I have to admit I was not inspired to go to Greece because of a book I read but from the film, Mamma Mia. In case you were wondering, the movie was filmed on the island of Skopelos north of Athens. I ended up going to Rhodes and Santorini, which is not anywhere near Skopelos, but the views are just as incredible.
Greece is one of those destinations where you could easily spend a month. Selecting an itinerary can be complicated because, although it is not a huge country, getting around can be time consuming and that prevents you from seeing it all in a couple of weeks. Once I decided on my locations, as usual, I sought out books to acclimate myself to a modern-day Greece before I went. (I will confess that I used guide books and my memory of a mythology course in school for the rest).
1. I started with Dinner with Persephone: Travels in Greece by Patricia Storace. Miss Storace is an American poet (are there still full time poets?) who is a bit full of herself. I only mention it because I actually finished the book and because she knows a lot about Greek mythology. It was a bad start for inspiration but she knows what she is talking about.
2. Next I read a couple of fun books: It’s All Greek to Me!: A Tale of a Mad Dog and an Englishman, Ruins, Retsina–and Real Greeks by John Mole.
3. The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone. Both of these biographical novels are about ex-pats (British and American) and how they set up shop on the southern islands of Greece. They were fun and light but also gave you an idea of what it would be like to live there as a foreigner, which is something I always fantasize about when I travel.
4. I followed this up with a book by Sue Monk Kidd (author of Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter called Traveling with Pomegranates. This was the most disappointing of all the books I chose. It’s really about a mom and a newly graduated-from-college-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself daughter taking a vacation and not really about Greece or travel. They are on a cruise for heaven’s sake! I have nothing against cruises for vacation but let’s not write a travel book about them. However, I did spend my trip looking for a pomegranate necklace because of this book.
5. Eleni by Nicholas Gage is on my list of favorite books ever. Written by her son, it is a heart wrenching, can’t-put-down true story about the life and struggles of a woman in Northern Greece during the end of World War II. If I ever go back to Greece, I want to pay homage to Eleni and visit her town.
If you are like me and prefer to make your own travel arrangements, Greece can be a bit of a challenge. A lot of services and smaller hotels are not linked to large website services like Expedia or Travelocity so you can’t really do the one stop shopping on the internet as you can with other destinations. If you want to find the best places you really need to research on your own by searching travel review sites, Google and even ask your friends. When looking, I found that a lot of hotels did not even have online reservation systems and you had to email the owner directly.
We stayed at Hotel Keti in the town of Fira, which was perched (as are most of the hotels) on the side of the cliffs. It was a cute little hotel with a friendly staff. Fira is the most touristy town on the island because it’s where all the cruise ships stop, but it is very beautiful.
Greece is not a huge country but getting from place to place can still take a while. Greek airlines offer many flights between Athens and the islands. Unfortunately, there are not always the flights you want. We took Olympic Air from Athens to Rhodes and Aegean Air from Santorini back to Athens but we could not get one from Rhodes to Santorini on the days we needed. We were able to book our flight online directly with the airlines and had no problems.
From Rhodes to Santorini we booked an overnight ferry. There is a vast system of ferries that are even more complicated to book and the schedules are not always posted far in advance so you have to keep checking back. We managed with a little help from a Greek travel agency via Greekferries.gr. Be aware, these are not luxury accommodations but it saves you a night in a hotel. Pack motion sickness pills.
You can rent cars, mopeds and even ATV’s to get around the island. We were able to book a car through the Greeka.com website (for Rhodes) and they even came to pick us up. You do not need a car on Fira. On mainland Greece there are ample buses and train lines.
What to Do
The best time we had in Santorini, and in Greece in general, was renting a small boat and zipping around the island alone. We were able to pull over in a cove and go for a private swim whenever we wanted or stop along a waterside marina for lunch. The most fun was dodging the larger boats and the big waves caused by the cruise ships that tossed us around. I would not try this if you have never driven a motorboat or at least a jet ski, but if you have, it is the best way to independently see the areas around the islands and the volcano rocks up close.
Other must-reads if you are traveling to Rhodes
The Seige of Rhodes by Nananami Shiono – the Knights of St. John defend the island in a battle with Sultan Suleiman and his Turkish soldiers. I would definitely read this if you are going to Rhodes because the Island is filled with historical references to the Knights.
Angels in Iron by Nicholas Prata – this is the follow up to the siege at Rhodes, set in Malta, it is very exciting historical read that I’d compare to battle in The Lord of the Rings.