Friday, 29 April 2016

MY EUROPEAN HOLIDAY - I LOVE SANTORINI

Hello my dear readers,

As you recall from my previous post, the next stop on our itinerary was the Greek island of Santorini.  I don’t know a single person who, if they haven’t been here, or have at least seen a poster, a greeting card or photograph depicting the blue domed roofs overlooking the sea.
The house with blue dome in Oia, Santorini
We couldn’t wait to see it with our own eyes.  My husband wanted us to rent a car so we would have the flexibility of going anywhere at any time that we like, so after our plane landed in Fira, the modern capital of Santorini, late in the afternoon, we went straight to the car rental desk to pick up the car.  When the clerk behind a counter handed us a map and explained that the streets and roads don’t really have names nor you will you see any traffic lights and all we need to do to find our way around the island is to follow the main road, I immediately knew that we were in for some “fun”.  So we loaded the car with our luggage and off we went.
I LOVE SANTORINI

Down a winding road
Well, the fun began right outside the airport gates.  First of all, like everywhere in Europe 
and US of A, people drive on the opposite side of the road to us, Australians; second - the roads of Santorini mostly are quite narrow and winding and the main one that runs along the coast is flanked by the sheer drop down to the sea far below on one side and the rocky cliffs on the other.  The cars are understandably compact, everyone drives quite fast making tourists fear for their dear lives, being either hit by another car or thrown over the railing.  None of this actually ever happened except in my imagination.  Meanwhile, the view from the road over the sea was absolutely breathtaking but I was so terrified in anticipation of an accident that I didn’t take my eyes off the road, time to time begging my husband not to run us into a cliff.
The blue domes of Oia

I LOVE SANTORINI

A view over caldera and Aegean Sea
On the second day, however, I felt more relaxed, the roads looked more familiar and the drivers less threatening and I began to appreciate the idea of having your own mode of transportation and not having to rely on buses or taxis.
I LOVE SANTORINI

I LOVE SANTORINI
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There are several villages and towns in Santorini and choosing a place to stay is a matter of personal preference.  We chose to stay in Oia, probably the most charming cliff-perched place on the island about half an hours drive from the airport.   It is less touristic then Fira, besides it is renowned  for its blue domes, spectacular sunsets, peace and tranquility.
Sunset over Aegean Sea
The majority of accommodation is provided in the form of villas or estates mostly facing the caldera with a sweeping view over the Aegean Sea.  But do be careful when choosing one as many of them are situated on the steep cliffs and if didn’t do your due diligence properly, you might end up carrying your suitcases down quite a few flights of narrow stairs to your hotel and then hoisting them up on the way home and if you leave your hotel you need to confront all those steps every time.  And that is not fun, believe me.
Main square of Oia, Santorini

I LOVE SANTORINI
Anyway, we only had to take thirteen steps to the front door of our villa, which unusually had its own parking area, and as we stepped outside onto the balcony and took in the view and the surroundings, we felt that we were in heaven.
Sun setting over Santorini

Santorini at night


I LOVE SANTORINI
We spend the next two days driving around Santorini, exploring the coast with its astonishing view over the caldera and the Aegean Sea and myriads of small islands, visiting the black sand beach, eating local food and just enjoying the vistas, the ever changing presence of the water, the sun and the magic ambiance of this gorgeous island.
There was one flaw, though.  As in Athens, the wind was so cold that at night I had to wear a coat that I would normally wear during the Sydney winter, gloves, scarf, and warmers - the works.

A main church of Fira
But even cold weather could not stop us from falling in love with Santorini.  This island is a perfect example of the saying: “A picture is worth thousand words" and the memories that we took away with us are all about the warmth and beauty of one of this world’s natural wonders.
Having good time in Santorini

Linking up with Not Dressed as Lamb

Monday, 18 April 2016

MY EUROPEAN HOLIDAY 2016 - ATHENS

Hello again, everyone

It has been quite a while since I told you about our upcoming holiday to Europe. Now that we are back and I have got over the jet-leg, answered multitudes of e-mails, dealt with mountains of mail and stored away the suitcases, I am ready to share with you our latest European adventure. 

The first stop on our itinerary was Greece’s capital, Athens.   I must say we felt quite apprehensive about this city ever since a few people we asked about it, told us that they didn’t like it at all primarily because they thought it is dirty and cannot offer much apart from the ancient ruins and good food.

We landed in the late afternoon and took a cab to our hotel.  We chose to stay at Royal Olympic Hotel for its position in the city centre and proximity to the Acropolis.  Fitting to its name, the interior of the hotel's lobby looked very imposing and was styled in what you typically associated with Greek taste:  marbled floors throughout, tall marble columns supporting star studded ceilings, comfortable couches upholstered in heavy brocade were invitingly positioned around the reception and lobby area, and here and there were huge gilded ornate pots brimming with orchids and lush green foliage.  Our room was decorated in a similar manner and looked very plush and luxurious without being ostentatiously vulgar.  But the focal point of the room was a spectacular view over the Temple of  Olympian Zeus lit up at night and looking absolutely majestic.

TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS

Our breakfast was served on the roof-top restaurant offering a spectacular vista over the city and the Acropolis alongside the delicious and fresh food this country is renowned for.
A VIEW OVER ACROPOLIS FROM A ROOF TOP
We spent the first day sightseeing the city from the top deck of a Red Hop-on Hop-off bus making mental notes of the places we would like to return to later on to explore at our own pace which we did in the next couple of days knowing that from where we staying we could walk to a lot of city's attractions such as the Acropolis, the famous PlakaErmou Street and the archeological site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  
EXPLORING THE CITY OF ATHENS

EXPLORING THE CITY OF ATHENS
We ate mostly at local taverns and cafes, ordering traditional dishes such as stuffed squid, grilled Dorado fish or octopus and one of my favorites, chocolate or honey glazed loukoumades (Greek donuts) and I don’t recall one bad meal.  
A VIEW OF ATHENS FROM THE ACROPOLIS
Only once, at my husband’s insistence, we dined at a fine dining restaurant called Spondi.  Despite my jokes about him being the biggest snob I know, it was nice to be dressed in your finest, seated at a dining table covered in starched linen table cloth and be waited upon by your own sommelier, bus boy and waiter.
BYZANTINE CHURCH

But sightseeing was not the only thing that you can do while in Athens.  You can also go shopping and if you need to fully re-stock your wardrobe, head on to Ermou Street in the city centre where you can find any type of clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry and much much more.  This long pedestrian strip is not only your ultimate shopping destination, this is the place to see and be seen.  And when you grow tired of spending money on clothes, take a break at one of the myriad of coffee shops that line the street for a glass of frappe and one of the delectable Greek desserts.
AN ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF PARTHENON



AN ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF PARTHENON
If you continue walking down Ermou Street, you eventually reach the Plaka, "the old historical neighborhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, and incorporating labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture".  Here you can lose yourself in the narrow spiral streets admiring the architecture of the buildings, or visit an art gallery to appreciate the talent of native artists, eat and drink at one of multitudes of restaurants, taverns and bars.  It is an ultimate shopping destination for local souvenirs, beauty products made with local olive oil or honey, leather goods, pottery, home décor, clothes and whatever more.  Every shop in the Plaka is open late, the whole area feels very alive and vibrant and if you care to look up, you will see lit up, the tall majestic columns of the Parthenon against a dark night sky.  A thought that this structure has been standing there since 447 BC makes it appear etherial.
PARTHENON AT NIGHT


A WHISKY BAR IN PLAKA


As it is quite often happens in life, the things that you least expect to be meaningful turn out to be something very special.  Yes, the country is in economic turmoil with humongous national debt but the people were very cheerful, extremely friendly and helpful, the food was great and everything was quite cheap despite the low conversion rate.
A TEMPLE OF POSEIDON

PLAKA AT NIGHT

The only downfall was the weather.  Despite the fact that we were there in spring, the temperature didn't rise past 15 degrees and to make matters worse, the northerly wind made us feel the chill factor even more.  The day we decided to climb the hill to the Acropolis the wind up there was so strong that I had to grab my husbands’ hand in fear of being blown away. 
A SOLDIER GUARDING PARLIAMENT HOUSE

A SUNSET OVER ONE THE 6000 GREEK ISLANDS

Our verdict – this city is definitely worth visiting.  However, our time in Athens was up, our bags all packed we were heading for our next destination – Santorini.

Linking up with Not Dressed as Lamb