Saturday, 8 August 2015

Greece Getaway :: Santorini II

Day II in Santorini, basically day III in Greece.

Our day II in Santorini was a fruitful one! In fact, we went on an Island road trip. Before starting our long day, we had a wonderful classic Greek lunch at MAMA Restaurant in town. Two dishes that I marked as favourites from that day on are Moussaka - made of luscious layers of juicy minced beef layered with eggplants and topped with creamy bechamel sauce, and baked altogether until golden perfection; and, Chicken Souvlaki - a popular street food, skewers with pita bread and creamy tzatziki sauce! dayumm yum .. :p

Renting a car in Santorini is a piece of cake. All you ever need are a legit driving license, money, and yourself to drive the car, or simply get a friend who knows how to drive. Of course, you also need a map to get to different places. Santorini is not hard to travel around by car, the places we went were only roughly 20 minutes away from each other, and voila, the next thing you know you have arrived the end of the road.

Our first stop was Pyrgos Kallistis. It was only about 12 minutes away by car from Fira.

It is a small, peaceful village with fewer tourists - I'd say it is a hidden treasure! You wouldn't be amazed until you entered its winding streets, and then discovered those beautiful little streets and squares. The village was surprisingly clean, and very serene to stroll around in the early afternoon, see the sights, as well as catch glimpses of the locals' lifestyles.

So.. if you like strolling in the peaceful atmosphere with unique photo opportunity around every corner like me, try squeeze it in even if you have a busy schedule. (:

Our second stop was the Red Beach, at the tail end of the road to Ancient Akrotiri where it situated on the southwest side of Santorini. This beach gotta be the most unusual one of all beaches I've been to. It earns its name from the iron-rich rocks in the cliff, and the red sand. But, in my view, it is more like the contrast of colour - different shades of brown, particularly mahogany brown with vibrant blend of red tone that has the elements of both unique and exotic.

To get to the beach, we had to climb over the very rocky trails in order to get there. I had to walk and kind of climb extremely slow, step by step and bit by bit, to ensure that I did not rip my dress in the public. And tbh, it was quite unsafe to walk along the edge of the cliff to get down to the beach (heels or even a bit of heights are a big NO, don't even think to try at all!) But, this destination is still a-must see - breathtaking natural phenomenon! :p

We were lucky that it wasn't crowded the time we went there around three in the afternoon, probably it was too deadly to even come out for sunbathe. No joke, it was really hot that I can literally felt my skin being barbecued at that hour. However, up close, there were still women sunbathing topless - pretty common across Europe. Just not my thing.

After a hike in the hot afternoon, what else beats a cup of delicious fruit smoothies? (besides a pint of extra cold beer.. :p)

Our third destination was the Akrotiri Lighthouse located on the southern end of Santorini.

I wasn't impressed by the lighthouse itself, but rather the scenic view of clear ocean that surrounds the lighthouse. It was as seems a great place to see the sunset, but we were there too early so we were only able to catch sight of the moon.

Our second last stop was the Black Pebble Beach in Kamari and/or Perissa.

The Black Pebble Beach is on the southeast side of Santorini, another a-must see beach - impressive and organised. It has a long black sand and shingle beach where topless sunbathing is not uncommon. There are also a few taverns, bars and clubs around that gives very relaxed atmosphere. It wasn't sunny, bit windy that made the beach truly lovely! Found myself reluctant to go anywhere once settled on the beach chair with two pints of beers and a bowl of peanuts - very chill.. :D

Our last stop was the old port of Santorini, the Athinios. We didn't able to see much, as it was starting to drizzle as soon as we got there. And it was late in the evening, so we drove back to Fira to continue the rest of our day - dinner and a night out.

Dinner was just mediocre, I had veal in tomato sauce with wine.

After dinner in town, we headed to Two Brothers Bar intended to chill as we heard they are the only place that serves shisha. As soon as we got to the door, our hype mode immediately switched on by the house music and the colourful disco lights that both enlivened our night.

As the night flew till dawn, we had a beautiful night with great music, cocktails, and cinnamon-flavoured shisha made of grey goose bottle there. Man, this place is got to be the most happening nightlife bar in Fira! A place you have to visit if you are thereee.. :D

Until then!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Greece Getaway :: Santorini I

Santorini (Fira)
Santorini is not unknown, and may well have conquered a part of your imaginary world before you have even got the chance to set eyes on it.

You may have already know that the Greek island of Santorini is a blissful spot for a romantic getaway, or in my case, simply a post-exam getaway with a few friends. Its capital - Fira - is a vision of dramatic cliffs and pristine whitewashed buildings. Exploring the shops and cafes along Fira’s narrow footpaths towards the cruise port, was absolutely a leisurely way to spend our afternoon on our first day of arrival in Santorini. Each shops are unique on its own, selling beautiful items that can't be found elsewhere.

Looking down from the Caldera cliffs, you can see a steep sloping walkway or called it the donkey path to the cruise port - the Skala pier.

From the top of the cliff in Fira, there are three ways you can reach to the Skala pier: donkey ride (€5), cable car (heard it costs €5 one-way as well), or 580-600 steps by foot following the same path as the donkeys. We as a team picked the most energy-consuming option while leveraging on the the picturesque scenery to get to the cruise port. Another reason that it was time and effort consuming because the pathway was literally littered with donkeys' poops everywhere, where the brown specks on the stairs as seen from the image above were their poops. Some steps were wet with their poops too, so be very careful not to slip on it! :p

Volcano of Santorini. The volcanic explosion that occurred here 3500 years ago forever changed the topography of the Mediterranean coast. This is the place for average hikers or beyond (not for the faint hearted). This has both an inactive and active volcano on the island.

An afternoon tour of the Caldera island begun from the old port of Fira to the volcano, approximately 10 minutes far by boat, where roughly an hour stop at the volcano during which we could visit both the inactive and active craters. It was 32 euro including a tour of the volcano hike up to the top (additional two euro entrance fee), and then a hot spring nearby.

My first active volcano visit, truly wild landscape with various volcanic rocks and craters. The trail filled with rocks of all sizes, quite an edgy/cool landscape to be photographed at. I was expecting flowing red lava, but it was still pretty cool even without. I wouldn't do it again though!

Hot spring. I did not jump off the boat and swim along with the rest between naturally hot and cold patches of sea around the volcano area. Why? It was simply because I did not know how to swim in the ocean until recently. However, I have been told the water was warm and pretty relaxing, not particularly hot.

An adorable child I played with on the boat whilst the rest went for a swim. Dark eyes and hair, and a chubby face - extremely cute.

It was a long way, a tough hike up 600 steps from the cruise port to the top of the cliff. I reckoned it would take half an hour to hike up by foot, and we did not want to take cable car so we decided to give donkey ride a go. I was reluctant at first, given that there are reports revealed the donkeys are abused in the manner that they are mistreated as tourist taxis, and they have not been given sufficient of food and rest periods. Then, my friends had me convinced that it was my first and probably will be the last too (so yeah.. contributed to animal abuse.. just keep this in mind when deciding which option to take).

In the meantime, I am going to share my very first experience of riding a donkey... It was an exciting ride, though not pleasurable. Donkey had its own mind and its own pace, it decided when to pause, when to resume and how it reached to the top. The donkey I got was a smart one, it traipsed up the slope via zigzag trail rather than straight up like any other donkeys, and often in an unscrupulous way. The ride left me multiple of bruises, but it was all worth it. ;)

The weirdest pose you'll ever see while riding a donkey (Err..  truth to be told I was probably too embarrassed not to know how to get down from it - embarrassing).

Can't recall what were those desserts I have ordered, but both were local and tasted just okay. That basically summed up my day 2 in Greece, day well spent in Santorini.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Greece Getaway :: Athens

A late afternoon strolling the endless street cafes and small arcades on Ermou Street was well worth the effort. Being the main shopping street on foot between Syntagma square and Monastiraki square for Athens, no surprised there are many people on Ermou esp. for many of the big international names you have probably heard of. There are lots of shops on both sides, small or big, individually-owned or internationally-owned, like an outlet collection in the States but of course more fascinating.

On my first day in Athens, it was certainly fun to look around the Pandrossou Street Market. Great array of souvenir shops at very negotiable rates, definitely an interesting place to test your haggling skill. However, it started to look all the same with other markets after a few hours of exploring around. Similar items can be easily found with better quality, so don't rush and just bargain all you can to get a more realistic price! :)

Apart from shopping streets in the ancient Greece, there is a hill, rocky mound called an Acropolis, a Greek word meaning 'high city'. The Acropolis - the longstanding symbol of ancient Greece - was my only reason for visiting Athens; the ability of the ancient sights to unleash an imagination, a site to behold and see history unfold before my very own eyes. Though I am not exactly a history buff, neither am I the archaeology enthusiast nor an avid architect student who would study detailing on each columns or other relationships of the building like the spacing between the columns and their height, but I am certain of my passion in sightseeing and an avid interest in discovering myths and ancient stories (while traveling :p).

There, there you are about to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon as you scroll further down the page.

A view of Mount Lycabettus from halfway up to the top. We would've been able to make it to the other side to Mt. Lycabettus for the highest view across Athens if we rushed, but we did not. “Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.”, as quoted by Rose Kennedy. And, I believe that is where the majority of our very best moments have come from. :)

I, who likes to be mesmerised, would much prefer a slow travel that allows me to sieze every single moment to be happy. A fascinating kind. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic viewing spot to view across Athens. 

Odeon of Herodes Atticus - a stone-structured, open-air theatre located on the southwest slope of the Acropolis of Athens. The stone seats were added and the stage was restored using marble in the 1950s, since then it has been the main venue of the Athens Festival, and could host up to 5000 spectators. It'd be heaven if I ever get the opportunity to see a Greek theatre production here, imagine the feeling of a night concert under the Acropolis rock and the illuminated Parthenon with just a head tilt! :O

The Acropolis and the Parthenon.
Entry was 12 euros, but as students in the UK we entered for free.. of such heritage - instantly filled with awesomeness! :p The Parthenon: I remember seeing it in a hardcover ancient history book a year ago, and on 29th of May this year I have finally witnessed it in real life right in front of my eyes, it was literally a dreamlike setting in my story called "ROMA". The Parthenon is a former temple on the Acropolis dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Dated back to the 438 BC, the main function of the temple was to shelter the monumental statue of Athena that was made out of gold and ivory.

Although the reconstruction/rebuilding of the temple seems to never end covered with scaffolding and much of the structures are missing, the Parthenon is still nonetheless very impressive with its beauty that is always unfolding along with its history.

This elegant building is known as the Erechtheion, the so-called "Old Temple" of Athena dedicated to Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus and other chthonic deities of Attica. According to the myth, this is where Athena's sacred snake lived. The sanctuary also contained the grave of Kekrops and the traces of the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of the city of Athens.
The south porch of Erechtheion with the Karyatides // Six female replicas on site serving as an architectural support taking the place of columns to support weight of the porch’s roof, while the originals are protected in the Acropolis museum. The female statues were named Karyatides after the young women from Karyai of Laconia who danced in honour of the goddess Artemis.
Six long Ionic columns, classical architecture of ancient Greece.
The history, the beauty, the marble and the view! Top-notch!
Greetings from Aussie x

Karamanlidika, this restaurant is definitely a real find in town. A brilliant spot to sit down and relax from a long day of exploration, whilst enjoying various local and fresh meats and cheeses from Greece. Not to mention, the staffs were extremely polite and helpful with our lack of knowledge of traditional Greek food. :p

Hanging from the ceiling are massive bunches of dried chilies, garlic, red peppers, legs of ham, strings of red sausages, and fat cheese, strung above the counter like Thanksgiving table setting.

Greek roast lamb with potatoes, it was generously well-seasoned with herbs, salt, pepper, and spices. The next one was a plateful of happiness - a variety of traditional Greek sausages served with Greek yogurt and mustard sauce as dips. I really, really loved both of them. No joke, truly appetising! :D :D :D

A plateful of cold-cut meats for two - ham and charcuterie - accompanied with deep fried garlic bread, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

My meal finished off with a complimentary dessert, Greek yogurt came with shredded carrots marmalade with honey poured over. It was cold, creamy and sweet, just the way I love it!

"Without downs, there wouldn’t be ups. Without dark, there wouldn’t be light." -Dalene Heck
To close, my Friday night ended beautifully with a breathtaking view of the Parthenon lit up at night, from the roof terrace/lounge of where I stayed for the night. Inexpressibly beautiful.