WHERE WE STAYED:
Athens: Hotel Aristoteles. The location is central (near Omonia Square) but the neighbourhood a little sketchy and the rooms nothing special.
Crete, Agios Nikolaos: The name escapes me, it was recommended at the tourist office. It was clean, lovely and with a fantastic seaside balcony.
Santorini, Perissa: We spent the first night in Hostel Anna, very cheap and very basic, but a good meeting place for travellers. After that the Hostel moved us into much better accommodations for the same great price—Villa Michalis. The perk: A large swimming pool in the shared courtyard. Pretty great.
Ios: Farout Village. Unless you're 18 and a fan of Jersey Shore it's probably best to stay away. Way too many people, icky pool parties and general loudness. The saving grace: Major people watching and cool, round windmill bungalows.
Mykonos: Hotel Karboni. Great location, clean and a decent price for a ritzy island in peak season.
MOST RELAXED: At Harmony Mexican restaurant in Ios. Fantastic atmosphere + pitchers of sangria + hammocks = bliss. After a day of swimming and sun, I can't think of a better way to chill then being buzzed and dozing off in a hammock. And they let you do that in a restaurant!
BEST MEAL: Street food, in particular Gyros, stuffed with veggies, fries and tzatziki.
DON'T MISS: Knossos Palace, the oldest archeological site from the Bronze age in Greece. I picked up a great little minotaur statue for my collection here.
• Greek coffee*, dark and bitter. Much like an espresso shot. It's customary to flip the cup over when you're done and wait for the sludge to drip down the sides. Then you can spend some time divining your fortune from the mysterious shapes that form (or ask a wise local to do it for you). * I say Greek coffee, but I know it as Turkish coffee because that's what we call it in Serbia. The name can get you in trouble depending on your geographical and political location.
HIGHLIGHT: Santorini volcano excursion. I usually try to avoid organized tours, but this one is a must! We started off on a beautiful wooden yacht in Thira which took us to explore the black volcanic crater. This was followed by a dip in the hot springs, filled with healing mud (impossible to remove from a white bathing suit). Then we set sail for Oia, world famous for it's sunsets. The best (but slightly heartbreaking) part was the long and slow donkey ride to reach the top of the cliffs with fantastic views. The tour seemed to attract like-minded travellers, so we had friends for the rest of our stay on Santorini.
YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW: In the span ofa few weeks I had the chance to visit both the British Museum in London and the Parthenon in Athens, and with my own eyes see the sculptures which were controversially removed (stolen? saved?) and are now on display in the UK. The Greek government is committed to the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece, but so far with no success.
BIZARRO MOMENT: We were caught in the middle of a fight in the local take-out restaurant in Athens. A knife was drawn and a chair went flying, but it turned out pretty harmless in the end. We got our snacks and got out of there.
• Encountering cicadas, the loudest bugs on earth in deafening numbers!
• Donkeys parked alongside a row of scooters on Santorini.
WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS: I had a couple of pretty uncomfortable run-ins with rabid Italian dudes. (It seems all of Italy moves over to Greece in July, or so was the trend in 2005.) The greasy guys were all hands. I quickly learned how to be quite the escape artist.
NATURAL HIGH: The ferry rides between islands. Ranging from slow and luxurious overnighters (Athens to Crete), which greeted us with a shimmery sunrise in the Heraklion Port to quick zips between the smaller islands, all wind in the face and ocean spray.
• The breathtaking views of Thira (Santorini), houses layered like lego blocks on the cliffside overlooking the sea.
• The beaches—black, red and white sands, rocky coasts and warm turquoise waters. Completely unreal!
LOW POINT: Constantly filthy feet in Athens. We had to take breaks to wipe them down—blame the pollution.
• I saw the famous island of Mykonos and quickly fainted. For the sake of poetry we can say it was from its beauty, and not dehydration and 40C heat. Arm yourself with sunscreen, water and a big hat!
FIRST TIME: Backpacking. I bought an awesome Bulgarian backpack in Belgrade, before setting out for Greece (about half the price of a Canadian equivalent). It's still in great shape years later.