Forgive us Father, for it has been over two weeks since our last blog post. Something about spending a few weeks in the Greek Isles can make you lazy. It’s been a nice change of pace from Italy, which is so packed with art, culture, and history that you just can’t sit idle. The islands of Greece are a different story. Aside from a few ancient Greek ruins there isn’t much to see here, which leaves plenty of time for relaxing on the beach, from which there are plenty to chose.
We started our travels through Greece over 3 weeks ago on the island of Mykonos. It’s a touristy spot typically visited by young Europeans looking for a party. Though it’s a hedonistic free-for-all in July and August (or so we hear), by the time we arrived in late September it was quite relaxed. The Greek islands are very seasonal and we only caught the tail end of the season. Almost every day we saw another bar, restaurant or hotel shut down for the winter.
Mykonos is favored by tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque “little Venice” village, and hot night clubs. You’ll see plenty of photos of the first two in our video… the clubs were dead this time of year. It was a great place to visit but different than we expected. Being from the southeast United States, the islands to which we’re most accustomed are the Caribbean type – lush, green, and tropical. The Greek Isles, especially those in the Cyclades where Mykonos is found, are much different – dry, barren, and very windy. They have a rugged feel that we weren’t expecting, but still came to love.
After 4 days in Mykonos, Jared headed off to Ios for a few days to learn windsurfing while Lauren luxuriated on the beach in Mykonos a bit longer. Ios was similar to Mykonos in size, but even more laid back and less developed. The crowd there was mostly backpackers from Australia and the UK. There were very few Americans to be found, which is a common trend we’ve noticed during our travels. It’s interesting that the US has about 10x the population of Australia, and yet there seem to be 10x more Aussies than Americans traveling abroad.
Next came Santorini. Our Lonely Planet guidebook starts its Santorini chapter with the sentence, “Santorini will take your breath away.” That pretty much sums it up.
Santorini is a volcanic island, which bestows it with a much different character from its neighbors and impressive beauty. It forms part of a caldera, which is essentially a giant hole in the water left by an erupted volcano. The part of Santorini that faces the volcano that birthed it is a sheer cliff rising hundreds of meters above the water. There is a plateau atop the cliff that hosts Thira, the island’s main village. One couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place to build a Greek village.
Though we visited Thira a few times on our rented scooter, we stayed on the other side of the island which tapers gently into the sea. All the best beaches were on our side, one of which was a convenient 50 meters from our hotel. The sand was black since it formed from volcanic rock, which made it pleasing to the eye but very hot on the feet!
Santorini has a lot to offer a tourist beyond just its beaches. One day we took an evening boat cruise to visit the volcano, some hot springs, and watch the sunset off the coast of Oia, a town on the northwestern tip Santorini. Ioa is known for its sunsets and we saw why – the view of the sun setting is obstructed only by the bend of the Earth. Watching it seem to sink slowly into the water was an unforgettable experience.
We also watched the sunset one evening from the Santos Winery that sits atop a cliff, nibbling on cheese and wine samples of course. Some of our best photos were taken there.
We intended to stay in Santorini for less than a week but it turned into 10 days, partially because we loved it so much and partially because Jared was waiting on a package from home that got stuck in customs. A word of advice to anyone sending items from the US to the European Union: no matter what the contents, only write on the customs form “Personal Effects, Clothing. Value $20.” Trust us on this one.
In Santorini we were fortunate to find a special place to stay, the tiny Honeymoon Beach Hotel. The hotel itself was quite basic, but the woman who ran it, Julia, made it feel like a second home. She has a “restaurant” downstairs that is really just an extension to her family’s kitchen (the “waiters” are her son and husband, and sometimes other guests!) Her homemade Greek food was delicious and you can’t beat the convenience. If you’re ever in Santorini it’s a great place to stay.
From Santorini our trek continued in Rhodes, where we are currently, an eastern Greek island just a stone’s throw from Turkey. Rhodes is much larger and more developed than the other islands we visited. In fact, it’s the first one we’ve seen where a majority of the locals work outside of the tourism industry! Rhodes is a popular stop for cruise ships, partly because of its deep-water harbor and partly because of its unique medieval Old Town.
Lauren was most excited about Rhodes because two of her great-grandparents were from here, making her ¼ “local” by blood. She thus feels a special connection to the island and is excited to visit the house where her great-grandmother lived and the synagogue where she worshipped. Lauren is fortunate that her family left the island before the Second World War, as nearly all of the 1500 Jews who still lived here were killed at Auschwitz.
The island of Rhodes has a long and checkered history. It’s been controlled at various times by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Turks and Italians, and each has left its mark. The medieval Old Town is the work of the Knights Hospitallers, who took over in the early 1300’s and stuck around for a couple hundred years. It looks like a medieval Italian village, complete with a stone castle wall surrounding the city. It’s a bit surreal to see that style of architecture on a Greek island.
We’re writing this blog post from Lindos, another town on the isle of Rhodes about 45km south of the Old Town. It’s centered around a quant old village that now seems to exist just for tourists. It’s a gorgeous place to visit though, flanked by two beaches known as “the main beach” and St. Paul’s Bay (our favorite) with views of the very blue Aegean Sea.
The main attraction in Lindos is the ruins of the ancient Acropolis of Lindos, built nearly 4,000 years ago atop in impossibly steep cliff. One can climb to the site of the Acropolis on foot, as we did, or via donkey-taxi. Most tourists only visit Lindos by day, but we had the luxury of spending 3 nights here. It’s amazing to see how differently a place feels once the busloads of day-trippers have moved out.
It’s been wonderful and relaxing spending these weeks in the Greek Isles, but now we’re both ready for a new experience. In a few days we fly to Rome, Italy, to board a 16 day transatlantic cruise with stops in Livorno, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga, Cadiz, and Funchal, with a final destination of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The last 7 days will be spent at sea crossing the Atlantic! Even though the cruise terminates in the US, we don’t intend to stay there for long.
Lauren is planning to volunteer for a month helping rural children in Peru while Jared heads to Brazil to learn Portuguese and work on his windsurfing, kiteboarding, and maybe even capoira skills. We’ve both enjoyed being tourists for a couple of months, but now we’re seeking something a bit more meaningful (in Lauren’s case) and culturally immersive (in Jared’s case.)
Until next time, please enjoy our video “Hopping the Greek Isles.” Sorry about the video length — in hindsight we probably should have broken up Greece into segments as we did Italy. There are lots of really beautiful pics though, so we think you’ll still like it.