For those who want even more to read than Jacs’ post (or just a slightly different view on the same trip), check out Sarah and Jason’s blog on the trip too!
We’ve just returned to the bitter cold in Sydney after an amazing two and half weeks island hopping in Greece and a bit of sightseeing in Turkey. It was an incredible trip filled with lots of laughs, sun, beaching, atv-ing, walking and of course, culinary delights. Did I mention we also successfully crashed two different honeymoons? 😉
We arrived in Athens early the morning of July 19th. I couldn’t believe how long the flight from Australia to Europe is – my goodness I totally underestimated it! Flying from Sydney to LA is a breeze in comparison. Anyway, en route, to Ben’s delight we were at the Singapore airport for dinner so we indulged on roti prata, mee siam and a Tiger beer (Ben’s idea of heaven).
Our arrival in Athens was too early to check in so we eagerly headed out to the Acropolis after quickly dropping our bags at the hostel. The ‘compound’ is made of about 20 or so structures and dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was incredible to walk around this structure that dates back to 5th century BC. After walking all around it, we meandered through the Ancient Agora and then through the streets of Athens’ old city.
We were meeting the new Mr and Mrs Plumb for lunch since they were in Athens on the last day of their honeymoon! What luck! (This is the couple I went home to see married at the end of June) They’d been travelling in style on their own private yacht around the islands so were filled with helpful tips about where to go and what to do (or avoid).
Since they’d been existing on purely Greek food for two weeks, they were keen for something a bit different and Ben loves a good cheeseburger, we had no objections when they suggested Hard Rock Cafe for lunch! After a fun lunch catching up and with Andrew, getting to know Lisa (you hit a homerun with her Andrew!), and Ben and Andrew finally meeting, we went our separate ways to explore the city. We then met up with the Plumbs for dinner and a movie at a rooftop cinema which looked straight up to the Acropolis which was beautifully illuminated.
The next day we travelled to Istanbul to meet up with Sarah and Jason, who are five months into their year long honeymoon which is taking them around the world. We met up at the airport and grabbed a cab to our hostel. The Orient hostel was located right in the middle of the old city (Sultanahmet) and the roof top lounge looked directly up at the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque – we couldn’t have picked a better place to stay! Since we arrived in the evening we had dinner and a few drinks (and a nagili!) before getting some rest for the activities the next day. Since the best way to explore a city like this is on foot, we headed out early in the morning starting at the famous Blue Mosque, searched for the Hippodrome ;-), hit the Hagia Sophia and then meandered up to the Topkapi Palace. It started to pour with rain and we were soaked to the bone! We ran for cover at a little coffee shop along the way from the palace to the Grand Bazaar. Even though we were completely soaked, it was a fun adventure through the city.
Once we made it to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest (constructed in 1455) and largest covered markets in the world, we decided to wait out the rain inside looking at shops and having lunch. After an hour or two there, we got totally lost looking for the spice market. You see the map we had was not to scale and most of the street names weren’t marked – so it was rather difficult! We finally made it there and were in complete awe of the gorgeous displays and vibrant colours of the spices and treats. The Turkish delight (Lokum) was a highlight and we’d never seen so many different flavours! We then ventured across the bridge that connects Sultanahmet, the old city on the Golden Horn, to the new city. We found the shop that apparently produces the best Baklava in the world, but none of us felt like eating much of it after the Turkish delight!
After being on our feet all day we decided to take the tram back and rest before dinner. The next day we went for a lovely run in the morning and then jumped on a cruise that took us up and down the Bosphorus with a stop on the Asian side. Istanbul is truly unique in that it spreads over two continents – a bit of it in Europe and most of it in Asia. After the cruise we checked out the Turkish baths. Sarah and I made our way into the women’s while Ben and Jase were escorted to the men’s…by an older man who was delighted by the look of Ben! The bathing room was completely marble and absolutely stunning. After rinsing ourselves off we were scrubbed down with an exfoliating cloth, massaged, scrubbed again and washed thoroughly – I felt like a baby all over again – completely taken care of and totally pampered. Ben enjoyed his too and we were both very smooth afterward. That night we decided to have dinner, drinks and nagili (or hooka) at our hostel.
Let’s just say we turned into the life of the party – we took control of the stereo, sang karaoke, danced on the stairs and made friends with all the other travellers there. It was an awesome night out. The next day we were off to the airport to make the journey to Crete.
We arrived in Crete after dinner that night and hit the hay once we arrived at the hotel in Hania since we were off to the Samaria Gorge the next morning at 6:15AM to hike through the gorge 16 km to the beach. The hotel, ‘Pension Lena’ was really cute – we each had our own self contained mini apartment and a nice outdoor area for breakfast! The following morning after the early start, it took us 4 hours of hiking through the extraordinary gorge to arrive at the beach for our first swim in the Aegean. It was such a relief to get into the beautiful water, even if the black sand was so scorching that we had to keep our running shoes on!
Given that there is only one ferry/bus combo back to Hania in the evening we didn’t get back until around 8 – lucky that dinner is so late in Greece, so we were still one of the first tables at a cute little restaurant called ‘Portes’. The following morning we explored Hania which was a cute little town, before having our standard lunch (Gyros for Ben and Greek Salad for Jacs) and getting back on the bus to Rethymno, the next town along the way.
We couldn’t check into the hostel until the afternoon so we left our bags there and hit the beach. We were so eager in fact, we didn’t even make it to the proper beach (which was a bit further down and we didn’t know about) but ended up relaxing and swimming in the Venetian Port. We grabbed a relatively early dinner at a lovely restaurant right on the water and explored the cute little town. The next morning hit the shops and then grabbed a bus to Iraklio – the town that the ferry to Santorini leaves from. Irakilo is one of Crete’s big cities and is primarily a port town so there wasn’t as much charm as Hania or Rethymno. When we arrived our first concern was somehow finding a way to Santorini since unfortunately it was completely filled online! (We didn’t know we needed to book so far in advance)
Since we couldn’t book online or at the ferry terminal we had the idea to pay for one of the many day trips that run from Crete to Santorini and back to Crete, but stay in Santorini and not join the return trip. After speaking to about 5 different tour companies and getting a little worried that we wouldn’t make it, we found one that had four seats left – perfect!
After booking, Ben and I headed out to Knossos, the famous Minoan Palace, which is about 20 minutes from the center of town. Knossos is the most famous ruin on Crete and we really wanted to check it out. The legend is that King Minos had it constructed to house the half man and half bull Minotaur. Not only was the site incredible because of its restored and painted Minoan columns (which are different to traditional columns because of their shape), but the Minoans had a very sophisticated drainage system in place. After exploring the ruins, we went back to Iraklio for dinner.
The next morning we boarded the ferry to Santorini. We jumped on the bus when we got there and checked out two different towns before arriving in Fira – where we were staying. We had a lovely two bedroom apartment very close to the caldera’s (Volcano crater) edge. Santorini is absolutely breathtaking. The next day we walked around Fira and checked out the sites before our afternoon trip to the volcano and the hot springs. After hiking up to the top of the volcano and swimming in the ocean/hot springs, we headed for home. That evening we rented ATVs and drove from Fira to Oia (about 20 mins away). Oia is probably one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. It is on the very far tip of the island and has incredible views of the caldera. Ben treated me to a lovely romantic dinner at 218 – a restaurant Andrew and Lisa had recommended. It was to die for! Not only for the view (check out the photo), but for the delicious meal we had!
After a few hours there, Ben and I did a bit of shopping and headed back to Fira to get some rest. Since we had the ATVs for 24 hours, we explored the island all of the next day, relaxed on the beach, and even did a bit of wine tasting. Our last night in Santorini was marked by a lovely dinner and a few drinks.
We caught the ferry to Mykonos the next day and after 3 hours we were all very excited to be there! We stayed in the gorgeous town of Hora which was originally designed as a maze – and let me tell you we definitely got lost a few times! There were high fashion shops around every bend and lots of very stylish people. Hora also has an area called Little Venice where the water comes straight up to the buildings. This area also looks out to a windmill farm (about 4) that was built sometime in 1700s. Our hotel, Hotel Philippi, was very cute – turquoise blue and white, with a beautiful courtyard, although as with everything in Mykonos, it was a little pricier than most of the places we stayed! After settling in and wandering around town, we had a delicious dinner at the main square in town with Sarah and Jase over a couple of glasses of wine 🙂
Benj and I got up the next morning and went for a lovely run along the beach before all of us headed to Paradise Beach for the day. After a few hours on the beach and lots of swimming, we grabbed a drink in the famous bar to escape the sun. When we got back to Hora we had a few drinks at the hotel before dinner and a few drinks at a chupito, or shots bar, after dinner.
Sadly for us we had to make the 3.5 hour journey back to Athens the next day. Luckily for me, since I am prone to sea sickness, the boat was huge and you could barely feel the sway of the sea.
Once in Athens, after we managed to get to our hostel, we wandered the streets one last time and found a lovely restaurant for dinner which looked up at the Acropolis. It was a stunning night and we all had a great time together laughing about the trip and enjoying each others company for one final evening.
We had so much fun exploring Greece and Turkey and catching up with Sarah and Jason (although now even more envious of their trip since we had a small taste of the sweet life they’re leading!) It was also really lovely to spend some time with my gorgeous fiancé and enjoy our engagement away from the stresses of work.
Be sure to check out the photos and let us know how you’re doing!
Lots of love,
Jacs and Benj