The theme for second anniversaries of marriage is linen, so it seemed only fitting that my husband Perry and I head to Greece—where linen shops abound—a week after our marriage turned two. We decided on a Tripmasters package to Athens and Santorini and spent four nights in each. While we were concerned about the possibility of burdensome crowds in August, we were pleased that peak season travel was significantly less crowded than we’d anticipated (and cooler, temperature-wise, too). When you gotta go, you gotta go—and we couldn’t let the fact of August scare us away. We’re starting this blog because we couldn’t find answers to many of our questions before leaving and thought others might like a comprehensive overview that includes things like where to pay for the bus from Athens to Sounion (spoiler alert: a person comes around after you’re seated on the bus to collect money). Also, I love making itineraries, so wanted to share ours with those less inclined to make their own. We hope our observations and suggestions help you with your own trip-planning.
Summer birthdays may be a little sad when you’re in K-5 and don’t get a classroom party, but they’re pretty great when you’re planning on a summer vacation and loved ones decide to give you vacation-themed gifts. I’d been traveling for years with an oversized backpack I got—having done too little research, asking too few questions, and prioritizing a cheaper price tag over quality and practicality—my first year in college for my first trip to Europe. This backpack’s last trip was to China and Korea, where its heft and unwieldiness left me face-planting into a hotel wall and messing up my back pretty badly. While a herniated disc makes it easy to justify a new roller bag purchase, it took my husband’s initiative and research to make it actually happen. And so, for my 37th birthday, bag of bags, the Osprey Meridian 60L Convertible Backpack entered my life.
My favorite feature (aside from the rollers) is the storage pocket at the top of the pack, perfect for toiletries and easy to access for removing said toiletries for airport security screenings. There are four interior pockets, too, so it’s easy to separate clean socks from dirty socks, etc. The detachable daypack has a frame designed for breathability, helping me avoid a sweat-soaked back on our 4-hour hike from Thira (Fira) to Oia in Santorini.
Along with the Osprey Meridian, we also took a small North Face duffel and a Dakine fanny pack. Both carry-ons fit in the overhead storage of our planes—even on the small one from Louisville to Newark.
A Note on Packing
We stayed in Meltemi Village in Perissa during our time in Santorini. I probably should have looked up the hotel’s namesake before leaving. As it turns out, the legendary Meltemi winds blow from mid-May to mid-September. My first experience with them involved scrunching up the sides of an A-line cotton dress for the entirety of our walk up the hill to the Temple of Poseidon and back down. It seems my dress was attempting to become an offering to the gods, so adamant was it to take leave of my body. Thankfully, I packed some shorts, jeans, and more structured dresses and thus was able to keep my hands free for better things—like a can of Mythos or Alfa beer—for the rest of the trip.
Things it turns out we didn’t need to pack: heeled shoes and bug-spray wipes. The latter because, surprisingly, we didn’t get bitten by any bugs. The former because the marble throughout Athens is slippery and the cobblestone uneven, so flats became my go-to—plus, in Santorini, many of the beaches and even the swimming hole at Amoudi Bay require you to climb up and over some rocks, so water shoes, hiking boots, or tennis shoes work best. We saw more than one person turn around when the trail seemed unmanageable because of the wrong shoes.
Things I was glad we packed: earplugs, a hydrating sheet mask for after the lights went out on the 9 ½ hour flight, and an e-book of Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey (“Tell me about a complicated man”). Let’s talk about that long flight and my husband’s packing strategy. If you put clothes and all the new linen blankets you end up purchasing into the duffel, it can double as a pretty comfy lap-mound upon which to sleep on that long flight.
Arriving to Athens
We purchased private airport transfers through Tripmasters before we left the States ($35 each). If you prefer, you can catch the blue line on the metro from the airport for a special €10 metro pass. Our hotel off the Sygrou-Fix subway stop was about 30 minutes from the airport (via private transfer). We landed around 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning and made our way quickly through the airport—we were in the car by 11:35 a.m. (We didn’t have any checked bags.) Our driver, holding a sign with our names, met us in the Arrivals Hall, so it was easy to locate him. He gave us a beer for the drive (our first Alfa!) and helped us with some basic Greek phrases on our way to the hotel. Kalimera: good morning/good day. Kalispera: good evening. Kalinichta: goodnight. Efharisto: thank you. Efharisto poli: thank you very much.
We were determined not to nap, knowing it would be easier to get our bodies acclimated to the new time zone if we stuck it out until bedtime (albeit an early one). After checking in at Ilissos Hotel, we headed up to the 7th floor rooftop to get a lay of the land and immediately located the Acropolis, which we later gawked over with nightcaps after it had been lit up for the night.
And here, dear readers, is where we under-slept travelers made our first under-informed misstep: deciding, after learning from Google Maps that Brettos (pronounced Vrettos) ouzerie was only a little over a mile from our hotel, to walk by the Acropolis to Plaka, where Brettos, the oldest distillery in Athens, is located, which really meant walking up hill for a mile and half—no big deal if you’re working off a good night’s sleep, near epic tragedy if you aren’t. Okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but we did realize the next day that a metro ride would have eased our travel. The intersecting red, green, and blue lines can land you pretty much anywhere, and a five-day pass costs €9—well worth it. The pass even includes rides on the coastal tram.
The ouzo was like a new pack of batteries inserted into the struggling machines of us. Served over ice and tasting of licorice, we tasted the Ouzo Green (triple-distilled) and the Ouzo Black (quintuple-distilled).
With a nice buzz, we wound through the streets lined with souvenir shops and chose a family restaurant—Scholarchio Ouzeri Kouklis—for a late lunch consisting of the obligatory Greek salad, spanakopita (spinach pie), and tzatziki spread. Slightly too much food, but it turned in to our dinner as well, so oh well.
Walking “home,” we purchased the first of many vacuum-sealed packs of olives, stopped into a café for wine, a W.C., and free internet to map our way back to the hotel (at which point, sweet husband got an international plan from his carrier for the rest of the trip), spotted at least a dozen H&M bags, then stopped off at a convenient store we’d spotted near the hotel for some beers to enjoy on the hotel rooftop, where we met several fellow travelers, one Greek woman who’d been living in the States for decades and a family from Oklahoma. Beers from convenient stores and kiosks are under €1 (versus €3-7 in taverns, restaurants, and bars). Dear readers, we were in bed, exhausted, by 10 p.m. and slept gloriously, waking up well rested for day 2. Stay tuned for day 2’s itinerary, which includes a funicular ride and a chariot.