Santorini & Ios: Exploring Some Of The Greek Islands
Anyone who works as a freelancer, like I do, will understand that booking a holiday is a much more complex thing for us than for the regular folk. Contract restrictions and anxieties about where our next job will come from often hold us back from planning trips with more than about 24 hours notice.
It, therefore, fell upon welcome ears when my boss took me aside a while ago with the hope that I would agree to taking some paid holiday during my contract. Paid holiday. DURING a contract. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Quicker than a cheetah on steroids I found myself Googling ‘cheap last minute hot destinations, August’.
None of my friends were able to take time off at such short notice, but having ventured to New York solo last year for the same reason, I felt like a seasoned nomad. I toyed with the idea of Cambodia and venturing towards South East Asia, a trip I have always wanted to make. But with only two weeks signed off I felt that trying to fit in an expedition involving Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos might be a bit of a tall order even for an eternally restless person like me. The realisation that it was also rainy season played an equally important part in ruling out the possibility of a full-moon party.
I wanted my skin to bake, not soak.
My parents had recently returned from a holiday in Greece looking a lovely shade of tanned. My dad was quick to point out that due to my Greek Grandmother, we have a lot of family in Greece who would be happy to offer a bed and an ouzo to their great cousin, twice removed, on one side of the family or another (or as I came to be called, their nephew).
The more I thought about Greece as a potential destination, the more it made sense; it was bound to still be hot at a time when the UK was likely to be waiting for the arrival of the annually promised Indian summer, there were more than enough islands to choose from to satisfy my desire to feel like I was at least doing a bit of ‘travelling’, and I could finish off what was hopefully to be an adventurous trip catching up with relatives that remembered me as an undersized twelve year old.
Before I had time to just have a little look at how much it would cost to get to the Maldives, I booked my return flight to Athens.
Note to self: next time you book a holiday, don’t then go and spend two weeks with Bear Grylls in the Welsh wilderness without access to the internet. You will get soaked. You will sleep in a cave of sheep shit. And you will most definitely not have time to plan one Iota (Greek joke) of your holiday.
Before long I found myself zooming down a motorway back to London the night before my flight to pack. I’ve never been more thankful for the late opening hours of H&M and Superdrug in Brixton. In one swift spree, I was fully equipped with sun cream, a bundle of suitably slim fit t-shirts, my first ever granddad shirt, and a portable first-aid kit (in hindsight, quite unnecessary but I’d rather air on the side of caution).
Twenty four hours later, after landing in Athens, requesting the man at passport control give me a stamp in my passport (the travel equivalent of a girl guide’s badges), and a ninety-minute bus ride, I wheeled my suitcase into the reception of the hotel in Port Piraeus where I was staying. The only bit of forward planning I had managed to do prior to my arrival was this hotel and a ferry ride the next morning.
‘Of course!’ I replied to the receptionist, upon request of my passport for check-in, with the excited glint in my eyes of someone who is about to have a truly excellent holiday.
I started to rummage through my rucksack searching for my travel wallet containing my passport and the €300 I had separated from the rest of my money. I didn’t realise my rucksack had this many pockets. I continued to rummage, the glint in my eyes rapidly vanishing. I emptied everything, put it all back in, and emptied it again.
Balls. Somehow, between the airport and my hotel, some thriftily fingered Greek had acquired my belongings. Well, not the portable first-aid kit, but everything else that mattered.
After a panicked taxi ride back to the airport, a desperate plea with a policeman to let me back in, and a solemnly glum return trip to the hotel via yet another ninety-minute bus ride, I went to bed feeling disheartened. As I lay on my bed alone in a new city, listening to the sounds of gleeful children in the square below (no doubt rejoicing over their new-found wad of my hard-earned cash), I told myself I was allowed to feel angry. But only for the night.
As soon as the sun rose, and I with it ready to catch my ferry, that’s when my holiday would begin, and the excited glint return to my eyes. There was nothing I could do but begrudgingly accept my unwilling charitable donation, and move on.
As I disembarked the ferry on the island of Ios the next day, greeted my Air BnB hostess Anna with a smile and a ‘Yasas!’, with the sun beating down and the ocean an inviting turquoise colour, I smiled and hoped that those children were at least spending my money on something worthwhile.
I spent four days on Ios. I can’t quite remember why I chose it as an island I wanted to visit, but I’m glad that I did.
Ios is a relatively small Greek island, part of the Cyclades. It’s main town Chora, pronounced – “whore-a” which was fun – sits on top of a hill and is the most stereotypical Greek island town you could ever think of. Blue-domed roofs a-plenty, Chora is easily accessible from the port, and a perfect place to get your bearings if, like me, you plan on exploring the island.
Ios is apparently thought of as a bit of a party island. However, having spent a month in Ibiza for work last year, it’s nowhere near the same league as the big dogs. I met some fellow English folk on a beach who really needed a stronger factor of sun cream on. As pink as they were, they were also helpful.
I was explaining that I had no plans after Ios and they, coming towards the end of their holiday, were happy to offer me all of the advice they could about which other island I should visit. Mykonos (one of the main party islands) was apparently far too overpriced and overhyped. I like a piss up and a dance as much as the next person, but perhaps not when I’m travelling solo. Santorini was apparently beautifully romantic and picturesque, but also relatively pricey.
These two girls, along with a few other people I spoke to, claimed that Ios was the perfect combination of the two – slightly party-orientated, with beautiful beaches and sunsets, but hadn’t yet been hit with the same wave of tourism as other Greek Islands.
My time on Ios was spent on various different beaches. Milopotas beach, located next to my hotel, is the most popular on the island. Offering up various water sports during the day, there are also plenty of bars and restaurants for a vibrant evening. Maganari beach, at the Southern end of the island, is a much more quiet beach and is accessible via road. This includes by car, local bus, or the option I chose, quad bike.
Renting a quad on the Greek Islands is something I recommend highly. Fuel is cheap, the roads are relatively easy, and it just makes your plans so much more flexible.
Note: quads are also a great way to get the ‘Kate-Winslet-I’m-Flying-Jack’ sensation. When you’re zooming down a sparse mountainous road with nothing but the shimmering sea in front of you, you do feel a bit like superman.
There’s also Theodoti beach on the Northern side of the island which is well worth a visit.
There’s plenty to keep you busy on Ios other than beaches. I went on an awesome boat trip, which departed off the Milopotas beach. Myself and two couples (talk about fifth wheel) jetted off a few hours before sunset. We were taken to snorkel around a shipwreck, to swim in some caves, and to admire the sunset from a remote beach only accessible by boat.
There’s also a vast array of restaurants, bars and clubs located in Chora, with everything from 90s pop to deep house and hip hop. Pathos hotel offers the best view of the sunset, and is an a must-do of mine if you ever find yourself on Ios and fancy greeting in the evening with an accompaniment of the Swan Lake theme tune.
The people on Ios were really friendly; from Australian Aaron who was also a solo traveller, to the Romanian mother and daughter duo in the room next to mine, everyone was happy to chat and simply there to have a good time.
With my four days on Ios numbered, I decided to head to Santorini. It was somewhere I had at least heard of (unlike Lesvos which just made me giggle). I could recall seeing some really picturesque photos of Santorini on Instagram – the perfect compass for life. Just a short ferry ride away from Ios, Santorini had a completely different vibe to it.
Everywhere in Santorini is incredibly picturesque, the battery on my iPhone could barely keep up with the quantity of camera usage. However, just as the two English girls had warned me, everyone on Santorini was sickeningly in love. It would be a lovely destination for a romantic getaway, or even a honeymoon. However when you’re travelling by yourself and then check into a double room for one at the ‘Hotel Romantico’, you can’t help but feel a little out of place.
In all honesty, I actually preferred the atmosphere on Ios. Santorini was, unlike Ios, completely on the tourist map, hence why Instagram had landed me there. There was more traffic on the roads, more people in the streets, and more selfie sticks in the air. However, there is also a lot to see on Santorini.
It is much less of a beach island than Ios. With that being said, the impressive red and black beaches are well worth a visit. There’s even a nudist beach that you can tackle (excuse the pun) if you have the self-confidence. I went on a great afternoon boat trip to the neighbouring Volcano Island. Having stopped for swim in the hot springs (that were no hotter than the rest of the sea, just much murkier), I got the chance to climb to the top of the volcano which offered a sensational view of the Caldera of Santorini.
By night, the opportunities for sunset viewing were plentiful. Oia, towards the north of the island, is the most famous place for sunsets although if you are to get anywhere near it without entering into a duel with a thousand selfie sticks, it’s imperative that you arrive early. Tropical bar in Thira became my personal favourite place to sip on a G&T and watch the sky turn pink.
After three days on Santorini it was time for me to head to Athens. As aforementioned, thanks to my Greek Grandma, I had family I could stay with. Admittedly, after nearly two-weeks of keeping myself busy and jumping around the place, I used my time in Athens as a chance to recuperate. I felt I’d done enough sight-seeing, so when I climbed up to the Acropolis (which is located at the top of a very steep hill) and discovered you had to pay around €15 to get in, I graciously declined.
Instead, I spent my evenings hearing stories of my Greek heritage from my aunt and uncle who were incredibly hospitable, in spite of the terrifyingly large Rottweiler that greeted me at the door.
With a trip to the British embassy, an emergency passport in hand, and some Ouzo flavoured sweets for my colleagues packed in my bag, two days after arriving in Athens I boarded my flight home – the portable first-aid kit still in it’s packaging.