Travel

Penang Post! – Part 4

Continued from Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

The last day of our vacation. Sigh! We only had one item on the agenda, and no prizes for guessing it involved food – specifically lunch! But before that, we had our standard awesome breakfast at Spice Market cafe. They had an awesome Blueberry Crumble and the banana cakes had been fantastic for a couple of days now!

We didn’t have a lot of time to digest it, because we had to leave the hotel by 2 and had very minimal time for lunch. We took a cab to the Living Room Cafe (actually walk-able, but 10 MYR away by cab) which served fusion Malaysian. A small cafe on the main road that also sells art. They had quite a few interesting photos around  – Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin, Muhammad Ali & the Beatles etc. There was also a band practicing. I ordered a Cider, D an banana juice and we waited for what we had come for – Beef Rendang. We got talking to an American lady who had been in Batu Ferringhi for 1.5 years and planned to stay 2.5 more. We wondered what it must be like. Meanwhile, the beef rendang did prove to be an excellent choice.

collage29 More

Penang Post! – Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

We lazed around and barely made it in time for breakfast! The buffet at Spice Market Cafe was awesome as always, and my meal was made thanks to the parfait and bread pudding. I also saw what suspiciously looked like a snide remark on Twitter ;)

collage23

The day was not really packed in terms of schedule, but we were a bit delayed and when I learned that the taxi to Penang Hill would work out only to about 30 MYR, I immediately voted to skip the elaborate bus plan. We reached the Penang Hill station in about 45 minutes  and it actually worked out to 50 MYR (contrary to what the lady at the hotel said) but it was a wonderful ride – peaceful settings with only a couple of traffic bottlenecks. There are a couple of queues to be navigated – one for the tickets (30 MYR per person) and the other to actually get into the train that will get you to the top. The internet suggests that one person should stand in each, since the waiting time could turn out to be quite much, but the line for the latter seemed reasonable, so we stood united! More

Penang Post! – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The day dawned bright and sunny. Ok, maybe dawn is an exaggeration, and it’s usually so at 8.30. :D The buffet breakfast was at the Spice Market cafe, and the spread was just fantastic. I’d planned on a light breakfast since street food was a major part of the day’s agenda, but I really couldn’t help myself. Given that we were running a bit late, we skipped the original plan of taking Bus #101 and took a taxi to Georgetown, (40 MYR. They all claim to be metered, but ah, well. So ‘negotiate’ the rate before you start.) a UNESCO Heritage Site since 2008. Fort Cornwallis was where we asked to be dropped and the view from there reminded me a lot of Cochin.

collage7

Someone at this fort had a cannon obsession. The damn things were everywhere, and the irony is that the fort has never engaged in battle! We took a leisurely stroll inside and then turned into Pengkalan Weld, to begin our street art discovery.

collage8

You can do this street art exploration in many ways. You could just walk around and organically see the ones on your route, or research, figure out the ones you want to see and make a walking route. We did the latter. There are many resources available – a Google Map, an online brochure (doesn’t have the 101 Lost Kittens series) and the free guide that you can pick up at the airport is actually the most up-to-date one. Our first stops were Louis Gan’s “Two Children playing Basketball” and “Brother and Sister on a Swing”, both almost seemed alive!

collage9 More

Penang Post! – Part 1

For long, Malaysia has had a transitory presence in our travel itineraries – a temporary and forced stop on our way to our vacation spots. We had actually planned a trip within India, but then I chanced upon Batu Ferringhi, Penang. That led us to Georgetown, its street art and street food, and plans were abruptly changed! Meru, for the first time, gave us a scare, but we were rescued by Taxi For Sure. After a quick caffeine dose at the airport, we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur, courtesy Air Asia.

Based on our earlier experiences, we had expected to land at that glorified bus stand called LCCT, but were pleasantly surprised when we alighted at KLIA2. In fact, we had an abundance of choice for breakfast and found it difficult to settle on one place. Across three floors we roamed, until Ringgits were spent at Alessio, which offered a great value-for-money breakfast. (at least by airport standards)

collage1

A few hours later, another hour long Air Asia flight took us to Penang, the Pearl of the Orient. (that must be the most over used description ever!) The airport had quite a few useful free guides and they should be enough to plan the vacation even if you haven’t done so earlier! We took a cab from the airport pre paid booth to Batu Ferringhi. Our first impression of the place, during this trip, was that it was actually quite peaceful, despite the obvious urbanisation. Drivers followed road rules, there was minimal honking and not a lot of ambient noise at all. The driver got us to our destination in the promised 50 minutes for about 75MYR. The Shangri-La Rasa Sayang has a rather deceptive appearance. A lot of trees partially hide a clean, aesthetically designed yet minimalistic set of buildings. But once inside, you can actually feel the opulence. They were nice enough to let us check in a couple of hours earlier than standard, and a wonderfully refreshing welcome drink later, we were escorted to our room on the fourth floor, overlooking the pool, and the sea beyond.

collage2 More

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.

Greece42

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.

Greece43

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.

20140523_124946a

20140523_123625a

Greece44

Greece45

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!

Greece47

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!

Greece46

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!

Greece48

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!

Greece49

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.

greece40

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!

greece41

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.

greece39

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)

greece38

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.

greece31

greece32

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.

greece33

greece34

20140521_120842a

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.

greece35

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.

greece36

20140521_201513a

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.

greece37

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.

greece23 greece24

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.

greece25

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!

greece26

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,

greece27

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.

greece29 greece30

20140520_200114a

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!

greece28

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.

greece18

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!

greece19

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!

greece20

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.

greece21 greece22

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!

greece9

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

greece10

20140518_123554a

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!

greece11

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!)

greece12

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.

greece13

20140518_160035a

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.

greece14

20140518_180316a

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

greece17

20140518_201402a

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!

greece15

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)

greece16

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.