A journey through Greece
A travel story by Veerle Bijker and Alexandros Ousantzopoulos
From September to January 2021, my two close friends were planning on going to Bali and Thailand for their study, while I would be at home writing my thesis to graduate. Sadly for them, their trip was cancelled due to Covid. Luckily for me, though, these 2 friends still wanted to travel and this time, I would be able to join them.
Our wishes were to go somewhere warm and beautiful and we came up with the idea to go to Greece for a month. The white homes, blue seas, warm weather, and interesting history really attracted us. Our journey started in one of the most impressive cities I have ever visited: Athens.
This beautiful city has been inhabited for over 7000 years and that shows. There are a ton of incredible temples, buildings, and places descending from ancient times. The most famous one would be the mountain Acropolis with the Parthenon and the Erechteion. Though this is the image that almost everybody knows of Athens, there are so many more ancient beauties that you will see by only walking around the centre. The most interesting thing of all is that each building has a different history. Throughout the centre of Athens, there are many souvenir shops, jewellery shops, and nice shops to do some shopping. When visiting Athens, I recommend visiting for at least 2 days, so you can visit the ancient sites, do some shopping and have time to cool off in between your activities because it can be incredibly hot.
From Athens, you can reach nearly all islands of Greece. Our next stop was Mykonos: the Ibiza of Greece.
When we arrived on this island, we could immediately feel the difference between the big city and the peaceful, calm, and beautiful island. After taking the bus to the city centre, we found out that our apartment was located perfectly: next to the bus station and at the beginning of the adorable and famous streets of Mykonos Island. These streets are what you would expect from the Greek Islands, big rocks outlined with white to walk on, white houses, and a gorgeous view when you could peek through these houses to the blue ocean. During the day, we would visit gorgeous beaches, like Paradise Beach and Super Paradise beach. These are easily reachable by bus; unfortunately, these bus tickets are one of the few affordable things on the island. Cocktails are 10 to 15 euros per drink and accommodations, food, and shops are all significantly more expensive here than on other islands. Mykonos also is one of the more touristy islands, but I would still recommend visiting Mykonos. It was the prettiest island of all, and for those that fancy a party, love going to the beach, and do not have the smallest budget, this is the perfect get-away island.
After Mykonos, it was time to visit a less touristic island: Naxos, Greece
Naxos really surprised us. As we entered the harbour, we already saw an incredible view of the Portara, the Greek temple of Apollo. This temple is located on top of a hill and dates back from 6 centuries before Christ. It is beautiful to watch the sunset through the gate of this temple (see picture). As we were walking towards our apartment with a little (unexpected) de-tour, we already walked through the incredibly cosy and beautiful little streets of Naxos-city. This is a beautiful village with many restaurants, shops and very kind people who are happy to help you find your apartment if you seem lost in the little maze-like streets. It soon became clear that this island was just as beautiful as the famous Mykonos. For the people that like less touristy islands more, Naxos is perfect. Naxos also has a lot of beautiful sand beaches. However, these are hard to reach for people that do not own a car. One that we had wanted to visit, but couldn’t was Mikri Vigla Beach, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. We ate the best (and affordable) moussaka at the restaurant Metaxi Mas. The tables are spread over the small streets surrounding the restaurant and while we were sitting there, a very enthusiastic accordion player filled the streets with his music. The ambiance on Naxos was the best one of all the islands that we have visited, so I really recommend visiting.
When visiting the Greek Cyclades, our next stop could not be skipped. It is probably the most famous island of Greece: Santorini.
LEFT: NARROW STREETS; RIGHT: THE PORTARA
The view when entering the harbour of Santorini is different from other islands. Santorini is an island with many hills, which is also the view you have when arriving. The climb up this hill is incredibly steep, so there is no other way to get up than by bus or car. Luckily, there are more than enough taxis and buses that will get you where you need to go. Due to the high demand for these taxi companies, you will probably be able to bargain your way into a cheaper drive up to your holiday home.
Santorini is probably the most famous island of the Cyclades, so we were really looking forward to visiting this island. The famous images of Santorini (see picture) are all taken in Oia, the town in the north. From our location close to Perissa Beach, a black sand beach that should be crowded with (younger) tourists in the high season, it was around 1,5 hours by bus. However, once arrived in Oia, the whole journey was worth it: the views were beyond belief. During our entire stay on Santorini, there was a very strong wind, but through the streets of Oia, this wind was nowhere to be found. Watching the sunset on the sunset boulevard of Oia is also supposed to be breathtaking, especially when the skies are clear.
Partying can be done in Fira, the capital of Santorini. There are many nice bars, like ‘2 Brothers Bar’, ‘Murphy’s Bar’ and Tango (for people with a higher budget). Even without the desire to party, Fira is a gorgeous town to walk through and do some sightseeing.
There are fewer ferry connections from this island than from other islands, so make sure that you take that into account when planning to go island hopping. When there are no ferry tickets available for your budget or time, you can always consider going by airplane. Though this is a much less sustainable way of traveling, so I recommend only doing this if there is no other option.
Rhodes is famous for its old town. When wandering through it, it seems as if you have travelled back in time to Medieval times. There is a gorgeous castle, and the paths are made from boulders. The entire town is very different from the ‘normal’ Greek towns, which makes it very special. Around the old town, an entirely new part is built, which is especially nice for shopping.
On Rhodes, it is hard to get to places without a car. There are a few bus connections, for example, to Faliraki, one of the most popular beaches of Rhodes. There are, however, plenty of beautiful beaches, towns, and other places that are harder to reach, like the springs Kallithea, ancient archaeological towns, the Seven Springs, and many more.
Next up is our last destination: Syros, Greece.
This island is the capital of the Cyclades, so we had expected that it would be really crowded. On the contrary, it was the least crowded island we had visited. Ermoupolis, the capital city of Syros, is built on a hill. When booking our apartment for these last nights, we wanted something close to the harbour. It would have been nice to have checked the height difference before booking because when we arrived at 4 AM (at night, yes), we had to walk up what felt like a million staircases. Google Maps said it would be a 13-minute walk, while we took around 45 minutes to carry our luggage and ourselves to our apartment. So, one tip: when visiting Syros, be prepared for staircases. Ermoupolis is once again, a gorgeous town. Because this town was one of the most important cities in the surrounding areas, there are many old theatres, churches and huge mansions. On top of the mountain, you find the Church of the Resurrection of Christ and a great view over the town to spot other impressive buildings, like The Town Hall, and the Church of Agios Nikolaos.
Syros also has a few very nice beaches, like Kini. However, when we visited Kini, the weather was not inviting us to lay down on the beach. Still, it was clear that in the high season, this place would be great.
Syros would be great to visit in the high season if you like a less crowded, but beautiful island.
Samothraki – the island of Great Gods
Samothraki is a mountainous Greek island located in the northern Aegean Sea. It was a nationwide known destination for religious reasons where rituals worshipped the Great Gods serving catharsis (purification) and promising a happy afterlife. Today, the island is a destination for alternative types of tourism, such as medical and regenerative tourism contrary to the mass tourism model of Greece.
The capital of the island is called Chora (which means ‘’capital’’) and is located away from the shore as a measure to evade pirate attacks during the Middle Ages. Moreover, the island is known for its thermal sulfurous springs with healing properties for chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and secondary skin conditions which are in Therma village. To add to that, one can visit sites with cultural and historical significance such as the Ancient City, the Temple of Great Gods, and two museums dedicated to archeological and folklore artifacts. There is also another side of Samothraki for those who want to dig further into nature’s immaculate beauty.
Apart from the high peaks that one can hike around the island, and to an extent higher than 1,600 meters (Feggari), one can explore the dense forest areas and get rewarded by hidden waterfalls and naturally shaped ‘pools’ which in the local dialect are called ‘vathres’. The paths to reach those spots variate in difficulty that ranges from easy to hard. The rewards are glades and clearings with waterfalls that come out of the mountain and green crystal-clear water. Furthermore, this is complemented by outdoor activities integrated into the surroundings. Those activities range from canyoning to hiking and alpine biking for those who wish to experience the island to the fullest.
‘VATHRES’ IN SAMOTHRAKI
In addition to that, the island hosts a diversity of flora and fauna including rare varieties of endemic plants in the wetland and migratory species such as Caretta-caretta that find shelter in caves around the coast. However, the mascot of Samothraki is the goat, a species like the Cretan Kri-kri, or as it is called in Greek, Katsiki. The goats’ staggering population, outnumber the locals by a factor of 20X (!!!), with more than 60,000 goats with most of them roaming freely and 3,000 inhabitants scattered around the island. For meat enthusiasts, it’s the most sought-after delicacy, served –almost- everywhere around the island in various forms and recipes.
The type of accommodation that the island has to offer includes small-sized establishments and family hotels, in addition to apartments and camping grounds. The camping grounds differ in facilities, with one being able to accommodate caravans and cars, while the other being close to free camping with no electricity and hot water. Those facilities are mostly run by locals, with big private investments being disapproved of by the local community (Schwaiger, 2017).
Last but not least, Samothraki is protected under the Natura 2000 network almost everywhere on the island, with the reserved areas for habitats of birds and inland species overlapping. Moreover, a bottom-up initiative from a long-term visitor with a scientific background and local NGOs has been proposed to UNESCO to declare the island a biosphere reserve and ensure that the island’s fragile ecosystem can be safeguarded.
To sum up, Samothraki is a place where someone can explore, unplug, and be rewarded with unforgettable spots, views, and experiences. It is a place that people who visit will do so again because of its authenticity and unique unspoiled nature.
Every island had something else to offer, and on each island, we experienced different things. Though, one thing that was the same everywhere we went, was the incredibly nice and welcoming people. Everywhere the locals would smile at us, come over to chat with us, and give us recommendations to make our stay even better. I always find it strange to see how different locals live in comparison to most Dutch people. We are so used to our ways, the perfectly arranged public transport, the overstocked supermarkets, and our rushed way of living that we sometimes forget to enjoy the moment with the people around us. The Greek locals always seemed to find time for each other to get together, have a drink, and a laugh. It really seemed that these people would make a good time of every hour of the day, which is very inspiring to me.
In the end, we highly recommend you visit Greece yourself and create experiences and memories of your own!