IntroductionI visited Greece during 2008 for two weeks. My itinerary included the islands of Santorini and Crete followed by a few days in Athens.
- 6/22/08 Flight from Philadelphia to Athens, then to Santorini.
- 06/23/08 Atemis Villas, Imerovigli (Santorini), five nights.
- 06/27/08 Ferry to Crete.
- 06/27/08 Vilelmine Hotel, Chania (Crete), six nights.
- 07/03/08 Flight from Chania to Athens.
- 07/03/08 Hotel Plaka, Athens, two nights.
- 07/05/08 Flight from Athens to Philadelphia.
Making ReservationsAir, ferry, and hotel reservations can be made on the internet. However you'll need to call Greece in order to get more details about a hotel, to change reservations, book a restaurant, etc. To call cheaply I recommend using Skype on your computer. To do this you'll need to download the Skype software and buy a headset that plugs into a USB port on your computer. Calls to Greece are about $.015 per minute.
FlightsThe cost of a round trip flight from the States to Athens can vary widely so I recommend shopping around. Using Orbitz I found a fare of $1,000 out of Philadelphia whereas the cost would have cost $1,500 out of Newark or $1,350 out of JFK. Once on a Greek island, flying to another island is not an option since all flights go through Athens. Ferries are the standard mode of transportation between the islands (see the Ferries section for details).
FerriesMovement from island to island is done by Ferry. Always choose a high speed ferry and book in advance if possible. Ferry schedules for the summer are not available until May.
Cell PhoneIf you want to use a cell phone while in Greece, and I recommend you do, you will need one with GSM capabilities. Unlike America, Europe uses a single cell phone protocol, GSM. This means that a GSM cell phone can potentially be used in all European countries. The key to this is the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card, which can be inserted or removed by the user. The SIM card stores information that identifies the user to the carrier.
Obtaining an International Cell PhoneYou can buy a GSM cell phone from Telestial for $39 and
then buy a SIM card in Greece for about $8. The SIM card comes with a local Greek number so calls within Greece are very cheap. The SIM card has a small amount of credit built in, but you should buy a "top off" for 15 EU at the store that you buy the SIM card. Alternatively, you can buy a global SIM Card that works in most countries, but the per minute charges are much more expensive.
Activating your Cell PhoneUpon receiving the cell phone at home immediately charge the battery. The cell phone comes with a charger having an American plug, and with a converter to use in Greece. If you forget to bring the converter to Greece you can buy one for 11 EU. Upon purchasing a SIM card in Greece insert it into the cell phone; first take out the battery, then insert the SIM, then replace the battery. The SIM has a notched edge that facilitates the correct insertion of the SIM. After turning the cell phone on, dial 1313 in order to change the language from Greek to English. After that you may dial 1314 for services, such as determining how much credit is left, etc.
Adding Credit to your Cell Phone
"Top off" cards can be purchased in many stores. You'll need to dial 1314 and follow the instructions in order to activate the credit.
Using your Cell Phone
For calls within Greece just dial the number without using the international code for Greece, 030. For calls to the States dial 010 and then number (including area code). Calls to the States are surprisingly cheap.
Money, Debit and Credit CardsGreece uses the Euro. At the time of this writing 1 EU costs $1.57. To translate Euros into dollars go to this site. For example, if the rate for a hotel is 200 EU then this equates to $315. Use your credit card whenever possible, although many restaurants and stores in Greece do not take credit cards. Therefore you'll need to carry a bit of cash. To get cash while in Greece use your bank debit card at an ATM. By the way, before leaving for Greece call your credit card company and have them put a note in your file that during such and such period there will be charges originating in Greece; otherwise your card may be blocked due to suspicious activity.
What to Bring
LuggageI brought one of carry suitcase on and a backpack style camera bag. I try to avoid having luggage checked in order to avoid waiting to pick it up or having it lost. Your carry on must be no larger than 9x22x11 inches. I have a Crew6 carry on from Travelpro and a Fastpack 350 from Loewpro. I highly recommend both. You will not need the Fastpack 350 if you only bring a small digital camera as opposed to 20 pounds of camera equipment.
ClothingIf you aren't sure if you should bring something then don't bring it. There is a tendency to over pack. Choose clothing made of light weight material versus denim and heavy cotton. Here's a list of what I brought and used during my two week trip:
- 15 pairs of underwear
- 10 tshirts
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 3 pairs of pants, including the one worn on the plane
- 1 pair of sandal style shoes
- 3 pairs of socks
- 2 pull over shirts with collars
- 2 belts
- 1 bathing suit
- 1 cap
- 1 set of toiletries: tooth brush, razor, etc
- 1 small flash light
Car RentalI visited Greece during 2008 for two weeks. My itinerary included the islands of Santorini and Crete followed by a few days in Athens. Since this a long blog I've broken it into sections so that you can skip to the ones of interest.>I rented cars in Santorini and Crete, but not Athens. It is not necessary to reserve a car in advance in Santorini, there are plenty. I rented from Sunbird which was just was within walking distance of my hotel. I recommend them enthusiastically. In Crete I rented from Elite. It was necessary to reserve in advance for two reasons. First, I needed the car as soon as I got off the ferry and the rental companies have no offices in the ports. When you make a reservation they bring the car to the port. Second, my hotel was in Chania and there is no ferry service to there. In fact all ferries to Crete arrive at Heraklion which is a 2.5 hours away from Chania. Since I had no problems with the car I can recommend Elite but with reservations due to the condition of the car. It had 120,000 miles on it, was in need of service, needed air in it's tires, and I suspected it was low on oil but could do nothing about it since the lever that pops the hood was broken.
To rent a car my New Jersey driver's license was accepted. I did get an International Driving Permit at AAA before the trip. I'd heard that some car rental company's require it, and, more importantly, if you have an accident having one is helpful. The cost of an IDP, including the photos, is $27.By the way, gasoline in Greece is $10 per gallon. But don't worry since driving distances often are not great and cars are small and fuel efficient.
DrivingRoads are more narrow in the Greek islands than in the States. The shoulder is treated as a valid driving lane, and it is common courtesy to move into it to let other cars pass. Roads on mountains have many curves and hairpin turns, and guard rails are often lacking. Many roads are unpaved, particularly on Crete. The police do not patrol the roads nor maintain speed traps, but they do give out expensive parking tickets, so don't park illegally. There is plenty of parking lots, free or inexpensive, on Santorini, even in the congested towns of Fira and Oia. However park defensively as others have no problem blocking you in. On Crete in congested Chania parking seems impossible unless you are given a spot in a lot by the hotel, which Vilelmine Hotel did for me. Driving in Chania is tight and difficult. There are many narrow one way streets and the set up is confusing. Once out of Chania driving is fine. There are many villages to visit and beaches to visit. Driving in the mountains is exhilarating and challenging. Overall I enjoyed driving very much.
SantoriniI highly recommend staying at Artemis Villas in Imerovigli or a hotel in that area. You'll have an outstanding experience there. The rooms are clean and pleasing, and all have small terraces overlooking the Caldera and the Aegean Sea. These hotels are build into the cliff. Most things you'll need, food markets, espresso bars, restaurants, rental cars, are within walking distance. There is a pool and sunning deck that have an outstanding view. Artemis Villas is family owned, hospitable, and well maintained. They will also arrange for transportation from the airport, which worked without a hitch.
CreteThe Vilelmine Hotel is family owned and run. It is a friendly place and the owners provide plenty of information and suggestions. I had a great experience at there. The location is fantastic, right in the heart of the old city in Chania. The old city is where all the action is, and I just had to walk out of the hotel to take interesting strolls and eat at restaurants. The harbor is a couple of blocks away, and a nice beach is within walking distance. The rooms are comfortable and charming. Ours consisted of a bedroom, sitting room and bath. However the bathroom was not great. It was lighted by a single florescent bulb and very gloomy. However I suspect that bathrooms in other rooms may be better. But the price was right. I paid 75 EU/$118 per night.
The Vilelmine Hotel was a great base for my visit to western Crete. You will need a car in order to explore the country side, villages, and beaches.The only amenity I wish they had, other than a nicer bathroom, was a pool. If you really want a pool then consider another hotel in or near Chania.
AthensI highly recommend staying at Plaka Hotel in the Plaka section of Athens. The Plaka area is where it's happening. The room was comfortable, clean, and modern. This is a non-smoking hotel so there is the musty odor found in other hotels in the area. There is a roof top bar that has a fantastic view of the Acropolis. It is open air and quite pleasant. The hotel is within walking distance of the Metro which I used to get from and to the airport; the fare is 6 EU/$9.46. By the way, never use a taxi to go anywhere - it is expensive and you are subject to being ripped off. Note that the Metro begins running at 6:40 a.m. (in the event that you have an early plane to catch).
Restaurants and Food
OverviewMany restaurants in the tourist areas are not good. If you want a good dining experience then a little effort and research is necessary. When in doubt ask the people that run your hotel. Check the Greek Forum at tripadvisor.com. Most restaurants stop serving at midnight or 1:00 a.m. I often dined at 10:00 p.m. because 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. was a great time to take a swim or a walk, and then watch the sunset with a glass of wine. If you're a fish lover you always will have a choice of good dishes and there are numerous fish tavernas. Meats are also a staple, and the lamb is particularly good. I suggest that you try the classic taverna fair such as moussaka, tzatziki (Greek yogurt with cucumbers), and stuffed grape leaves.
I always chose a restaurant to which I could walk. It's more pleasant not having to drive after dinner and you can consume alcoholic beverages without worrying.
CoffeeI am an avid espresso drinker so a word about that. A common coffee drink is the frappe which I liked very much. I was shocked to discover that Nescafe instant coffee is used. To make it a couple of scoops of Nescafe and water are blended using a milk shake type of machine. Then sugar and a little condensed milk are added. Typically a frappe costs 2.5 EU/$4. If you want straight espresso, as I do, it is available everywhere. Most places have good espresso machines and know how to make it (as opposed to States). A double costs 2EU/$3.60. By the way, there was a lone Starbucks in Chania, I suppose for wayward Americans who wanted to feel at home while traveling a foreign country.
Groceries and BakeriesThere are many small groceries and bakeries from which to buy food for a breakfast, lunch, or snack. My favorite for breakfast was ham and cheese baked in a crispy dough. Bread is generally excellent and more than once I had bread, cheese, olives, and a fruit for lunch.
- Skaros Fish Taverna in Imerovigli has great views and food. I had the salmon and it was tasty (I am not a fish lover). The dining experience was excellent, from the service to the environment.
- Imerovigli Taverna in Imerovigli has good taverna fare and is modestly priced. I had the moussaka and it was exceptional.
- Selene in Fira is an elegant resestaurant that is expensive. Fine dining is found there, the food is well prepared and presented, and the portions are small. If you go, park in the one Fira's free parking lots and walk over.
- Blue Note in Imerovigli. I didn't eat there but reviews from others were bad.
- Vanilia in Firostefani. I ate at this restaurant because of it's high ratings on tripadvisor.com. It turned out to be a negative eating experience. The food was so-so and service was non-existent.
- Well Of The Turk in Chania is recommended by many people. I ate there and found the moussaka lacking. You should give it a try anyway.
- Safran, Souvlaki Oasis, and Karnagiou in Chania were recommended to me by a reliable source, although I did not have a chance try them.
- Mesogeiko in Chania was a delight. Dishes from different countries are offered, such as Morocco, Turkey, and Greece. The food was delicious and the service friendly. This is a restaurant that deserves more than one visit. The water front is very touristy and the food therefore is not very good there. However it's a nice place to have a drink while watching the sunset.
- The Restaurant at Milia serves outstanding food within a restored medieval settlement near Vlatos, 55 kilometers west of Chania. I had snails with rosemary and deep fried meatballs and they were truly superb. I ate outside, overlooking a beautiful valley. I highly recommend visiting this unusual setting during a day trip through western Crete.
Things To See And Do
Getting The Lay Of The LandViewing Google satellite images is surprising helpful. You can magnify images to the extent that your prospective hotel might be visible. Try these shortcuts to satellite images: Crete, Santorini, Athens.
The beach at Balos is beautiful and isolated. We drove, passing through the traditional Greek village of Kaliviani and across nine kilometers of rocky road cut into the mountainside of the Gramvoussa peninsula. The scenery was spectacular and the mountain goats numerous. At the end of the road is a "taverna" selling drinks, and a 20 minute hike to the Balos beach. I understand that there is a boat excursion to Balos too.Chania
Chania municipality is the largest city on the western third of Crete. The part to visit is the old town which has a wonderful harbor, venetian architecture, restaurants, and ancient sites. The immediate harbor area is filled with tourists, so I recommend exploring the less crowded areas away from the harbor.
The Chania National Swimming Pool is a short walk west along the water from Chania's harbor. I visited it three times to watch children and teenagers training for aquatic sports. I found it interesting and different.Nea Cora Beach is a short walk west from Chania's harbor, and is just past the National Swimming Pool mentioned above. If you are staying Chania and want a convenient place to swim this is it. Like many beaches in Greece, you may rent two chaises and an umbrella for 5 EU.
The Retored Medieval Village at Milia serves outstanding food within a restored medieval settlement near Vlatos, 55 kilometers west of Chania. I had snails with rosemary and deep fried meatballs and they were truly superb. I ate outside, overlooking a beautiful valley. I highly recommend visiting this unusual setting during a day trip through western Crete.