This week I returned from one of my best vacations to date. Sure you can say this was up there with the other highly anticipated getaways that have been on my bucket list since forever. But I believe the reason this getaway was so special was because it gave me a taste of everything I love about traveling – experiencing the food and the culture, learning the history, taking in the breathtaking scenery, enjoying the R&R, and maybe going for a little adventure – it was the total package. And for that I must say that if you are looking for all of the above, Greece should be on your list of travel destinations as well.
We started off our journey in Athens, which is not unlike many of your other major bustling cities around the world where you experience tall buildings, tons of tourists, street vendors and yes, rush hour. There was yet, something charming about Athens and in addition to that, LOTS of history. I thoroughly enjoyed our tour of downtown Athens, which included a stop at the Panathaneic Stadium (home of the first modern Olympic Games) and the infamous Acropolis of Athens where the Parthenon is located. By the way, these two should not be confused. We learned that the Acropolis is the elevated ground on which the Parthenon, the most famous Greek temple, and many other temples and monuments sit. It was fascinating to learn about the preservation of the original structure and experience the fairly new museum sitting adjacent to the Acropolis that houses most of the artifacts of ancient Greece.
From Athens, we hopped over to the magnificent island of Santorini. Of the three destinations we visited within Greece, Santorini was my favorite. It was literally one of the most beautiful, charming, peaceful places I’ve encountered yet. I’m quite sure the hotel where we stayed, the Santorini Palace, had a lot to do with it – it was literally a slice of heaven here on Earth. The open hallways with a light warm breeze flowing through, the bright blue water, contrasting against the white structures, the breathtaking views of the sunset over the cliffs, oh my!
While in Santorini, we had an opportunity to visit a charming little winery that was built literally into the side of the cliff. While Greece is not really known for their wine (it’s not the best), it was fascinating to see the production of it and witness a wine tasting on the side of a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. I did enjoy one of the Rose’s we tasted and brought a little back for me to enjoy this summer (wink).
The second island we visited was Mykonos, known for its beaches, shopping and partying. While I can’t say we had the party experience everyone raved about, we did have an opportunity to enjoy the beach and appreciated the options of nice restaurants to choose from on Ornos Beach, one in particular that provided free beach chairs and beach beverage and food service. Being the massage junky that I am, I couldn’t resist giving one of the masseuse hustlers on the beach my business. I called myself supporting the local economy. (smile)
While Santorini was my favorite island overall, I would have to say my best experience of the trip was going on a five hour catamaran sailing experience in Mykonos. I was amazed by the overwhelming beauty of the different colors of blue and green waters the further we sailed out into the Aegean. It made me ALMOST want to hop in, which I would have if the water hadn’t been so cold! A few of my adventurous friends decided to partake in spite of the frigid temps but I think I’ll wait on my next trip back towards the summer months when the water is warmer.
In addition to the scenery, the catamaran crew was so delightful, we wanted to take them all back home with us. Not to mention the amazing meal they cooked fresh on the boat…I was in heaven! If you travel to Greece, definitely make sure you have some type of sailing experience and be sure to call on Mykonos Catamaran if you are in Mykonos! …Thank me later.
Speaking of food, you know as a foodie I have to give you my impressions of the cuisine overall in Greece. While some was better than others, I can’t say that I had a bad meal in Greece. Everything, particularly the vegetables, were so fresh and of course the carnivore that I am loved the plentiful meat options. One thing I was surprised by was the lack of “fresh” seafood. We were warned by one of the delightful staff members in our Santorini hotel that most restaurants that claim to have fresh seafood, aren’t really being that straightforward, unless it is an expensive dish. That being said, I did have some of the best salmon I’ve tasted in Santorini and the prawns in Mykonos were delicious as well without beating up my pockets too bad.
My second favorite experience was partaking in a cooking class in Athens. It was fascinating to learn about their many uses of yogurt and while they are meat eaters for sure, vegetables are a huge part of the Greek diet. Thanks to our chef and teacher Eva, who was also amazing, I can now say that I know how to make spanakopita (one of my favorite Greek dishes), zucchini balls, and stuffed grape leaves, which I never in a million years think I would like but they were actually tasty!
A few things to note that I wasn’t aware of prior to traveling to Greece:
Bring your mosquito repellant. Yes there are tons of mosquitos, especially on the islands (Mykonos more specifically). Some of us were not as badly affected as others but I was literally eaten alive. I had never experienced mosquitos in Europe…I guess there’s a first time for everything!
If you have a thing about cats, Greece is probably not the place for you. Being a cat lover, I didn’t mind, but they have an abnormally large cat population. We literally saw cats everywhere, including on the property of the hotels and restaurants. Think iguanas to the Mexico and the Caribbean. If I didn’t know any better I would think cats were the official animal of the country.
In addition to olives, and thus olive oil, honey is kind of a big deal in Greece. It’s literally everywhere. After doing a Google search when I returned home I found Greece has some of the best honey in the world because it is produced from bees that feed on countless wild plants that are part of the Greek flora, which is the richest in Europe. Who knew? Needless to stay, I stocked up on it and brought some back for me and my loved ones.
Opa isn’t a real word. And darn it if that wasn’t the only word I knew when I arrived lol. Sure Greeks use it frequently, but we learned it’s an expression like “Oh” or “yay” or my favorite, “Owwww” to express excitement or sometimes shock. It started off as a word more like “oops” in English when a mistake was made like breaking a plate unintentionally, but in true Greek fashion, they found a way to celebrate that.
This brings me to my next point. I love the overall warm and inviting culture of Greece. To me, it had a different feeling than many of the other European countries I’ve visited. Sure there were a few people with bad attitudes here and there (which is to be expected anywhere) but they were greatly overshadowed by the many others who were very welcoming and pleasant. To me, the people of a destination can make or break your experience. I’ve heard many travelers talk about how they would never return to a place because of the rudeness and unwelcoming nature of the natives.
I could literally write for days about my first experience in Greece but since I know it won’t be my last, I’ll save some for later. Stay tuned for more on my next Big Fat Greek Getaway. Until then, yamas (cheers)!