Travel

A Greek odyssey – Days 8,9

Continued from Day 123456, 7

Day 8 – Athens

We were brought back to our standard vacation practice with a thud – the half day city trip began at 7.30! Breakfast was a rush (in any case, just about the level of our previous stay) and we were delayed by 5 minutes! After a round of collecting people from various hotels and then changing buses, the tour began in right earnest. The first visit was to the Panathenaic Stadium, which apparently has its legacy linked to that of the full marathon. The story goes that a soldier ran non-stop from Marathon to Athens to convey the Greek victory over the Persians. He collapsed and died soon as he delivered the ‘we have won’ message. This distance is what makes up a full marathon now – just over 42 km (!) – and it was included when the modern Olympics began in 1896.

We saw many more interesting things around Athens – accompanied by a bilingual commentary (English and French) by our guide – the temple to Zeus with its Hadrian’s arch, (and the magnificent columns) a statue of Lord Byron who died in Greece, Heinrich Schliemann’s house which is now a numismatic museum, the Parliament which was once a palace, and the change of guard that happens there. Apparently the best looking soldiers are chosen for this job and it’s a matter of privilege to them to chosen as a guard here. We also saw the constitution square, the oldest university, an ancient library, an academy for philosophers, the first parliament building (now a museum) Some interesting anecdotes as well – apparently they found Roman baths while they were digging for the Athens Metro project! Most of these were seen from outside, and we finally landed at the new National Archaeological Museum near the Acropolis. Apparently, acropolis is a common noun of sorts used to denote any citadel/fortified area built on a higher ground.

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The museum tour took over an hour across all three levels, and though the guide did her job – making sure we heard as much of history and mythology (familiar names like Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Apollo…) as possible during the time – it proved a bit tedious. But to be noted that the Greeks have done a great job into preserve and restore their history and culture.  I loved the glass floors at several places which allowed us to see the excavations in situ. Apparently a lot of the missing ‘pieces’ in the relics are being showcased in Britain, and despite several pleas, they are refusing to return it! The tickets bought by the guide could be used across four monuments in the next four days. Alas, we had just a day more! The museum has a cafe, well explained exhibits and even archaeologists on call to explain! Photography is not allowed on 2 out of 3 levels, so we didn’t really shoot a lot.

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We then walked up the winding path to the Acropolis. The buildings are so majestic, and the top of the acropolis gives a spectacular 360 degree view of Athens. We spent quite a while there, and then walked down to Plaka – the old market area.

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There are guys all over the place saying shukriya (!) and trying to sell stuff to you! Our plan was to lunch at Plaka, but thanks to hunger pangs and a slew of restaurants on a lane we reached, we decided to ignore the restaurants in our list, and just eat! Kotili appealed the most and we set about the task eagerly. We ordered what they called a ‘small platter’, penne, and a carafe of the house wine. Everything turned out to be excellent. The small platter seemed huge and does have a lot of meat, but it’s also a good packaging job over a mound of fries! Their service though is the differentiator – the most jovial and entertaining I have experienced! They also gave us complimentary Mastika and a little plate of dessert! Shot and sweet!

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Somewhere during the meal, I turned around and saw that we were very near the Monastiraki station! That meant we were on a lane parallel to the flea market! Greece is not having the best of economic times, and some of this was evident in the downtown area – entire shopping complexes closed, for instance. But this area had quite a bit of buzz happening. We did a little bit of shopping, though judging by the prices it should have been called a fleece market! Now that we had figured out the area and the possibilities, we decided to get back to the hotel to rest a bit. Caught this outside the window and were careful with the curtains!

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We did have quite a few dinner options planned, but the lunch hadn’t been digested yet! So we decided to head back to Monastiraki for a yogurt dinner. We found Yogolicious opposite Kotili, and they had the DIY concept of yogurt, with six yogurt variations and tons of topping options! D chose plain with fruit toppings, while I chose chocolate with all the choco-toppings I could find! The pricing is by weight and we ended up paying 10 euros. We then walked around a bit, listened to a concert happening at the square and then caught the train back to the hotel. Since we wanted to see the Acropolis view at night, we dropped in at the Titania’s own rooftop hotel, and over Mythos beer and Coke Zero, watched the  glorious structure all lit up!

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Day 9 – Athens – Dubai – Bangalore

:( was easily the mood since it was time to go back! We were scheduled to be picked up from the hotel only after 1, so we lazed around, ate the standard breakfast (they didn’t have hot chocolate the second day!) and decided to lunch nearby. We walked around a bit and decided on the Meet Me cafe near the metro station. D chose a club sandwich and a Freddoccino, and I had a Choco Venessia and a Caesar salad. all good, except I liked D’s drink more. We went back to the hotel and packed. A lot of sighs were heard!

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The pick up van arrived right on time and we had a few Japanese for company as we made our way to the airport – about 45 minutes away. The tour operator’s representative was there to wave goodbye! I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Rush in the first flight to Dubai, and absolutely loved both! We were at a different terminal in Dubai airport and whiled away our time reading and a coffee at the Nestle outlet. I slept all the way in the second flight. The 4.15 PM (Athens) journey ended at 9.05 AM (Bangalore) and also ended the Odyssey.

The trip (all inclusive) cost us about Rs. 3.75 lakhs – 1.23L for the international flights, 28k  for the 2 flights within Greece, 18k for the Visa which was quite a breeze, (though the paperwork kills!) 1.35 for the custom package from Fantasy Tours, (includes hotels, some of which we specifically asked for, boat tickets, airport/ferry transfers and a half day Athens city tour. Everything was handled very smoothly)  and the remaining for meals, (a Gyros can be had for as cheap as 2 euros, a meal at a good restaurant is between 20-40 euros) buses, entry tickets, and of course, shopping! You can save costs on many things – cheaper accommodation, lesser wine :D , more Gyros, boats vs flights within Greece are some I can think of. Also, most people like to do at least 2-3 countries in Europe at a time, and it does have its benefits, you might want to look at that option. But we have our own quirks and absolutely had a great time, enjoyed every bit. Not at all bad for a first visit to Europe. When you visit, say hellos to Hellas for us! :)

until next time, waiting for the next wanderlust!

P.S. If you don’t plan to use data at all, store Google offline maps on your mobile before you set out :)

A Greek odyssey – Day 7

Continued from Day 12345, 6

This had to be the laziest day of the vacation! We had very few plans. We woke up very late, just in time for breakfast, and then went back to the room to snooze, enjoy the view, and later get ready before our check out time at 12. Our boat to Athens was only at 2.15, and we left from the hotel at 1.15. Our (same) super friendly driver dropped us back to the new port, well in time for the boat.

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This was promised to be a looong ride – over 5.5 hours. We stowed our luggage on the ground floor as before and proceeded to our seats. This time there was no confusion because not only was the boat much larger, the crowd was also thin. So we ignored our designated seats and sat on ones we liked. Lunch was in the boat itself – a burger and a Caesar Salad washed down with Amstel beer. The boat passed Tinos (D was thrilled to see a town straight out of the book she was reading – And the Mountains Echoed) and Syros (significantly more folks got in at both these places, but we managed to keep our seat!) before we finally managed to get a glimpse of Athens, which seemed to spread over a very large area!

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A well-dressed white haired driver, picked us up and insisted on lifting some luggage despite my reluctance. The yellow taxi dropped us at the Titania in downtown Athens in about half an hour. I wondered if the shops on the street were an indication of Athenians’ chief preoccupation! The Titania is one of those old hotels which just got itself a renovation. Free wifi only for an hour in the lobby area. Hmmph! The room was functional and clean, with a view of the street below, no balcony though.

It was already close to 9PM! We decided to freshen up and go to Gostijo in Monastiraki – one of the restaurants in our list. The lady at the reception was quite helpful, and told us exactly how to reach the metro station ( a couple of minutes away) and what direction to take (to Piraeus) to reach Monastiraki, which was the next station! The streets were filled with graffiti, and so were the metro coaches (outside) The navigation at the stations is a little difficult until you figure out that you have to ignore the ‘To’ and just focus on ‘Exit’. :) Monastiraki is famous for the flea market – right next to the station – but that closes pretty early- most shops were shut when we reached. The square offers a view of the Acropolis up on the hill at night. Majestic and pretty at the same time.

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We didn’t forget our habits, and got lost a bit, despite maps, before we finally found Gostijo. We weren’t really impressed with the menu outside (which refused to open to the kosher section!) and the persuasive skills of the owner of Oineas (same lane) landed us there. It wasn’t on our list, but turned out to be a fabulous little place. His collection of vintage ads is absolutely impressive. Take a look at the video. The lady who took our order convinced us to try Tsipouro along with the Farfalle and Risotto we ordered. What a thing that turned out to be – Ouzo at least has the anise flavour, this one is pure spirit! The food was splendid though, and that includes a fantastic dessert of layered chocolate. This was the first restaurant to give me a Trip Advisor card (asking for a review)

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Now that we knew the streets, getting back to the station was a breeze, and we caught the train in the Kifisia direction, but we managed to keep our reputation intact by losing our way at the other end, and circling the hotel area for about ten minutes before we found our way back!

A Greek odyssey – Day 6

Continued from Day 1234, 5

The day’s agenda was to take the boat to Delos in the first half, have a late lunch and then wander around Mykonos town before keeping our appointment at M-eating. There were three trips to Delos – two in the morning, one in the evening – and we had decided to take the second one at 10 AM. Breakfast at Grand Beach wasn’t up to the stellar benchmark set by Volcano View, but was still quite a spread. We walked to the Old Port and just about managed to turn up in time to buy the tickets. Costs are 18 euros per person (including return) and it takes a little over half an hour on a boat with comfortable seating. The entry to the Delos excavations, a heritage site, is at 5 euros per head.

Delos has been inhabited since 3000 BC, and old as I am, even I can’t remember that far back! If you’re into history (or even Greek mythology – it’s where Apollo and Artemis were born) this is a must-visit, even otherwise it’s a very good experience. We had just about three hours to complete a DIY tour. (you can also pay for a guide – either via your hotel or at the site itself by joining a group, but we decided not to) One tip I’d give is for you to go straight to the museum after getting the tickets. Though they give you a list of things to see at the entry, the museum has a brochure with a map that explains the three different ‘circuits’, the important things to see (100 of them) and most importantly, the time taken to cover each circuit.

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We just walked along the first path we saw, and used the explanatory boards to figure out what the structures were. It’s really quite an experience to see the efforts made to maintain/restore the ruins, as well as get a glimpse of how life must have been in those times. There is also this little adventure of climbing to the highest point on the island – an uphill task – that is oh! so totally worth it! I think it’s the windiest conditions I’ve been in, blew my cap away and I could barely hold on to the mobile and camera. Not exaggerating, the video should convince you.

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The boat ride back, at 1.30, turned out to be a free roller coaster ride as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the choppy waters, but D didn’t think my ‘wheeee’ noises every time the boat went up and crashed down were funny. She is not very fond of such adventures, and the lady sitting next to her looked like she was going to be history soon! The waves went high enough to eclipse the windows. We got back to Mykonos and by a stroke of luck, found our fourth lunch/dinner option – Niko’s Taverna - in a lane right next to the port. Lunch was Octopus, and fish and chicken specials of the day, washed down with red and white wines. We then walked around town, catching some interesting sights, and sharing a choco-filled crepes before going back to the hotel to sleep.

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The original plan was to lounge in the room and catch the sunset from the lovely balcony, but we realised that the sunset wasn’t really visible from that point, so we crossed the road to the beach, which offered a splendid view.

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Dinner was to be at M-eating, which reminded me of the snootiness of some Bangalore restaurants because of how they behaved differently with different customers. I guess this one can afford it because of the undisputed Trip Advisor rating. I’m not taking away from their imaginative cuisine, or their style, but if I compared it to Niko’s or Eva’s, I’d choose to repeat visit those any day as opposed to M-eating. Quail, (smoked fillet with Katiki Domokos mousse, walnut pesto and honey gravy) Fresh Ravioli, (stuffed with braised beef fillet and goat cheese in demiglass tomate and basil foam) (you guys get the idea!)  a full bottle of O Topos Mas, (Cretan regional rose wine) a quailing wallet, and a quarter empty stomach (for all those ingredients, the total quantity was more nibble) later, we swayed our way into Yummy’s to customise our dessert crepe.

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The winds were strong (or was it?) and we somehow (and I still wonder how!) made our tipsy walk back to the hotel and warmth.

A Greek odyssey – Day 5

Continued from Day 123, 4

We woke up at about 9, it was almost like we were having a vacation or something! ;) In addition to the standard items for breakfast, we also tried the yogurt. The Greeks love it, and with some honeyed help, it was indeed very good! As per the plan, we left the hotel at 10.45 after sitting around for a while enjoying the view. In summation, it wasn’t that the Volcano View staff were impolite or unpleasant, it was just that they always gave off an air that they had better things to do. While the view from the place is splendid, you could get the same from the Fira town itself, so you could consider some options there.  A group bus took us to the port (which we’d seen from our room) in less than half an hour. An hour later, our ride arrived. After stowing the luggage, we went to find our seats upstairs. There was quite some confusion since they seemed to have aggregated passengers from two boats, but in the end, we got comfortable seats with a view. (though the glass is usually quite smudged) There was a cafe, but we weren’t really hungry. 3 hours later, after crossing Ios and Paros, we were in Mykonos.

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A pleasant hotel representative was there to pick us up, and he helped with the bags too! He chatted all the way to the hotel (just about 15 mins) showing us landmarks, directions and a brief about the town. The Grand Beach had a room with a view that could rival Volcano View. Ok, almost. They had WiFi too.

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Town was less than ten minutes away by walk, and we decided to go there for lunch. We saw the windmills and then walked to Little Venice for lunch. We immediately noticed that prices in the menu were higher than Santorini and Rhodes. For lunch, it was Linguine pasta and calamari, and a great view of the windmills too. Ouzo, the anise flavoured Greek favourite was consumed, for the first and last time!

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Sunset was quite a while away, so we decided to find out where the boat to Delos (the plan for the next day) started from. The old port was less than 5 minutes away, and right next to it, we found the by now familiar little churches. If you’ve wondered how it looks inside,

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But after that, we got utterly lost in the maze that is Mykonos town! But there were quite a few good things that happened as a result – we found 3 of the 4 restaurants we had earmarked for lunch and dinner, and also tasted Ben & Jerry’s for the first time! Ecstasy happened in the form of yogurt and chocolate fudge! We then slowly walked back to the room to rest. Later, sunset was from the windmills area and it turned out to be a wonderful one, though the winds threatened to fly us away! My 10 euro fake Puma jacket continued to be a life saving hero.

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We walked to Avra (only open for dinner) but weren’t very impressed with the menu, and decided to try M-eating. (also open only for dinner) That turned out to be full with a waiting time of 45 minutes. Eva’s Garden was the final one among our candidates, (all three are on the same road) and we got a table inside – the garden area was full. The ambiance was absolutely old world and the food was great. We had the Eva salad, cashew chicken and as always, house wine. :) They gave us complimentary Mastika shots after dinner. Greek liquor does take getting used to!

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On the way back, we reserved a table at M-eating for the next day, and then had ice cream ‘made from Greek milk’. The friendly guy even had Mastika flavoured ice cream, but we had had enough. The ice cream was good, but not nearly as good as Ben & Jerry’s. We then walked back to the hotel and watched the splendid night view of Mykonos.

A Greek odyssey – Day 4

Continued from Day 12, 3

The day was planned in complete accordance with the bus time table photo. Volcano View has a breakfast spread that you could spend the day exploring – all kinds of meat, fruits, cereal, breads and even a couple of yogurt options. We took the first shuttle to Fira, and from there, the bus to Perissa at the priciest ticket of 2.2 euros/person one way. The view was as always splendid, and blue domes followed us everywhere. Perissa is a black sand beach, half an hour away, and we reached there at about 10.30. Either the early hour, or the fact that the tourist season was only about to begin, the beach was relatively empty, calm and silent. In fact, the web says this is one of the more unspoiled beaches in Santorini. There are a few beach restaurants along the road. But we walked on the beach and the non clingy black sand made it a pretty wonderful experience. It was quite windy and the sky seemed to promise rain. We could see a ferry to Kamari, our next stop, but we had planned on a bus ride anyway. We spent about an hour and a half at Perissa, and then got back to Fira for the bus to Kamari in time for lunch.

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Kamari is another black sand beach, just more touristy with a kilometre of beach side restaurants. In fact, the restaurant staff practically drag you in, reminding us our South East Asian trips! We weren’t really hungry so we avoided them and walked along the beach, but then the promised drizzle arrived, though only for a few minutes. After about 2 rounds comparing restaurants, (this was an unscheduled beach as per the plan, so we had no lunch options readily available) we dropped into one place – Hook, because they seemed to have a good 2 person combo meal. (most restaurants here do) But we changed our mind soon after we had tried their chicken soup!

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Tavern by the Sea, a brand new place, seemed to have an interesting menu and service staff as well. D ordered a Soutzoukakia (minced beef, cumin and tomato based) served with rice, while I asked for a  Zalouzi Tagliatelle, (chicken, ham, Kefalotyri, parsley, white cream) to be washed down with a carafe of house rose wine. Enjoyed the wine and the food and the lovely breeze. This was one of my favourite times during the vacation. I think the friendliness of the restaurant staff had much to do with it. One of them was Bulgarian and he said he wanted to see India because they had dubbed TV serials (from Hindi) where he came from! When I told him we were off to Mykonos next, he nodded appreciatively and said it was Santorini’s party capital. During the wining and before the eating, I saw a man painting ‘Hoetl’ on the signboard. I commented that the wine was good, but they said that’s how it was written on the paper he was given, and he just copied it!

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A light drizzle was back when we were ready to leave, but not really much of a bother, thankfully. We left for Fira and then back to the hotel to sleep a bit before heading back to town for dinner. Fira may not be as striking as Oia, but it does have the same ‘features’. We didn’t really expect it, but once we started exploring it – in search of Volcano Blue (our dinner destination) – its cobbled streets and view of the other islands that made up Santorini does have a lot to offer. Just like Oia, there are quite a few restaurants that can give you a sunset view. Volcano Blue, we discovered, was just one of them. We skipped it because the Japanese had invaded! (they weren’t as noisy in Greece as in our previous encounters) We landed at Aris because we liked the vantage point for the view of Fira and beyond.

Aris has been around for a while, and it shows. It’s an old hotel that is clearly in decline. The waiter was very friendly but forgot our wine order. He profusely apologised when we pointed this out while he was bringing the starter, and in his agitation, spilled some wine on the table too. But what we came for – the view – was wonderful. We sat wining as the sky changed color and the lights came on. When we left, the place was empty, we were the only people to dine there that night. But this was something we saw across Fira. Except for a couple of restaurants, there was hardly a crowd anywhere. Too early in the season, perhaps.

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We stopped at a desserts outlet on our way back, and then waited at the bus station before continuing to the shuttle pick up point. We had a message waiting for us – the pickup for the Mykonos boat would be at 10.45 the next morning. Time to pack, and hit the bed.

A Greek odyssey – Day 3

Continued from Day 1, 2

At some point during the night, I was conscious enough to create an alarm for 4.15. We hadn’t packed, and were supposed to leave the hotel at 5 for a 6.30 AM flight. We waited in the compact airport, and after a cup of Greek Coffee (Arghh, got milk?!) bid adieu to Rhodes which had a sun and a moon still fighting for sky rights when we boarded. Breakfast was at Negronis (It had become D’s favourite) in the Athens airport, who had a convenient breakfast platter. The Aegean craft to Santorini was larger (more visitors) and they gave us a chocolate croissant! Another reason to like the air hostesses, in addition to the chic uniform. I promptly fell asleep, and when I opened my eyes, we were at an airport. I asked D why she hadn’t woken me up as we landed! Apparently we were still at Rhodes, someone had fallen sick and we hadn’t taken off! Delayed by half an hour, it was almost noon by the time we landed at Santorini!

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Santorini also had an airport by the sea, and the building was in their traditional architectural style. This does make airports cuter, not to mention human -I remembered Cambodia. A group bus landed us at the Volcano View Hotel in about 20 minutes. For the first time, I got help in transferring luggage – to the room. This was probably the best view from a room I’ve ever experienced, and the room itself was pristine. I wondered how they managed to keep their white walls so clean all the while. Our local contact (arranged by the tour operator) was waiting, so there was no time to enjoy it. There was WiFi, I noted. :D

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She gave us the hotel’s set of documents – shuttle timings to Fira (6 times a day) - 2 kms away,  a vague map of the town, bus timings from and to Fira (from other towns) excursion plans, and other services. In addition, she gave us a map of the larger island, and had a few suggestions on what we should do. We had made our own plans – Oia the same day, and Akrotiri and Perissa the next day. But Akrotiri, was closed on Mondays. Awesome luck continued, and we had to make changes. The guide gave us other options, but the costs involved us took the decision for us. The hotel had tie ups for excursions and there was one which suited us, but though the brochure said May, they’d only start in June. Oh well! We decided to advance the Akrotiri trip by a day when we realised the time involved in getting there.

The shuttle to town was leaving at 2, so we quickly unpacked, freshened up, and began an exercise that would be repeated much in the days to come – running! The shuttle drop and pick up point was very close to the bus station, but we realised that the bus timings (from/to the Fira bus station) the hotel had given were outdated. Tip: Take a photo of the timings at the bus station. That place and that photo will be your anchor so long as you are in Santorini. The bus station is quite small, but busy. The procedure there was simple – near to the departure time of the bus, you mention the place at the information booth and they’d give you the bus number. The buses are air conditioned and relatively clean with comfortable seats. In any case, it takes less than 30 minutes from mostly anywhere to anywhere. The tickets to Akrotiri were at 1.6 euros per person, one way. Tickets to be purchased in the bus, whose horn was a revelation in terms of the sound generated. It was so ‘polite’! Since we didn’t have time for an elaborate lunch, (from the restaurants we had shortlisted) a quick trip to Nick the Grill (2 minutes away) was made for Gyros – the cheapest, most filling meal you can find. And it’s yummy too!

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The vista was beautiful all the way to Akrotiri, and blue domed churches that would be be a recurring feature across Santorini. The last stop is right in front of the Archaeological museum, which was one of the things we’d come to see. There is an entrance fee of 10 euros, but it’s waived on Sundays. Some luck, at least! An entire town is being excavated – the houses, the utensils, and a snapshot of the lives lived thanks to the descriptions. I thought I’d made an important discovery about ancient Greeks until I realised that .. (see the last image in the set below!)

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The Red Beach, the second thing we wanted to see, was a km away, with some rough terrain – for some time the previous month, it had been closed due to landslide scares. The beach is indeed a reddish-brown shade, accentuated by the red rocks around. We didn’t have much time to spend there if we were to make it for our more important trip. So we practically ran back, just in time for the bus to Fira.

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From Fira, we caught the bus to Oia, 1.8 euros and half an hour away. From the town square, we tried to find Ochre Wine Bistro – the best place to watch the famous Oia sunset from. The information booth lady did give us directions, but we missed a turn, and as was becoming a habit, got lost in the tiny streets! Thankfully, there were all sorts of wonderful sights along the twisty, cobbled streets – from the famous blue domes that appear in all the memorabilia to cats for rent – and the shopkeepers were very helpful, thus we finally found the place. I think it is easier to approach it via the main road, which has a couple of more options for the splendid view. The fortress is the free option, though it’s bound to be crowded.

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Sunset was supposed to be around 8.15 and it was only 6.30, but we wanted a good table, and so, tried different tables before settling on one. A Japanese couple was already there. I chose a table, but then gave in to the suggestion made by the restaurant staff. Turned out later that my choice was better, but in any case, the best shots are from the other end of the restaurant – totally reserved, so I had to stand in the corridor when it was time for the ‘shoot’. Since we had a while to spend, we kept stalling the waiter, who was pushy in the beginning, but relented soon, and was extremely friendly and helpful as time passed. The Japanese couple were up to the same tricks. Later, other groups came in, and they seemed like regulars – dining here everyday, probably trying for the best shot! The funny thing was, at the time of the sunset, another Japanese guy ran into the restaurant, tripod and all, set up his stuff, took the shot in a few minutes and ran right back! :D

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Meanwhile, we tried the local Donkey beer, (red version) a Sangria different from the versions we’ve had, a Strapatsada, [a traditional dish with scrambled eggs dish, feta cheese, tomato and Cretan apaki  (smoked pork meat with herbs)] a Moussaka (minced beef, eggplant, béchamel with graviera cheese) and a Fresh Rooster. (kokkoras krasatos) (cooked in a wine sauce with mushrooms, pearl onions and smoked bacon and served with absolutely homemade pasta) Our timing was a bit awry, because the main course arrived just as the sun was setting. It really didn’t help that there was a better shot every minute! The sunset was indeed splendid. We didn’t have a lot of time after that, because we had to catch a bus!

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I practically clicked as I ran too – Oia is so beautiful at night! We did some really quick shopping, thanked the shopkeeper lady who had given directions, and wished we had time to buy something from her too! We lost our way again, and barely made it in time for the 9PM bus from the square. I saw a guy standing near the bus’ door, and with his clipboard, thought he was a lottery seller. He kept pulling me back as I tried to get in, turned out this time tickets were being sold outside! (the only time this happened)

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An extremely crowded bus, and we stood for half the way before we got a seat. (tip: the last bus is at 9.30 but we caught the 9PM one because the last shuttle from Fira to the hotel was at 10.05, and the 9.30 option might have been touch and go. It would be a good idea to stay a night in Oia) We had enough time for a hot chocolate before the shuttle arrived. We planned for the next day with the updated bus schedule and slept soundly thanks to a hectic day.

A Greek odyssey – Day 2

Continued from Day 1

The agenda for the day was Lindos and the old town part of Rhodes. We had planned a public bus ride for the former, but I was thrilled to see a poster at the reception – that the hotel arranged a bus trip to Lindos for 22 euros per person. The joy was shortlived, since it operated on every day except Saturday! Such terrible luck!  I asked for directions to the bus stand, thankfully it was only 10 minutes away by walk. All of this had happened the previous night. From the time table, we had decided to get on the 9 AM bus. Despite directions, a map, and 20 minutes in hand, we got a little confused with the route. Thankfully, I spotted the bus station and we hopped on just in time after getting tickets. (5 euros per person) As we sat waiting for the bus to start, we saw an elegantly dressed lady talking to the guy at the ticket counter. We thought she might be a regular and wondered why she was commuting on a Saturday. She turned out to be the driver!

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The 1 hr 20 mins drive took us through wide roads in town followed by narrow but clean streets in the suburbs, then a countryside complete with goats to finally, an awesome view of Lindos. (you have to walk back a bit for the kind of shot below)

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A 10 minute walk took us to the city square. Unlike the feel I got at Trip Advisor, the place has plenty of options for hanging around, shopping and dining. The Lindos version of the acropolis is a little climb away, and a popular means of transport is a donkey! The entry (to the acropolis, not the donkey) costs 6 euros per person and the place, as well as the path leading to it, offers fantastic views. At the Acropolis, there are temples to various gods. We walked down to the beach, 5 minutes from the square. It had some good lunching options (with a view of the Acropolis) but we had already made up our mind on Kalypso. On the way back to the square, we did find the way to Kleoboulos’ tomb, but since Trip Advisor had mentioned a 2 hour walk, we passed.

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The guy at Kalypso was super friendly and when we said we were from India, immediately wanted to know the name of a particular movie. He narrated a typical brothers-lost-reunited 80s story, ending with a googly – a song he claimed was from the film – which turned out to be Aati Kya Khandala! Classified under #WTF. Though he looked genuine, I wondered how many times he had enacted this scene before! The place, and the food was excellent – a fantastic salad, and vine leaves filled with minced meat, washed down with the recommended local beer, and fresh orange juice.

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Some amount of shopping later, we got on the 2.30 bus to Rhodes, which was extremely crowded. We both slept all the way. On reaching Rhodes, we walked around the port and Old Town, and in the process of finding the Palace of the Grandmasters, got utterly lost in the maze of lovely cobbled streets! But we did manage to locate two of our intended dinner options – Island Lipsi and Socratous Garden – (check) utterly by accident. We then bought me a fake Puma ‘jacket’ for 10 euros and wandered into another maze – this time complete with castles and musicians. We desperately looked around for a main road, and just as we found it, also found a signpost which announced that we had exited the Grandmasters Palace! Lesson – get internet from home! (I could find no open outlets of Wind Telecom)

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D corrected my sense of direction in time and thankfully found the way back to Old Town and the bus station – only 2 minutes away, it turned out! Some more shopping and we walked back to the hotel. I had a bad headache and slept off, and ended up skipping dinner in the process!

A Greek odyssey – Day 1

In what was a departure from our standard departure, we turned left on the world map this time. The Meru we hired for the early morning (or late night) flight – at 4.15 – had a neat hat tip – an ad for Santorini, Sobha’s version, that is! The driver was in an #F1 mood and we reached well in time, prompting us to take a little nap. That almost led to us missing the flight, and we just about made it!

Since we were in the middle column with no window seats nearby, the napping was continued on the first Emirates flight till it landed us four hours and a functional breakfast later in our other homeland – Dubai, which we were visiting for the first time. [no transit visa required, unlike Malaysia!]If not the sheer scale, a metro between two terminals was enough to wow us completely, and convince us even more of what we Malayalis are capable of, when we have Arab money and manpower backing us! ;)

For all the awesomeness, getting free WiFi, even for half an hour, was a tedious task which I gave up on. The Emirates  flight to Athens was at 10.05 and took us about 4.5 hours. Still stuck in the middle column of seating, nap time was replaced with in-flight movie time. I saw Up & Down, a Malayalam movie first, out of courtesy for where we were at, and then watched American Hustle! We landed at Athens at 2 PM in the afternoon (local time) and immediately faced Athenian Hustle in the form of a luggage trolley that cost 1 Euro! There seemed to be quite a few lottery sellers inside, making the place quite like a bus stand, but I could already imagine why they might be popular!

We had a long wait for our flight to Rhodes – about 5.5 hours, but between immigration, meeting our tour operator for all the vouchers and free wifi for an hour, time passed by quickly. After much research, I had decided to buy Wind Telecom data cards, but couldn’t find them at the airport. The Cosmote pack cost over 25 euros. I immediately felt a disconnect, and decided not to buy! At some point in time, we got hungry and chose Negroni from the range of options available for a first taste of Alfa beer and some souvlaki, watching flights go by.

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The Olympic Air (recently acquired by Aegean) was tiny and reminded me of Air Deccan. The air hostesses wore a very chic uniform though. I also discovered the species who have been reading mutual fund disclaimers on Indian television ads – Greek pilots. And I’m told Malayalam is fast. Some peanuts and Coke and an hour later, we were at the Rhodes airport, located right next to the sea.  This was around the time I discovered that I’d be carrying our luggage and could expect no help from drivers. When I asked for help, they looked at me like I was speaking Greek. Oh wait…

The drive to our accommodation – Atlantis City Hotel – showed us what seemed a calm, peaceful, idyllic town, with small well populated and commercial stretches. We wondered if we’d have to travel all this way the next day. It took us only 20 minutes to reach the hotel, and we made our way to the room in the tiniest lift I’ve seen. Wifi was available in the reception and dining area. The room itself was small, but functional and neat, with a little balcony overlooking the street. The location was awesome, and we immediately went out in search of the three restaurants we had shortlisted for dinner.

Agalma, though more difficult to locate, appealed to us more than the higher rated Kerasma and Tamam. (both were within 300m of our hotel, check this list for options) After beckoning us in, they proceeded to ignore us for a while, but were very apologetic when they brought the menu. I asked for a Cider and D chose the house wine. The cider was great and the wine was a little meh. A Giouvetsi got me victory in the second round too as D wasted most of her salad. But in everyone’s defense, she was quite sleepy and the food took a long while getting to the table, accompanied by apologies.

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The walk back to the hotel made me realise how utterly unprepared I was in terms of clothing choices. I thought 19-20 C was pleasant, and had an all-summer shorts+ tee sets packed with not a single jacket/sweater or even a pair of denims, and here I was, shivering! My nightmares, understandably, were about freezing to death and becoming history in Greece!

O’Land Estate, Coonoor

The planning obsession has ensured that our vacations/home trips are meticulously planned, and much in advance. So the long Ugadi weekend would’ve ended up as just another long weekend, but for the wonderful disruption by B & N, who suggested that we take a mini break. After many Facebook chats and near misses, we finally zeroed in on O’land Estates. (all details are on the site – click on the individual rooms for prices)

Day 1: Though we’d heard much, we’d never actually met a 5 AM (departure) on a Saturday, so it took us an extra fifteen minutes to get fully acquainted, and get started. (route map) Though B tried his best to convince us on the merits of the thatte idli at Bidadi, we made very Amit-like (for a definition, check the text here) jokes based on the first word minus an h and finally landed up at the standard Kamat Lokaruchi. Masala dosa, idli, chow chow bath, vada and coffee later, we were on our way. Barring a tiny water purchase stop, we (I use the word loosely, B and N did all the driving!) then drove until Gundlupet before stopping at the unofficial restroom sponsor of all weekend getaways out of Bangalore – CCD. ( a pot can happen over coffee!) We entered the Bandipur National Park in a while, and after some standard deer and monkey spotting, also managed to get the elephants to pose!

36 hairpin curves later, we were in Ooty. After much googling and even 4sqing, we landed up at the Nahar Sidewalk cafe for lunch. I sensed something wrong in the menu and we soon discovered that – horror of horrors- it was all veg!  But we were too hungry and the pasta we ordered turned out to be quite decent. I also happened to earn a Herbivore badge on 4sq thanks to the checkin! We had Google to thank for the chocolates from King Star Bakery, which were consumed through the trip.

The trip thus far had been very pleasant and we were wondering if we’d beaten our road trip hex. And then began our road wrestling! The route from Ooty to O’Land is curvy in real life but pretty straightforward on the map. But a couple of wrong turns after Lovedale meant that it was near 4.30 by the time we reached O’Land! The only consolations were the beautiful vista including picturesque bungalows, and the ever dropping temperature. The road on Google Maps actually ended quite a long way before the estate gate (that was a first for me) but the locals were very helpful. O’Land was quite a land’s end and looked totally awesome. We enjoyed the view from the Estate House and the tea, thoughtfully provided by Aslam. Our rooms – Hornbill House – was a tiny walk away, and we were already floored by the unique design before we even inside!

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Hornbill house is spread over two floors and shares a common living room. The ground floor has a sit out while the first floor has a bathtub with a view! (though the area was facing a drought, said a notice, and guests were requested not to use it) The view also includes a waterfall, but that was on a leave of absence, courtesy the same drought!

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We relaxed for a bit before heading over to the Estate House for dinner. The biryani would take a while, said Aslam, so we decided to have a simpler rice + vegetables + chicken meal, all the while admiring the quirky decor elements of the Estate House. The Bollywood lover in me had a feast! We also chatted with Sajan, the estate manager, who had himself just returned from Coorg. The night view from the Estate House was equally fantastic – lights from the isolated dwellings on the hills, and a starlit sky above.

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Day 2: We just about made it in time for breakfast – Poori sabji, bread and eggs washed down with some excellent tea! There’s a little space below the courtyard level that offers a wonderful view, and that came to be our favourite eating spot. We asked Sajan for some outing options and he had two – a 40 km drive to Upper Bhavani or a 30 km drive to Coonoor. After much debate, we decided that we’d pursue the latter after lunch. We roamed around the plantation until lunch.

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Lunch was the biryani we missed the previous night, and we set out to Coonoor at about 2.30. Thanks to Sajan’s precise directions, it took us just about 45 mins to get there. Splendid views all along the route. B, for some reason, got it into his head to see Wellington, a cantonment a little after Coonoor. What he specifically wanted to see was a golf course which apparently Tendulkar had visited. We never found it and B was the subject of much ridicule, though I later found that it does exist! We roamed around Coonoor hunting for a place to hang around and finally landed at the Gateway Hotel, a lovely property that has the Raj written all over it, including a hunting trophy from 1912. After a couple of beers, fish ‘n’chips and a fruit platter later, we decided to begin our journey back. Some fruit and plant shopping happened on the way. Dinner was standard fare and we watched Flight before a sound sleep!

Day 3: We decided to start our return trip immediately after breakfast – that turned out to be Rava Idli @ 9.30. :) Sajan was kind enough to have one of the workers get us the jackfruits we’d been eyeing since the time we’d arrived! :) He also gave us directions and even accompanied us for a bit. This time we didn’t get lost and made it to Ooty in just under an hour. There was much shopping to do – pickles, chocolates, spices – from Modern, which was also Sajan’s suggestion. Lunch was planned at Gundlupet, a slight detour from the Kanakpura route we’d decided to take. The Misty Rock hotel is exactly opposite the CCD we’d stopped at on Day 1, and its restaurant De Shell was our lunch stop. The unintentionally funny menu (check the image below) was the only solace while we waited and waited for our lunch to arrive. (Tip: order only meals or biryani if you’re in a hurry)

The Kanakpura route has small stretches of bad roads, and is relatively quite boring compared to the regular Mysore route. If you’re planning to take this route, prepare yourself for repeat stretches of farmland, hamlets, little towns and lakes that exist only on Google Maps. (blame the summer)

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We reached in about 8.5 hours including the hour long lunch break – significantly better than Day 1. O’Land is a wonderful retreat from the concrete jungle, and the perspectives that nature provides when you allow it to, continue to amaze me.  And we owe B and N one for a fantastic mini break! :)

Kodagu Moments – Days 2,3

Continued from Day 1.

The replacement for the early morning trek was a coffee trail trek that began at 10.30. Breakfast was sumptuous, and in addition to the elaborate buffet, you could also get dosas and eggs made-to-order. We returned to our room before getting to the Leisure area to begin the trek. Arun Poovaiah arrived on time, but we had to wait for a few guests who took a while to land up! After introductions, to each other, and to some fauna near the building (like the Burmese you can see in the second image – it stops growing if it comes in contact with an alternate life form! And I thought I was asocial!) we began walking higher, towards the second phase of the property’s expansion. On the way, we were shown the Arabica and Robusta coffee plants. The second phase was where the deluxe suites were being built – they were complete except for the work on the interiors. I think 227 was the suite we saw, and it was a rival to the ‘best view in the resort’ tag. To top it, there was a Jacuzzi on the balcony!

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Here’s a quick view of the scene from the balcony.

Poor Arun, having encouraged questions, was at the receiving end of some utterly random questions! I hate to sound like a jerk, but I really wished I had lmgtfy stickers! When he asked us for feedback on the stay, most guests said there were not enough activities – live bands was one suggestion! Led me to wonder whether humans had lost their ability to make their peace with silence and stillness. ​Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. 
 ~ Tim Kreider. Ah, well. Arun replied that live bands were not really in the scheme of things, but they did have tennis, basketball and badminton courts. We had also discovered a ping-pong table, carom and several board games in the Leisure area earlier. This is one feedback we had – that the welcome folder in the room should have this information, WiFi passwords etc.

We had been asked specifically to wear jeans and shoes for the trek, but several in the group pretended not to have received the memo. Thanks to that, the leeches in the area decided to invite themselves to the party! Arun totally downplayed it saying that it was blood donation. :D We then saw a rudraksh tree and the poor guy was asked for the significance of the number of faces a rudraksh had! He did say that a single faced one only appeared once a century and apparently Rajinikanth, Sonia Gandhi and Queen Liz had one! From there we moved on to see Elaichis, and the leeches decided to crash the party again! I got a video of one doing its version of the pub crawl.

We also saw the soon-to-be spa, the sports courts, and even the area for the swimming pool before we completed the trek.

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Lunch was another buffet, and there was still no pork! We asked for it and were told that we’d get a portion for dinner. We also saw a couple of kids whom we suspected were aged less than the resort’s 12 year old criteria. Hmm. On the way back to the room, I thought the buggy ride would serve as a good proxy tour of the resort. Here it is!

D had already made plans of how to spend the afternoon – Arun had invited everyone to The Verandah to make their own blend of coffee. I begged off and went into deep meditation, from which I emerged bleary eyed an hour later, when D came over to call me to taste the coffee she had blended, ground and brewed. We even got a packet of it. After we walked back to the room, we played a Calvinball version of chess, and then (for the first time) walked to the restaurant from the room. Silence except for crickets, a light breeze, bliss!

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We did get the pork curry, but though it was tasty, it was too little too late. This is another feedback we gave – when in Coorg, it is unpardonable not to serve pork in every single meal! After dinner, we played carom, and D was convinced that we should buy one. Yay! I’d been asking for one forever now!

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And thus ended Day 2, and our check out time the next day was 11 AM.

Day 3

The only time the service faltered was after breakfast when we asked for a buggy. It was raining heavily, and we had to wait for about 20 minutes before we got one. I have to say that this was the sole exception – the staff had always been courteous, and understood the meaning of service very clearly. They’d go out of the way to help and always made it a point to ask if we needed anything. Most everyone smiled, and that was wonderful! We ended up paying Rs.34500, inclusive of the driver’s food (nominal charges, and his accommodation was complimentary) for 3D/2N and while it might seem on the high side, and the place is not the easiest to reach, all things considered, it’s worth it if you can convince them to feed you pork regularly! :D

We left out by around 11.30. and the driver’s clock showed 4.50. Our time was not right, I should have taken it seriously! We had initially thought of lunching at Madikeri but we made quick time on the way back and based on the distance, decided on Cafe Coorg near Hunsur for lunch. At Kushalnagar, the driver braked suddenly thanks to an idiot in front of him who, without any warning, decided to stop and attempt a U turn in the middle of the road! A bike scraped our vehicle a bit, cursed us and we thought that was the end of the day’s adventures. We stopped at Cafe Coorg and managed to keep down the food. Enough said. (Probably a good idea to have an early breakfast at Tamara and lunch at Madikeri)

A little after that, the awesomeness began. A sudden hump ahead made the driver in front of us brake. Our driver was too late to respond, and we could only watch in helpless silence, as despite the hand brake, we skidded straight on to the back of the vehicle ahead of us! No one except our car was hurt. The other car’s owner was a Mallu and after mildly complaining about the damage to his vehicle, (which wasn’t much) prophesied that our vehicle wouldn’t move! He offered us a lift till Kengeri but we declined. We then limped r.e.a.l.ly.s.l.o.w.l.y till Srirangapatna, where we got a mechanic. There was a theatre playing ‘Bulbul’ opposite the workshop, but D wasn’t very interested. The ‘fix’ took half an hour, and we resumed the journey. Turned out in a while that he had made it worse – the engine began to overheat! We barely managed to reach Mandya. Several bullock carts chose this opportunity to add wins to their CVs! Hmmph! Our driver managed to get us an alternate vehicle at Mandya, after unsuccessfully trying to convince us of the benefits of a Volvo bus, and then practically assembling all the taxi drivers around to offer bids, and suggestions!

We started from Mandya at 6, and managed not to touch other vehicles. But this driver also understood that we were on a vacation and despite directions and suggestions, decided to show us most of Bangalore before dropping us in Koramangala at 9.45. Ten hours and fifteen minutes on the road! D claimed that all the tranquility she had attained at Tamara was lost on state highways! But hey, we have 2 posts and photos to show for all of it! ;)