[This is the second half of our honeymoon! Sit back and enjoy, we sure enjoyed doing this. -Matt]
After our week in Africa, we hopped on a plane headed to the Mediterranean. Greece has been at the top of Beth’s travel bucket list for as long as she can remember so this was literally a dream come true. We had initially planned to spend the first half of the week in Athens and then the latter half in Istanbul, but with all the unrest in Turkey we decided to extend our stay in Greece and travel to some of the islands instead. We ended up visiting Crete, Santorini, and Athens; all of them were beautiful and so different from each other despite being in such close proximity. Our main goal was to relax and enjoy ourselves with not much on our itinerary.
Our first stop was Crete, which is large enough to spend an entire week exploring. We took a flight from Athens to Heraklion and stayed right on the Gulf of Heraklion in the Sea of Crete. Our hotel room overlooked the port so we saw ferries coming and going all day. We stayed at the GDM Megaron and loved it. Our first day there started slowly with an indulgent breakfast – this hotel had one of the best continental breakfast spreads we’ve ever seen, including house-made confections and any specialty coffee you’d like – and some time at the rooftop pool. The weather was hot and humid but the water was refreshing.
From there we decided to explore the city on foot. Heraklion is a large metropolis with lots of people and shops. We found a Greek coffee roaster and picked up some beans to take home with us. While wandering around we stumbled upon an old bastion around the city. Since we were the only ones there, we ended up spending the entire day walking along the bastion and viewing the city from above. It encircled the city and ended at the water where we dipped our toes before eating some fresh seafood and gyros. The food in Greek was so fresh and delicious. That evening we found a small beach and went swimming; it was crowded even at 8pm! The water was so salty, calm, and buoyant that we were able to float without exerting much energy. It was incredibly peaceful and a lot a fun.
[The Greek coffee at this roaster left a bit to be desired, but we use it for some good cold brew once we add a bit of coconut milk. -Matt]
We had read that the Samaria Gorge was one of the must do things in Crete, so the next day we drove across the island to do the 11 mile hike. Let’s just say, before we even made it to the trailhead we knew our time would’ve been better spent staying in Heraklion. The drive itself was about 3 hours, which should’ve tipped us off to skip this adventure, but the hikers in us pushed on. The trail was relatively easy: it was very rocky and a bit technical, but it was all downhill. We finished the 11 miles in under 3 hours. The trail ends in Agia Roumeli where we had some ice cream and dipped our feet into the Libyan Sea. From there we had to take an hour long ferry ride to Sougia followed by a 2-ish hour bus ride back to the trailhead. It was an exhausting day to say the least. Overall we would NOT recommend the hike unless you’re staying in Chania and have more than 2 days on the island.
[I agree- if you have only a few days in Crete, skip the all-day (and expensive) trip to Samaria Gorge. And if you have been to a place like the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, you have seen better, in my opinion. -Matt]
From Crete we took a 2 hour ferry ride to Santorini. Santorini is idyllic Greece and is likely what you picture in your head when you hear the word. We had a little issue with the rental car company, which ended with us being charged a ridiculous amount for a Smart Car, but that’s a story for another day. We stayed in Oia surrounded by gorgeous whitewashed cave houses topped with bright blue domes. Matt booked us an amazing cave house in Finikia, just a short walk to Oia. If we had more time here (sadly we only had about 30 total hours) we would’ve gladly holed up in the cave. These houses were former wineries and maintained much of the original structure including large vats in the floors used to collect the grape juices.
We trekked down 300 stairs to Amoudi Bay and swam in the warm waters (highly, highly recommended if you go), ate fresh fish at a restaurant on the water, and watched the gorgeous sunset on our way back up. It gets very crowded at sunset because it’s apparently a very famous spot to watch, so restaurants fill up and the narrow streets get packed like sardines. Before we had to leave the next day we stopped for some beer at Santorini Brewing Company – we tasted the Red Donkey, Yellow Donkey, and Crazy Donkey (our favorite of the bunch) and took a bottle of Slow Donkey (a wine barrel aged brew) to enjoy outside.
Our last stop of the vacation was Athens. We stayed in downtown and were walking distance to everything. Our hotel had a spectacular view of the Acropolis; it’s pretty amazing to have breakfast and cocktails surrounded by ancient ruins. We spent most of our time in Athens leisurely exploring the city on foot. Our first full day we went to the Acropolis – word of warning it is very crowded in the morning. We ended up paying more for a private tour because the line was so long, but if you go later in the day there is practically no line. Between the Parthenon, the temples, and the theaters (which are still used for concerts!) we were in awe the whole time. The amount of architecture they’ve preserved is amazing – in order to restore the buildings they must have 70% of the original structure. [You can see the restored pieces are much more white-colored than the original pieces which are more yellow/beige -Matt]
We spent a couple of hours walking around the grounds and exploring some of the sights not pointed out on the tours. If you walk around the perimeter there are caves to the gods, churches from the Turkish rule, and so much more. [You HAVE TO walk round the perimeter of the Acropolis, around the Festival Road, since so much of it is off the beaten track, but still so much a part of the history of the Acroplis-Matt]
Walking down the street you’re likely to see some ancient ruins preserved right next to a modern high rise; the juxtaposition was unreal. We visited the gardens and walked around the Agora as well. We ate a lot, napped a little, and capped off our evenings with a glass of wine or Ouzo just enjoying the last of our vacation and the start of married life.
Combined with Africa, this truly was a trip of a lifetime and one we’ll never forget. [It was a long trip to get from South Africa to Greece, which had it’s own story to it, but it was truly beautiful and we are glad we had such a diverse experience even in the short time we had for the honeymoon. -Matt]