Trip Coach: May 1, 2007
Eleni Gage, author of North of Ithaka, answers your questions about planning a trip to the Greek Isles.
Eleni Gage: Hi! Thanks for joining me! I'm suffering from allergies here in New York, so I'm a little foggy-headed. But I just took a Claritin, and I LOVE talking about Greece; I grew up there for four years, have spent every summer there since I was 14 and lived there for a year in 2002. My next trip is in July and I can't wait! So I hope my enthusiasm will override my allergies, as I'm eager to answer your questions. Bring them on!
Lexington, KY: I'm teaching a 2 week evening MBA course in Athens this June. I have weekend trips to the islands planned, but I wondered about day trips from Athens. The constraint is that I have to be back before 6pm each night. My preference is more toward hiking and history than the beaches. Any suggestions?
Details: Myself and my husband are in are early 30s and will be traveling June 6 (Chicago - Athens) and return June 23. We have sidetrips to Crete and Rhodes planned for the weekends.
Eleni Gage: Hi Kristine,
You're going to have a great time! You're lucky that I will be in New York, teaching a travel writing class at that time, or I would try and talk you into letting me be your assistant. There are a lot of great daytrips you can do from Athens. In terms of islands, I'd focus Aegina, Poros, Hydra, and Spetses, which are the Saronic Gulf islands, the ones closest in to Athens. Hydrofoils (also called Flying Dolphins) go to them every day from the port of Piraeus. You can look up--and book--hydrofoil schedules at hellenicseaways.gr. Look for a guidebook to the Saronic Gulf Islands and you can browse them before you go. If you're picking between the islands, I have to say that my personal favorite is Hydra (although I have never been to Aegina, which is very close to Athens and said to be lovely). Hydra is tiny, has no cars, cobblestoned streets, arty boutiques, traditional tavernas and you can hike to a monastery at the top of town. There's also a museum (behind the clock tower on the harbor) and an art gallery and shipping museum to the right of the harbor if you're facing the water. If you did want to go to the beach, the fishing boats in the harbor do excursions to some nearby beaches, but I'd stay wandering in and around town. Another nice walk is the one to the left of the harbor (if you're facing the water) along the coast to the town of Mantouki. There is a great taverna above the sea there--I can't remember the name but you'll find it--and along the way there are steps leading down to the sea so you can have a swim. (One set of steps is just past the Hydronetta bar, a nice place to have a drink or milkshake, great sea view and sunset view although you won't be there late enough). You should also consider some overland excursions if you have a car. (It can be tough to rent automatics but Smart Cars are automatics if you need one). Delphi is beautiful and can be done as a day trip (most of the big hotels run day trips to Delphi on buses, so you could inquire with a concierge, say at the Grande Bretagne about that option if you didn't want to drive). Nauplion, the original capital of Greece, is a charming town and you could visit the ancient theater at Epidaurus on the way (that's my favorite ruin, very peaceful and charming). A gorgeous day trip with a car (or you could arrange a price with a cab) is to Sounion, the Temple of Poseidon, a lovely temple on a cape above the sea, you can swim along the way. There's also plenty to explore in Athens. You could go to the beach in Lagonissi or Glyfada (a 45 minute cab or car ride from the center--I believe the trolley goes to the Southern Coast, too) or go north to the beach at Marathon, which is also where the Battle of Marathon took place, so there's a museum nearby and a tholos tomb (if you guys saw the 300 you might be into this). But I think it's also fun to explore the neighborhoods in Athens; I love Thisseion (great galleries like the Herakleidon, herakleidon.gr) and Plaka, but there are lots of great places to see. Your ticket to the Acropolis (go in the morning before it gets hot) gets you into several other archaeological sites, like the forum, that are worth seeing, and most tourists don't have a chance to do so, so hang on to that ticket (it costs 12 Euros, so it's expensive, but a bargain if you see most of the sites it allows you into--and who can put a price on the Acropolis!) And there are good small museums, like the Benaki and the Cycladic museum, and other sites right in Athens, like the original Olympic Stadium (called the Panathenaic stadium). You can learn about Athens sites at athensguide.gr Good luck with your class!