The Streets of Santorini

It’s not just the sunsets in Santorini that are beautiful. Between the dramatic cliffs and caldera and the white buildings with blue domes, Santorini is gorgeous! We spent our days just walking around the main walking street in town, people-watching, and taking photos.

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Quote of the Day

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Animals and SAWA on Santorini

Everyone knows I’m a huge animal lover. Santorini is famous for its donkeys who take people up and down the cliffs. However, I was more charmed by the stray cats that lived at our hotel and the dogs that prowled the streets.

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Someone thinks we should let him into our apartment. We were strictly warned that we should not feed or house the wild cats, though. It didn’t stop him from trying to tempt us with his cuteness.

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These two friends were pretty cute all cuddled up on our porch chair.

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Cats like sunsets, too.

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“Seriously, guys? Just a little food? Please?”

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This guy was balancing along the caldera.

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The dogs around town don’t have such a bad gig. They seem to just sleep all day.

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Look how toasty brown they are. Clearly this is a good tanning location.

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All right, he’s a little funky looking but he’s got the right idea – soaking up the warm weather in the shade. Anyone with freckles (like him and me) know that this is the correct approach.

Santorini Animal Welfare Society (SAWA) is an animal welfare association on Santorini. They take care of concerns about strays as well as concerns about the treatment of donkeys (more about that later). They’re a small-scale organization and mainly focus on spay/neutering (which is super important in stray populations) and medical programs. I would assume there are a limited number of homes available for these animals and SAWA seeks adopters from the mainland or outside of Greece. The dogs in Greece all seemed to be sturdy, well-fed, and well-mannered guys (generally, of course) so it probably wouldn’t be the worst place to adopt from! The adoptable dogs on their page are really cute, too.

 

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The Famous Santorini Sunset

Santorini is famous for its sunsets. In particular, the white domes of the houses make for some spectacular sunsets. We watched the Santorini sunset from a new place every day – everyone on the island does. We really lucked out with some great weather. Here are some of the best pictures:

4-11-14 Famous Santorini sunset

4-10-14 Strolling the Streets in Santorini

4-9-14 Santorini windmill

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Endless Traveler’s Visit to Chichen Itza

Endless Traveler (E.T.) has been traveling since September, 2011. The only thing he has ever wanted in his little life is to visit the Mayan ruins. Since he left on his trip, E.T. has traveled over 34,100 kilometers! We met him in Madrid, Spain. Since we knew we’d eventually be heading to the Mayan ruins in Mexico (it was one of our bucket list items when we started this trip), we figured he might want to hitchhike with us for awhile.

Since he was coming with us, E.T. was able to visit the Moai on Easter Island, Chile:

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And laze on the beach with a cold mug of beer in Costa Rica:

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He was getting antsy to visit the ruins, though. Finally, the day came and we all trekked down to Chichen Itza to visit the famous ruins. He was really excited and wanted a lot of pictures of himself.

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He insisted on doing a silly pose with a historic ruin which is one of the things I usually make fun of tourists for. I made an exception for him, though, since he’s traveled so far.

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The ball courts were a highlight. Imagine all of the battles and bloodshed that took place here!

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He got a little excited and tried to fly through the hoop but it was too far away.

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The jaguar statues were especially impressive.

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One of the highlights of the complex is the platform of skulls. Talk about creepy and cool!

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Here’s something we weren’t really prepared for: there are a ton of vendors throughout the complex. They were selling jaguar noise-makers so all the vendors would do their best to surprise (and tempt) the tourists. It was like being in a horror movie and got pretty tiring. There were a lot of souvenirs to choose from, though.

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There were a ton of people wandering around the ruins on the day we went.

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It’s always important to read the plaques when you visit a new site. It’s especially important when you tour on your own and opt out of the pricey tour groups, like we all did.

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Chichen Itza is a UNESCO site and was also voted one of the “new seven wonders of the world” which is pretty exciting.

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After a long, hot day, it was important to refuel. We decided to treat E.T. to lunch at the official restaurant of Chichen Itza. They even gave us a free appetizer for visiting.

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Most important step when you’re done with a tour? Re-hydrating with daiquiris!

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The tacos were amazing and E.T. was really pleased to try them out.

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Right as our bus was scheduled to pull up, it started to thunder and pour. We had to run for the bus but, luckily, we made it and settled in for the three-hour ride back to Cancun.

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After such an exciting trip, we decided it was time to part ways with E.T. We’ve had a great time with him but he should stay in Mexico to view some other ruins and we’re leaving next week. We left him chillin’ in a sports bar in Playa del Carmen (geocache GC3JXZ4, if you want to pick him up) for the next lucky traveler to find.

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Bon voyage, E.T. Safe travels!

For those of you wondering what in the world this is all about, here’s an FAQ about geocaching travel bugs. While you’re visiting the page, consider trying out geocaching. It’s really fun!

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Getting to Santorini

Looking back on the whole series of events, getting to Santorini is not hard. You can buy tickets online. You pick up the tickets at the dock. You get on the ferry and find a seat. You get off at the Santorini dock and find your ride (or arrange one). Easy peasy! That is not how it worked for us, though.

First, we booked our hotel in Santorini. It sounds like the best first step, right? You check the hotel prices and pick the cheapest days. Simple. However, we managed to pick the one check-in date when the ferries don’t run. So the first thing we had to do was figure out our hotel situation. In the end, we booked an extra night at the Pergamos but checked out in the early evening and arranged to check into our Santorini hotel after midnight.

Second, we had to get to the dock to get our tickets. It was about 30 minutes on the crowded metro. The stop for the dock is the very last one. Once you get there, though, you realize that the dock is huge. We bought tickets from Blue Star and their office is not directly at either the metro station or the dock but a few blocks away and across the street. We finally found them, got our tickets, and were ready to get on our boat.

Finally, we had to get to the boat. Unfortunately, our ticket vendor was not very friendly and gave us no help figuring out where our boat was docked. We saw a bunch of Blue Star ferries across the street so we headed that way. They weren’t our boat. We went to the next area and our boat wasn’t there. It turned out that our boat was the furthest place it could be from the office and there weren’t a lot of clear roads to take us there. We got lost, we were almost run over by cargo trucks, I cried because we had only a few minutes to run a seemingly huge distance. It was ridiculous.

In the end, we made it to the boat about 10 minutes before it was ready to leave. We followed the crowds and found seats in the general cafeteria area.

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It was somewhat crowded as everyone gathered to watch the boat leave the shore. We had a few beers and hung out.

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Everyone took a few pictures of the boat leaving shore and the sunset.

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The sunset was gorgeous. It was pretty cold after, though, so we headed below deck and found a little table to sit at. It was a little cramped with our backpacks but it was fine for the trip. The trip, by the way, is about six-and-a-half hours.

4-8-14 Sailing to Santorini

We arrived a little after midnight in Santorini and had arranged transportation to our hotel. Driving on the island at night was very dramatic. The cliffs rise straight from the dock and you can see out over everyone. We stayed in Oia so we had about 30 minutes of driving through deserted towns and streets before we arrived at our hotel. Luckily, our driver was nice and our hotel stuck the key to the door so we didn’t have to worry about anything but throwing our packs down and going to bed.

My General Advice for Getting to Santorini?

  • Check the ferry schedules first.
  • Book online with Blue Star or a similar company.
  • Arrive at the dock well ahead of time. If you think you’ll have plenty of time, add another 30 minutes. Even if you get to the boat early, you can take the time to find a nice place to sit.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – there’s a lot of walking at the dock.
  • Pack snacks. There are restaurants on the ship but they don’t have the greatest food.
  • Bring a sweater or something to keep you warm.
  • Enjoy the views!
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The Pergamos Hotel in Athens, Greece

While we were in Athens, we stayed at a nice, little hotel in the northern area near Exarchia. The Pergamos Hotel is somewhat far from the main tourist attractions but it’s very close to a metro station (Omonia Station) and we were able to walk to the main area one day.

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There’s a huge sign although we missed it when we were walking there the first time.

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The elevator is TINY! It said it could fit 3 people but they would have to be teeny, tiny people. Randy and I barely fit in with our backpacks. If you’re coming here with big pieces of luggage, prepare to send them up by themselves and have someone waiting to pull them off at your floor.

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Even though we were on the top floor, we chose to hike up the stairs everywhere. It was quite a hike but we need the exercise!

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Plus, you get to see excellent artwork like this along the way.

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Our rooms (we stayed there before going to Santorini and after we returned) were nice enough.

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The bathrooms were also tiny but were fine (hot water, etc.). I do not understand the addition of a stool in the shower, though. In such a small bathroom, it just took up a ton of room.

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You guys, I am obsessed with toilets. After a year on the road, you would be, too. I was SO excited by the idea of regular toilets which I expected to be widespread in Europe. My hopes were dashed in our first country! In Greece, toilet paper goes in the trash can next to the toilet – not in the toilet. When a country has that policy, it’s usually because the pipes are smaller than we’re used to in America. It’s a bit awkward at first but you get used to it. I was disappointed that there weren’t “regular” toilets, though.

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The Pergamos attempted to teach us Greek which is awesome! Why don’t more hotels offer something like that?

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There’s a little deck on the roof of our hotel where you can hang out and see the Acropolis. Randy was excited by a Greek beer on the roof.

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With a rooftop view and a good zoom on your camera, why even bother braving the crowds of tourists at the Acropolis?

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I’m sure there are tons of great places to stay in Athens but we were really happy with the Pergamos. The staff was really, really friendly and happy to help with directions or advice. The wifi connection was great. There is a grocery store around the corner and a refrigerator in the room. They tried to teach us Greek in our room! Even though we didn’t hang out there much, the rooftop deck was a nice place to snap some pictures and would probably be a great place if you were hanging out as a group.

There were some small drawbacks. The elevator is tiny so if you have any sort of issues with stairs (or if you have large pieces of luggage), it might be a difficulty. The bathrooms are small which weren’t an issue for us but, if you’re not used to small showers it might take some adjustment. The breakfast is included but was just bread, some cold cuts, cheese, and juice or coffee. It’s fine if that’s what you like but we worked best by grabbing a small snack in there and then finding a larger cup of coffee and a mid-morning snack later on. All of these things were pretty minimal problems for a hotel that was cheap, in a good location, and friendly!

Pergamos Hotel
14 Achamon Street
Telephone: +30210-5231991-2
Near Omonoia Station (so you can metro from the airport and you can take a train to the dock to visit the islands)

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Street Art in Athens, Greece

There are a lot of political upheavals in Greece. That always seems to influence the street art and graffiti in a city. The main area for street art is Exarchia (which happened to be very near our lovely hotel) but the city is littered with pieces. Here are some of my favorites.

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This one was my absolute favorite:

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The Presidential Guard in Athens, Greece

Of all the sites in Athens, this one was my favorite. The Presidential Guard (or “Evzones”) members guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Syntagma Square. They wear elaborate uniforms and have a very specific way of stretching and moving each hour. This article has interesting information about the daily life of an Evzone soldier.

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Every Sunday there is a parade of the guards. The tomb is near Syntagma square but if you stand on the street around the corner you can watch the entire parade come down the street.

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Their march is synchronized and there are guards who walk next to them to make adjustments to their timing (at least, that’s what I assume they were doing).

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It’s a good view of everything.

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If you follow the troops to see the actual guard changing, this is what you’re likely to see (at least it is if you’re like me and short).

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The guards change positions every 15 minutes and have a more elaborate display every hour.

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This is a huge tourist attraction but there are guards who manage the crowd and demand respect from the tourists.

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After the guards change position, you are allowed to line up and have your picture taken with the guards. You aren’t allowed to do anything disrespectful (make faces, gestures, try to make them laugh, etc.). If you do, the guard will drop his rifle to startle you and tip off the handler that he needs to come over and handle you. The guards do not speak.

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Seriously, my favorite part watching this guy yell at people doing stupid things in their pictures. I think I’d be good at that job.

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While the guards change position, the crowd is required to back up and allow them to perform their duties.

4-6-14 Presidential guards

It’s a really interesting to see their routine. The shoes, by the way, are called tsarouhis and the pompoms were originally placed there to “make the shoe nose waterproof.” Thank you, Wikipedia.

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The Evzones are highly respected in Greece and are known for being very brave. In 2010, there was a bomb placed near the tomb and despite being informed by police, the Evzones refused to leave their post. The bomb exploded and everything. I also saw on a military forum (although I couldn’t find an actual news source for the story) that a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the wooden house next to one of the guards and he stood there until he was given orders to move – despite his uniform being singed and the building being engulfed in flames. That’s pretty crazy.

 

 

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Free Walking Tour in Athens, Greece

Athens has so much history that we wanted to start our exploration with a tour. “Free” is my favorite price so we found this tour and headed out on our first day in the city.

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The tour begins at the yellow mailbox by the Acropolis Museum. While we were waiting, we checked out the glass floor of the entrance to the museum where there are excavations and artifacts. The museum is rumored to be very nice but we didn’t go this time around.

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Hadrian’s Arch is a great place to take a picture of the Acropolis.

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I love all of the columns just hanging out in the middle of the city.

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The Olympic stadium is where the Athens marathon ends. Imagine running the classic route from Marathon and then finishing with a lap around the Olympic stadium! That must be a great run. If you don’t do the marathon, you can still pay a few Euros to run some laps and take pictures inside the stadium.

4-5-14 At the Olympic stadium

We opted for a picture outside of the stadium.

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There are lots of beautiful gardens along the tour.

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The Greek Presidential Guards deserve (and will get) a post of their own.

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The statue of Pheidippides, the Greek soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens, is in Syntagma Square rather than near the Olympic stadium.

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It’s also very small and someone has colored his eyes to make him look like a zombie.

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Our intrepid guide, George, was friendly and informative.

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There is a lot of history in Athens. I don’t remember who this is a statue of but I think the picture turned out well.

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Monastiraki Square was filled with tourists. The Acropolis is in the background.

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Again with the ruins everywhere! It must be really interesting to have a house on the same street as a ruined marketplace.

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The tour meanders through the city and ends on some of the hills surrounding Athens. There are great views from up there!

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These are the original stairs to the overlook. There’s a metal stairway, as well, but our group chose to climb the original ones.

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There are some great views but be aware of the little pickpockets and people trying to sell stuff up there. There’s nothing to worry about but just keep your wits about you.

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The tour ends at the Acropolis but you don’t get to go in since you have to pay to enter. It’s still a nice introduction to the Acropolis and good to get a sense of the different views from around the hill.

All in all, the tour took about two-or-so hours. We didn’t learn as many “insider tips” as we did on our Sydney tour. Perhaps that is to be expected since Athens is known for history while Sydney is known for being a bit more offbeat. I would recommend it on your first few days in Athens since it gives you a good overview of the city. After we were done we felt comfortable navigating around on our own.

Athens Free Walking Tour

  • Email the company for specific times.
  • Tours offered in English, French, and Spanish
  • Email for specific times
  • Cost is free but expect to tip at the end
  • Meet at the big yellow mailbox near the Acropolis museum. Nearest Metro station is Acropolis.
  • The tour takes about 3 hours and there is a lot of walking. There are big hills to climb and lots of stairs.
  • Great for getting your bearings upon arrival in Athens, getting a quick view of the major sites, and taking pictures.

 

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