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Published: September 7th 2014
The private beach
at Arion Hotel, Athens
It's a seven year old invitation from a dear friend of mine, YP, who has always insisted that I visited Greece during Summer holiday, and only this year, I finally had a chance to accept the invitation during my two weeks compliant leave. As I had always been flexible with my travel, it had been a challenge to actually pin down the date for each destination: Athens, Mykonos and Santorini - as a colleague will be joining me in Santorini, on her way to New York.
I finally left with Singapore Airlines on August 16th and fortunately, the 10 plus hour flight from Singapore to Istanbul was painless. Arriving early in the morning on August 17th in the busy Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, I had no difficulty in finding the Gate that took me to Athens with Agean Airlines (I didn't realise that the airport was that busy and found out a staggering numbers of visitors - 25 million visiting Turkey last year). I was eager to arrive in Athens only to find out that my luggage was missing! I had not experienced this in my life despite the number of flights taken yearly (and especially flying with the
top airline company like Singapore Airlines). I was being assisted by the Lost and Found Baggage at Athens Airport, and was told that they were going to deliver the luggage once found to the hotel.
Relieved, I left the airport on my way to the hotel, and the taxi driver was nice enough to offer a short stop over at the only stores opened in the area: Gap and Mark & Spencers - where I could get the necessity and headed to Arion Hotel at Vouliagmeni. I was not aware of the fact that it was a long weekend of Dormition of the Holy Virgin public holiday where most stores were closed and people were away on vacation; no wonder the town was empty! To me, it was like witnessing a celebration of life where everyone was literally flocking to the beach and enjoyed the sun and sea! Thankfully, my room had not only a view but also a direct access to the beach, and it was incredible to be in a city, yet you were so close to the beach (living in Singapore, I now wish Singapore has a beach as great as Athens!).
My friend told
me to get ready in the afternoon, and it was amusing to find out 'in the afternoon means 8:30 pm' in Greece during Summer time! (it would have been late dinner in Singapore). For dinner, my friend YP took me to a stunning restaurant by the Acropolis called Dionysos, and not only the sight was stunning but the Greek food was excellent too (I had no idea we could have so much appetiser that I had thought we had finished dinner when the main course was served). Past midnight, we drove to the airport to pick up my luggage with a big smile on my face!.
The next day, my taxi driver picked me up early to go to Acropolis. This was 'the must visit place in Athens' and unfortunately, the weather at 35c was too warm for me (even though I came from a tropical country) to climb and explore the UNESCO World Heritage Center of Acropolis. After a few stops under the shade and a lot of water consumption along the way, I finished my tour of the area by noon, and the taxi driver was ready to take me to Plaka, an old historical neighbourhood in
At Myconian Avaton
Athens that I was very fond of. It was close to 1 pm when I reached the area and was not prepared when the shopkeeper greeted me with 'good morning' (I had to remind myself that I was in Greece during summer; in Spore, every one would have finished their lunch by 1 pm). Again, I had wished the weather was not too hot that I could walk around and enjoy every single small shops and cafes in the area.
From Plaka, I joined my friend YP and headed towards the port area of Piraeus, where during weekdays, you can see many cruise ships and vessels. It's just this particular weekend, Piraeus looked more like a ghost town as there were very people left. We headed towards this seafood restaurant by the marina (I was told that Athens had many many marinas spread all over the cities). Of course, going with a local, you had the benefits of ordering the right food, and I could not help trying all the fresh and newly caught shrimps, cuttle fish and fish along the famous Greek salad consisting of tasty and sweet tomatoes with fetta cheese.
Back in the hotel, I
View from the pool
At Myconian Avaton
had a chance to dip into the cool and clean water and realised the higher saline content compared to the sea back home (I could literally feel the salt remains on my skin after the swim) and could not help myself thinking 'How lucky are these people who live in Athens who could enjoy the sea at the back of their yard' - only for a split second then I realised that it's only during Summer! It also occurred to me that back home where we have 13,000 islands in Indonesia where sun shines 365 days a year, people take the sun and sea for granted (compared to 4,500 islands and three and half months of Summer in Greece).
By the second day in Athens, I was used to the lifestyle of waking up late, having late breakfast, lunch and dinner, so my dinner started at10:30 pm and I could not help smiling thinking that at this time, we would have been in bed if we were in Asia! For dinner, my friend took me a restaurant near the hotel that serves excellent Italian food where his lovely girlfriend K and a couple from Boston were waiting. By then
At Mykonian Avaton Hotel
I was still full from my late lunch, and as usual, we had plentiful of food from appetiser to main course, all of which were delicious. Past midnite, the waiters were serving dessert, and surprisingly took back my chocolate soufflé as my friend said I might be too full from the lunch" only to learn the waiter brought it back with a candle on it while everyone started to sing 'Happy Birthday to you'! It was one of the most funniest and memorable birthday dinner celebration as I didn't expect it at all (thanks YP and K for the thoughtful celebration!). I must admit that the Greek people are the nicest and warmest people that I have met so far!
The next morning, I left for Mykonos with a small propeller plane and trust me, the 25 minutes flight felt longer as wind was strong and I could hear myself swearing never again to fly in this small plane to Mykonos! One thing I was impressed was the fact the tourism industry was so developed and mature that you don't find a lot of glitches with all the travel arrangements. The bus ride to the hotel was quite interesting
as I could see the hilly, yet dry landscape of Mykonos filled with white square spots: the Myconian architecture was quite distinct and unique as not only houses but also stores, banks and cafes are uniquely designed in the low rise squarish white buildings. I could see how popular this place among tourists by the numbers of rented ATVs and motorbikes on the streets. In no time, I arrived at the newly opened, hip Mykonian Avaton Hotel. With the stunning view overlooking Elia Beach, I was happy to spend the entire afternoon enjoying the sun and sight in my hotel room balcony (the services and food were great too).
Only the next day I decided to visit town, taking a shuttle service from the hotel to the busy port where all the luxurious yachts were mooring (I had not seen these many and beautiful yachts in Jakarta or Singapore). This time, I had decided to follow up my friend's recommendation to rent a car so that I could explore and move around the island. I was lucky to find a car rental company called Star near town, and within half an hour, managed to get a small stick shift
car for EUR80. Ready to make a move, I sat on the driver seat and started to move the gear for trial and get used to it (as we drive on the left side of the road in Asia) while Mikail - the car rental guy - stood and observed next to the car window. He then offered to drive me to a nice beach and restaurant called Kuzina at Nortos Beach (I was used to being driven around anyway in Asia and he seemed like a trust worthy person) to which I agreed as I was hungry anyway. On the way to the beach, he offered to drive me around for 3 hours for EUR180 which I flatly turned down (what's the point of me renting the car if I wanted to have a driven car?). I had not regretted the decision to be driven to the beach as the restaurant and beach club turned out to be so cool (I guess I was the only one who came not prepared to have a swim in the sea), the food was great and music was so chill!. By the time I finished my lunch which was quite late in
View of the Volcano
from Oeia, Santorini
the afternoon (by my standard), I was ready to explore the city and drive around myself only to learn that the car was not there! Apparently, Mikael has left me, took the car back to his office, and I had to ring him again to be picked up. It was a surprise to me later on to find out that he was not comfortable in renting the car to me and dropped me off at the charming area of Little Venice. Puzzled and frustrated, I alighted from the car but decided not to complain as I didn't want to ruin my vacation but had wished he could have told me upfront and gave me the options whether I'd like to cancel my car rental or be given the choice earlier (to be dropped off and picked up at a certain location).
I really loved the charming Little Venice in Mykonos as every single shops, cafes and B&B are unique and wished I had more time in exploring this area, and not alone too! After breakfast the next day, I was unsettled as I could not find the purchased ferry ticket to Santorini (leaving in the afternoon at 2.45pm) and
View from the entrance
of Santorini Secret Hotel
unfortunately the hotel front desk staff didn't provide me a comforting answer either; they merely told me I had to head to the port immediately to get my new ticket, which I did and managed to get it (phew). Half an hour before the departure, I was walking towards the pier and thought I should check before heading there, so I asked the driver of the shuttle bus of my hotel (who happened to be parking nearby) if I was at the right pier. To my surprise, he said my ferry was not at this port; it's on the old port! Panic, I tried to find a cab which was no where to be found, and after I calmed down, I said to myself "relax, even if I missed the ferry, so what - I could stay another day in Little Venice" and decided to follow the crowds which happened to be queuing for the correct ferry! (by the way, this was the time when I missed all the porters back home). The three hours ferry ride - with a few stops in between - was also painless, and I was glad to reach Santorini by 5 pm and being
picked up by Nikos, the car rental company's owner, who sent me to the beautiful Santorini Secret Hotel at Oiea.
I could not believe how beautiful Santorini was, and even the scenery along the way from the airport to the hotel was stunning. It was so scenic that it was difficult to believe I was physically there! it feels like you were inside a beautiful picture. The hotel, Secret Santorini, was recently opened - located at Oeia, had an amazing view to the volcano. The entire hotel is used to be a residential property the owner. I must say that it was tastefully designed like the traditional cave house of Santorini, and the hotel staffs were resourceful and friendly. Later on during a conversation with the son's owner, I learned the hotel would be closed towards the end of the year during winter. He also explained that we could take a daily cruise for island hopping the next day and visit the volcano, and growing up in the island, he also explained to us about what to do and how to get there for the entire island. Both my friend and I decided we were going to enjoy the
island and have a rest and relax kind of vacation (had I gone with my divers group of friends, I'd have gone for the daily cruise and scuba diving). In Santorini, Oeia is probably the nicest spot in the island and less crowded but are frequently visited by day trip tourists from the cruises for the sunset viewing. Its white roof buildings spread out along the cliffs giving a stark contrast view against the backdrop blue colour of the sea, which gave a surreal feeling to anyone who see it for the first time. It's no wonder people called this place Paradise.
The next morning after my delicious honey and yoghurt breakfast, I left with my rented to car heading to the airport to pick up my friend, who was arriving from Kuala Lumpur. Surprisingly, the road was relatively easy to navigate, I was able to reach the airport in time - even without GPS or map! My friend was delighted to see me, and interestingly she had lost her luggage earlier too with Silk Air from Singapore to KL! (what an experience we both had!).
We didn't have much time to rest and decided to explore the
beautiful site of Oiea where our beautiful boutique hotel, Santorini Secret was located. Eager to have a swim in the sea, we decided to explore and visit a sleepy Armeni Beach, a few hundreds of steps down from our hotel, and was surprised to see that the place was totally deserted except for a few luxurious yachts moored and people having a swim near the pier. In no time, I and my friend jumped into the sea and had a pleasant surprise by the pebbled bottom and cool sea! (I forgot that Santorini was volcanic and all the pebble floor of the sea must have come from the explosion years ago). It was so refreshing and rejuvenating with the sun shining on top of our head that when finished, we didn't have energy back to climb the hundreds of steps up and decided to ride back with the donkeys (what an experience!). From here, we decided to follow my friend's remote recommendation to visit a fish tavern called Ammoudi, where many seafood restaurants are located and are frequently visited by the day trip cruise boats. We had a great lunch at scenic Ammoudi Seafood restaurant, and it was interesting to
know that the place was entirely closed from October onwards - during winter.
By afternoon, my friend had suggested we returned to Istanbul where we could hang out for a few days rather than lazying around in Santorini until Sunday, August 24th. Having no itinerary, I agreed with her suggestion as my flight to Singapore would go via Istanbul anyway. We only had one problem: the ferries and flights were full as it was at the peak of the season! A few hours later, my friend was delighted to inform me that she managed to book her direct flights from Santorini to Rome by Vuelling Airlines the next day at 5 pm and decided she would go directly to New York and skipped the Istanbul idea as she didn't want to take the five hours ferry ride to Athens. She gave me the blessing to release the purchased Aegean tickets on August 24th back to Athens.
Pleased with our transport arrangement out of Santorini the next day, we decided to go to Ochre Restaurant for dinner. This time, we managed to avoid the flock of tourists visiting the area for the famous sunset viewing at Santorini, and managed
to get a perfect seat in the restaurant (thanks to the friendly hotel staff of Santorini Secret who helped us making the reservation). The place serves Greek food, and the waiters were efficient and hard working but it was literally deserted when the sun goes down.
The next morning, we had a chance to visit Seaside Restaurant at Perivolos beach before we split: I was heading towards the port of Santorini to catch my ferry to Athens while my friend would fly to Rome later in the afternoon. To my horror, while in my ferry, I learned that she went to the airport to learn her flight was being cancelled without any explanation whatsoever! Frustrated, she went back to the hotel and was looking for alternatives, which literally was none as it was during the peak season, and all ferry and flights out of Santorini were fully booked. Both I and my friend YP tried helping her to get her as a standby passenger in the afternoon flight to Athens without success; despite our repetitive efforts to reach out to her, we didn't manage to do so as her phone connection was off (later on I found out that
she was to upset to speak and had decided to turn off her mobile phone). A few days later after my arrival in Istanbul, I found out that she could not get any of the standby flights and managed to get out of Santorini only on August 24th in the morning (it's the same day we were originally booked!).
What a vacation I had! As I had my connecting flight to Istanbul and got ready for the second part of my vacation, I could not help thinking about my lesson learned: how we should always enjoy where we were, shouldn't complain and accept any mishaps positively, and things will turn out to be okay. As an African proverb quotes say "It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion". I could not thank enough for the kindness of my friend YP who made all this memorable and possible! Back in Spore, two weeks later, I started missing all those great food including the tasty fetta cheese with tomatoes and yoghurt with honey.
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