Now, how to travel between them? We attempted to look up the schedules of how to island hop, but we couldn't find clear information. There are lots of travel agents in Athens, but they obviously charge a fee. After so much research and not getting anywhere we finally, reluctantly stopped in a travel agent’s office. The agent was really friendly and gave us lots of information. We wanted to think about our options and told him we would come back. Then we found it! The website that has the schedules of all the ferries between all the islands, www.greekferries.gr. Of course, this website also charges a commission so being the cheapskates, I mean thrifty travelers, we found the ferry company, date, and time and then went onto the specific ferry’s website and bought tickets directly, with no commission. It is a little more work to look up the schedule on one website and then go to another to buy it, but it saved us some money.
We got up early for our first ferry ride. Our hotel was near so we could walk to the pier, Pireaus. There are a lot of hotels near Pireaus, but most of them were out of our price range. We found a cheap place where I think we were the only guests. I seemed like it is a very old house converted into a hotel. It was run down, but had a big bed and private bathroom so it seemed luxurious to us. Anyway we walked over to the port and found the pier with our ferry. The ship was large and modern. Of course, we bought the cheapest tickets, which were considered economy/deck seats. We found an area with a table and chairs near a little café on one of the decks. I got a coffee and Remy and I setup to read and connect to the Internet. We were some of the first people in the area and as it started to fill in we quickly realized that we were surrounded by chain smokers. We looked around for another spot, but everyone smokes, so we couldn’t escape it. There was an area with benches, but people were sprawled out with their sleeping bags leaving no room for us. The ship finally left the pier and we set off to further explore and discovered the ship is huge! We found indoor lounges, where smoking is prohibited. Sometimes you have to weave your way through the higher class seating areas, but as long as you went to one of the lounges no one gave you a hard time. We found a table and chairs, setup camp, and hoped no one would come yell at us to go back outside. Once we found this space we had a nice, long journey to Ikaria.
First stop, Ikaria, named for Icarus, the son of Daedalus who made Icarus wings of feathers and wax to escape from Crete.
Another reason we were told that so many people live a long time is that they walk a lot, up and down mountainous terrain. Supposedly, Ikaria used to be an island very attractive to pirates. The people that lived on Ikaria were scared of these pirates so they lived up in the mountains and had to walk down to the coast to fish and gather food and then walk back up to go home. We were also told about how the people were so scared of pirates that they only came out at night and that on the island there is still a town that operates on the same schedule. People don’t come out, shops don’t open, nothing happens until late afternoon, and then people are up all night long.
The Greeks on the mainland told us about Ikaria’s laid-back style, which we definitely experienced. Shops open when the owners feel like opening and close when they want to leave. Usually there is a long break in the middle of the day when shops close for siesta and then reopen in the late afternoon and stay open through the evening. We were also told hitchhiking was easy; if someone sees you walking they will stop and ask if you need a ride. This sounds amazing, but we were a bit skeptical. Up to now we haven’t had the best luck hitchhiking. We arrived in Evdilos, Ikaria, the smaller port, and we hadn’t done much research or planning so we didn’t have a hostel booked. We walked around a bit and discovered that there aren’t a lot of options and most places were fully booked because of a wedding happening on the island. We saw another traveler and asked him where he was staying and he said on the roof of a hostel a few kilometers away. We continued to search but then eventually gave up since everything we found was out of our budget and decided to walk to the hostel the guy told us about. It was hot and hilly and with big backpacks I wasn’t looking forward to it, but we didn’t have another option. We were walking for about 5 minutes when a car stopped and asked if we needed a ride. Marvelous!!!
We got a ride to the town, Kampo, and then after some asking around found the hostel, Dionysos Rooms. We were shown rooms and then the roof accommodations. The rooftop has a few beds, a shelter on three sides, and an awesome view all the way to the ocean. Other pluses were an area to do laundry, clotheslines, and a kitchen we could cook in. Also close by there is a big grocery store, which we immediately hit up and stocked up on produce, meat, bread, and wine. It was a great place to camp out for a few days.
Anyway the owners of the hostel are extremely friendly and helpful. The next morning they helped us rent a scooter and suggested places to explore around the island. By the time all the arrangements were made we didn’t leave the hostel until about noon. We hopped on the scooter and went to Nas. In Nas there is a river that runs into the ocean. Where the two meet is a beautiful beach with large crashing waves. We hung out on the beach for a bit and then hiked up the river/gorge. It is quiet, beautiful, and we saw only a few other people. We learned that we were there after the main season and could see the remains of all the people that had been living there for the summer. On the beach and along the river there discarded tents, sleeping bags, and lots of trash. I’m glad it was much calmer when we were there. So we hiked up the gorge and hung out along the river and took advantage of some swimming pools. Oh yeah, Nas is a nudist beach so we saw a few bare bottoms, among other things.
After hiking up the gorge for a bit we came to a dirt road and walked along it back to our scooter. We decided to explore some of the mountainous areas on our way back to the hostel. Surprisingly it was quite chilly, which wasn’t that fun when we got lost on very bumpy dirt roads and almost ran out of gas. Then we decided to walk the scooter down a path to a main road, which didn’t work out so then we had to push the scooter back up the path to a dirt road. Eventually we found a bakery for some cookies, a gas station, and the road back to Kampo. It was an adventure, but we got to see more of the picturesque, peaceful island and we had some nice wine to come back to (really we’re not alcoholics).
This was an island that we didn’t originally plan to go to, but the only way to get from Ikaria to Naxos was via Mykonos. We decided, since we needed to pass through we would spend a day to see what all the fuss is about. We took a night ferry from Ikaria to Mykonos and as everyone gets on they are scrambling to find a place to unroll their sleeping bags or spread out their blankets. There were sleeping bodies all over the floor.
Mykonos is known to be a party island that is expensive. We found a place with rather inexpensive camping, Paradise Beach Resort + Camping, but most of the reviews complained about it being loud and dirty. It was a bit loud, but not dirty, at least to our standards. We were there in the shoulder season so during the day when the cruise ships unload there are lots of people and at night it seems to quiet down a bit. Mykonos is a pretty island, but it is a bit expensive. The main town and beaches are very touristy, but it wasn't a bad stop.
The great thing about the campsites on both Mykonos and Naxos is that they provide a free shuttle from the pier to the campsite. All the campsites on Naxos had mediocre reviews so we just picked Maragas Beach Camping, which turned out to be ok.
Day #1: We arrived at Maragas and rented bikes from Ag. Anna.
We did two long days of biking. The roads were mixed between asphalt, dirt roads, and sand paths and not well marked at all. Multiple times we needed to get directions and ended up places we didn't intend. And it was a lot of uphill, but it was an adventure and in a way between then zipping around on a scooter.
Day #2: We biked from Maragas to Plaka and then inland. We got lost on the roads to Vivlos and then headed south past Ano Sagri. Eventually, we turned north to Halkio for a lunch break and a tour of the distillery. Finally we biked downhill (yippee) to Naxo town (Hora) (through Himaros, Potamia, Mesi Potamia) and back Maragas to rest our sore legs and bottoms.
Day #3: Another day of biking from Maragas to Plaka then south past Kastraki to Aliko. We then went north (inland) to Vivlos, west towards Ag. Arsenios and then back to Plaka and finally back to Maragas.
We ended our time on Naxos with a tasty dinner and a good night sleep!
Santorini is a small island with lots of beaches, shopping, and tourists. It is a very charming island that is raved about in guidebooks and travel blogs and featured in many movies. I wanted to go see the picturesque white houses with blue domed roofs. Santorini wasn't debated, it was a must, but I should have researched it a little more before we went. It isn't very budget friendly and there isn't much to do besides shopping and lounging on the beach. This doesn't exactly fit us. We are on a tight budget with limited space in our packs, so there was no shopping. And hanging out on the beach isn't really our style. We are not very good at just lazing on the beach. Plus we are both wimps and the water was chilly and the air cooling, but we should have sucked it up, packed a picnic and books and hung out on one of the many beautiful beaches.
So what did we do? Well spent some time walking around Fira, the main town, and Ia, gorgeous, but very touristy. There is a very nice walking path from Fira going north. We followed this until we reached the path towards C.Tourlos and Imerouigli. We were going to continue, but then we saw all the people panting and sweating and decided to skip it and watch the other tourists struggle. We also found a few wineries that have tasting that are free or inexpensive. We tried nychteri, a type wine made on Santorini, that is quite tasty. It is fermented overnight so that it retains moisture. We rented a car and drove around the island and took lots of pictures. We went to the Kokkini, red sand beach and near it is an excavation site, but they charged a bit of money and since we had already visited so many ruins we skipped it. We went to a few other beaches. The north beaches are too shallow for swimming, but Agh Nikolaos has good swimming. We thought about going to Is Nea Kameni, the crater, but were warned that it's not worth the money so we skipped this too.
We spent our days driving around the island, taking lots of pictures, people watching, and spending time with our CouchSurfing host. Santorini is stunning, but unless you are ready to spend a bit of money and loaf on beaches there might be other islands better suited to your interests.
We had to stop on one more island, Kos, on our way to Turkey. We spent just a few hours touring around the island.
- Most places you need a motorcycle license to rent a scooter (Ikaria we could rent a moped).
- Ferries, always take the economy. You can always find a place to sit inside. On the deck there are lots of smokers so if you want to escape them definitely head inside. You can sit in the café or lounge. You can sleep in economy or airplane seats. Don’t get a cabin.
- If you need wifi go to Everest coffee shop. You can get something cheap and use their wifi. Everest in Greece is like Starbucks in the USA.
- At restaurants bread is placed on the table, even if you don't ask for it. Do not eat unless you want to pay ~$0.50 per person. We were eventually told that it is now illegal to charge, so if you challenge the bill the charges will be dropped.
- If you want to rent a car it is fairly easy to drive and navigate, but be careful the main highway has lots of tolls that are expensive.
- September is a great time to visit Greece. The weather is still nice and it's the shoulder season so not too many tourists.
- Buy food from the markets and grocery stores. There is plenty of cheap, delicious food including yogurt, fruit, veggies, honey,olive oil, olives, bread, etc. It is definitely cheaper than going to restaurants for all meals.
Well that wraps up Greece and ends our European part of the trip. Turkey here we come!
Click here for more pictures of our visit to the Greek islands.