Checklist Earth: Greece

 Checklist Earth: Greece
 By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini 
 January 28, 2019

This trip happened in October 2017. It took me over a year to publish everything due to a perfect storm of procrastination, laziness, and a legitimate technological learning curve. In that order. Click here to see a full page of assorted trip photos. Scroll down for 360 VR videos.

The Flight
I only fly Delta because I care more about miles and status than I do about other humans and the world at large. Plus I live in Atlanta where you can get direct flights to pretty much everywhere. But not this time. We had a layover at JFK. Good times. The big flight to Athens is about ten hours. I suggest lightly abusing prescription drugs and alcohol.

Arriving in Athens
The Athens airport is nowhere near the city center. In fact, it might actually be closer to Bangkok. Fortunately, there is a train that takes only about an hour to get in. But after you've been flying for half a day a taxi is just easier. And it's a good opportunity to practice your Greek.

Benaki Musem (138 Pieros Annex)
We had time to kill before checking into our Airbnb, so we went directly to the Benaki Museum to see an exhibit of 1917 photographs of Athens, and then a display of posters paying homage to the French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Airbnb
Right near Syntagma Square, our Airbnb was a small penthouse room over an office building with a private terrace and an incredible view of the Acropolis. The first thing we did was take a 4-hour nap. "Check out that view! OK. That's enough view. Let's sleep."

Tailor Made (Coffee Shop and Cocktail Bar)
I read a lot of great things about this place, so we decided to caffeinate before starting a big night in Athens. And it lived up to the hype. Tailor Made is on a little side street plaza in Monastiraki. It was pretty lively in the afternoon. Greeks really like their coffee. These are my kind of people ...

School Pizza Bar
... but I wanted a drink. So, we wandered until we stumbled into this little place. The mission was simple. Some pizza. Some mushrooms. And, for me, a glass of ouzo - an anise-flavored liquor that they love in these parts. Anise is the taste of black licorice. I hate black licorice. I kept having it anyway.

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Train to Karaiskaki Stadium
It takes about twenty minutes on the M1 from Monastiraki to Faliro. Which is twenty minutes less time than it took me to figure out how to buy a ticket. Not because it's difficult. But because of ouzo and general incompetence.

Olympiacos v PAOK
I always try to use travel as a chance to see a soccer match. I love stadiums. And this place was nuts. Lots of open flames. Nobody seemed concerned. Meh. The game itself was decent. Not great. As was the sausage I had outside after we left. But street meat is the best meat. Even when it's mediocre.

Six D.O.G.S
Back in Athens proper, we stopped by this cultural entertainment center and bar. Upstairs we caught a few minutes of a DJ set by Quantic. And downstairs we had drinks on the garden patio - two totally different and equally enjoyable vibes.

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Esperides Cafe
Located along one of the old narrow streets of the Plaka, we stopped at Esperides Cafe on our way to the Acropolis. Here, we had some Greek coffee which is prepared with very finely ground beans. When you're done, it's basically mud at the bottom. Basically, if Greek coffee could kick my ass. Though, so could most fourth graders.

The Acropolis
This is the shining jewel of Athens - the ancient citadel perched upon a hill in the center of the city. On top, its collection of ancient ruins is highlighted the Parthenon, completed in 432 BC. Expect big crowds here. In fact, it's best to start early. Which is what we planned to do ... until we had lots of drinks the night before at Six D.O.G.S.

Acropolis Museum
Founded in 2003, this beautifully modern and well-designed museum sits at the base of the southeast slope of the Acropolis. It's worth a visit once you get down. Or before you get up. It was a topic of discussion. Learn first and then see. Or see first and then learn. I don't have the answer to this. As with most things in life.

Temple of Zeus
Completed in 456 BC, this is a temple ... dedicated ... to Zeus. Sort of self explanatory. It sits below the Acropolis and down the road from the museum.

Panathenaic Stadium
Host of the first modern Olympics in 1896, this stadium is made entirely of marble. It's really remarkable both in design and history, and there's a fun photo opportunity at the winners' podium. I took one as a second-place finisher. Because ... number two. It's both fecal-y childish, and a commentary of my level of self worth. Don't miss the museum's torch exhibit inside through the tunnel at the far end.

Presidential Palace
We sort of stumbled past the gates on our walk back to Syntagma Square. It's kind of fun to pause for a moment and watch the elite guards - known as Evzones - stand watch and to their little scrape-y foot thing.

Athens National Garden
Also on the way to Syntagma Square, we walked through the Athens National Garden. Lots of plants and birds and what not. Peaceful.

Syntagma Square
This is the central square of Athens. It's right in front of the Old Royal Palace which is now the House of Parliament. Good for people watching and catching a look at the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Greco's Project
We stopped in for a bit of feta cheese wrapped in phyllo and covered with honey and sesame seeds. It probably has an actual name. I dunno. It's good, though. And they also have automatic meat cutting machines for souvlaki ... which fascinated me more than I'd like to admit.

Verve Music Cafe
Late night drinks on the patio along the sidewalk. Nice for a late one.

This is where we had a late dinner. It's simple. But good. Traditional.

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Fly to Crete
We took an early morning Ryanair flight to Chania where we rented a car for the next three days.

Satan's Port
Because it's sort of in the opposite direction of Old Town, we went straight from the airport to this small, hidden beach. The drive out takes you along a long, rocky, winding road. There's no facilities. Just goats. From the top, it's about a 15 minute hike down the mountain to the water. But we chose to just look at it. With the goats. Because there was nobody else around, and - being that it wasn't in season - if we were to fall and hurt ourselves we'd be relying solely on the emergency medical training of the goats.

The Airbnb
We found a great little place in old town called Key Rooms. It's right in the heart of everything on a narrow but busy market street. But be prepared to walk and haul your crap. Parking is a nightmare in Old Town Chania. We ended up parking somewhere near Hong Kong. But all the stress went away once we dropped off our bags ...

... and had some beer and octopus at Pallas along the Venetian Harbor waterfront.

The Old Lighthouse
The harbor is great for a long walk, and you can stroll along the breakwater jetty to the old lighthouse. Chania is beautiful. Just go move your feet and get lost along the ancient streets.

Greek National Football Museum
Wandering led us to a rather hidden but impressive museum dedicated to Greek soccer. The guy who runs it seems to do it as a passion project, and he's more than happy to show you around and talk about his favorite memorabilia.

Filira Bistro
Not sure this place still exists, but it was great for a random, unscheduled beer.

This is an amazing little restaurant that's won all sorts of Greek cuisine awards. Good food wasted on me. I probably filled up on bread.

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Olive Tree of Vouves
About 40 minutes away from Chania sits what is thought to be the world's oldest living olive tree. It's around 3,000 years old. And though it's grand and beautiful, I swear when the wind blew I heard it say, "Killllll meeeeeeeee."

Terra Creta (Olive Oil Company)
We didn't know it was there, but stopped by on a whim while driving away from the tree. We lucked out on a large, pre-scheduled tour group and continued to blend in for a tasting. We bought a bunch of olive oil. So, you know ... that was fun to travel with for the next week.

Taverna Argentina
The guy at Terra Creta suggested this restaurant. It's a little fish place in the seaside village of Kolymbari. The chef asked us to follow him to the fridge where he showed us some of the fresh catch. We picked one. And he prepared it ... with the stomach on the side. Apparently they like that. The stomach. I tried it, but gross organs really aren't my thing.

Falasarna Beach
This is a big west-facing beach that's perfect for sunsets. And it's an easy drive from Chania.

Ladi & Rigani
If it was socially acceptable, I would eat Souvlaki for every meal. And I was craving. So we walked around Chania until I settled on this place. It seemed promising. It was. To be fair, I'm an easy audience.

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Bougatsa Chania
Anthony Bourdain dined here on an episode of "No Reservations" so it was high on our list of places to visit before leaving town. And, man, does it deliver. The bougatsa is delicious, and we ate it in the car driving out of town.

This is a city along the northern coast of Crete, about halfway between Chania and Heraklion. We stopped in for a stretch just because it was there.

Knossos Palace
We veered a little off the route to see these ancient ruins and, quite frankly, I wasn't impressed. Maybe that's the problem with the Acropolis in Athens. It sets the bar rather high.

Infinity City Boutique Hotel
This was our only real hotel on the trip. It was better than decent - and close to the city center and the port.

Ladokolla Restaurant
Great little seafood place in lovely Heraklion. Just like everything else in this town, we left wanting more.

Xalavro Open Bar
Great little tucked away spot for late night cocktails.

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Ferry to Santorini
It takes about two hours to get from Heraklion to Athinios Port of Thira on SeaJets. It's fine. Marginally comfortable. Just get there early if you actually want to look out the window. And get your tickets the night before from the SeaJets office so you have them in hand. Look, it's nothing fancy. But it gets you there. And you might even get a decent free high from the fumes in the unloading bay. The drive out of the port is sort of crazy. Fortunately, our Airbnb scheduled us a van pickup to get us up the winding hill and over to Imerovigli. Definitely try to pre-arrange your transportation because I promise you there's no hiking up the hill. At least not if you want to use your legs for the rest of your stay. Which I did.

Anita's Villas
We stayed in Cliff Suite 2 of this incredible property. Now, most people stay in Oia because it's the postcard town of Santorini. But it's expensive and touristy as hell. More on that later. Initially, I was a little unsure if we had made the right decision to stay in this part of town instead. But once we got there - and especially after our stay was over - I was 100% convinced that this was the right move. It was spectacular.

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Rent an ATV
I can't stress this enough. Rent. An. ATV. This is unquestionably the easiest, fastest, and most fun way to cruise around the island. It's a little scary at first with all the other cars, but trust me. It's so worth it. And most Airbnb hosts and hotels can help arrange to have it delivered right to your door. I forget what it cost, but was nominal. At least in October.

Red Beach
Way down in the southwest coast of the island is Red Beach near the small village of Akrotiri. Once you park the ATV, it's a short hike down to the sand and crystal clear water. Despite a number of tourists, it's definitely worth the (minimal) effort to get there. It's red.

Sunset at Skaros Rock
One of the perks of staying in Imerovigli - and at Anita's Villas in particular - is direct access to the Ekklisia Theoskepasti hiking trail that leads to Skaros Rock. It's an old 15th century fortress, and an incredible place to watch the sunset. The hike is easy, but getting to the top of the rock takes effort and agility. So, it's not for everyone. But you don't have to go all the way up to enjoy the view. I mean, it's not like you're free-soloing El Capitan, but just make sure you're able. And sober.

Definitely one of the best meals we had on this trip, and just a short walk from our Airbnb.

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This is sort of the "it" town on Santorini. For a reason. It's beautiful. All those white buildings and the blue roofs - that's Oia. (Pronounced: Ee-uh.) Hell, it's probably on the cover of every Greece guide book. But that's also precisely why it's wildly overrated. We encountered more tourists here than anywhere else on the island. And this was off season. I can't even imagine what it's like in the summer. On top of that, everything is way more expensive in Oia. But it's still worth seeing. And the ride up on the ATV was beautiful. I just wouldn't recommend staying here. Especially since it's in the uppermost part of the island and all the cool beaches and fun stuff is well south from there.

Meteor Cafe
We finally settled on one of ten gazillion little shops and cafes to stop and have some coffee. It was a picturesque little hideaway. And the balcony offered incredible views. We also had some sort of yogurt dish that probably cost more than my Mazda.

Lucky's Souvlakis
We ate great seafood and great salads and great everything during our time in Greece, but nothing compares to my love for Lucky's Souvlakis in Fira. I had read about this place prior to our trip, and the general consensus was that this was the best around. It's right in the central square of Fira. Now, I've talked about souvlaki several times already, but I haven't quite explained what it is. But, basically, it's cubed meat cooked on sticks. Shish kabob. I would eat it in a pita which makes it similar to a gyro. But technically not the same. But it's sort of OK to use them interchangeably. "Hey, let's go get a souvlaki." And then you get a gyro. The point is this: Put them inside you.

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Santorini Brewing Company
This is a decent little craft brewery that's been in business on the island since 2011, and is credited with creating Greece's first IPA. All of their brew incorporate the word 'donkey' or 'ass.'

Koutsoyannopoulos Winery and Wine Museum
Pronounced: Steve.
This was actually a really good wine museum, though my reference comparisons are limited. Limited to none. But it was fun. Worth the stop. After the museum tour we went to the tasting room where I said things like, "Oh, this one has a nice finish." But I don't know what I'm doing with wine. It was good. I guess. No better or worse than most wines I drink. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'm a neanderthal.

We enjoyed a little night drive into Fira on the ATV after watching sunset from our deck. We parked and went for a walkabout, finally agreeing to what looked like an interesting place to eat. Ouzeri was right at the tail end of their season - it was literally their last night being open - and was, therefore, serving with a limited menu. But it was good.

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Kamari Beach
On our last morning in Santorini, we rode out to Kamari Beach on the lower eastern coast of the island. It's one of the many black sand beaches, and we grabbed some coffee at a little sidewalk cafe. There were lots of them, and I honestly don't remember the name. But it may have been from the Levante Beach Hotel. All the same. It was coffee with a view.

Santorini Airport
After breakfast we returned the ATV and took a local bus into Fira where I made one last stop at Lucky's for some souvlaki. Then it was onto another local bus to the airport. We got there way earlier than we needed - it's not exactly Heathrow - so we found a little snack bar area and had a couple beers. This would be the start of nice long drinking bender that continued in Athens.

Back in Athens
After getting back into Athens we had about 12 hours to kill before having to be on our flight home via Amsterdam. So, we opted to forgo lodging and, instead, just have a long night out on the town. At the airport we stored our bags at place called Care4Bag and then set off for our own little bar crawl.

Train Into the City Center
This time, instead of a taxi, we decided to try the train from the airport. It's easy. And much cheaper. And it seemed to take about the same amount of time as a car. For about $12, all you do is hop on the Blue Line #3 and take it right into Syntagma.

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The Old Tavern of Psaras
We started the night respectfully with a great dinner and wine at a place I had read about online prior to the trip. It lived up to the expectations and allowed us to wander the Plaka in search of it. It's a classic Mediterranean restaurant with good food and good wine, and it's all very close to the Acropolis.

Also right in the heart of the Plaka sits Brettos, the oldest distillery in Athens. They've been making ouzo since 1909, and it's sort of landmark destination for tourists and locals. The atmosphere is great, the walls are colorful, and the ouzo will put hair on your chest. You too, ladies!

The Speakeasy
At Brettos, we met a couple from Spain and sort of hit it off. So they decided to join us for the next stop on our grand bender through Athens - a little "secret" bar called The Speakeasy. It's only a secret in that there's no outdoor signage. I mean, hell, they have a Facebook page. But, basically, you look for a door at 12 Lekka Street, ring the bell, and open the door when they buzz you in. Then you just follow the stairs down to the music. Once you're there, the atmosphere is cozy and relaxed. We stayed for a good while. It's actually kind of nice that it's a little less packed than most bars in the area.

A For Athens
Our last stop was at the rooftop bar at the hotel A For Athens. By this point in the night, we'd moved on to beer, and enjoyed them with a beautiful last view of the Acropolis. That's sort of the big selling point here. The view. Which, if you've actually read this far, is sort of the thing about Greece. No matter where you are - no matter where you go - there's something stunning to look at. Except ...

Athens Airport
... the airport at some unGodly hour in the morning, where you'll only find a drunk guy, slowly falling asleep in the terminal. Stay classy, Bellini.

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Harleen said...

Romance, History, Amazing tourist attraction, Mouth Watering cuisine –Seafood, Pasta, white-bean soup! Greece offers it all and much more. Thanks to Greece Visas( UK for making the cumbersome task of visa application easier for me

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