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Greece Touring – Santorini and Ios, Greece

Greece Touring

Santorini and Ios, Greece

Santorini

Local Residences
Local Residences
Last summer I spent a month in Greece studying leadership and democracy with fifteen other students from the University of Washington. Half way through the month, we took an excursion to two Greek islands. To get to the first island, Santorini, we booked an overnight ferry on the national Greek ferry website. I would advise anyone thinking of overnight travel on a Greek ferry to carefully consider their plans. Although in theory overnight travel saves time, it is an experience I would not repeat. The seats on the boat were uncomfortable and the internal heating system of the boat seemed unnecessarily air conditioned. Since the seating capacity of the boat was limited, many people had to sleep outside on the upper decks and I felt very fortunate to have a place inside even if the conditions were worse than I had hoped for. I got almost no sleep that night, but the journey was worth it when we arrived at Santorini!

Santorini is what I imagine when I think Greek island: Square buildings painted blue, yellow and white and connected by narrow winding streets, all built into the side of a hill above the ocean. After a twenty minute bus ride to the main town, we checked into Hotel Margarita in the Firostefani neighborhood. Margarita was more comfortable than your average hostel and priced under forty euros a night depending on the quality of the room. The only drawback to the rooms was the “Greek showers” – a showerhead with a drain on the floor, and possibly a curtain if you were lucky. If that doesn’t sound like fun, try another, more expensive hotel.

What I did in Santorini
I was only in Santorini for two days, but I managed to pack as much as possible into that short amount of time. There are two restaurants that must not be missed if you take a trip to Santorini. The first is Mama’s Kitchen, located three blocks down the large hill that Hotel Margarita sits on. If you go, be prepared for high quality Greek and American cuisine and Mama, the unusually extroverted, happy owner and head cook of the restaurant. I ate at Mama’s three times in two days, and everything that I ordered was excellent. Try the special omelet and the feta stuffed chicken. If you go for dinner, order a craft of white wine (three euros). Santorini white wine is dry, crisp and has a hint of citrus and smoky flavors. Every meal I ordered at Mama’s was under ten euros, including the wine. Also worth visiting is the restaurant Fanari located in the main village on the east side of the island. Fanari offers excellent service and traditional Greek cuisine. The restaurant overlooks the water and nearby volcanic island from high above and the view is unbeatable. Try the calamari and cinnamon chicken and make sure to go for an early dinner (by Greek standards around eight p.m.) so you catch the sunset.

If you’re adventurous and like to hike, make for the harbor at the bottom of the east side of the island and catch a boat to the volcanic island, known as Nea Kameni or more popularly, the Caldera. It takes about thirty minutes to walk the path to the top of the volcano, and those who complete the journey will be rewarded by a stunning view of Santorini.

Sun on Water
Sun on Water
I also very much enjoyed the donkey ride I took from the top of Santorini to the port. After climbing aboard a particularly stubborn donkey that was bent on trying to sideswipe my right leg into the wall, I began the ten minute decent along cobble stone switchback streets to the bottom of the island. The price for the ride was between ten and fifteen euros, and seemed to be negotiable. The price might seem expensive, but it’s worth it – where else are you going to have the opportunity to ride a donkey? On the way back to the hotel I rode the cable car, a three minute ride that cost less than five euros. I was able to complete this day trip in about three hours.

If you like to go out at night, visit the city center at night for your choice of bars and dance clubs playing music from American Hip-Hop to European Techno.

During two trips to Greece, I’ve visited six Greek islands, and Santorini was my favorite behind Ios. It errs on the side of being touristy, but if you stay far enough from the main square and eat at the right restaurants, it could provide a relaxing vacation for a few days. I wouldn’t recommend staying much longer, though, since you might run out of things to do.

Ios, Greece
After Santorini we caught a four hour ferry to Ios and checked into Hotel Corali, located in the Chora district on the northwest side of the island. The hotel was a ten minute walk north of the ferry dock and the walk was easily manageable even with luggage. If you’re planning on staying at the Corali with a group of three or more, request one of the larger rooms upstairs, several of which come with balconies that overlook the beach. The rooms at Corali were modest, as was the price, but the location was unbeatable. It took me less than thirty seconds to walk from my room to the beach across the street. The hotel provides free beach tables and lounge chairs and offers restaurant and bar service to those relaxing on the beach. If you prefer to search out other cuisine, a few minutes of walking in either direction will yield a variety of cafes and restaurants. My favorite restaurant was Indian and Chinese restaurant near the ferry dock which offered a variety of well cooked dishes for around ten euros a meal.

What I did in Ios
Having gone to the night clubs in Santorini, I wanted to see if what Ios had to offer would compare. My first stop was the The Dubliner, which is the largest bar on the island. The Dubliner offers relatively inexpensive drinks and a pub like atmosphere, complete with karaoke. It is a popular hangout, and when I was there I was lucky enough to see a performance by some Slovenian rappers (you never know what you’ll find on the Greek islands!). If you like to dance, there is an Irish dance club across the street from the The Dubliner. In fact the main street that these two clubs are on is home to a host of hot party spots.

Docked Ship
Docked Ship
Ios is a relatively small island, but if you prefer to avoid walking (advisable during the heat of the day) buses and taxis are available. Also worth looking into are scooter rental stores, which can be found along the main beach near the ferry dock. For about twenty five euros you can rent a scooter for the day providing you have an international driver’s license, which can be obtained at home before leaving for your trip. Also along the beach you can rent water toys, including a five person raft called the banana boat, which is pulled by a speed boat operated by the owner of the rental shop. I didn’t ride it but it looked like a lot of fun.

If you like to go out at night, but want something more casual than a bar or club, try the Pirate boat located in the main harbor. The boat leaves nightly around ten p.m. for a starlit cruise around the bay lasting one hour. The ride is free providing you purchase a drink from the bar on the boat. The boat ride would be especially good for a romantic date or group outing.

Ios would be ideal for someone interested in lounging on the beach during the day and going out at night, although if you’re interested in historical content or outdoors sites, you may prefer another island.

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