A magical post-grad trip in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini
Well, it has taken me over a year, for some reason, to get to writing about this lovely trip. I took this trip with one of my close friends, Mel, right after we graduated from college, last June, and it was an incredibly fun and aesthetically beautiful trip - everything Greece should be. I guess, in the moments after I got back, I couldn’t bring myself to think of it as a particularly soul-enriching experience in the ways that some of my past travels had been (India and Burma, for example, which had broken my heart slightly), and for that reason I didn't know quite how to write about it. It was a cultural experience, of course: I saw the Parthenon and many Ancient Greek structures - ones so beautiful, upon which modern life is superimposed in a way so extraordinary as to be almost unbelievable. Athens gives way to imagining the life of the Ancient Greeks almost as if they must be existing right there, at the exact same time, in a parallel universe: you are walking their exact same streets, passing right by their dilapidated, still beautiful buildings; just, somehow, 2,500-odd years later. I also experienced Greek culture, which had previously only been known to me in the very limited context of Greek restaurants. I had dreamed of being surrounded by beautiful white houses on a Greek island, and on this trip, I got my glorious dose of that. It was wonderful. But I didn’t feel that I grew as a person from experiencing these things: I didn’t seek out the tough stuff while traveling through Greece. We briefly caught a glimpse of the Elliniko Refugee Camp, the abandoned airport on the outskirts of Athens where many refugees have taken up residence, as we were driving back from a day at a beach bar; an embarrassing contrast. And Athens, too, had its juxtapositions: for a city flooded with tourists and money all year round, it doesn’t feel particularly safe or wealthy at all when one peaks beyond its main attractions. But I will walk you through what my journey to Greece was supposed to be in the first place, and what it ended up being: a well-deserved vacation. It was my college graduation present. Mel and I traveled together on a budget, but we still managed to splurge where it counted. And the Greek islands we saw were as beautiful as I’ve always heard they are; I can only hope to go back someday.
We started in Athens, where we met my sister and her two friends, and then we broke off again to head to Mykonos, where we spent about five days. We made it to Santorini for one beautiful night and a lovely morning hike. Here are some photos and a brief guide to the best secret (and some not-so-secret, but still worthwhile) spots I found:
In Athens, I was lucky enough to have a native tour guide from afar. My mentor and college art history professor, Fotini, was born and raised in Athens, and she gave me a list of all of her favorite spots. She gets all of the credit for the following recommendations. Here are a few that made my brief time there incredible:
- Six d.o.g.s: an amazing bar in a garden in the middle of Athens; down an adorable alleyway. We went there our first night and almost forgot we were in the city. It’s a very local hangout, and so much fun.
- Hotel A: It looks like a nothing hotel from the outside, but take the elevator up to the top and you’ll find a swanky bar with the most incredible view of the Acropolis. We spent both of our evenings in Athens there because we couldn’t get enough. For a more upscale atmosphere and equally good view, head to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, which we didn’t get a chance to check out.
- Another thing we didn’t get the chance to check out but which apparently is a can’t-miss Athens experience is the open-air cinemas (they open starting in June). You can drink beer and eat in them while watching a movie. You can see the Acropolis and the starry sky from there:
- The Acropolis museum is awesome and also has great food (something Fotini filled me in on), and after climbing up to the Acropolis it is worth walking around the Plaka area nearby - lots of cute shops, restaurants, and old streets to wander through.
- Not to miss anywhere in Greece: the frozen yogurt: it is made with organic Greek yogurt and is DELICIOUS. Fotini's recommendation: try it with the traditional sour cherry topping.
Mykonos was one of the most beautiful and fun places I have ever been. I think it is the ideal place to go with a group of friends for a week or two. There is so much to explore, with beautiful beaches spread out around the island, crazy beach clubs that go from the early afternoon through the night, and a fun town with beautiful shops and restaurants that are open until 2 or 3am. It’s one of those places that can suit any type of vacation mood.
We stayed at a lovely hotel, Rochari, which sat right above town, with the most beautiful view of the sunset (see video below) and allowed us to walk easily into town in five minutes via a back gate. It had a pool, which we rarely used because we were often out exploring new beaches. But it was nice to have the option.
Our favorite beach ended up being Kappari, which a local we met in a souvenir shop under the windmills told us about (he also introduced us to the local pelican, Petros). We has a perfect afternoon there, floating in the water. It is barely marked on the map, and you have to bring your own umbrellas and towels and such, but it is more than worth it: sandy bottom, turquoise water, and completely uncrowded, as not very many people know about it.
This is the souvenir shop by the windmills where we met our friend (whose name I embarrassingly can't remember) who spoke English in an American accent - he had studied in the states, I believe - and told us about Kappari. This is also close to the parking lot where Retros always hangs out, if you care to meet him, too. If you want to find Myth, just head to the windmills - there is no address, and only this landmark, on the business card that I snagged from our friend's counter.
37, Agiou Efthimiou str, 84600 Mykonos
This was the lovely little jewelry store that we stumbled upon in Mykonos town. We thought it had the most colorful and unique designs we'd seen on our whole trip, and we each bought a bracelet - mine with the evil eye, Mel's with a cute little fish.
Mel and I did our share of partying, and then our fair share of deep relaxing and of avoiding the party scene at all costs. But our first day at Paradise Beach was SO much fun - we got totally sucked into the scene at Tropicana (the main beach club on Paradise - you can't miss it), which began to unfold around 4:30pm, and we ended up staying there until we stumbled back to Rochari around midnight. We loved that it was so easy to participate in the trashy beach club culture, and so easy not to as well, depending on your mood. There was also a slightly (only slightly) classier club scene in Mykonos town, which supposedly migrates to the beaches around 4am. We are too grandma-ish to be able to dish on that.
Our favorite Mykonos to-dos
~What we had the most fun doing in Mykonos was renting an ATV to head to Kappari and explore, and otherwise using the bus to get to other more accessible beaches. We tested the waters tanning in the nude, which we found quite pleasant, and, oddly, we found ourselves craving sushi so badly that we finally hunted it down after several failed attempts (some restaurants we had trekked to other ends of the island to for menus advertising sushi said they didn't start serving it until later in the season) one day in Mykonos town. It was pretty good. But the food that we found truly amazing was the fresh feta and, obviously, anything authentically Greek. We loved walking around and taking pictures - Mel brought her SLR camera and is quite the photographer. Everything about Mykonos is picturesque, so a good camera is a must-pack item (even an iPhone, which is all I brought, and which was actually all I needed - I love that I can carry it around so easily). A sketch-book would also be awesome, if you are artistically inclined ~
Santorini is, well, Santorini. Perfect sunset in a perfect setting. We only spent one night there, so we chose the iconic Oia as our backdrop. We discovered Atlantis books, the sister shop to Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. It was beautiful, and Mel and I each bought a book. I also discovered an artist I admired, whose card I still have somewhere. I will have to share his name when I dig for it. (Update! I found it: the artists' names are Vassilis Kyrkos and Yiota Kyrkou. It just doesn't get more Greek than that. Their paintings are beautiful - abstract oils of the Santorini cliffs in perfect contrasting colors. I think the address is simply Oia, Santorini, 84 702. But email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them at 22860 71443 if that doesn't seem to lead anywhere.)
We ate at Kastro Oia Restaurant to watch the sunset as we ate, and then we walked around before settling at “39 Steps,” a tiny bar, where we ordered some local Crazy Donkey beer and smiled about our day. Our decision to take the ferry over from Mykonos for less than 48 hours had been somewhat last minute, and I had been more reluctant than Mel, but I was thankful that she had pushed it. It was worth it just to lay eyes on this sweet island.
The path to Fira
The next morning, we got up early to hike the trail from Oia to Fira before catching the ferry back to Mykonos. It was a beautiful walk, with incredible views and lovely churches to see along the way. Once in Fira, we had a glorious breakfast. Something like eggs Benedict and pancakes, if I’m remembering correctly. And then our last day in Mykonos, which by then felt like home, awaited. A sweet end to a beautiful vacation.