3 countries in one day – not a common claim. Leaving Croatia with our final destination being Greece, we had a pit stop in the middle, and why not Serbia? We had a six hour layover in Belgrade, so James and I decided we would take the opportunity to explore the Serbian capital. I had my sights firmly set on finding Djokovic as we boarded a bus into town; we walked at a cracking pace to make the Saturday night free city tram tour. Our first impressions of Belgrade weren’t great; however the Serbian tour guide promised that by 2020, the city would have completely renovated itself and look like the flashy billboards plastered everywhere; provided they come up with the $2 billion required for such a makeover. Guess we’ll have to go back and see (and also to have another attempt at finding Djokovic!). After the tour we made our way through the city centre into the Bohemian area where each wee restaurant had its own band, and we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at a really good price. We then made our way back to the airport, stopping for ice-blocks (the lady at the stall kindly taking the wrappers off for us) and almost getting kicked off the airport bus for having our feet on the seats, numerous times. Another layover in Thessaloniki, and then we were all aboard for our flight to Santorini.
Thanks to movies such as the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, and Mamma Mia, Santorini has always been one of my prime destinations to visit. Finally we were here! It took longer than expected to get out of the airport as we didn’t realise we had to go to Fira and then transfer to Perissa, which is where we were staying (as it is has the best beach, with black pebbles). For only €9 a night, I guess you can say Tony’s Villa wasn’t bad. It had a pool, and was in a prime location for yummy restaurants (a cute place called Grandma’s Recipes quickly became our local – lovely owner, as well as NΩMA on the waterfront – divine), a supermarket and the beach – however our room looked like a storage shed, with a broken TV, fridge, fan and set of drawers, a shower with no showerhead, and the interior décor was (perhaps) themed Ancient Greek – with sand and rocks glued to the walls. The tap water there is also undrinkable, which we weren’t told until the end of our first day there.
We hired a 120CC quad bike (€20 for the first day, €15 for subsequent) and it made exploring the island very easy. Perissa was definitely the best beach we came across, however we also visited the Red Beach – which is known for its red rocks and sand (which is actually made up of tiny pieces of driftwood, so had quite a spongy feel). As we arrived a giant rogue wave came ashore and saturated most people and their belongings, clearing the beach out for us. Unfortunately the water was really dirty with driftwood, and we didn’t stay long. We looked for the White Beach but to no avail; we must have missed the turn off because we just couldn’t find it. For an amazing view over Perissa (and most of Santorini) we gave our bike a workout and climbed the road to the monastery; however there seems to be a slight haze that is continually resting over the volcanic island.
Although we didn’t actually stay here we had a wander around the pedestrian area, and filled our stomachs with some delicious gyros. A tip for gyros – some places charge €7 or €8 – these are tourist targeted; get off the main street, or find a takeaway joint – it’s half the price, and just as good, if not more authentic. One of my highlights of Greece was the walking track from Fira to Oia (it takes approximately 2.5 hours) that provides all the postcard views of the submerged caldera and the houses coloured only blue and white. To get there we weaved through the snaking pedestrian streets of Fira before finding ourselves on a path that goes past the cable car, and along the edge of the cliff. We ambled past some luxurious looking resorts, before climbing a hill past a little cathedral/bell tower, some donkeys and over into Oia. I had been so excited to ride donkeys, but after researching logistics I was put off by the reports of animal cruelty and abuse that sadly occur.
Three long nights spent at our palace in Perissa, gave us reason to splash out; after nabbing a deal off the internet, we stayed at a wonderful place called ‘Soulis’ where we had all the luxuries. It was located at Voulompous Beach (near Oia) and required a lengthy journey down a very steep hill to get there. We hired another bike in Fira, however unlike our first bike this one lacked power, solid brakes, and the ability to reverse. Needless to say the trip down was a nerve wrecking one, and we had to figure out an alternative route back up, because there was no way our cruddy little bike would make it (fortunately there is a coastal route via Oia available). After spending a relaxing afternoon by the pool we headed into Oia (along with every other tourist) to watch the sunset, nibbling on a local specialty; honey and sesame peanuts, as we did so. As darkness embraced Santorini, we stood admiring the view of various villages perched along the cliffs (accurately compared by Lonely Planet to ‘a dusting of icing sugar’) , when a power cut saw the twinkling lights of the villages go out one by one, in a domino effect across the island. It was beautiful to watch, and we only became concerned when we realised that finding somewhere to watch the football semi-final might now be a problem. Thankfully our worries were unnecessary, and we wound up at a delicious Asian place called Paradox, surrounded by Dutchies in a sea of orange with just a sole Argentinian supporter; it goes without saying that the bar cleared out pretty rapidly after that game finished!
The next morning saw a delightful breakfast followed by the beginning of our journey to Athens. Poor James got stung by a bee, and the immense swelling was a great source of entertainment (for a lot of people I’m sure) over the next few days. Snack and cider stops pre-empted a long queue to climb aboard the €40 ferry to the Greek capital (we just bought our tickets at the port). Our delayed departure resulted in a mad dash to make the last metro in Athens, and then a midnight snack of gelato in the main square of Messoloniki, while the shop owner gave us directions. Unfortunately the bus stop and street names given to us were in English, and the signposts were all in Greek, so we very nearly missed our stop – however we managed to make it with a bit of assistance, and in relatively good time considering how difficult it could have been.
In the one day that I had in Athens, we planned to make the most of it. Up early, we paid the €12 entry fee to the Acropolis and accompanying sights. Despite the Pantheon being under construction, the whole experience was fantastic, and again I managed to get in trouble numerous times for having my feet on stuff. After a maître d’ on the tourist street gave away there was a cheap street just around the corner we scouted out some cheap gyros before having a siesta in the park, gelato at Plaka (my first experience of beggar/busking children) and a wander round the main streets. The day hit a low after that, not only did I fall over and roll my ankle (going down like a ‘tonne of bricks’ apparently), I had my third iPhone of the trip stolen, and I was due to leave the country early the next morning. In an attempt to cheer me up, and resurrect the rest of our time in Athens, we headed to the 360 Bar for cocktails while soaking up wonderful roof top views of the Acropolis. This was followed by momentary panic when I printed my boarding pass and realised I had accidentally selected Nicaragua as my home country! And having booked with RyanAir, the difficulties that this could present were endless. Not much I could do, so we pushed it aside and enjoyed a lovely authentic Greek dinner at a place called Athens Bar. Afterwards we headed back to the hostel as I had an early start; having no phone I had to ask a kind girl in our room to set her alarm at 4.30am for me! Stayed at Pragation Hostel – although the staff were nice, there was no Wifi in rooms, it was about a 30 minute walk from town and you had to pay for hot water (not that we really needed it).