It was given that we would get lost on our first night in Greece.
I tend to get myself lost in every major city I visit and Athens was no exception. After 20 minutes of dragging our cases around Monastiraki, frantically swiping across Google Maps on our cell phones, and having to politely refuse the help of a greasy looking local my travel buddy Caitlin and I made it to Zeus Hostel.
*Note: There are more pictures to come. Alas my hostel wifi is not cooperating tonight.
In the daylight of the next morning, it was comical how badly we had strayed off track after we saw how easy it was to get from the metro station to the hostel. It would definitely have been easier if we had taken a taxi or shuttle straight from the airport. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my bank account) I am travelling on a budget.
And travelling on a budget means putting a lot of faith in public transport as well as having the ability to successful navigate your little blur local dot on a maps application. Luckily I am slowly but surely getting the hang of the latter.
ANCIENTS AND ISLANDS
The first day in Athens was HOT. Like sweaty back, sweaty face, sweaty soul, sweaty life kind of hot. Athens is famed for its collection of richly historical ancient sites. So we decided to put on our (sweaty) tourist hats and experience the Acropolis and other historical buildings on the first day.
Luckily for us, Greece is incredibly kind to students from all over the world and offers reduced tickets for most of its attractions.
My 2015 Rhodes University student card did me a solid and got me a half price combo ticket for seven of Athens’ ancient attractions.€15 and we got to see the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the Lykeion of Aristotle and the Kerameikos.
We only made the first five of the sites because the Lykeion closed just before we got to the gate (after trekking halfway across the city) and the Kerameikos had us a bit lost trying to find it; a lack of wifi and a lack of physical map did not make for a good combo.
We also whiled away some hours in the Acropolis Museum to get a break from the Athenian heat. The museum is constructed over an archaeological excavation site and looks straight onto the Acropolis. The top floor is also build with the exact specs of the Parthenon so that sculptures and materials are displayed for museum goers exactly as they would be seen of they were still in their original positions. My student card got me into the museum for €3 but a normal ticket costs €5 which is definitely worth the quality of the exhibits and beauty of the ancient relics you get to experience.
Originally, Caitlin and I had wanted to spend some time in the capital and then go island hopping. But we soon realised island hopping would require a lot of time and money spent on ferries. So we narrowed our island down to one; Santorini. I was worried that we would choose the “wrong” island.
To be fair you cant really go wrong with choosing one of the Cyclades islands to visit… you just need the one with the kind of vibe you’re looking for. Our choices were between Mykonos and Santorini because we both had friends who had been to and loved both. Mykonos is definitely the party island while Santorini is more laid back and accessible for families and other groups who aren’t looking to get “off their faces” every night.
Santorini is also the more romantic of the two which we found out when we arrived and were surrounded by a sea of couples of all ages.
FLIGHTS AND FERRIES
We had to travel from London to Athens so a cheap EasyJet flight was our best option time and price wise. I paid €60 for a one way flight including luggage then another €10 to get from the airport to Monastiraki in central Athens using the Metro. Fun fact: If you have a student card on you, you can get the metro ticket half price; unfortunately my Rhodes Student card was in my luggage so I had to fork out a tenner.
There were a few hours of sheer panic when we tried to book our return ferry trip for dates we had already booked hostels for when the travel agent in Monastiraki told us there was a ferry strike. That meant leaving Athens a day earlier and having an extra day in the city on the way back. Feeling incredibly stressed and worried that we would have to hand over tons of euros for extra nights and cancelled nights in hostels, we headed back to Zeus Hostel to make a plan. Luckily we stressed for nothing as the hostels were super accommodating with moving dates around.
Another win for student cards (this one was the International Student Identity Card which all student travellers should invest in as it gets you a lot of really good deals) was getting 50% off of our ferry return trip to Santorini. Budget travel can be a challenge and a bit of a nuisance at times but little hacks like the student cards it make it more doable.
We took the Blue Star Ferry which is one of the cheapest ferries you can travel on. Other lines such as Hellenic Seaways do the trip in a quicker amount of time but for a higher price. Blue Star did in in seven hours with three stops at Paros, Naxos and Ios on the way. Spending seven hours on the ferry isn’t too bad though as you can walk around deck, sit and chill or even sleep if you are lucky enough to find a comfy spot.
The ferry trip cost me €40 return with the discount which I was hella chuffed with.
In Santorini we stayed a 20-minute walk outside of the main town of Fira at a beautiful place called Anna Pension Santorini in Karterados.
At 4pm we rolled up outside the door hot, sweaty, and dragging suitcases once again. The villa (I think thats what you call it) was a welcome sight after the 1km walk from Fira in the heat with our bags. Oh and a crystal clear blue swimming pool that I swiftly jumped into wasn’t too shabby either.
I can seriously give this place a stellar review. Our double room was huge, clean and comfy and it was easy and safe to walk to and form. The owner Anna was also incredibly friendly an accommodating. The walk into Fira sounds long but 20 minutes goes by really quickly. Local busses leaving Fira terminal to head to the southern parts of the island stop by Karterados bus stop so waiting there is also an option (one that we figured out a few days into our stay). 10/10 recommend for anyone visiting the island.
Fira is definitely the spot you want to be staying near if you are travelling on a budget.
The local buses travel across the island for fair prices but they all travel from Fira so you have to get yourself there if you want to go anywhere.
We bussed quite a but on the island; to Perissa Beach, to Kamari Beach, and to Oia. The busses run fairly regularly but Santorini runs on ‘Greek time’ so sometimes the buses are a few minutes late – just fair warning.
Many tourists hire cars, scooters or ATVs while they are on the island. I think they are relatively cheap and clearly quite popular choices as I had to dodge out of the way of many a sunburned tourist zipping around on two or four wheelers.
BEACHES, BOATS AND VOLCANOES
Santorini may be a small island but from hikes to boat trips to swimming in volcanic hot springs there is tons to keep do to keep you busy. We generally took a day to explore each place; spending the afternoon in Perissa and Ancient Thira; taking a boat trip to a volcano and Therasia Island; hiking 12km to Oia to watch the sunset; and doing a wine tasting before relaxing on the beach in Kamari.
GYROS BEFORE HOES
Apart from the incredible scenery and awesome weather, one of the best things about Santorini and Greece overall was the food. There are THOUSANDS of restaurants from fine dining to take away to traditional taverns. The one downside to having so many options is that everyone is trying to get you to come and eat at their restaurant. And this can become quite uncomfortable for two young girls who are being cat called by seedy looking older men trying to entice them into their establishments (spoiler alert: it did not work).
The best food by far was the wrapped souvlaki; its cheap and delicious and we found amazing restaurants/take away places both in Athens and Santorini.
Souvlaki Bar at the base of the Eastern Slope of the Acropolis in Athens was our first stop for dinner. It’s a contemporary souvlaki bar that serves traditional gyros, wrapped pita, started like saganaki, salads, desserts and even fries with melted feta on top. We ended up going back on our last day in the city after getting back from Santorini because we knew it would be good. The normal meat Souvlaki were made with pork, beef or chicken and wrapped in fluffy Pita and the veggie option that I had was filled with honey mustard mushrooms, salad, and fries and it was delicious. And cheap!
Fira is the best place to get good food for low prices. My best spot in the town was Nick the Grill which offered up good meat and veggie options and I ended up stuffing my face full of falafel pita two days in a row.
It is always a bit stressful for me traveling as a vegetarian because I worry about a lack of menu options for me but Greece was really great. It had a good variety and quality of vegetarian options. It was a lot of carbs but it was worth it.
Of course we also had to have some Baklava while we were in Greece and we finally treated ourselves on our last afternoon in Athens. It wasn’t as life changing as the wrapped souvlaki but it was still pretty good as all Greek pastries are.
On the ferry back to Athens I wasted a few hours watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and it made realising that we would be leaving Greece soon even more bittersweet as it had been such an amazing eight days.
We didn’t have any Ouzo, break any plates or do any Greek dancing but what we did do was spend an amazing week and a bit experiencing some wonders of the ancient world, exploring an incredible island and dining on delicious, cheap meals. That’s a pretty decent deal.
I joke about hoping that we haven’t peaked our European adventure too soon but I’m genuinely think it will take a lot to top this past week.
Onwards and upwards through the Balkans now.