With my short stopover in Paris behind me, Greece was next on the agenda. After a slight mishap at the airport (apparently I had mistakenly booked my ticket on the exact date, but on the following month….argh!), I was contentedly lounging on the almost-empty flight from Paris to Athens. I will never forget my first glimpse of Greece. My flight was scheduled to land at 1am and it was a full moon outside. The welcoming view that greeted me when I looked out of the plane window was that of a multitude of small islands, standing out as dark globs amidst the silvery sea waves. I remember saying a silent prayer of gratitude and just taking in the beautiful sight, until the first brightly lit glimpse of Athens appeared in the distance.
· Travel Tip: When booking or purchasing tickets yourself, it is wise to check and recheck your travel dates, times and flight itinerary a few times, to avoid any unpleasant surprises at the airport(s)!
Since it was a domestic flight within the EU, I didn’t have to bother with immigration and headed straight for baggage claim. In the meantime, I asked around to confirm what I had previously researched online – getting from the airport to Athens city centre was just going to cost me five Euros if I took the public bus which came every 30 minutes after midnight, and there was a bus stop right in front of my hotel!
· Travel Fact: It is a well known (but often forgotten fact!) that your first transportation from the airport will be expensive and you may even be a victim of a scam artist. Researching this well in advance or arranging airport pickup in advance will do wonders and save on funds and hassle. My trip by public bus was five Euros but a corresponding taxi ride would have been 65-70 Euros.
As expected, I got off at my scheduled stop without any problems after a forty five minute bus ride, and headed inside the hotel, hoping for a good night’s sleep. And that’s when I ran into my second mishap in less than 24 hours. The hotel was filled to capacity, without any available rooms. You see, my initial plan was to spend the night at the airport and head to the hotel in the morning. Since this hotel was just supposed to be the meeting base point for the group, before I embarked on a seven day Greek sailing cruise the following day, I saw no point in booking a room for just 6-7 hours. A few things that I hadn’t stopped to consider – following my active days at Paris, rushes through the airport and flights, upon arriving at my destination finally at 3am, I was simply ready to drop dead!
I had abandoned the idea of sleeping at the airport and headed to the hotel based on the assumption that a room would be available, but I had failed to factor in the summer tourist crowds! However, I received my first taste of the marvellous Greek hospitality when the extremely nice receptionist, Dimitri, helped by connecting me to their wifi and calling up whichever hotel I found online within my budget range. We finally managed to locate one with an available room (miracle indeed!) and Dimitri bundled me up into a taxi and sent me off with a smile.
• Travel Fact: The “Hotel Mirada” at Glyfada, Athens, is an adults-only pop art themed hotel, with interesting furniture and room concepts. Wonderful if you’re looking to explore something different, not so great if you’re after a good night’s sleep.
What I didn’t know was this – the only hotel which I had managed to find at such short notice with an available room, would actually do a better job of keeping me awake all night than the cold pavement outside. Despite its fancy decorations and upbeat colours, something felt out of place – mainly because I was subject to some very ‘interesting’ noise effects from both the rooms on each side of my room and also the room which was directly opposite mine. Curious, a little online digging revealed that this was a “love” hotel. Needless to say, paranoia and (ahem) the noise, kept me up till 6am. The full length wall mirror opposite my bed didn’t help either!
· Travel Tip: Always book your hotel in advance, at least for the first night. The last thing you need is paying an overpriced rate for a last minute hotel especially during tourist high season, and not even to getting a decent night’s sleep.
What greeted me the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, was sunshine. Fantastic, fabulous, glorious sunshine. And the clearest blue sky I could imagine. I didn’t know it then, but amazing sunshine and clear skies were to accompany me during my entire 22 day trip in Greece. I packed in a rush, checked out from the hotel and happily turned up to the same hotel as the previous night, the meeting point for my Greek Island Sailing leg of the trip.
· Travel Fact: Greece is actually made up of several islands. While the larger islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, etc. are popular tourist destinations, the deserted island vibes are better in the smaller islands which lie off the beaten track. Sailing on a small boat (maximum eight people) is an excellent way to make your way to these off beat islands and the experience is worth investing in.
We were soon divided into two groups and ushered onto our respective boats. My bunkmate, an American girl called Sarah, and I got lucky. We claimed the room right at the front of the boat – the only cabin which had a ceiling window that opened right on the deck of the boat. After a quick briefing from our skipper/ captain, we were ready to set sail. While our captain navigated the boat into the clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea, the rest of us settled down on the deck with our dangling feet in the ocean, and started getting to know each other over drinks. Our first port of call was to be the island of Perdika.
· Travel Fact: Perdika is a traditional fishing village and a former community in Greece. The small harbour of Perdikas lies on the SW coast of the island, 3.5 miles SSE of Aegina harbour. The harbour offers reasonable shelter in settled weather, but is open and strong winds make it untenable.
I know experiences differ between people, and what seems amazing to one person may not necessarily be amazing to another, but Perdika was truly the first time I found myself genuinely falling in love with a place. In the days to come, I would also come to fall in love with Greek food, the culture, history and lifestyle – but there and then, it was the sleepiness of Perdika that made me sigh with contentment.
• Travel Tip: Disconnect from technology. I mean it. There’s something about technology that constantly keeps us fixed to our phone or laptop screens, rendering us unable to appreciate the simpler pleasures in life and ‘living in the moment’. If you must take pictures, limit yourself to one or two pictures at each spot.
Perdika redefined what a sleepy fishing village should feel like. The harbor just had roughly six boats, and our boats made up half that number. After an initial walk around, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant on the waterfront which served amazing seafood. I ordered rice with mixed seafood, coupled with hummus and fried squid. The restaurant owner greeted us all with complimentary glasses of the traditional Greek drink – “Ouzo”.
• Travel Fact: Ouzo is an anise-flavoured aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus. Its taste is similar to other anise liquors like arak, rakı, etc. The name “ouzo” has three possible origins – either the ancient Greek word ózó (smell), due to the distinctive aroma of the drink; the Turkish word “ūzūm” (grape); or the Italian phrase “uso Massalia” a stamp denoting high quality.
After dinner entertainment was limited – in fact, there was just one thing to do: hit the only nightspot at the harbour. Dancing under the stars, below the open night sky, not a care in the entire world, we all just knew the next seven days were going to be magical. And Greece, true to its form, did not disappoint!
Jennifer aims to travel all of the Globe within the next ten years, either solo or with company. Suffering from a serious case of wanderlust, she seeks to absorb the essence and soul of a place, rather than chilling back in a resort. She is always up for new travel adventures so if you’re a kindred soul, get in touch!