Travel goals

(AGMAniacs: This was written back in June with AGMA’s full intention of publishing it that day.  All I had to do was attach the pictures…  Clearly, that didn’t happen.  Typical.  But I wanted to give you the moment AGMA in June when I wrote it so I’m not going to edit it.  And it’s loooonnnggg. Opa!)

So yesterday it was 102 degrees.  Yeah – I know that it’s been hot all over the Southwest and South.  But I live in Chicago.

Holy sidewalk fried egg!

Today, it’s “cooled down” to 95.  Last week I was wearing jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a light hoodie over it.  I’m just so confused…

My good friend, K, and I had similar weather in Greece last month. 

AGMA, as loyal readers know, is the amateur master trip planner. And, if I do say so myself, the trip went off without a sneeze.  Except maybe a hiccup on the way home, but that’s just the way it is with flying these days.

It sucks.

(But not bad enough for me to stay home!)

We started out in Athens.  AGMA has been to Athens three times before this trip, but I realized that I never spent more than 2 nights in that amazing city.  On this trip, we hung out there for 4 nights and it was marvelous (COVID not withstanding.) The breakfast room in our hotel, The Astor (a couple of blocks off Syntagma Square) is on the top floor, and has an incredible view of the Acropolis. 

A really great way to start our day!

And K and I decided that we would end every day on a different rooftop bar. That, of course, had a view of the Acropolis. I mean, you have to have travel goals…

Yeah we did!

This trip to Athens was almost exactly 50 years after my first visit as a student. The top image below is a view of Mars Hill from the Acropolis that I took last month. The bottom one is an orange shirted AGMA on Mars Hill in 1972.

I know – I can’t tell a difference in how I look either… 😉

After 3 full days of exploring Athens (and rooftop bars!), it was time to island hop!

Going Greek island hopping has been on my bucket list for a long time. And hop we did – we visited Naxos, Santorini, and Milos. But Greek island hopping is staying on my bucket list because there are LOTS more Greek islands that need a good dose of AGMA!

After Athens, we flew to Naxos, which was like a 30 minute flight. Easy peasy. We did an AirB&B in Naxos City that was right on the harbor with a great view over the water and of the Temple of Apollo. Or at least what was left of the Temple of Apollo. Which isn’t much. But it’s the symbol of Naxos, and is in prominent place right on the water as you enter Naxos town from the Aegean.

The view of the Naxos City Harbor from our AirB&B
What remains of the Temple of Apollo on Naxos.

Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades Island group, and is surprisingly mountainous. It’s also an island that, unlike so many others, does not rely on solely on tourism for its livelyhood. It’s the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades because of cattle breeding, cheese, fruit and veggie (esp potatoes) crops, Kitron (a citrus spirit that is incredible!), and cheese. Did I mention the yummy cheese?

The back of a cheese shop in Naxos City where we did a cheese tasting.

We did a day tour around the island that was well worth the cost. Lunch at a seaside taverna in the village of Apollonas was honestly like out of a movie!

K enjoying her pre-lunch adult beverage.

After 3 wonderful nights, it was time to hop again! This time we took a speedy ferry (that was absolutely PACKED with tourists) to Santorini.

Santorini is one of “the” islands that is a must do in Greece, and LOTS and LOTS of people got the memo. It’s a major stop on the Greek cruise circuit. AGMA has been to Santorini twice, but only for day trips on a shore excursions.

I was pumped to be staying 3 nights there.

The BIG BIG BIG (did I mention that it was BIG) thing to do on Santorini is to watch the sunset. While you can watch the sunset from many locations on the island, the town of Oia (pronounce Eea) seems to get the bulk of the crowds. Sunset picture to come…

The other big thing to do is to stay in a cave house. Because Santorini is volcanic in origin, the cliffs are made of soft volcanic rock. Back in the day, the economically disadvantage would build their homes by digging back into the soft volcanic rock with an exterior addition in the front. Cheap digs that stayed relatively cool in the summer. Over the years, these peasant ‘houses’ have become THE places to stay on Santorini sometimes commanding up to $1000 a night (depending on amenities and location.)

So, of course, AGMA wanted to stay in Oia in a cave house where we could watch the sunset. No problem… Gulp. But the key to getting semi-reasonable accommodations is to book as far in advance as you can. As soon as we had made our airline reservations last October, I pretty much booked our lodging, Fotinos House in Oia, right away. While not cheap, it was still a bargain (for the location, the amenities, and the ‘experience’) for $160 per night. And it was awesome…

Our cave house

We booked our ferry pickup and drop transfer from our host.  The transport cost included the portage of our bags from the drop off/pick up point in Oia to/and from our cave house. It was worth more than we paid! The path went up and down, and up and down, and up and down hundreds (no exaggeration) of stairs.  All of the buildings in the Castle area (the area were were staying at) are literally built into a cliff.  

Steps, steps, and more steps! See the mustard colored building center right? Our cave house is at 11 o’clock and our private sunset viewing platform is at 10 o’clock right next to it.

The Castle area of Oia is where 90% of the people go to watch the sunset every night.  And we had our own, private viewing platform.  Seriously. We finished each day with a glass Assyrtiko wine from Domaine Sigalas vineyards while watching two of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Our private sunset viewing platform!!
A stunning view, great wine, and a good friend – life is good!

Yeah – the 3rd night was a bust with lots o’ clouds.  I felt bad for the cruise folks who only had one evening there. First world problem.

It can still be beautiful even on a cloudy evening.

For some reason, AGMA thought it would be fun to walk the 10K from Oia to Fira (the largest town on Santorini) on the walking trail that goes along the rim of the collapsed volcanic caldera.  K agreed.  After all, we hiked the Cinque Terra together 5 years ago.   It would be a snap.

Nah baby nah.

5 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Oia, we arrived in Fira.  It was not a snap.  We had to walk over mountains (at least they seemed like mountains to us.) It was hot. We were sweaty. And hungry. And tired. But we did it!

We started in Oia, at the tip of that white village on the left. We were maybe 2k from Fira when I took this picture. It was a loooonnnng hike!

What the hell were we thinking??   But it makes for a great travel story….

After 3 nights, we reluctantly said goodbye to Santorini and jumped a slow ferry to Milos.  AGMA pretended I was on a Aegean cruise because we stopped at 4 islands before we got to Milos.  More ideas for future island hopping adventures?

We rented a car on Milos.  Our lodging was in the charming village of Pollonia that is about 6 miles from Adamas, the main town on the island.  There is public transportation, but everything I read about visiting Milos suggested renting a car.  We ended up with a little white car from a local Milos rental company that we nicknamed The Paper Cup. 

She was quite yar!

The other thing that travel bloggers suggest was a ‘must do’ on Milos was to take an all day boat trip around the island.  Check.

Our boat, the Eleni, and Dora the Explorer, our guide for the day, in the yellow top.

I waited until a couple of days before our visit to book our boat excursion because of the nature of the weather around the islands.  Wind can be a problem and the excursions boats won’t go when it’s really windy. It was very windy and even a bit chilly when we were on Naxos.  So much so that I had to buy a velour hoodie to wear in the evenings.

AGMA stylin’ in her new deep Aegean blue velour on Naxos.

Velour is trendy again… Who knew?? 

The weather was pretty perfect when we were on Milos, so off we went for our 10 hour trip around the island.  What a fantastic time!  We had a wonderful guide in Dora, and lots of great food, and pretty much as much wine as you wanted.  Plus, it had gotten warm enough to go swimming from the boat.

I case you were wondering, I did not do any sort of editing of my photos. The sky was THAT vivid blue and the water was THAT turquoise.

However, K and I didn’t bring our bathing suits to Greece because we both feel like we couldn’t fit the volume of fabric it would take to cover our COVID-angst fed bodies into our carry ons.  So we improvised wearing sports bras & running shorts!

Oh la la!

And yes – we met two hot French men…  And their wives.  Who gave their approval for the photo. Damn. But nobody else has to know that we weren’t being cougars – it will just be between us WordPressers.

The last night on Milos was the night of the blood moon.  Cafe Opsidianoa in Pollonia was the perfect place to watch it and spend some time thinking about how much we didn’t want to leave Greece yet…

Terrible picture of the blood moon rising over Milos. In person, it appeared much, much larger.

We flew back to Athens the next day and spent our last night near the Athens airport.  The hiccup the morning we were going home was that our direct flight from Athens to Newark that was supposed to leave at noon, was rescheduled to leave at 8 PM, and now included a stop in Iceland.  Which would have caused us to miss our connecting flight to Cincinnati in Newark, and me to miss my early morning flight the next day from Cincinnati to Chicago.

Through AGMA’s dogged determination, we managed to get rebooked onto a direct flight from Athens to DC then onto Cincinnati. Yay! But because of stupid issues (multiple) with the plane from DC and a really bad thunderstorm in Cincinnati, we ended up arriving there 5 hours late anyway.  Boo.

So let’s review… There are 227 Greek islands.  I have visited 7 of them (Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes & Patmos plus the three on this trip)

Only 220 to go!

#travelgoals

AGMA after yet another sweaty hike up a mountain (on Milos this time) pondering what islands I’ll visit on my next trip to Greece!

  

To go or not to go; that is the question

VaticanToilet

With many apologies to my man, WillieS, the “go” refers to…you know…going.  As in going to the bathroom.

Yes – it’s the long awaited toilet post.

Last month, my husband and I hopped over to Rome for a week.  It was a “Black Friday” travel deal.  Yes, travel also is on sale on “Black Friday” along with the big screen TV’s and Dr. Dre Beats headphones.  And it was pretty darned inexpensive.  For Rome.

I just love those “it’s just too good of a deal not to go” deals!

Our tour company upgrade our hotel at the last minute.  This was a delightful surprise based on the reviews of the original hotel.  Seems as if they were being threatened with multiple lawsuits from people with bedbugitis from that hotel.  Good call.

The replacement hotel was lovely.  Good location – near the Termini train station and all kinds of public transit.  Helpful, friendly staff.  Small but clean room.  A large bed with no unwanted microscopic bedmates.  And most importantly, a spic-n-span bathroom.

I’m not really a very fussy person.  You’d know that if you saw my car.  Or my house.  Or read my blog.  But I do like a clean bathroom when I travel.  Just makes me feel better about spending time in there.  You know, it helps me “relax”.

The bonus was we had a lovely squeaky clean bidet as well!  I’ve played with bidets many times trying to figure out how they work and why they exist.  Hey – I’m American…  We’re really not interest in being THAT clean.

I decided several years ago to use them to store for my bathroom stuff.  I line it with a towel of course – squeaky clean looks can be deceiving.  Fussy.  I have a friend who does her laundry in them.

I love Europe.

But I noticed on this trip that 95% of the bathrooms I visited (not in our hotel), were missing their toilet seat covers.  What’s up with that?  I get that maybe (and that’s a doubtful maybe) it’s okay in the summer, but it was January.  That porcelain was freakin’ cold.

At first I thought that it was just that we frequented out of the way establishments. We do like to get off the beaten path.  Value travel, you know?

But then we went to St. Peter’s in the Vatican.  I’ve been there twice before, but it still takes my breath away.  So dramatic.  So majestic.  Bernini’s columned courtyard. Michelangelo’s dome.  The Pieta.  The Sistine Chapel.  And the Vatican Museums containing some of the finest art from the ancient world through the Renaissance.

In the middle of gaping and manic picture taking, I suddenly got the “urge”.  I smiled, feeling confident as I headed toward the facilities.  Certainly, amidst all of this splendor and priceless art and holy artifacts, the bathrooms have to be outstanding with deep, plush toilet seats that give you visions of the heavenly realm when you set your bottom on it.  It’s built on top of St. Peter’s tomb for goodness sake.  This is holy ground.

I snapped a picture (above) of what I found.  Huh?  I heard no angel songs.

My husband thinks they don’t put seats on the toilets because people steal them. Seriously?  How does somebody not notice that you are walking out with a toilet seat under your arm?  They would notice at the Vatican.

I think it’s just a “thing” in Rome not to have toilets seats.  Go figure…

But it’s okay.  Really it is.  Because it’s all relative.

In 2012 I traveled through Trieste, Italy on the way to Croatia.  The Trieste train station, built in 1857 and renovated in 2007 looked brand, sparkling new inside. Modern cafe, newish looking small grocery store and Euro-modern waiting room.

I was tired after flying all night from the US to Venice.  It seemed like a long train ride from Venice to Trieste.  I was cranky.  I had to go but I hate Italian train bathrooms. They’re definitely not spic-n-span clean.  Yuck.

Seeing the refurbished station got me hopeful.  I hurried through the waiting area following the restroom signs.  I swept into the ladies room and opened the stall door. Ta-da…

TriesteToilet

“You’ve to be kidding me.”  I actually said it out loud.

In my 20’s I used these toilets in Greece.  I’m not in my 20’s anymore.  I seriously doubt my knees would support me.  I decided I didn’t have to go that bad.  That mind-body connection is amazing.

So it’s all relative.  A little one-on-one with cold porcelain isn’t so bad from time to time.

When in Rome…