Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sunny Sorrento

We arrived in Sorrento with a nasty surprise- the hotel we had booked could not locate our reservation and was fully booked. We showed our printed confirmation with proof of payment and that seemed to finally convince them we were telling the truth.

Thankfully, the hotel found us another option for our three-night stay and paid the difference. Even though I was disappointed to not have a say in where we were staying, I was thankful we had a place to lay our heads for a few days. That was a scary moment.

As for the rest of our stay, we found Sorrento to be quite cute! The city center had lots of little shops and restaurants so we did as the locals did- we shopped and ate. ;)

Sorrento is known for its lemons, inlaid wood and ceramics, along with the rest of the Amalfi Coast. The lemons in their area are huge! If you combined Chris's two fists, that would be about the size of the largest lemon we saw in person. After I load my photos, I'll post it so you can see that I am not exaggerating.

Sorrento is also where we had our first taste of lemon granitas. I've had coffee granitas before- in high school, they were my drink of choice junior and senior year- but had never had them in lemon. Talk about yuuuummmmy. I'm hooked!

Sorrento did not have much to do other than relax, stroll and just take in the sights, so that's exactly what we did. It's also a great place to make your home-base for day trips to other areas, so we visited the island of Capri (pronounced Cap-ree, not like Capri pants) one day and another in the partially buried ancient city of Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius (posts to be written). Now we're off to Positano!

The view from one of the lookout points

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sights, Sea and Sunsets in Santorini

Our stay in Santorini is now over so I wanted to recap our experience. Thanks to this Blogger app, I'm able to write my post as Chris drives us to our next destination, Sorrento, Italy.

On Wednesday, we left the charming island of Mykonos for the much-anticipated Santorini. I've seen so many beautiful pictures of the white, cliff-clinging buildings with their blue-domed churches sprinkled among them and could not wait to see them in person. But first, we had to get there...

We took the super jet ferry to Santorini, which was a faster, smaller vessel than the one we took to Mykonos. We didn't know, however, how much smaller and less comfortable this ride would be for us. They had us packed in like sardines and the luggage was packed so high, it actually blocked one of the isle exits. So, even though the first ferry took five hours over this two hour ride, I'd rather repeat the former.

Once our ferry docked, we were a little taken aback by the port as it was small and dilapidated. Thanks goodness we made a car reservation the night before because it was a little chaotic and somewhat seedy.

As we drove through the town of Fira (the largest town on the island), we started to question why we left Mykonos. But after 20 minutes of driving, we discovered Oia.

I did the research and found that Oia is the part of the island famous for its breathtaking views and stunning sunsets, so I made sure that would be our home base. After checking in, we made our way into town. Sadly, we missed the sunset, so we had to settle for strolling on the marble-paved pedestrian only streets.

The second day brought our catamaran ride. Neither of us had been on one before, so this was a completely new experience for us. For those of you who have never been on a catamaran, it's a boat that fits about 40 or so people and takes you around for a tour by water.

The first stop was to a natural hot springs near the volcano. Chris went over and took a dip but said it wasn't as hot as he expected. The second break was to the "red beach," named for its red sand (which resembles the reddish dirt in Oklahoma). The third and longest stop was to the "white beach," named, again, for its white sand.
Chris swimming near the Red Beach
This is where I actually got off of the boat and You read that correctly, friends. The water was so clear and blue, I couldn't resist the opportunity to experience it for myself. I am not a great swimmer, so I put on a life jacket and eased into the cold, but gorgeous sea.
Me in the big, blue sea
 The water was 15 to 20 feet deep, but I could see the bottom as though it was a foot or two below me. I loved the experience so much that Chris and I were the last ones to get out of the water. Then it was time for a picnic lunch on the boat before heading back to port.
Heading back to shore
After getting cleaned up, we made our way to the sunset point for a first-hand look at what some call "the best sunset in the world." Chris and I made our way through the crowds and over to sunset point. Below is what we saw (just a glimpse; the good photos on my camera, not phone).

The sunset really was amazing. Too bad there were hoards of people vying for the best spot because we couldn't get a perfectly unobstructed view. What we did see, however, was gorgeous.

Both Chris and I agree Mykonos offered a little more, which is why, if we had to choose between the two islands, it would win. But Santorini was an experience I will never forgot. That ends our Greek travels and now we're onto the next country, Italy!
The sun setting on Oia 
As the sun went down
The view from our room our first night
Our second night's room- it's a "cave room" :)
Our second night's room view

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mad for Mykonos

Ah, Mykonos. What a breath of fresh air. In comparison to Athens, our experience here was 50x better.

From the moment we stepped off the ferry, we were pampered. Our hotel came and picked us up from the port, gave us three rooms to choose from and made use feel special. The view from the room- well, you can see for yourself below- washed all of the Athens sadness away.

Other than me being a sickie, I have nothing but good things to say about our stay on the island. We had a wonderful dinner the first night, got plenty of rest and relaxation the second day, witnessed two amazing sunsets by the water and the windmills and enjoyed a quick trip to the island of Delos to end our stay.

A beautiful little getaway. My only regret is that I was still ill so I didn't have the energy I needed to make the most of our time. But what we did make time for was great and now we're off to Santorini!
The famous windmills
The island of Delos- one of our favorite spots so far (yes, we took this photo. We just edited it using Instagram)
The view from our room

Mugging on the Piraeus Express

To add to our grand old time in Athens, Chris and I witnessed a mugging on our way to the main port. It was fairly early (around 6:15 AM) when the whole thing went down.

We had left extra early that morning because of the ticket situation (Chris wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to secure them before our boat left at 7:30 AM). I actually had a thought that we were safe because all the thieves would be asleep (don't most muggers stay up late?).

It was pretty quiet until we changed lines to head to the Piraeus. We came upon quite a few tourists making the same trek as us so I knew this was prime pickpocket territory.

When we got on the metro, something compelled me to sit down, even though I had the two carry-ons with me and would block the path for other passengers. I thought, if they needed to sit, I could adjust the luggage, but still stay safe in my seat. Chris was manning the two large pieces so he had to stand. We were, unfortunately at the back of our metro cart- not the safest place.

Everything was fine, we made a couple of stops and picked up more travelers, one couple (about our age) from an Asian country (not exactly sure which). They were nice and spoke to one older Greek gentleman to ensure they were on the right train. They were clearly tourists, though; he had a fanny pack and they were both dressed for the beach.

A couple stops later, a group of guys got on the train. There was one larger fellow, in particular, that caught Chris' attention. He slid next to Chris and was directing his friends where to stand- not a good sign.

Chris made a point to shift over a bit and get closer to me. After, the larger guy moved closer to the Asian couple and then it happened.

It was all so fast! I looked over and saw a few of the guys pushing the Asian man against the wall and then it was over. There were a few older Greek men who started yelling at them and they responded back, but nothing really violent happened and the Asian couple was able to move away unharmed. The doors opened and the bad guys were off.

After they left, the older Greek man who had spoken to the couple when they first got on the train asked if they were okay. The woman gestured as though someone has grabbed her tush but that seemed to be it. The man asked the couple to check and make sure they had all of their belongings and that's when they noticed his fanny pack was open. The woman looked in and, sure enough, their money was gone.

Watching the aftermath was especially hard. That poor woman sobbed and wailed the entire way to the Port (which was another 15 minutes away). She lectured (rather loudly) her husband/boyfriend the entire time because of where he put the money. You didn't need to speak their language to know that she had suggested another location but he made the final choice, which proved to be a poor one. So I pointed it out to Chris- it's not just me or American women that harp on something over and over when they're upset- it's ALL women. ;)

Chris and I were lucky. This incident could have easily happened to us instead. I think they chose the other couple because they could use the woman as a distraction whereas I was sitting safely in a secure spot with others next to me to help if needed. Another reason I think they chose them was the fanny pack, which made him an easier target to pick off. Maybe it was Chris moving closer to where I was that saved him or maybe they noticed I was carrying a bag instead. Who knows.

What I do know is I'm so thankful this didn't happen to us. It shook us, though, and reminded us to stay alert. We may be on vacation, but there are bad people who aren't.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Athens, Anyone?

So our Athens stay is officially over. As I'm writing this, we are sitting on a ferry heading over to Mykonos.

Athens was a disappointment, to say the least. When we arrived, the metro was on strike, so getting to our hotel (via bus) took longer than necessary. One thing did go our way, though- we were able to check in and take a nap as soon as we got into the hotel.

I was still under the weather, so lack of sleep from late-night packing the night before and not sleeping well on the plane led to a very drained, sickly traveler. After a couple hours, we got up and made our way to pick up our ferry tickets for today's trip. Too bad their office was closed. Fine. We'll just check out the National Archeological Museum since it's nearby. Oh, that's right- it was closed, too. We decided to head back to our area and found something that WASN'T closed, the Acropolis Museum. We opted to grab our first Greek dinner, get to bed early and start fresh the next day.

Unfortunately, I woke up feeling worse than the day before so it wasn't the most ideal start. Then we found out the ferry ticket place was still closed. Greeeeaaat. Thankfully, the NAM was open so we saw that and then did the Athens Walking Tour Rick Steve's made and finally made our way to the Acropolis.

Rick Steve's suggested visiting the Acropolis either first thing in the morning or going two or three hours prior to closing because the weather is nicer and the site is less crowded. The hours showed in the book as open daily from 8:00 to 20:00 (8 PM) so we thought 5 PM would be the perfect time.

Wellll, as it turns out, the Greeks decided Sunday should be a day of rest and changed their closing time to 3 PM with last entrance at 2:30. So, when we arrived at 4:50 PM all we saw were other upset tourists.

The most important site in Athens went unseen. Complete devastation. I cannot fully describe my shock and disappointment. I am still rather touchy on this subject and probably will be for quite some time.

We managed to make the most out of the rest of our time and had a nice stroll in the Plaka area; we bought a few souvenirs and had a nice dinner at the famous restaurant steps before heading back to our hotel.

So all in all, Athens was not exactly what we hoped for, but it could've been much worse. I'm ready to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us...