Friday, October 28, 2016


The first picture we have from Athens. My father is always
obsessing about how he's strong like bull, and I guess he uploaded
this picture to his phone
Jen on the small hill that we climbed instead
HI, this is Otis again, and I'm here to tell you fellow blog followers about where we are now: Athens, Greece. We took a 25-minute plane ride (the shortest one in my life) there, and the metro to our AirBNB. We got there, settled down, and played our family's favorite card game, Wizard. Then, the next day, we took a big walk, hoping to get to the Acropolis, but we ran out of time before dark. Day 2, we got to the Acropolis, but it cost more money than we had with us, so we climbed a small hill/mountain instead. The next day, my parents went to a museum, but I got to stay home. On day 7, we FINALLY got to the Acropolis, saw the sights, and that evening Chris and I climbed another mountain. Days 5 and 6, it rained, so we couldn't do anything until it cleared up. The next day (yesterday), we went to a museum about the Acropolis (the Acrop we call it), and after that went on a nice, long walk. Today it is the National Holiday Of No. *That's a real thing.* We celebrated by doing my two LEAST favorite things: YET ANOTHER museum, and we planned on going to a parade. Fortunately for me, unfortunately for my parents, we missed it. Now, I'm lying in bed, writing a blogpost about the most special holiday in Greece: No. Overall, Athens was not my favorite city I've ever been to, but it's still amazingly awesome, and I'm thankful that we got to go on this trip in the first place. 
Walking on day 1

Jen work work work work work working

An arch

A picture of a tree by the Acrop

The mountain

Some flowers growing on a rock

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

MORE GREECE - Four Nights and Three Days in Crete

It's me! Chris! It's MORE GREECE!
Jen, Otis and I are getting so close to the present day! I'm going to tell you about our brief adventures on Crete, which will put us only a week behind the bleeding edge. It'll be interesting to see what we write about when we're all out of recaps.


When we were looking at where to go in the Greek Islands, and knowing we'd be doing it in mid-October, we chose Santorini and Crete (well, Jen was set on Santorini come hell or high water) because they're the furthest south islands in Greece. If our choice in islands could gain us even a couple of degrees celsius, it would be welcome.

Crete sits about 100 miles south of Santorini, and maybe 300 miles north of Libya, with basically nothing in between. Crete is also freaking BIG. Well, big for a greek island; at 3,200 square miles, it's in the same size ballpark as Connecticut. But when you get there, you'll understand that the three days (four nights) we had there was not enough to get a feel for it.

Crete has mountains which supposedly have snow year-round - I'm not sure I believe it, but its tallest mountain is over 8,000 feet; Connecticut's tallest mountain is the side of a mountain whose peak is in Massachusetts (take that Connecticut). Samaria Gorge in southwest Crete is ostensibly the longest gorge in Europe and attracts thousands of in-season visitors a day; the Mianus River gorge in Connecticut has a pretty cool rope swing and attracted some of my high school friends who wanted a convenient place to swim and experiment with marijuana in a parentally consequence free environment. Crete has the ruins of a 3,000 year old palace, the remains of Europe's oldest city; Connecticut has the Stamford Mall, featured in the ruinous 1991 Woody Allen/Bette Midler vehicle "Scenes from a Mall." Crete has some of the best beaches in Greece and therefore Europe; judging from the Westport beach we used to go to in my childhood, Connecticut doesn't even have the best beaches in Connecticut.

Compo Beach, Westport Connecticut

Balos Beach & Lagoon, Chania Greece

So, three days isn't enough for Crete. We meant to spend a week, but we got squeezed by travel windows on both ends so three full days were all we would get. We booked one night in Heraklion, the capital of Crete and fourth largest city in Greece, and three nights in Chania town (Chania is both a city and, effectively, a state and we stayed in the downtown).

Proprietor of the Kronos Hotel, for those into Art/Mythology jokes

ARRIVAL DAY - Arrive on fast ferry from Fira. Note to travelers: If the ferry says 03:38 or whatever, then yes, this means the ferry leaves at 3:38 AM. You may be like me and not realize this, and then you'll be out a bunch of dough and feel silly. Don't be like me. We stayed at the Kronos hotel, which was adequate (and glory hallelujah, had a REAL SHOWER!!!) and Otis and I had a nice dinner out at  Amalias Kitchen, which I recommend.

Walking through Heraklion from our Ferry to the Hotel
DAY ONE - First, I walked to the Airport to get our rental car from Enterprise. The car wasn't ready (my bad again), so we had to wait an extra hour. While I was out, Jen and Otis decided we should definitely go to Zeus's birthplace (natch), so that's where we headed, a very twisty hour and a quarter south and east of Heraklion. Once we dug the cave where Rhea hid from Chronos, we headed way west to Knossos, the fantastically old Minoan ruins near Heraklion (which showed no signs of labyrinths or minotaurs), and then two hours more to our Airbnb in Chania. Recommend the cave, Meh on Knossos, the Chevy Aveo and our Airbnb.
Not very impressive Chevy Aveo from Enterprise, but way more impressive than the Peugeot 107 we had on Santorini. Island miles are tough miles.

100% Replicant Free Village

Jen hiking into Zeus's childhood home, which, jokes aside, was an important pilgrimage cite for ancient Greeks, and the cave was full of important artifacts when it was rediscovered

Psychro Cave looks a lot like Gollum's Cave from the 70s cartoon version of The Hobbit.


Down, down to Goblin Town

TFW you're hungry enough to order a terrible lunch from a tourist trap café that doesn't have most of its menu and doesn't tell you it lacks a credit card machine

Otis wanted to do a short hike up a mountain, and we saw these beautiful flowers

Otis on the Mountain Peak, observe the poor choice in footwear

A lot of Konosos was rebuilt by the English archaeologist who discovered it and didn't know any better. Here's a Throne Room, he supposed

Jen in the ancient and rebuilt ruins

DAY TWO - Since Samaria Gorge had just closed for the year, we contented ourselves with Elafonisi Beach, one of many highly recommended beaches in western Crete. It was the furthest one away, but Jen and Otis' research revealed that it was the best one and worth the trip (Those clicking links above know that Trip Advisor says its the second best beach in Europe). The weather looked REAL dire, but an hour and a half drive through crazy mountain canyons brought us to the North Africa biome (see you later, Mediterranean Biome!) and stunningly lovely weather. Highly recommend Elafonisi Beach.

Elafonisi (some say Elafonissi or Elafonossis) is known for its pink sand
The pink sand is only where the waves hit. The sand is perfect, the water is perfect. This is a perfect beach.

Good thing we didn't stay in the cold rain back in Chania

It turns out if you walk past where all the people sit, there's more perfect beaches with no people at all 
Would happily sit here a long time

Sorry, I'm going to have to show you a lot of pictures of sunsets

Jen wanted to leave before the sun set, because the drive back was long and scary, but I was glad we were late in leaving

Got to get the reflected sun set two; this picture counts twice

If you stare at this picture long enough, you see a green flash!

Walking back to the car

This guy lives with his human in a pickup truck
DAY THREE - Tour the scenic downtown of Chania, but then get into a pointless argument with Otis that makes everyone mad and disinterested in further sight-seeing or fun-having. Recommend Chania, Highly Recommend AGAINST pointless arguments with Otis.
This is how I saw a lot of Chania, out late at night, scouting for food

It would have been nice to see more of Chania, which has a charming downtown, and was a Venetian port, and has old churches and mosques

On our last day, the water was very high, and we all got our feet wet

Waves crashing against the lighthouse jetty

DEPARTURE DAY - Wake up, get coffee, walk to internet café to print boarding passes (Ryan Air doesn't accept your phone as a boarding pass? Let me introduce you to the 21st Century Ryan Air!) and fly to Athens. Easy and Peasy, but too short in Crete!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Santorini - A Slightly Balanced Perspective

Jen here. Santori took some adjustment for me. We were not staying in either Fira (Thira) or Oia, which are the main villages/tourist attractions and 99.9% of what you see on Pinterest, Instagram or other image options which have those magical views of white and blue domed buildings perched on cliffs. The surrounding areas are less photogenic. There are areas with rusting cars parked in lots, a not insignificant amount of litter and some rougher-around-the-edges aspects. I am not saying that its bad, I am saying however that even though I read a lot about where we are going, I was taken aback by how *untouristy* parts of this very touristy place were. It took me a little while to get into the swing of Santorini, which is popular for a reason. It has a lot to offer, even if you aren't going there for a romantic trip or as part of a booked tour. We learned that the island used to be round but is now shaped like a croissant due to a volcano blowing the center away long ago. You never heard or saw the word 'caldera' as much as after you set foot on this island.

Our journey to Santorini began early from Pireus, the port of Athens. We had checked into our hotel (with exceptionally friendly staff!) after midnight and were in the shuttle van by 6 am to make sure we didn't miss our ferry (this sentence could be considered foreshadowing). It was still dark when we got to the ferry dock, and we watched the sun rise over Athens as we prepared to depart. Once underway, we settled in: it is an 8 hour ferry trip from Athens to Santorini with stops at two different islands first.

Right on time...

A heartening yet I suspect not universal message

Sun up, ramp up...we are off

Passing of time

Soooo clooooose.....
 Our Airbnb hostess had arranged for us to have a ride to the apartment, and when we disembarked in Santori's port with the hundreds of other travelers, the driver was right there waiting for us. A quick stop at the ATM and grocery store and we arrived at our apartment. It was distinctly unlovely and, as it turned out, had plumbing issues and a terrifically broken sink that had been leaking used dishwater underneath into the cabinet for some time, causing a fairly gross situation. We ended up leaving the following day and I cannot overstate how great the hostess was to work with. She did her best to remedy the problem by having a new sink installed but it was still wonky and the toilet and shower were still problematic. She apologized profusely and issued us a full refund immediately, offering to help us while we were still on the island and offering us laundry services. I wasn't impressed by the flat but I was impressed with the way she handled the situation, especially after having read some stories online about really wretched Airbnb transactions. (However as of this writing both of us are still working with Airbnb to make the refund a reality.)

We found ourselves in a different area for the rest of our stay, in the humorously named Honeymoon Beach Hotel, complete with miniature heart shaped pool which was popular with our leefle players. This place was an improvement in many regards, though we were all squished into an efficiency for a week. Small price to pay, literally and figuratively. It was a short walk to the beach, which Chris and Otis really enjoyed. I wasn't as impressed because I am the least beachy person in my family.

Clean and bright efficiency 
Leefle players
Friendly cat who would later bring us a bird's corpse as a gift
The rhythms of our explorations were fairly relaxed. As loyal readers know, I continue to work as we travel, and in Santorini was able to do some solid writing as well as some helpful research. We spent time at our local beach, Perivolos, and also did our fair share of walking around Fira and Oia, visiting local attractions like wineries and the Tomato Industrial Museum and checking out some other beaches, such as a red beach and Chris's favorite, the beach at the end of the road upon which the Tomato Industrial Museum is located. We watched the sun set every night. We also spent an afternoon at the ruins of Akrotiri, a town established oh, maybe 2-3000 years ago. It is hard to wrap your head around exactly how old these ruins are.

Sunset in Oia
Being charged €48.79 for pork. We went back to the store and worked earnestly with the clerk to realize it was a discharge for Chris's €1 coffee.
Local wine + fava at a great restaurant, Sporos

Akrotiri ruins

I mean...look at those storage vessels!!

Red beach

Perivolos Beach






Church that had an inholding on airport land -- they just fenced around it and went on their way
We definitely did not begin on the right foot animal-treatmentwise in Santorini. From the first day we were there, where donkeys passing us on the steep steps of Fira were bleeding from their lower legs (perhaps from a stumble on the stone stairs?), to the kitty near our Airbnb who had parasites, to the sad sight of the mules and horse across from the hotel, who would doubtless score very low on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System, and on our final morning, a lone cow, tethered in a dusty field, without shade or water, crying her heart out. Tethering and hobbling were common. Chris saw a donkey being driven in a truck bed. Of course, there were many cats and dogs without homes. We found a shelter (actually found while Googling to see who on the island had jurisdiction over underfed horses/mules) and emailed them, offering to help, but we did not hear from them. If I did it again, I would probably arrange our schedule so we could just show up with some donations and see if there was a way we could assist. I happen to know that sometimes when you are providing direct care of animals, administrative tasks like email can end up very far down on the list.

Typical scrubby land

Lot with hungry animals

All cats deserve love

Donkey in truck
My favorite parts? I loved the amazing sunsets, paddleball on the beach and I have to admit to falling for touristy, polished, lovely Oia. It is just beautiful. It is also more expensive to stay in by a considerable amount! So, on my next trip to Santorini, I will be more savvy, and book in Oia to spell myself while volunteering at the animal shelter and delivering hay to the island's hungry equines.* It was also nice to be warm, feel the sun on our skin and go to the beach after the chilly weather in the north.

I'm uncomfortable







Perfect sunset activity

*yes, I know that there is a protocol for starving horses, donkeys, mules and jennies, I won't willy nilly go feeding them and causing more trauma.