I returned home earlier this week from yet another amazing trip to Greece, where I had spent 8 nights on Mykonos, 3 nights on Paros, and 3 nights in Athens/Glyfada. Below is a report about my travels including descriptions of my flights and ferry trips, the hotels where I stayed, the restaurants where I dined, and some of the places I visited during my holiday.
Toronto to Athens
I flew Air Transat, the Canadian charter airline I have flown on all of my trips to Greece. The flight left Toronto just past lunchtime on May 13 and stopped in Montreal for 90 minutes to collect more passengers and load the food and beverage carts. I heard an attendant say the flight was full. Nearly one-quarter of the passengers were Greeks, many of whom were elderly, heading home after spending the winter in Canada with relatives. Many were dismayed to discover that they could purchase snacks and alcoholic drinks in flight only with a credit card; most had only cash, and no plastic, and consequently had to settle for water and soft drinks plus the regularly scheduled meal and snack services. (Wine, beer and alcohol cost $6 apiece while the snacks -- Caramilk bars and small canisters of Pringles -- cost $2 each.) Our flight was uneventful until we had several short episodes of turbulence while flying over Europe, but we still landed in Athens about 15 minutes early, at 07:15.
I reached the customs hall by 07:40 and was pleased to see that the area has at long last been organized with a bank-style corral that directs travellers to the next available customs agent. On every previous trip, we arrived to a hall that was jam-packed with jumbled, disorganized and very long lines, and me inevitably stuck in the one that moved along the slowest. The single line moved rapidly this time, in sharp contrast to previous years; the customs agents smiled, unlike previous years; and I reached the luggage carousel slightly more than 10 minutes later, in contrast to the 45 to 70-minute periods it had taken to clear customs in the past (it helped that ours was the only flight arriving at the time; in previous years, a Thai Airlines 747 arrived at the same time, but I heard those flights have been cancelled this summer).
Just a few minutes past 08:00, my bag was checked for my Aegean Airlines flight to Mykonos and I had more than 3 hours to kill in the airport before my 11:30 departure. That gave me plenty of time to have breakfast and browse the shops before going to the departure lounge. The airport security check for my inter-island flight was bizarre. An agent considered my Canon SX40 to be highly suspicious, and repeatedly sent it through the X-ray machine. He also made me turn it on and off repeatedly, remove the lens cap and put it back on several times, as well as repeatedly open the flippable LCD. Then he intently scoured and touched nearly every square centimeter of the camera with his latex-gloved hands before declaring it was OK for me to take it back. Strange!
Athens to Mykonos
The Aegean flight left Athens more than 15 minutes behind schedule around 11:45. About one-third of the seats were empty; at least half of the passengers were tourists from the USA and Canada. The flight took 20 minutes -- just enough time for a quick beverage service -- and flew low over Rinia and Delos islands as the pilots circled to land at Mykonos airport. I got an amazing aerial view of the Delos archaeological ruins which, from high, look even more extensive than they appear when you're viewing them from the top of Mt. Kynthos on the island itself. I also got great views of Elia and Super Paradise beaches as the plane descended to the runway. The wait for my suitcase took almost as long as the flight itself, but that was soon forgotten once I was walking outside into brilliant sunshine and then sitting in a shuttle van for the 7-minute ride to my hotel.
I stayed at Hotel Tagoo for the fourth consecutive time, and absolutely loved it! It was my best Tagoo visit yet; Anna, Yiannis, Jimmy and the rest of the Hotel Tagoo team were wonderful hosts who extended incredible Greek hospitality and kindness throughout my stay. I was travelling solo this trip, but didn't get bored for a minute thanks to the exceptional friendliness of the Tagoo staff as well as many of the other hotel guests I met -- super people from Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Brazil and Asia. There was always conversation at breakfast as guests shared stories about what they had done the day before, and compared notes about beaches, restaurant meals, shops and excursions to Delos. The swimming pool bar was a social spot in late afternoon and evening when guests returned from their daytime adventures and chatted over drinks.
Since my stay was longer than previous visits, I got to experience not just one but two of Anna and Yiannis's fabled Greek Nights, which provided convivial evenings of fun, laughter, drinks and dancing around the swimming pool. I had difficulty learning the steps for the two Greek dances Yiannis taught us, but surprised even myself by not tumbling in the water -- even though I have two left feet and was under the influence of ouzo and some of bartender Jimmy's wickedly tasty and potent vodka & liqueur shooters.
Although all but one of my prior Mykonos visits have been in May with predominantly sunny warm weather, this year's mix of weather was odd, to put it mildly. There were never more than two consecutive days of full sunshine, and there was more wind and more clouds than in previous years.
Late in the evening of May 17, a massive storm system pushed its way across the Cyclades, reaching Mykonos overnight. When I woke up on May 18, the morning sky was dark with jet-black thunderclouds that unleashed a torrent of rain just after breakfast. It poured throughout the morning. The downpour let up around lunchtime after giving the island a thorough soaking, but it stayed cloudy and warm the rest of the day. Though obviously not a good beach day, it was ideal weather for exploring Mykonos Town or just lazing on the loungers near the pool and sleeping or reading, which is exactly what many hotel guests did.
On one day, it was sunny and bright in Mykonos Town, but hotel guests who had gone to beaches on the south coast came back reporting they had been rained on when stormclouds suddenly rolled above the coast. Another day, there were brief sprinkles of rain in Town, while the weather at the beaches was perfect.
The weather didn't put a damper on my holiday, though, and I visited a record number of beaches this trip including: Lia, Kalafatis, Elia, Super Paradise, Paradise, Paraga, Agia Anna, Platis Gialos, Psarou, Ornos, Agios Ioannis, Kapari, Megali Ammos, and Agios Stefanos. (I also got to see Ftelia, Kalo Livadi and Agia Anna from a vehicle while touring around the island.)
May 16 was a gorgeous hot & sunny day, so I walked to the Fabrica bus depot and caught the 12:00 bus to Paradise beach. During the ride I chatted with a couple from England who were taking their two young daughters (both under 10 years old) to the beach. I was a little surprised they had picked Paradise, since it has the reputation of being "the" party beach on Mykonos, rather than a place to take little kids for a family afternoon in the sun, sand and surf. But the notorious Paradise party scene doesn't usually get underway until 17:00, and on this particular afternoon there was a mix of families, singles and couples of all ages, and the beach had a very relaxed chill-out atmosphere. There weren't any bikini-clad podium dancers at the Tropicana beach bar, nor were there legions of college grads competing to see who could drink the most shooters. I figured the family would have a good time, and they later emailed to say they did indeed have a blast at the beach.
After spending some time at Paradise, I walked a coastal path to Paraga beach and spent a short time there. It wasn't very busy, with perhaps two dozen people at most enjoying the beautiful beach and maybe another dozen having lunch or drinks at Tasos Taverna and Paraga Cafe. Two small groups of 20-something beachgoers were having drinks in the comfy lounge chairs at Kalua restaurant and bar.
From Paraga, I walked over to little Agia Anna beach (a trek that takes less than five minutes), where I sat at a tree-shaded table on the sand outside Nicolas taverna and ordered lunch. Re-energized by my meal, I walked along the scenic coast to Platis Gialos beach, just 15 minutes away. About a dozen people were relaxing on sunbeds outside the Bonatsa taverna, while in the middle section of the beach, a worker was busy installing more lounge chairs and umbrellas. Dozens of people were enjoying the section of beach next to the various bars and tavernas -- Notos bar, the Atlantida restaurant, Avli tou Thodori, and others -- which each had a healthy number of customers enjoying late lunches and drinks. A few people were swimming in the sea, but most people were just catching rays on the sunbeds.
From there I hiked over to Psarou beach, following a trail that winds along the top of a cliff on the north side of Psarou Bay. I had not visited Psarou since since 2006, and found that it hasn't changed much. The uber-trendy and expensive Nammos restaurant and nightclub is still going strong here; a couple dozen people were looking completely relaxed as they lounged on the €20 rental chairs and drank exotic cocktails delivered by the team of attentive young beach waiters. A short stroll across the sand, Cavo Psarou was serving Greek cuisine and drinks at much more reasonable prices. Only a few of the sunbeds for the luxury Mykonos Blu Hotel were occupied.
I debated hiking back to Mykonos Town, taking a route we had walked from Psarou six years ago, but felt like I had gotten enough sun already and instead returned to Platis Gialos where I had a short wait for the next hourly bus to Town. I freshened up at Hotel Tagoo and then decided to walk over to Agios Stefanos beach near the New Port at Tourlos, since I had been there only once before. It's a good spot to catch late afternoon sunshine, and several locals told me the water there is often warmer than at other island beaches. It took me just over 20 minutes to reach the beach, where groups of teenagers and youngsters were playing games on the sand while a few adults sunbathed and even more adults sat on the shaded terrace at the beachside Epistrofi cafe bar, drinking beer and watching the cruise ships in the nearby port area.
May 17 was another gorgeous sunny day, and three people from the hotel who had a vehicle invited me to join them on a ride to see some of the beaches on the southeast side of the island. They wanted to check out Lia, Kalafatis, Elia, Agrari and Super Paradise beach in particular, so off we went. We took the main road to Ano Mera, which gave us great views of Ftelia beach on Panormos Bay along the way, and drove past the main tourist area of Ano Mera (it features a town square lined with tavernas, and the 17th Century Panagia Tourliani monastery; nearby is a beautiful convent I had visited last year, but locals told me the church had kicked out the sole remaining nun and was turning the building into a monastery to educate monks, so we couldn't pay the place a visit.)
We drove around the northeast and south sides of the islands along narrow paved and dirt roads, some of which twisted their way down steep hillsides to beaches and bays, others which led us far away from some of the places we were trying to find, and one of which led to an abrupt dead end! The signage on Mykonos is haphazard, at best, and it's easy to miss turnoffs to beaches. Often road signs face in only one direction, so if you're driving from the opposite way, you won't see the markers at all. That's why we missed the sign pointing the way to Agrari beach, which we didn't reach despite stopping to get directions from some local kids in their front yard next to the road. Had we approached from another direction, we would have seen a sign pointing the way. Our island tour was fun all the same, particularly since we passed through parts of the island that none of us had seen before.
At Lia beach, there was a grand total of one person on the entire sandy strand. Lounge chairs and umbrellas had not been set up yet, though we did see a fellow organizing umbrella segments near a building next to the parking area. The fish taverna at the beach, which we had heard serves excellent food, did not appear to be open yet.
There was just a handful of people on Kalafatis beach, probably because it was quite windy. More people were sitting in the Thalassa beach bar and restaurant at the left end of the beach, while a group of scuba divers from the Kalafatis dive center was in the water nearby. I had expected to see windsurfers at Kalafatis -- it's one of the best spots for windsurfing on Mykonos -- but was surprised that not a single windsurfer had shown up to ride the strong wind and waves.
I was stunned to see that fewer than half of the lounge chairs and umbrellas had been installed at Elia beach. The west half of the beach was completely vacant, while only a couple of dozen people were relaxing on the sunbeds already put in place. It was quite windy at Elia, too, and nobody was going in the water, where big waves were churning seaweed and other natural sea debris against the shore. The Elia beach taverna appeared to be doing a brisk business. I noticed a huge construction site on the hillside above the Myconian Imperial and Royal Myconian Hotels; someone told us the owner of those properties (they also own the Myconian Ambassador at Platis Gialos and the Myconian K Hotels just outside Mykonos Town) are constructing another premium hotel & villa property.
We got to Super Paradise just as clouds were rolling in and beginning to block the sun. The beach was the liveliest I have ever seen it in May, with the area next to the Super Paradise bar being the busiest. Several dozen people were enjoying the beach and the great music from the bar even though the sun was starting to disappear. It was also the sexiest crowd of all the Mykonos beaches I visited. With an abundance of fit, gym-toned, muscular and very good looking straight and gay people of both sexes primarily in the 20 - 40 age group, Super Paradise provided a veritable visual feast of eye candy. Since it looked like the cloud cover wasn't going to break, we didn’t stay long before heading back to the hotel.
May 20 was another beautiful day, and I took a bus from the Fabrica depot to Agios Ioannis beach. From there, I walked along the coast to Kapari, a small beach of light-brown sand at the foot of a deep bay of gorgeous turquoise water. You have to climb down a short hill of boulders and rocks to reach the beach. About a dozen people were enjoying the sand and the sea; half of them were nudists. After spending time there, I walked over to Agios Ioannis and had lunch at the Bellissimo Resort restaurant on the main road before wandering down the Ag. Ioannis beach itself. Hippie Fish taverna was fairly busy with people on its beach chairs as well as on its shaded beachview terrace, but nearby Pyli (formerly Christo's) wasn't yet open as workers were busy undertaking extensive renovations to the beachside restaurant building and terrace. I walked along the shore and checked out the small beach areas below the two of the island's top luxury hotels, the Mykonos Grand and the Saint John Hotel. Only a handful of people were using the sunbeds below each hotel and these narrow sections of beach felt very secluded and private.
From Agios Ioannis I walked to Ornos beach, which was very busy -- this beach had the most people of all the beaches I had seen so far. Around the same time last year, the beach had been dead, so I was surprised to see it crowded this time.
I took the bus back to Mykonos Town, where I wandered around awhile before returning to Hotel Tagoo to watch the sunset (it turned out to be the most dramatic sunset I saw the entire trip, so I was glad I got back in time.)
On days that I wasn't going to beaches, I spent a lot of time exploring Mykonos Town, venturing up narrow lanes and alleys I had never walked before, and climbing some of the stepped streets up the hillside above the Town to take in the terrific views.
One of the things I like most about visiting Mykonos in mid May is that I get to watch the island coming more and more to life with each day. Everywhere, you see people preparing to open shops, hotels and restaurants -- renovating, building, painting and cleaning -- and the next time you walk down a certain street, you're bound to find a shop or bar that wasn't open just a day or two earlier. I also spent a lot of time sitting outside cafes, relaxing with a coffee and watching the world pass by (people-watching on Mykonos can be great fun, particularly since the island draws visitors from all over the world). And, of course, I spent plenty of time eating.
This Mykonos visit was particularly noteworthy for the exceptionally good food I enjoyed. In past years, my partner and I have had some remarkably bad meals, but I won't forget this year's restaurant experiences because they were all good and, in some instances, exceptional.
I dined at Fato a Mano, To Ma'ereio, Maria's, Avra, Oregano, Matthew Taverna, Jimmy's Souvlaki, Sakis Grill House, Joanna's Niko's Place, Marco Polo, Bellissimo taverna, Roca Cookery, Avli Tou Thodori, Nicolas Taverna, and Antonini, and enjoyed my meals at each place. (I wrote more extensively about my dining experiences in my May 31 post, "Mykonos Restaurants 2012.")
I thought meal quality was good and prices reasonable even for fish, which is usually very expensive and something I rarely order on holiday as a result. Restaurant staff provided excellent service and hospitality, and with only three exceptions (the two souvlaki shops and Marco Polo taverna), staff offered complimentary desserts, ouzo, raki or mastiha, or even additional glasses or carafes of wine, to show their sincere gratitude for our patronage. Some restaurants even offered multiple desserts and drinks on the house when I dined in groups.
Dining highlights included the calamari at Fato a Mano; the chicken "Avra" at To Ma'ereio; the stuffed peppers and tomatoes at Maria's; the sesame feta and Salad Avra at Avra; the stuffed tomatoes and peppers at Oregano; the grilled fresh swordfish at Matthew; the fennel balls, gigantes in tomato and onion sauce and grilled lamb chops at Joanna's; the tomato fritters, zucchini sticks, salad and red snapper at Roca; and the tomato balls, meatballs, "spicy patties," grilled vegetables and kleftiko at Avli tou Thodori.
I had a great time meeting and speaking to some of the restaurant proprietors and staff, too, including Maria and her son at Maria's; all the staff at Fato a Mano; Sarah and Niko at Avra; Savvas at Jimmy's souvlaki place; Joanna at Joanna's Niko's Taverna; Thodori at Bellissimo restaurant, the family members at Nicolas Taverna, and Thanasis at Avli tou Thodori.
I'm not a big shopper when I travel, but this year I packed lighter than ever before and wound up needing an extra shirt. It was an interesting experience trying to find something affordable; apart from souvenir T-shirts, clothing prices can be staggeringly high and a shirt or pair of pants can easily cost more than one night's hotel accommodation and a good Greek meal. When I walked into one clothing shop near Little Venice it must have been obvious that I was suffering sticker shock from the prices on the Abercrombie & Fitch brand merchandise; the shop owner came over and actually warned me not to buy anything because the Mykonos prices are substantially higher for the same product sold in North America (he explained that he has to pay stiff licensing fees plus high import taxes that boost the price of the A & F products by 30 to 50%). However, despite the steep prices, he said European travellers love to buy A & F clothing because it's one of the hottest brands to be seen wearing. That explained why numerous senior citizens were sporting A & F clothing that I've only seen teenagers and college kids wear back home! I did manage to find a very reasonably priced shirt at Strut Underground Clothing near Lakka, though.
The Panorea Galata photo gallery on Metropoleos Street had a good selection of black and white postcards featuring Mykonos scenes from the past -- a nice alternative to the typical glossy colour postcards sold everywhere else in town and on other islands. And in a book shop/stationery store not far from the windmills, I found a fascinating photo book called "Delos and Mykonos at the dawn of the 20th Century." It's amazing to see how much Mykonos has changed; the hillside above Little Venice used to have as many as 12 windmills, but only six remain today.
The economic crisis clearly has taken a toll on Mykonos, as I found the island to be the quietest I've ever seen it in May (except for several of the beaches which had more people on them than in previous years at the same time of May). Many shops and hotels had yet to open for the season, some restaurants have closed, and bars were not as busy as they have been in past years. Romantic seaside tables at Little Venice were always available at night, for instance.
Locals were clearly disappointed that business was slow, but remained optimistic that the pace will pick up from June through the end of September, and into October. (Some restaurant staff told me that, with EasyJet now flying to Mykonos from the UK until late October, the travel season is being extended nearly a month longer, giving businesses an opportunity to make up for a slow start to the year.)
Locals said one of the reasons for the quiet atmosphere was reduced ferry service in the Cyclades this spring. The Hellenic Seaways Highspeed ferries were not yet running between Pireaus and Mykonos, Sea Jets wasn't operating its full SuperJet service either,and there was less ship traffic at the New Port than I remember seeing in the past. With fuel prices so high, locals said, the ferry companies will add the highspeed ferry service only once traveller demand has increased, likely in early to mid June.
On days that cruise ships were in port, however, Mykonos Town was just as vibrant and lively as I remembered it. I was happy to see that cruisers filled restaurants and cafes, rather than taking all their meals on ship, and they appeared to be helping the local economy by doing a lot of shopping, too.
Again this year, May was -- as I have always found it to be -- a great time to visit the island. No annoying crowds (even on the two days that five cruise ships were in port), plenty of room on the beaches, plenty of seats on the buses, and of course plenty of good seats in restaurants and bars.
Though the infamous Mykonos party and nightlife scene doesn't get into swing until June, bars were hopping on the weekend of May 18-20. Skandinavian bar was the busiest, while Jackie O, Babylon, Porta and Remezzo also were lively and great fun, though certainly not crowded. Several college-age American and English women staying at Hotel Tagoo told me they had a blast at the various cocktail bars at Little Venice, but were disappointed they had arrived on Mykonos several weeks too soon for the island's world-famous DJ club scene and beach parties. They still liked Mykonos so much they will return, but will visit between late June and September when the club and bar scenes are more active. (Cavo Paradiso, the gigantic nightclub at Paradise Beach, kicked off the summer with its opening party on May 19, but nobody from the hotel made it there for its first all-night bash of 2012 so I didn't get any feedback on how that turned out.)
Of course, you don't even notice the bar scene unless you specifically go looking for it, or take a walk through Mykonos Town after 23:00, because people don't start going out before then -- and sometimes not until well after midnight. Travellers who avoid Mykonos because of fears it's a wild "party island" don't realize what they are missing by giving the island a pass in May, June or September -- it's exactly the opposite of what they expect.
On May 22, I took the 14:55 FlyingCat 4 to Paros, which I had not visited since 2005. Last year, we waited until we arrived on Mykonos to buy tickets for our FlyingCat transfer to Ios and, to our chagrin, discovered that economy class was sold out with only two seats remaining in business class (which we of course snapped up). This year I booked my Paros ticket online well in advance and was glad I did because, once again, economy was sold out and only a handful of seats remained in business class. The SeaJet2, which departed the Mykonos Old Port 10 minutes before us, also was almost sold out.
The FlyingCat4 left Mykonos a few minutes later than scheduled, but gave us a smooth ride to Paros and arrived at the Parikia port nearly on time around 16:00. I walked off the ferry pier just as the bus to Naoussa drove past and disappeared around a corner. I didn't feel like waiting another hour for the next bus, so I took a taxi to Naoussa instead.
I stayed at Hotel Manos, which I had booked because of its positive reviews on TripAdvisor, where it's the #4-ranked hotel in Naoussa. I enjoyed the hotel and would recommend it -- I think it does deserve its high rating. It was much quieter than Hotel Tagoo, with considerably fewer guests; one morning there were six people in the breakfast room, including me, but the other two days there was just one other couple dining at the same time. Unlike the social atmosphere at Hotel Tagoo, however, most of the guests at Hotel Manos were far from friendly, and few would say anything beyond grunting "good morning." Multilingual Maria, the breakfast host, more than made up for that, though; she was great fun to chat with each morning.
Hotel Manos is conveniently located, about a 10-minute walk from the town's harbourfront and the central restaurant and shopping area which I walked to several times a day. There weren't many tourists in Naoussa, but the vast majority I encountered were from France. In fact, I heard more people in town speaking French than Greek!
Naoussa is very pretty and picturesque, and is exceptionally clean (no litter or junk-filled yards in sight). It has a surprising number of upscale clothing, home accessory and jewellery boutiques, but most of these shops did not open until evening. During the day, the town was unbelievably quiet, with few locals and even fewer tourists wandering around. A lot of shops and restaurants were not yet open for the season, including most places at the popular harbourside bar and taverna strip where workers were busy painting and cleaning to get ready to open.
On one day, I visited the two Naoussa beaches, Piperi and Agia Anargyri, which are easily reached on foot (Piperi is a small beach only a couple minutes' walk from Hotel Manos, while Anargyri is a long, sweeping beach with a small marina on the opposite side of the town). Though it was bright and sunny, it was very windy, so it wasn't comfortable staying on either beach for long. There were about a dozen people on Piperi, and maybe as many on Anargyri, along with a group of about 20 Greek schoolchidren who were using a section of beach away from the tourists. Only a couple of people went for swims at each beach.
The next day, after a short morning rainfall cleared away, I rented a mountain bike from the cycle shop a few doors down the street from my hotel so I could ride to Kolimbithres and Agios Ioannis beaches on the other side of the bay. Unfortunately, it was even windier that day, so the bike ride wasn't comfortable -- my ears actually started to ache from the constant battering by the wind. It was almost impossible to enjoy the two beaches, too -- swimming was totally out of the question because of the wind and waves, while sunbathing wasn't particularly enjoyable either. Only one other person came down to Kolimbithres while I was there; she spent the entire time laying on a lounge chair in the sun while wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. By the time I rode to Agios Ioannis, where there was absolutely no-one in sight at all, the sky was starting to cloud over and the wind was picking up even more. When black thunderclouds appeared in the distance, moving quickly in my direction, I raced back to Naoussa and reached the shelter of a cafe only minutes before a cloudburst drenched the island over a 90-minute period.
In Naoussa, I dined at Mediterraneo, Glafkos taverna, Meltemi, Cafe Kiranos and Open Garden, and had coffee and baklava at the Xamilothoris patisserie. The food and service was very good at all; at Glafkos and Open Garden, it was exceptional.
However, I had extremely disappointing experiences with two restaurants that are both rated in TripAdvisor's Top 10 Restaurant listing for Naoussa, including # 1 Yemeni and #9 SoSo, each of which had been recommended by staff at the hotel. At both restaurants, I was completely (and I believe deliberately) ignored by the staff -- two times at SoSo and three times at Yemeni. (Even though Mykonos often is criticized for attitude, restaurant staff on that island would never leave a potential customer waiting at their door for more than 5 minutes without acknowledging them, or leave them sitting at a table for 10 minutes without acknowledging their presence or getting a drink on their table. On Mykonos, I was cordially greeted by restaurant staff literally within a split second of approaching the entrance.)
I wasn't the only one on the receiving end of bad service: Two other customers were ignored at Yemeni also, while a group of four French tourists was addressed rudely when they asked for a table at SoSo.
After dinner at another restaurant, where I received a warm welcome and wonderful service, I told the staff what had happened earlier. They were shocked that I had been ignored and apologized profusely, saying they hoped the incidents had not left me with a bad impression of Paros. They said the food at Yemeni and SoSo is quite good, but speculated that the restaurants' high TripAdvisor ranking may have left them believing they'll get steady business regardless of how they treat their customers. That may be true. While waiting at Yemeni, I did overhear several tourists making comments like "This is one of the top ranked tavernas" and "They're #1 on TripAdvisor" when they walked past. Happily, the Yemeni and SoSo staff were the only people I encountered on Paros with bad attitude; all the other locals I spoke to were pleasant and friendly.
On Friday May 25, a morning of mixed sunshine and cloudy skies, I took a taxi from the hotel to the airport (there is no bus service to the Paros airport) to catch my Olympic Air flight to Athens. Passing through security, I mentioned that I had a Canon camera in my carry-on bag. The security staff gave me a "so what?" look and said they didn't need to inspect cameras, only laptop computers. They waved me through.
The flight was less than half full; it departed on time and arrived in Athens on time. I caught the X96 express bus to the Athens beach suburb of Glyfada, where I would spend my final three days in Greece at the Hotel Blue Sky. The bus ride took approximately 40 minutes, and from the Asteria bus stop I had a 10-minute walk to the hotel.
We had stayed there last year and enjoyed the Blue Sky and its convenient location close to restaurants, shopping and the tram line to central Athens. Blue Sky is very reasonably priced with clean, comfortable rooms, air conditioning and WI-FI service. It also has attractive landscaped grounds with outdoor sitting areas where it's pleasant to eat breakfast or relax with drinks in the evening. The hotel has a nice casual and laid-back atmosphere, thanks to Kostas and his staff, and since it is located in a residential area, it almost feels as though you are staying in a home, rather than a hotel. I highly recommend Blue Sky for budget accommodations in a very nice area of Athens.
I spent the weekend in the company of a terrific group of people that I had originally met through TripAdvisor's Greece travel forum, some of whom live in Athens, Glyfada or elsewhere on the Greek mainland, and some of whom who live elsewhere in Europe but had been on holidays in Greece at the same time as me.
On the Friday night, we gathered for dinner at Piazza Kalamaki, a tremendously popular Glyfada grillhouse where we enjoyed a fab dinner of delicious salads with a variety of juicy, perfectly grilled meats (souvlakis and bifteki) and pans full of delightful fried potatoes which left me completely content (I've never had fries as good as those back home). Lots of fun conversation, laughs, and so much good food got the weekend off to a spectacular start.
On Saturday, the group took a road trip through Attica, driving the highway down the scenic Saronic Coast to visit the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio and the ancient Thorikos amphitheatre near Lavrio. After exploring the two historic sites, we went to the Lavrio fish market where we enjoyed a superb lunch of salads, mezes and seafood at one of the tavernas. All of the food we ordered was excellent, but the calamari was simply out of this world. (We all loved it so much, we ordered two more.)
More fine dining was on the agenda for us later that night at a taverna in the Paleo Faliro area of Athens, close to the tram line. Yet again, we were treated to a fantastic feast of salads, mezes, grilled meat, fish and pasta, topped off with more fun conversation and camaraderie.
Sunday was my last day in Greece, and the activities of the preceding two weeks (and especially the previous two days!) had caught up with me. I felt too tired for sightseeing, so one of my Glyfada friends suggested a beach day was in order. She took me to the Balux Seaside Escape at Asteras beach -- a sprawling seaside complex of trendy seaside restaurants, bars, playgrounds for kids, an adult swimming pool with luxurious sunbeds and waiter service, and a sandy beachfront with lounge chairs and umbrellas. It was the perfect place to soak up some sun and relax after being on the go each day for two weeks. I even took a dip in the sea -- something I've never done before in May!
The sky clouded over late in the afternoon and a thunderstorm struck in early evening, soaking Glyfada with a series of heavy downpours. I had to be up before dawn to take the X96 to the airport, so I decided just to stay at the hotel, pack and call it an early night, rather than take the long tram trip into Central Athens to join my friends for another group dinner and night out. I phoned a Glyfada grillhouse to order in some food, and expected the delivery man to show up with a light meal. Instead, he arrived with two bags containing a large Greek salad and a whopping huge kebab in a pita -- enough food for two people! I did my best to eat everything, but I just couldn't finish the kebab.
The next morning I left the hotel at 6 a.m. and, thanks to an ill-timed traffic light, missed catching the X96 bus by less than a minute. But another came along 12 minutes later, and it got me to the airport in under half an hour. There was no lineup at the Air Transat check-in counter, so I had my luggage checked and my boarding pass in hand by 7 a.m., leaving plenty of time to get breakfast and a coffee before my 11:15 direct 10-hour flight to Toronto. Another wonderful trip to Greece was drawing to a close.
At airport security, I once again mentioned that I had a Canon camera in my carry-on. The security agent asked why I was telling her that, and I told her what had happened at the Athens airport two weeks earlier. She said "we check laptops by hand, not cameras -- we can see cameras in the X-ray", and said it was strange my camera had come under so much close scrutiny.
Final observations about my destinations
Each of my trips to Greece has been unforgettable, and this one was no exception. But this definitely was my best-ever visit to Mykonos. I love that island! I have always felt totally at home there, but this year it felt even more special, probably because I met so many terrific people at Hotel Tagoo and elsewhere on the island,and also got to meet and speak to more Myconians than ever before. And even though this was my longest stay yet on Mykonos, I left feeling as though my visit had been far too short. There were many places I didn't get to see, and many things I didn't get to do. Which gives me a good reason to return for more!
What bothers me, though, is how Mykonos continually gets a bad rap in the TripAdvisor forums, where many travellers -- including Destination Experts for other islands -- repeatedly denigrate it as an expensive and touristy "party island" that travellers should avoid at all costs. They say it has nothing to offer but daytrips to Delos and expensive nightclubs, shops and restaurants for "poseurs," whatever those may be. That's not how I see the island at all (though I admit I would never visit in peak season of July or August when it's uncomfortably hot and crowded and even the locals avoid going near Mykonos Town if possible. But I wouldn't travel anywhere in Greece in those months, simply since it is peak season).
In May, June or September, Mykonos is a wonderful place to visit -- perfect for a carefree and relaxing chill-out holiday. After 7 vacations, I'm still discovering picturesque streets I've never seen in Mykonos Town, I'm still visiting beaches for the first time (I've only seen half of the more than 60 on the island), I'm still finding reasonably-priced restaurants I've never heard of, and I'm continually seeing delightful island scenery I never expected to see. I can't wait to go back.
Naoussa was a pleasant surprise. During our 2005 visit to Paros, we stayed at a hotel at Parasporas beach near Parikia and encountered more rude and unfriendly people in that area, and in Parikia, than we've met on every other Greek island we've visited, combined. I'm glad I gave it another chance and went back because, with the exception of the staff at Yemeni and SoSo, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Naoussa and wish I'd been there longer. Paros has so much to offer, I definitely want to go back to see more.
Athens and Glyfada get better each time I visit. I live in the middle of downtown Toronto, and find the Greek Islands are the perfect place for me to escape noise, crowds, traffic and pollution. I used to hate ending our Greek holidays in the hustle and bustle of Athens, but three years ago we discovered that Glyfada is a refreshing alternative to Central Athens. Now, with this trip, I've discovered what Attica has to offer, and I got a good taste of what's in store elsewhere on the Greek mainland. I can't wait to go back to see more.
Finally, I'm glad I travelled to Greece at this challenging time of economic uncertainty. Certainly, it was disheartening to see how many businesses have closed or haven't yet opened, and to hear directly from locals just how difficult their lives have been as a result of the austerity measures that Greece has been required to implement. At the same time, it was heartwarming to find the Greeks remain as welcoming as ever, and continue to extend the warm and generous hospitality for which they have long been known. I can't think of a better or more deserving place to visit. A hearty "Efharisto!" to everyone in Greece who contributed to my unforgettable trip!
I will be happy to answer questions about any of the places or experiences I mentioned in my report, or provide more specific information. I took thousands of photos during my trip, and will post links once I have uploaded them to online albums. In the weeks and months ahead, I also will be publishing photos and accounts of my holiday in my travel blog, http://mygreecetravelblog.com/ .
For those of you who will be travelling to Greece this summer, I hope your holidays are as enjoyable as mine was. Kalo taxidi!