The last week of September, 2011 Christian & I went on our trip to Greece. It was during the start of the protesting so we expected to maybe run into some snags but it didn't really effect our entire trip. As always, I am the bad luck charm when traveling with Christian for vacation. He travels weekly & never has an issues but when we try to go on vacation, that's when stuff gets messed up ;)
It started with our flight getting delayed out of Cincinnati to New York, where our connection was before Athens. Well it got so delayed that we were going to miss our flight to Athens. So we hung out in the sky club for several hours & caught a flight from Cincinnati to Paris & then would connect to Athens. Thank goodness it's an overnight flight to Europe because it's way easier to sleep on the way there ;) We were also lucky enough to be upgraded to the economy plus seats, so we had a little extra space. We got to Paris in the morning & then our flight was delayed because the baggage carriers were on strike; which is better than we thought because there had been an air strike the day before.
Eventually we make it to Athens & of course our luggage did not make it on our plane too. The next flight from Paris wasn't coming for another three hours so we decided to pick up our rental car & drive a little around Athens. When we came back the luggage people with Air France (Delta) were nice enough to look up the name of the Mansion Sakali were were staying at to let them know that we would be there late at night.
We got our luggage & were on our way to the town of Pinakates in the Pelion area. We had absolutely no clue how long it would take us & we didn't leave until after it was already dark. Thank goodness if was freeway most of the way so it was well lit most of the way. Another things was pretty much all of the signs were in Greek & then there would be another sign shortly in English. When they had the Olympics there they did this to make it easier for everyone to get around. Thank goodness this was already done! It was when we got closer that it wasn't so easy. We had to stop to ask directions & were suppose to call when we were close. This was a chore in it's own with the language barrier. In Athens, pretty much everyone spoke English. This was the first place that we been that we were not familiar with the language. We both know a little Spanish, which can kinda be close to Italian & Christian knows German. Greek, we knew absolutely nothing about, lol. I mean, even the alphabet is completely different! This wasn't so much an issue in the larger towns but in the little ones, we had to be creative with communication.
At about Two AM, we finally made it to Mansion Sakali. The couple who owns the mansion doesn't actually live there so there were nice enough to come back to let us in. We got settled in & hit the sack after a long almost thirty-six hours of traveling. We woke up the next morning well rested & ready to explore a little. This mansion was beautiful! It was a mansion that consisted of eight rooms & a guesthouse. We actually learned the next morning when talking with the owners that their busy season is actually in the winter because many tourists come there to stay & then go skiing during the day. There were two other couples there the first morning & they checked out that day. So we had the whole entire place to ourselves the rest of the time.
We had a delicious breakfast & then hopped in our BMW coupe rental car & headed out to do some exploring & find some beaches. The drive was just absolutely beautiful! Then as we were driving along, we came across some wild pigs. They were just hanging out on the side of the road & didn't seem to mind us. After about a thirty minute drive, we found an amazing beach. Pretty much at every beach there is public parking. So we found a spot & hiked down to the beach. The beach was beautiful; the water was so clear & had amazing landscape. The only thing different about this beach than other ones that I had been to is it was bit rocky but nothing major.
This beach was a short one but it was perfect because there are so many beaches along the coast, that none of them were ever crowded. A couple times we actually found ourselves to be the only ones on some beaches. We went at such a perfect time because it is right after summer vacation is over; the crowds are gone but the weather is still perfect. It did get cold a couple nights along the water but during the day, the beaches were warm & sunny. This beach was unique too because it had almost caves all along it. We hung out there for a couple hours & then continued through the mountains, looking for some lunch.
After driving through the mountains we stumbled upon this restaurant in the middle of no where. There were two other tables with people & no one including the staff spoke English. We figured that at some point in this trip we would run into this but we weren't exactly prepared, lol. We had purchased a translation book but it was pretty much pointless because we didn't know how to pronounce anything. So we were given a menu & it was actually written in Greek & English. So we picked out what we wanted & just pointed to what we wanted since the waitress didn't understand English. So somehow we kinda figured out that there were only certain things available on the menu (because it was really big). I don't know if it was because it was during off season or that's just how they do it daily & just have the daily specials. But we ended up literally just pointing to what the people had around us & went with it.
And the food was so freaking good! We had goat cheese with olive oil, bread, fried potatoes, cabbage & pork. They serve olive oil with everything in Greece, we loved it. It was like how ketchup in in the US, it was pretty much brought out to you or at the end of the table like a regular condiment.
We finished lunch & started to head back towards Pinakates. Along the way back we saw some goats just chilling on the side of the road with their herder. It was pretty funny but every time we drove by a heard of goats, it smelled like feta cheese! I normally don't like it back home but it was so delicious there because they always put a lot of olive oil on it & it was always so fresh. We did not get back until after dark because we were just driving around seeing all of the scenery & exploring the mountains.
Since we didn't get back until later, we ate at Pileas Restaurant, which was on the same block of where we were staying. The only thing was, it was a Sunday night & it was off season. So by the time we got there around nine PM, there were only a few customers in there just drinking. We ran into the same situation where they just had available what they made that day but it was all great choices. We had some meat, veggies & the house wine, that they made in the town.
The next morning we decided to get up & drive down the coast & check out little spots along the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped along a couple villages with beaches and/or little fishing towns. At one point we were trying to find one little town & ended up getting a little lost. We were close to the town but couldn't actually figure out how to get there & to the beach. We somehow ended up on this dirt road that turned into a rocky drop off. At that point we decided to park the car & get out and check it out. We walked all of the way down this path to find ourselves in someone's driveway with a fence separating it from the beach. So we turned around, walked back up & went to the beach right next to it, lol. Driving through there we did end up on top of a hill with an awesome view & ended up being the only people on this beach.
Our final stop was a small fishing village called Agia Kyriaki. It was at the very tip of the Pelion coast that went out to the Pagasitikos gulf. This little town was so cool. Only the locals could drive into the town, so we parked the car & walked in. We found a restaurant called the Fish Tavern (O Manoaae, closest Greek letters in English). This was one of the best meals that I've ever had. We ordered a Greek salad, langoustines (kinda in between a shrimp & lobster) & octopus. This seafood has obviously just been caught that day & was cooked perfectly. I've only really had langoustines in Europe but this was the best I've ever had. The service was great & it was perfect because you sat out eating, facing the ocean with just a beautiful view.
The drive back to the mansion was one of the coolest drivers we've ever had in so many different ways. First, as when we were leaving, we came up on this curving road & the entire road was blocked by a herd of goats! We didn't know what to do. Quickly they kinda spread out along the side of the road & up the side of the mountain, the herding dog kept them going. It was crazy the way they could just go up & down the jagged rocks. It was like something you see out of the movies. The herding dog was serious about his job, Christian got out of the car to take a picture after we got through the heard & then he started to run up to him barking. Guess he didn't like us disturbing his goats.
After we made it through the herd of goats, we came around the corner to one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen. The sun was setting over the water & there was a perfect view over the mountains. We kinda just hung out there for a couple of minutes & enjoyed the moment, it was amazing.
The next morning we got up to head to Thessaloniki. We made our way down the mountain checking out a few more small towns along the way. One of them had an old train station that we stopped to check out. We played around for a while. I changed the direction of the track (not is not used anymore & then changed it back ;) We checked out some older building that seemed to have been there for a while & unfortunately were just kinda left & then headed on our way.
We saw a couple castles along the way & then a few beaches as well. They were always well marked so it's pretty easy to pull off & check out anything you want. Then we found our way to Mt. Olympus. This had so much history there, it was so cool. First we went to the museum & checked that out. They of course had the bathroom with no toilet & then we took the five minute drive to the actual mountain. The view was awesome & beautiful. There is a walkway & a hiking path that you can use as well. As we'd seen a couple other times, we saw some beehive areas off to the side. This seemed to be somewhat common in certain areas. After we were done checking out one part of the mountain we decided to driver up further & what do you know, we came upon a herd of goats. There was another car coming back down the mountain that couldn't get through either. The Shepard did not seem too amused so we decided to turn around & head back down the mountain.
We then went to actual ruins, this was amazing to see. To see what they had, they used & what was still preserved. After several hours we headed on to Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki is a was a pretty busy city, with some tourists as well. Like other major cities, the traffic was a little busy & people drive kinda crazy. We were only going off of a map, so it took us a while to figure out what we were doing. We had no clue where our hotel, the Bristol Hotel, was so we found a parking spot & wandered around until we found it. The hotel was actually on a street where you can not park, so Christian dropped me off with our luggage & he went to find a public parking lot. Think it ended up being about 30-40 euros a day, which was cheaper than valeting or other options. Plus, we knew the car would be in good hands then.
This hotel was pretty cool because it used to the town's post office & was renovated to be a hotel. This Bristol Hotel was pretty nice, with large rooms & a little balcony that you could look down upon the square on. We got settled in & walked around to check out the city. We walked around until we found a bar called Beer Art. Usually most places in Europe are all about the local beers but this place was about other importers & a couple craft beers. Think they were looking to attract the tourists. It's kinda funny to be the other way around to see how much they charge for "imported" beers from the United States instead of vice versa. We hung out there for an hour or so & walked around the town.
After walking for a bit, we found a cool little restaurant where we decided to have dinner. The closest it's spelled in Greek is Aaibonin. Like most towns, there will always be a large area that is primarily restaurants & bars. We typically will find those places & kinda figure out where the locals are hanging out. You can usually pick out where the tourist hangouts are, sometimes they try to Americanize things too much & we always avoid those places.
We got a pretty cool waiter & he started us off with some Ouzo. I had never had it before but had heard plenty of stories, I should have known that was a bad idea to drink it ;) We ended up hanging out there after we finished our dinner & having some more drinks & then eventually wandered back to our hotel.
The next morning we got up & decided to check out the city of Thessaloniki. We first found our way to the Aristotelous Square, which was a large area surrounded by coffee places, restaurants & hotels. We got a coffee & just hung out at the square & people watched. We love doing this in a countries just seeing how people dress, interact, just in general how they are.
We finished our coffee & continued walking around the city. It was pretty cool to be walking around in a large city & just see ancient ruins just in the middle of a bunch of buildings & a park. The other crazy thing was the parking. Everyone just parks where ever the heck they want. It was usually still on the street but since everyone drives smaller cars, they just squeeze in where they can or just park in front of another car & double park or heck, even triple parked! Pretty much if someone blocked you in, you were screwed. Needless to say, it was just better to leave our car in the lot all day.
We found a couple of beautiful churches along the way. Europe has some of the most beautiful & amazing churches that I've ever seen. If you do go to Europe during the summer and/or spring & wear tank tops a lot, make sure that you carry a light long sleeve shirt with you. I always carry a light zip-up hoodie that I can just throw on when going into the churches because a lot of them do not allow tank tops.
We found a little farmers market & restaurant area & stumbled upon a place called Brothers in Law that you tell a lot of locals were there on their lunch break. They were packed & instead of us having to wait, they quickly just brought out another table out of no where & set it up for us. This was one of the best lunches that I've ever had.
This was one of the funniest things we saw there. There was a "gourmet" food shop that contained this stuff in the window. We loved that they looked at El Paso & Swiss Miss as those ;) It was too funny not to take a picture.
Always being along the water, you are guaranteed a good sunset. We were definitely not proven wrong in Thesssaloniki. It was beautiful watching the sun set behind the mountains. It was a week night & there was a large crowd just hanging out watching it. There were street vendors near the Lefkos Pyrgos tower, which was where was most people watched the sun set. We grabbed a couple beers, sat on the steps & watched the sun go down.
We then headed a place that was recommend from the staff of the Bristol called Agirovoli.
This place had the absolute best crab cakes I have ever had in my life! The crab was fresh & it was seasoned perfectly. My mouth is watering just thinking about it ;) We also had fried zucchini, octopus & another seafood dish & topped it off with a bottle of wine. It was perfect.
The next morning we got up very early to go to "fingers" of Greece. This is an area southeast of Thessaloniki that has three little strips of land that go into Aegean Sea. It took us about 45 minutes or so to get to the area. This area is normally packed during the summer but it was practically empty when we went, it was awesome! We spent most of the day driving from beach to beach or just hanging out on the beach. Every single place we stopped was absolutely beautiful & so peaceful. I couldn't even tell you what cities we went to but we went along the coast of the first finger.
On our way back to Thessaloniki, we found a little restaurant called Tabepna? It looked kinda touristy but it was the only place that we could find around there that was serving food at that time or that was open. Even with it looking kinda not that great, it still was really good.
We had heard from several people about a place called Seven Seas. It was a little seafood restaurant that was close to the Aristotelous Square. For our last night there we decide to splurge a little bit on dinner. We had heard this place was a little pricey & kinda trendy but we were glad we checked it out. Seven Seas was in the busy area with bars all around it. We found a table outside in the court & hung out there for a couple of hours. We ordered salmon carpaccio, prawns & oysters; everything was delicious. We thought it was pretty funny because they had Alaskan King Crab legs there. Think we can get it a little fresher back here.
At the end of the meal, they bring out a tray with with four different sweet liquors on it with shot glasses. You can drink as much as you like & it's on the house. It was a bit too sweet for us but it was pretty funny.
The next morning we got up & headed on our way to Athens. It took us about four hours to get there. We drove back by My Olympus on our way down & it was a beautiful day. At about half way there we stopped at a rest stop. Even the food at the rest stop was very good. There were a bunch of tour buses there that were grabbing some lunch too. It was interesting because each bus seemed to be different types of tourists; ones that were Greek, ones that were Germans, etc.
After a few more hours, we got closer to Athens. Unfortunately we got there around rush hour on a Friday so it took a little longer to get into the city but it was entertaining sitting in traffic too. We found the rental car place back by the airport to turn it back in (there was no need to keep it in Athens with the public transportation & lack of parking spots). We found a cab & had to wait in line for a minute & then had him take us to our hotel. Being in a cab made me glad that we had dropped off the car. Just the way everyone drives & being so inpatient did not seem like a fun city to drive in.
We had used hotel points to stay at the Intercontinental of Athens. We stayed at one of these in Madrid & knew it was pretty swanky but this one was even more but it was a pretty freaking awesome hotel. At first I was a little thrown off because there were guards that were carrying guns. With there being an extremely nice jewelery store in the hotel & when famous politicians, actors, etc come to Athens, they stay there, that seemed a little more reasonable. As our welcome gift, they left us a nice bottle of Olive Oil, score!
We were prepared to see something going on while in Athens because it was during the riots/protests. To be honest, we didn't really even see anything. We saw a couple banners hanging & a couple large groups but that was it. I guess one of the nights that we were there there was a large protest but completely missed that one.
We got cleaned up & by the time we had gotten ourselves together, it had gotten dark. We asked the concierge where the best place to hang out & grab some drinks was. We were told Pireos street was pretty popular, so we decided to check it out. We got a cab & got dropped off in the area. It was a bunch of bars & restaurants & everyone was hanging out. Like in a lot of other cities in Europe, a lot of people go out later in the evening. So we found a bar first to have a few drinks. The one we went to had a balcony that overlooked the square, which seemed like the popular place to hang out. We sat there for over an hour just people watching & having some drinks.
We then found our way to a cute little restaurant within the square. We ordered some awesome seafood & people watched for several hours. It was kinda crazy because we saw some gypsies hanging out at the square trying to getting money for flowers. As we drank more & more wine, this became more entertaining. They were trying to hand the flowers to people & then would chase them down to get money from them. They were literately pressing them up against peoples chests & then asking for money. Well after watching this for a while, we were prepared ;) A girl tried to put a flower on Christian & he went like he was gonna bite the flower as a little vampire move, lol. I'm pretty sure it scared the crap out of her & she continued on without asking for us for money. We had such a wonderful night just hanging out & enjoying everything.
Saturday morning we got up very early because we were fitting a lot into one day. We decided to walk to the main tourist spots to walk off some of the food & boozes. I think this was suggested to me by my husband so that we could walk past the motorcycle store district ;) I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see a lot of the bikes that we don't even have here yet & the cool shops.
It ended up being almost an hour between going in the stores & getting to the first site. With this being one of the oldest cities in the world we pictured it very busy & crowded but it was not at all. Don't get me wrong, it was busy but think since we came in the end of September, it was after the big tourist season but it was still perfect & the weather was still awesome.
The first place that we went to was Hadrian's Arch. You can walk around the gates outside or you can buy the ticket that gets you into all of the main sites. Definitely worth it to get the ticket! After you pass the arch, it brings you to the Temple Of Olympian Zeus. I know this is just some columns but it was just absolutely amazing to see. We walked around the columns for over an hour and a half. It was just so cool to see the ones that were still standing & the ones that had fallen over on it's side.
After checking out the temple we headed across the street to see the rest of the sites. Unfortunately we saw a decent amount of stray dogs, this always makes me so sad but we ran into one that was not so sweet that day. As we crossed the street, there was a dog just chilling there & Christian made a little noise/call to him & it went after his ankle & kinda nipped at him. There were some tourists around & everyone was very surprise that it happend. We thought that was pretty odd but just stayed away from the strays the rest of the time.
There is a shopping/restaurant area at the bottom of the hill of the Acropolis, we grabbed something real quick & then headed up the large hill to the Acropolis. This was a hike but it was so worth it when you got to the top. It's crazy to imagine how those people got those huge, enormous stones to the top of the hill. I have no clue how!
We got to the top a wondered around there for over an hour, it was amazing & just breathtaking up there. Along the way to the top there were many things to look at. First there was an ancient stadium & then a couple of smaller archaeological sites. Then before you get to the top there was another stadium that they actually restored & still use.
When you get to the top, the view is completely amazing; you have a complete 360 degree view of Athens. You can look down upon the Temple of Olympian Zeus, across to the next mountain with a random building on top of it to the other people starting the walk up the hill. There is only one opening to bring you out to the very top that has all of the sites. It's kinda weird to think about but some of these stones have been walked on so much for thousands of years & just every day from tourists that it literally has worn down the rocks to being completely smooth & actually are kinda slippery.
You walk into this almost open field and then are surrounded by all of these ancient buildings. First we went to the Parthenon, this was way better than the pictures you have seen. The only odd thing was they are continuously trying to restore these stones & make them last as long as possible, so there are a couple cranes around or a ladder here & there.
Next we walked to the Temple Athena Nike, then to down the hill to some more ruins. This was such a perfect day to be there. The sky was so blue with some clouds in it. It was kinda hot that day but it was pretty windy on the top of the mountain so it cooled it off a bit.
Next we walked down the backside of the hill where we walked through some more ancient ruins & then to the Temple of Hephaestus. We found a bench & just hung out there people watching for a bit with the temple of Hephaestus in the background. We randomly met a couple on their honeymoon from New York & spoke with them for a bit.
This whole entire area was ruins every where, it was amazing. We then ended up at the Stoa of Attalos Museum. This beautiful place was made of limestone & marble and had been reconstructed in the 1950's. Up until 267 AD it was the town shopping area that was used for centuries.
The final place that we went to that day was to the Tower of the Winds. This place is an octagon shaped, marble tower that had sundials, a water clock & a wind vane. That is pretty crazy to think they were using that way back then! This was pretty neat too because it was just in the middle of town.
We left that little area & walked throughout the town. We eventually made our way back to the hotel & decided to go to a nice dinner for our last night in Greece.
We were recommended by our concierge to go to Plous Podilatou. This place was known as a great seafood restaurant & it lived up to it's reputation! Since we had a reservation, we were seated immediately along the water. The crazy thing about this place is they must of originally purchased the place across the street & then got the space we were in that was right on the water. So the kitchen was across the street. So every time the waiter brought food over to our area, they had to carry the tray across the busy street! So they have a guy there that is just stopping cars & watching out for the staff crossing over.
It was a little chilly that night but for non chilly nights the whole front wall was windows that could open up along the dock, pretty cool. There were so many great choices on the menu it was pretty hard to choose. We decided to have a couple appetizers & then split an entree. We ordered a salad, grilled sardines, octopus & then an entire red snapper. Oh my gosh, everything was so delicious & then to top if off, we finished with a chocolate souffle. Again, absolutely delicious!
After we were finished with dinner, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel. The next morning we got up early & headed to the airport to head back home. There were not any strikes going on that day so we did not have any problems getting to the airport of getting home.
I know I say this every time but this was seriously one of the most amazing countries that I have ever been to. With such beautiful scenery, amazing food & historical places, it makes this county so unique with having some many cool things about it. We hope to go back to Greece & travel the islands next time. This is too great of a country to not to return to.