocky "goat path" (pictured here in Lenni's father's map!). Stick to this uphill hike for about 20-30 minutes and as you descend you will come along a less populated beach with the clearest water. Here there are also a few restaurants with sunbeds if you prefer that style. For more privacy, continue past this beach back up the dirt path to discover a series of secret coves and smaller beaches for the clearest waters and an intimate swimming experience- these beaches put Mykonos beaches to shame!

Use the beach by the Harbor as your sunset point. Eat dinner at any of these waterfront restaurants (most of the food in Parikia is homecooked and traditional style), grab a drink at the windmill bar, or just sit on the rocks directly in front of the water for the brightest, reddest sunset descending behind distant rocks and ruins.

Wander in and out of the artist's shops. It is not a very long stretch- we went into every single shop. Life is at a much slower pace here. You will find that some stores close in the afternoon for a few hours before reopening in the evenings. Most of the clothing and jewelry designers and artists are the shop owners. They love talking with tourists about their hand-made merchandise. We were so enchanted by the authentic goods and ended up doing most of our souvenir shopping in Parikia. We also found that the vendors were grateful to an endearing point, which in turn made us feel great about our spending!

Quick Tip: Everything is cheaper on Paros! If you are buying souvenirs or plan to go shopping, do it on an island like this!  Also, you'll find that a typical lunch or breakfast with coffees and fresh juice or smoothies was only about 15-20 euros for two people and dinner never cost us more than 30 euros for two...about half the price of Mykonos and Santorini.

If you are lucky, you may also find yourself in the middle of a free traditional music event performed by locals of all ages!

There are some historic sites to see, including the Paros Archaeological Museum, most famous for its statue of Gorgo (Medusa), and many haunting headstones. This museum is small but worth a look.

Nearby, you'll find the enormous the Church of Panagia Ekatontapilian, which houses the Byzantine Museum. In the middle of the main hub are the stacked remains of the Frankish Castle. There is no guide or tour needed for these sites. Just relax and enjoy!

After three perfect sunsets, we left the final destination of our Greek experience feeling satisfied with our Hellenic Honeymoon. Paros was the cherry on top of an ideal and decadent dessert! Although there were other areas on Paros that we could have bused over to visit (the very hip Naoussa and the quaint traditional mountain town of Lefkes are on our list for next time!), we could not get enough of Parikia and made it our own. This intimate experience allowed us to leave feeling as if we were taking a piece of Greek island life home with us.

Paros, we will be back for you. Until then, we daydream about your quiet and humble majesty.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Our Heavenly Hellenic Honeymoon: Part Three: Mykonos

Ah, Mykonos: the party of the cycladic islands, known for its fun beaches, fancy commercial shopping and wild night-club life.

Lenni spent her formative years summering in Greece during a unique ballet program that her mother founded, which brought an opportunity for American students to train and dance with Greek students.

Mykonos was always a hot-spot on this trip. As a young child Lenni practiced her duck-face and dressed in her cutest summer outfit in preparation for the day when she too could dance with the sexy fruit boy at the famous "disco-techs!"

...while the desired outcome of the experience has altered for Lenni, Mykonos' charm and sparkle lived up to the standard set all those years ago. 

Our Hotel:
Mykonos is a tourist hub, which makes it quite expensive. We chose to stay in Mykonos Town, walking distance from everything, and we were able to find an affordable GEM of a hotel: Hotel Madelena.

This hotel also offered complimentary breakfast and free transport to and from the ferry port which saved us some major money on such an expensive island! This was also the most comfortable bed we slept on in Greece.

We did pay a bit more for a superior sea view room and it was worth every penny; the superior sea view room offered a perfect sunset view from our private patio. The room was modern, large and beautiful.

They also offer a romantic package, which includes vintage Greek wine, Greek chocolate, fresh fruit, roses, and bougainvillea petals across the bed. Although our package was not ready for our arrival, we were able to enjoy our final sunset with these wonderful treats!

Oh, did we mention that we had an incredible view of some unexpected fireworks?

Must Dos:
Shopping and "Disco-Techs"
On this island, you will find all the same commercial designers, stores and businesses you will find in any major city. It goes without saying that wandering the maze of blue and white appointed streets is the best way to discover one-of-a-kind boutique shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Getting lost among the shops and small churches was one of our favorite things to do in Mykonos!

We also began to notice a trend on this island. While nightlife is going on, many of the small churches remain open for prayer, viewing, and candle lighting.

What you should note is that around 11pm EVERYTHING, even tiny coffeeshops that one wouldn't think would lend themselves to partying, transforms into nightclubs formerly known as "disco-techs."

We stayed out and saw a bit of this transition. But being the 80-year-olds we are, we preferred to walk-about the town while everyone else was paying entrance fees to get hammered and bump and grind to loud music ;-)

The Windmills

The Windmills of Mykonos are clearly the centerpiece of this island. Take a stroll up for a photo-op and a beautiful view. The windmills are very accessible from anywhere in Mykonos Town.

Waterfront Sunset Dinner in Little Venice

From the windmills, walk down to the water toward the waterfront bars and restaurants. This area is part of what is known as "Little Venice."

From any of these restaurants pictured here, you will witness a glorious sunset to the right with the Windmills insight on the left.

Quick tip: Many of these restaurants will not take reservations during the sunset. We made a 7:30 pm reservation at Sunset Taverna and milked our meal to make it through the 8:45pm sunset.

Petros the Pelican

Surprise! We had made it a goal to find Petros the Pelican, the iconic Mykonos mascot, and discovered him literally inside our restaurant "helping" the owner work on his computer. The relationship between these two was incredible! Legend has it that a Mykonian fisherman discovered a wounded pelican and nursed him back to health. The pelican remained on the island and was loved by locals and tourists alike. Although the original Petros passed away many years ago, he became so synonymous with Mykonos that there are 3 pelicans currently residing on the island, one of whom was also wounded and taken care of by locals and another who was donated by Jackie Kennedy!

Quick Tip: Keep your eyes out for one of the three pelicans particularly around the harbor front where they are rumored to hang out!

What to know about the Beaches:
All right, so Mykonos is known for its beaches, but we are going to offer you a different view. In order to get to these beaches, you will need to take a short bus ride for a few euros. Not a big deal. We chose Platys Gialos. We didn't realize that there is no public area to put down a towel and hang out. You must pay for a sun-bed or service through a restaurant. This is not our jam at all and within minutes, we hopped a bus back to Mykonos Town where found a spot on the public beach on the outskirts of little Venice. It wasn't super clean, but for the purposes of sunning and dipping in the water, it was a better option.

Ancient Delos

This sacred archaeological site is thought to be the birthplace of the god, Apollo and his sister, Artemis. It was also a center for trade, making it quite a wealthy and exclusive island in ancient times. You see this in the remains of the homes and mansions that extend across the island. Overtime religious rule dictac\ted that all burial sites must be removed from Delos, and later on, births and deaths were forbidden here...go figure...

We love this kind of stuff and would highly recommend this half day trip. We left around 9am and were back by 2pm. The 30-minute ferry ride out of the old port in Mykonos to the island of Delos was relaxing, and the sea breeze offered some relief from the hot sun. We booked our group tour through Get Your Guide Tours. Although finding our tour guide once we got off the ferry was a bit challenging, there are very few tour guides available on-site, and we were able to get right through the crowded entrance line (which can take over an hour on busy days) due to our tour guide's practice at rushing  off the ferry to grab her group's tickets! 

Barbara, like each of our previous tour guides, was incredibly knowledgeable about the site. What made her tour so unique was her fusion of etymology with ancient Greek culture and mythology.

The most famous landmark here is the Terrace of Lions that date back to 3,000 BC. These marble statues were given to Delos as a dedication to Apollo from the island of Naxos. While the photo-op is outside with the replica lions, you can check out the 5,000-year-old lions and other marble and stone collections inside the small museum on the island.

We did a little bit of everything here. Outside of the waterfront sunset dinner, we made no reservations. It was enjoyable to spontaneously pop into beautiful spots on more hidden streets. 

A stand-out was Vinos Wine Bar and Restaurant. If you are stopping for a drink, you can sit on cushions that adorn the stairs and benches built into the sidewalk, lit by lanterns as the night-life strolls past you. Devon is still raving about his Greek pizza from Vinos!

If you are looking for delicious and filling lunch snack that pairs beautifully with a frappe, try the fried feta and honey at Caesar's! 

It is hard to believe that Mykonos was our shortest stay! This was the first (mostly) unscheduled stop on our honeymoon and we were in our element here. Although not romantic in the same way as Santorini, the views will forever be imprinted in our hearts.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Our Heavenly Hellenic Honeymoon: Part Two: Santorini

Santorini is the stuff dreams are made of. Welcome to the romance novel of our honeymoon adventure. Every view was the greatest, every excursion was the best, and every meal was the most expensive! 
Thira, as it was originally called, holds a small sought out chapel named Saint Irene near Perissa Beach. Over time accents led to the misunderstanding, and the island of Saint Irene Chapel came to be known as Santorini.

Quick Tip: Although you can drink from the tap in Athens, you can only drink bottled water on the islands. Budget extra money for buying a few large bottles of water daily. You will be charged by the bottle for all water ordered in restaurants. The same goes for bread. If you are offered bread at a restaurant, it is not complimentary. You will see a charge on the bill ;-)


For our Santorini stay we chose against the extravagant and modern resort hotels in favor of a traditional cave dwelling.

The Zoe-Aegeas Traditional House booked through was one of the highlights of our trip. We booked the studio. The coziness of the inside was the perfect contrast to the expansive view from our private balcony. We chose to stay in Oia, which is literally the place on the Greek postcards, so we knew this would be pricey. But for the location, which is the pedestrian and donkey only area of this highly commercial island, this place was a steal and far more unique and authentic than many of the surrounding luxury hotels.

The property owner, Zak was one of our favorite people that we met across our honeymoon. He greeted us every morning with fresh breakfast cakes made by his wife. We took every dining suggestion he made and did not regret it! Among these suggestions was a beautiful garden restaurant with live Greek music just off the main drag in Oia called Candouni. It may have been the only occassion that we did not dine outside, but the ambiance, music and delicious traditional Greek food were well worth the change from our Caldera views.

Quick Tip: If your hotel offers you a transfer from the Port of Thira to or from your hotel or BNB TAKE IT! We did not realize how difficult, stressful and chaotic getting a transfer to our hotel from the port was and thought we could get "cheaper rate." Anything that you can pre-book in the 30-40 euro range for a direct transfer, accept. We paid only 25 euro for our transfer up, but Oia is on the farthest point from the port. It took over an hour to get up a nauseating mountain on our mini-bus, and we were the final stop after making stops in pretty much every town for other riders.

Must Dos in Oia, Santorini

Caldera Massage Studios

If you splurge on a single thing in Santorini, make a sunset massage reservation at Caldera Massages Studio. There are only two sunset packages per day. Following your INCREDIBLE massage services in the most calming cave you will ever enter, you will then SHOWER in said cave.

You will then be given one of two private terraces with champagne, treats, and chocolates to watch the sunset from one of the best view points in Oia.

Atlantis Books

We stopped into many of the boutique shops, mostly for browsing. We couldn't help making several stops and purchases at Atlantis Books. It is aesthetically stunning, and also brings cave-like charm to your book browsing experience.

Ammoudi Bay
If you don't mind the smell and actively dodging donkey-poop, head on the down 214 steps (nothing compared to walking up the 587 stairs from Fira to the old port) to Ammoudi Bay to Ammoudi Fish Tavern for the freshest and fullest portions of fish you've ever seen.

Also, the view isn't terrible....

Ok, so it will be expensive here. Daily breakfast alone was 40-50 euros for two, which is about the same price as most of our lunches and dinners. We mentioned two of our favorite restaurants above, but one of our favorite places for breakfast, fresh fruit and honey, juice and coffee was Meteor Cafe. Not too pricey, and if you sit inside, you will have a lovely ocean view and breeze!

Quick Tip:  You can save over 10 euro a meal if you don't order fresh juices and freddo espresso with every we did.

Andronis Boutique Exclusive Hotel is the home of a Lycabettus Restaurant (named for Lycabettus Hill in Athens). For a small mortgage payment, you can sit suspended on a cliff over the Caldera with an incredible view of Oia as the sun sets. Ok, so it's not a mortgage payment, but be warned that in order to dine here as someone staying outside the hotel, you must select between two tasting menus that will run you over $200/person (there is a third that comes with a wine pairing, a Sommelier, and the pictured pink chairs...this one is too expensive to disclose).

In order to reserve a table in this exclusive area you must also put down a deposit. It was an incredibly special experience and probably not one we will be able to partake in on any other occasion. The service was so intimate and personalized that we were not sure how to handle it at points- we felt like royalty here! Very much worth the one time splurge!

Santorini Sunset  Dinner Cruise, Hot Springs and Nea Kameni
This excursion booked through Trip Advisor and hosted by Notos Travel was a packed 9 hour day, but still somehow relaxing. After making the terrifying journey back down the winding cliff to port, we boarded a beautiful boat and headed to the active volcano Nea Kameni (Newly Burnt).

This hike would be challenging for some, particularly in the heat. What was most enjoyable about this portion of the excursion was putting into perspective the magnitude of the Minoan volcanic eruption that formed Santorini over 3,000 years ago!

Lenni was forced to submerge herself fully in water and swim 100 meters to the hot springs, after 15 years of never entering water past her shins. But fear not fellow sea-fearing humans! Unlike the murky Cape Cod waters, the water here is startlingly clear with not a fish in sight. While the hot springs are not all that hot, it was definitely a stunning backdrop for a relaxing soak.

The final few hours were spent on-board celebrating the beautiful sunset in the middle of the caldera (people actually applaud for the beautiful sunsets), eating traditional Greek food, and sharing wine with other boat passengers. The evening culminated in a rousing traditional Greek dance before heading back to port. This was when Lenni had her "I am Greek" emotionally epiphany.

Akrotiri, Black Sands of Perissa Beach and Santos Winery

Another long day booked through Trip Advisor, hosted by Notos Travel , but a MUST DO for the history nerds. Akrotiri is the excavation site of an ancient city that was covered in ash following the Minoan eruption over 3,000 years ago. This site was closed for 7 years following a deadly roof cave-in in 2005. Unfortunately, there is currrently no money for furthering the excavation of the estimated 3% of this city that has been uncovered to date. Our tour guide, Katie (proudly of Cretan descent) was passionate and engaging in her expert lecturing on the site.

We were then bused over the a tiny, beautiful, traditional town named Megalochori. We walked the length of this quaint and sleepy town in 10 minutes. It was fascinating to see daily life outside of the tourist realm. The truth is, the locals barely come in the summer heat because there is no reason to leave home! In Megalochori there seemed to be more churches than people and just a few adorable restaurants. However slow, this town offered a completely different experience in our understanding of authentic life on the Greek Isles.

Our next stop was a beachfront bite and a dip at Perissa Beach. The black volcanic sand is just another feature synonymous with the island's history.

Quick Tip: Do not walk barefoot on this sand...bring your sandals close to the water line. It is scalding hot!

We made one quick stop to the highest point in Santorini for a view of the entire island. Although there was some vertigo involved, the view was once in a lifetime!

We made one last pit stop at Santos Winery where we met a lovely couple from Texas who were following a similar vacation path to ours. It was awesome to kick-back during the short wine tasting and compare experiences while taking in yet another glorious view!

Quick Tip: Wine lovers should set up a full tasting around sunset independently of this tour!

We fell so in love with Santorini. Its history is as mesmerizing as it is mysterious, and this mystery certainly creates an impression on the soul that will be remembered over and over in the course of a lifetime. Santorini, we will meet again....

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