I spent 2 weeks island hopping through Greece this summer. You would imagine as a picturesquely perfect region filled with blue and green eyed exotic specimens, luscious greek yoghurt and tropical fruit, pristine beaches, mysterious volcanic hot springs, historic buildings exploding with blue and white for miles, gorgeous "to die for" resorts, and ridiculously raving parties, that you absolutely cannot visit without experiencing a time of flourishing excellence.
Well, that is absolutely true. Greece was a gem to experience. I would go back every second of every day if I only possibly could...
HOWEVER... as I believe in realism, I would now like to sit down in a circle with you for story time, and reveal some of my secrets, as well as the experiences we REALLY had whilst gallivanting from one tropical paradise to another.
1. Quad biking around Santorini
Picture this: Finding the perfect way to scoot around the pristine island of Santorini, from Perissa Beach to Oia to Thira and back. No restrictions. Completely stress free. No more running to catch the last bus. Complete and utter exploration freedom. There were so many places to hire a quad bike, you would not have to look very far, and at 20 Euro per day, quite affordable. Perfect, if I do say so myself.
Revealed: One cool night we decided to take our little ride to Thira for a night out on the town. The drive from Perissa Beach was 30 minutes, maybe more with our grandma style driving skills. Now, you must realise that earlier that day we noticed our quad bike did not have a gasoline gage, which meant we were basically cruising around *hoping* for the best. As you can shockingly imagine, we completely ran dry on petrol at 4am on our way home from Thira. We were stuck on a mountain top which was completely deserted with miles of pitch black road ahead of us to civilisation. And of course our phones only worked on wifi. Well, just as we decided we may as well start the long walk back home, to meekly explain to the quad bike hire company how we "lost" their bike due to accidental emptying of the petrol tank.. suddenly some head lights shone in the distance. I joyously leapt into the middle of the road and stuck out my thumb, miraculously he actually stopped! And there he was, Hercules himself with a shining halo and and a white cloak. He agreed to drive us (at 120kmph no less around steep corners), to the nearest petrol station. Swiftly scooping up stray plastic bottles from the bushes to use a a jerry can, our new friend looked down at us with mysterious local Greek eyes. No more than 15 minutes later we were scooting back down the road to freedom, tank full enough to just scrape past complete disaster. The only thing Hercules asked for in return was for us to kindly friend him on Facebook. Now, friends, I don't recommend hopping into cars with random strangers all the time, but all I can say is, use your gut feeling!! Ours didn't matter at this point, to be saved, or not to be saved... was the question.
2. Resort Life
Picture this: A place so naturally beautiful it could be a music video set. Walking along the pools edge like a Victoria's Secret model. As you feel the beat of the music, you casually swish your hair and eyeball a fellow pool-user, with a prideful and rich smirk. At the simple click of your fingers an icy cocktail is served, you lie on your poolside beach chair in perfect formation, completely zen, relaxed and sexy.
Revealed: We stayed in a cute little Airbnb apartment on the edge of the main area of Perissa Beach. It was nothing special, quite simple, but elegant. It was clean, dark and quiet which is what we wanted. We were a good 20 minute walk away from the main beach area and our favourite place to eat: a gorgeous hippie style cafe with colourful couches and hammocks called Tranquilo. The menu had plenty vegan and vegetarian options and was very reasonably priced with huge servings. Our time spent in resorts was simply achieved by "acting like we were meant to be there". We walked in to many of the gorgeous hotels, and made ourselves at home. If anyone started to stare a little too intently at us, we just smiled casually and angled our sunglasses just right so they averted their eyes. It's the backpackers secret way to luxury.
3. OIA - The place we will always dream about
Picture this: A village set on a cliff. White buildings dotted for miles. Shimmery blue ocean, flawless in appearance. Blue tops of churches resembling choc top ice cream cones, except blue and inedible, of course. The air seems misty, dreamy, almost like where you are is not real. Quaint tables set up ready and romantically inviting you for a stunning dinner with a view. The most unreal sunset you'll ever see in your life. It is another world in Oia, a place I would love to live, and bring up my children as cute little Greek samaritans.
Revealed: All of the above is true. The only thing I can tell you about Oia is that... YOU CANNOT GO TO GREECE WITHOUT SEEING OIA. We spent hours exploring the little streets, running up and down perfectly sculpted white stairs. We giggled at bystanders and tourists laughing and staring at us as we paraded around in our glamorous one piece bathing suits. I won't lie, we took a million photos that day, and changed outfits countless times. It was well worth it. I've never felt so rich and pure than I did in Oia. We settled for the sunset on the top balcony of a shop owned by a little old Greek lady. She ushered us up and offered us white wine in plastic cups. She said it was the best view in the town. It was... away from the millions of tourists who all gathered below us. We continued to take photos up there, getting many cat calls from below. A ridiculously beautiful time from start to finish. NB: When I say there are millions of tourists in Oia at sunset, I am not exaggerating. If you don't like crowds I suggest you try to view the sunset from another location. This place was PACKED to its brim. We had to stand stationary in the dark, waiting our turn to walk down the street. (Still worth it).
4. The land of twisted cobbled beauty
Picture this: You got it. Mykonos. The place you'll hear people raving about for hours. The mysterious trail of white cobbled streets, leading you on your own adventure, with many different endings. Small boutique shops will fill your hearts with glee, gorgeous designer brands screaming your name. Racks upon racks of delicate bathing suits, sultry floral dresses, chic bags and sunglasses... all draped across no-faced important people, suspiciously resembling those we follow on Instagram. Options of culinary delicacies lay at your every footprint, from the cheap kebab bar to elegant and fancy restaurants. Meanwhile, the exquisite blue ocean peeks through at every turn. You are overtaken with extravagant delight, Mykonos flirts with your every sense, your every desire.
Revealed: We meandered through Mykonos completely overtaken and wide eyed with amazement. Every moment we discovered something new. Every time we approached the beautiful shops with complete enthusiasm, we were aggressively rejected by the price tag, and sullenly crawled back to our backpacks. Now, it is completely abnormal to stroll around Mykonos town wearing bathers, however, we felt it a necessity to have a photoshoot wearing our brand new "Oysho" one-pieces, a major splurge we felt was compulsory so we could fit in to the "Mykonos beach party life" (more revealed in 5.) This meant pushing through the crowds of million of people to some way, somehow, find a clear spot to snap a shot. It is almost impossible to find Mykonos without people in the street, maybe between the hours of 9am and 12pm would be your best bet as most people have finally gone to sleep in those hours of the day, after a huge night of partying.
5. Mykonos party life
Picture this: Greek Gods. Greek Goddesses. Beautiful people EVERYWHERE. Paradisiacal ocean. Silver sands filled with beach chairs. Colourful fruity cocktails. Fruit in general. Warmth of the sunshine on your skin. Latino dance lessons. Latino music in general. Greek Gods dancing to Latino music. Fish bowls. Buckets. Good vibes. Amazing vibes, I mean. Parties from noon until dawn. Psychedelic fluorescent paint being slathered onto your body, by Greek Gods. Friendship. Happiness. Laughter. So much love. Completely and utterly wild.
Revealed: My goodness, the above is exactly how I reminisce over Mykonos party life. Here's a little more detail to tickle your ears. The moment we got to Paradise Beach we were reeled in by the most beautiful Greek boy I had ever seen. He was the Latino dance extraordinaire for the Guapaloca Beach Club, and I instantly fell head over heels for his charm. I suppose being women helped us in this situation, but basically, we were looked after by this man for the rest of the day/night. We were lathered in drinks and shots, shortly after, being pulled by his strong hands up onto the stage to dance with him and others for the crowd. Very quickly the party turned wild. We became friends with some extremely handsome Italians, who showered us in alcoholic gifts. This group escalated into an entire army of men (where were the other women?!) who herded around us, with no signs of the dust settling. We stayed in our bikinis the entire day, even past dark. This made the paint party extra fun, having pretty patterns drawn all over our skin for the "paint party". We finally ended up heading back to Mykonos town once we realised Amy's beloved shoes had gone missing. Something always goes awol, unfortunately. My only advice is, don't think you'll be so lucky, keep your things close whilst partying on the beach in Mykonos! Won't lie, Mykonos will always be in my dreams, and it is a place I will return to as soon as I can.
6. Cats and donkeys
Picture this: Tiny baby kittens roaming the streets, cute right? Not just tiny cats, but all cats. Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Donkeys provided for you to sit on whilst seeing the amazing views, at the same time taking you for a little ride up 100's of steps in the scorching sunshine. Fun right? Hmm.
Revealed: We came across a particular cat which seemed to effect me emotionally the most. The baby cat pictured above was completely abandoned by his mother. He had a sibling as well, not shown in the photo. He was smaller than the palm of my hand, and maybe only a few days old. Cats need natural nourishment and attendance from their mothers, however this cat had been rejected completely. His face seemed to have some kind of disease. Now, I understand stray cats are a "normal" and "accepted" part of Greek culture. The local neighbourhoods actually tend to look after their stray cats, and they then tend to survive, as "wild cats". However, seeing the state of this kitten I highly doubt the Animal protection of wild Greek cats is up to proper standard. I don't know if there is much anyone can do about it, as the cat population is growing day by day. Maybe awareness is key. Don't be fooled. This also goes for the donkey-culture that they tend to publicise for the liking of tourists. Mostly seen in Santorini, they use innocent donkeys to lug tourists up and down the steep steps of Amoudi Bay to Oia, in the blistering heat. I daresay this is a mistreatment of animals. I completely disagree with using animals for tourist entertainment at all, so can suggest being careful when partaking in any animal activities, and please do your research first.
7. Summer in Naxos
Picture this: Naxos. Biggest and greenest island in the Cyclades. Webs of steep cobbled alleys, hikes up hills to monuments and plenty of ancient history keeps your intrigue high for hours. A hubbub of tourism lies at your doorstep with everything you'll ever want, including breakfast cafes, supermarkets, souvenir markets, nightlife, isolated beaches, even the port where the boat drops you off. Dinner options include: octopuses hanging from strings waiting to be hand-picked and consumed. However, if you're more like me you'll prefer homemade vegetarian moussaka made from the waiter's mother herself, organised secretly with a wink of his eye. In Naxos you'll find yourself surrounded by authentic Greek culture at all times.
Revealed: Honestly, we spent our entire time in Naxos fighting a monsoon. No kidding. We tried to sun-bake on the highly talked about isolated and pristine beaches but instead were rudely faced with a sandstorm. I tried to take the hike up to the Portara ancient monument, and not only got cascaded by a mini tidal wave gushing over the walkway from the city to the hill, but had to fight against gale-forced winds to not see myself getting physically blown right off the side of the cliff. We decided to book a boat to go to a small, deserted island close to Naxos called Koufonisia, apparently exquisitely beautiful and exotic. Unfortunately because of the monsoon we never found out for ourselves. Our boat was delayed a minimum of 6 hours with high possibility of cancellation. Many people got stuck on Naxos that week. Humorous as it was, we were slightly disappointed that our island paradise escape turned into a island disastrous survival mission.
How to experience your own Greek Island summer...
If you would like to see the Greek islands like I did, you can! There are so many options tailored to different likes and interests, however, whatever you pick, you will not regret!
Make sure you visit Greece during the summer months, preferably June to September, to get the best tropical weather you can. (It's also fun to escape the southern hemisphere winter). However be warned, it will be high tourist season during those months, and prices may rise in result. But, the water is bluer, the parties are wilder and the air just feels more cheery, so it is definitely worth it!
Greece makes island hopping simple by having a plethora of boats leaving their ports daily. From Athens you can get to any island you choose, and continuing from those islands to the next. There are options between express boats (a dearer price) to slower boats (more affordable). Alternatively, on the larger islands (Santorini, Mykonos etc), you can hop on a plane and make the trip half an hour or less!
The factor that makes travel, especially backpacking on a budget, the most worth it, is when things do not go completely your way, or as planned. It makes life on the road so much more exciting and forms great stories for you to tell the kids back home! No one wants to hear how perfect your holiday was, that's boring! I admit, I always want to know the gritty details, the disasters, the things that almost killed you. That's what makes you laugh later, that's what you remember the most... Trust me, I know! Photos will always make a person's trip look flawless, but reality is hiding beneath the choreography. Always remember that. Take every moment in, appreciate where you are in life, and you will always see beauty!