A few stories and a few tips for travel in and around Greece.
1. Pack lightly. We’ve taken up the Rick Steve’s (link) method of traveling with quick-dry clothing that can be washing in the hotel sink. Greece is ideal for this because of the warm and dry weather where clothes dry quickly. For our next trip, the biggest thing we’d change is borrowing a large backpack for T (K borrowed one from her coworker M, a lifesaver), and packing more quick-dry clothing for him. His standard attire seems to be all cotton, which takes longer to dry.
2. Ask questions. At all of the beaches we visited, there were chairs and umbrellas that we understood to be provided by the beach-front restaurants and shops for rental or as a free-chair-for-food-purchase deal. One set of chairs with an umbrella and small table cost 6 EUR/chair but included an alcoholic beverage for free. Another required 5 EUR per person of food purchases. Others were just straight rentals of 5 EUR per set or said “free chairs with food purchase” and didn’t specify how much. The further from the bus stop we got, the deals got better. We walked for a while to get beyond the bulk of the crowds in Perissa and came upon a quieter spot that didn’t seem to have a chair steward around. T went to ask the lifeguard who was renting these chairs since we liked the location. She smiled and said, “those chairs are 2 for 5 EUR and the guy should be here soon, but these to my right are free.” Deal.
3. Use your smart phone’s GPS and load local maps into the cache via Wifi. I can’t absolutely confirm this for all phone plans, but it seemed like my phone’s GPS locator was unrelated to the data connection. Everyone knows that using the data plan in a foreign country is a good way to wind up with the biggest phone bill of your life, so we were careful to only use my phone for email, maps, etc. on Wifi. Our discovery came when we looked up driving directions in Crete via Wifi and looked at them in the cache as we drove. We were pleasantly surprised to see the blinky green location locator following us. Perfect. From then on, I loaded maps of wherever we were headed via Wifi before we set out each day. Very handy!
4.Have a plan before you arrive at a new place. Each time we have landed, we have had an idea of the best way to get from the port or airport to our hotel. In Santorini, that plan was the most confusing. The port of Santorini is at the base of a huge cliff on the inside of the caldera. The drive to the top of the cliff, where the towns are, is carved from the sheer cliff and contains hairpin turns. The tour books said that there were public buses from the port to town, but arriving at the port is a confusing cacophany of drivers from tour companies and hotels meeting their guests, people trying to rent you cars and motor scooters, and other weary travelers. And no sign, schedule or information about the bus. We had to revert to the tactic of rudeness to find the bus as people actually said, “no, there is no bus!” I started glaring at anyone in my path and ignoring whatever they said. Finally, T asked someone who pointed us in the right direction to a old motor coach that didn’t look much like one would expect a public bus to look, but we hopped on and took our places standing in the aisle for a smelly, nausea-inducing trip.
Hmm, this tip isn’t sounding all that ideal at this point, but we were pleased to have transport to our hotel for under 10 EUR vs the 30 EUR per person that the hotel would charge to meet us at the port or the extremely unpredictable taxi fares. Also, we learned the method behind the madness of the local buses, and we used them for the rest of the time in Santorini without incident, including a very pleasant, non-smelly, seated return trip to the port.
5. Be sure to talk to strangers. On our bus ride up the caldera cliff, we noticed a young American guy (it’s obvious–the shoes, backpack, hat, etc) WALKING up the same route. We talked about him the rest of the trip and hoped that he’d been picked up by kindly strangers, especially when we realized that the top of the cliff wasn’t actually a town. The town was another couple of miles away on more-flat-but-still-hilly ground.
When we were headed back to the port, we were laughing at the clip art chosen for the sign asking the bus patrons to keep the bus clean. They had a cigarette, martini glass, beer mug, drinking and driving symbol, and ice cream cone all circled and crossed out. One would assume they were discouraging eating and drinking on the bus in general, but the clip art didn’t support the request very well. A guy across the aisle chimed in with some wise cracks as well, and we struck up a conversation. For the next hour or more as we waited for our ferry to arrive, we sat with this guy, J, who is a recent college grad getting ready to move to San Antonio for the Americorp program City Year. He asked us how we met, and when we told him that we weren’t sure he was up for the whole (loooong) story, he pressed us to tell him the whole thing. And guess what else? Yep, he was the guy scaling the cliff the day we arrived. No big deal. We gave him our contact info and hope we run into him again in TX.
6. Don’t say “yes” to the bread. We are big bread fans and had high hopes for some deliciouis, fresh pita bread in Greece. Each time we ate out, the waitress would ask if we would like some of their homemade bread, We should have learned after the first time that A. if they ask you, it’s not free, and B. the bread just isn’t that good. I’m not sure T would totally agree with this point, but
7. Prepare yourself for a sesame seed attack. In the US, what do we eat that has sesame seeds on it? Maybe a sesame seed hamburger bun that has 30 or so seeds sprinkled across the top? In Greece, they are sesame seed crazy people. They put them on pretzels, they cover roasted nuts with them, they put them on the bread at restaurants. And we’re not talking about a smattering that you barely notice. We’re talking about you-just-made-a-huge-sesame-seed-mess levels because when you pick up the bread, about 100 of the 1000 sesame seeds on your slice of bread just fell off. Suffice it to say that we are done with sesame seeds for a while.