A visit to Greece has been on my bucket list for some time now, especially after I fell in love with its vistas after seeing the movie Mamma Mia several times.
I finally had the chance to experience Greece when I went on the Celebrity Beyond cruise with Keren Pascual and Leo Katigbak last month. Our itinerary included five Greek islands: Katakolon, Rhodes (pronounced Rodos), Santorini, Mykonos and Athens. Although we only spent a few hours on each island, it was enough to see the distinct beauty and charms of each island. We arrived in the height of summer with temperatures hovering around 33 degrees and high humidity between the scorching Mediterranean sun and the azure waters of the Aegean.
Katakolon was our first stop. Keren, who has been on several cruises and knows the Greek islands by heart, suggested we explore Katakolon on our own. Not only did it save us a lot of money (a guided group tour costs between $100 and $150 each depending on the number of attractions included), but it also gave us the luxury of dictating our pace without having to wait for teammates.
We took a taxi to the archaeological site of Olympia, where the very first Olympic Games were held. The site consisted mostly of ruins following two earthquakes that rocked the area hundreds of years ago. Next to the ruins are two museums: the Museum of Olympia houses numerous relics from the archaeological site, while the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games houses more than 450 ancient works, including the Temple of Zeus in Olympia.
The next day our ship docked in Rhodes, which is a medieval port city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because we only had a few hours to explore the island, Leo and I visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which has many religious artifacts dating back to the 14th century. Many restoration works were initiated by the late archaeological historian Hermes Balducci and are still ongoing today. There was also a small beach front with quite a few locals and tourists enjoying the sun.
Next stop was Santorini, the place I was most looking forward to visiting after seeing it immortalized in postcards and movies. From the ship, Santorini beckoned with its quaint blue-domed white houses sitting atop a mountain. After arriving we bought tickets for a ferry to take us to Oia and then a bus to Fira where most of these white houses are.
Keren and I also walked into a boutique hotel, where the lady at the front desk agreed and showed us a standard room. She told us that Santorini is closed to tourists from December to April due to the harsh winter. So it’s no wonder a room here costs at least US$400 a night, since they can only operate eight months out of the year. As cars are not allowed in the area, you must get around on foot or by donkey. The sight of tourists dragging their luggage through the cobbled streets is normal. I didn’t even know where we were since there was no sign visible. But it was fun to stumble upon the jewelry stores, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and souvenir shops that lined the narrow lanes.
Keren, Leo and I treated ourselves to Greek yogurt, which came with a choice of over 50 toppings and was a real treat after walking in the sweltering sun. Upon leaving, we took a cable car that took us to shore, where a tender was waiting to take us back to the cruise ship.
The next island was the quaint and picturesque town of Mykonos, which, unlike Santorini, was not on top of a mountain. As soon as we set foot in Mykonos, rustic windmills greeted us. Leo chose to visit Delos, another island, while Keren and I decided to stay to explore the city.
We asked Leo to meet us at Maria’s, a restaurant that is not part of the tourist route but that Keren highly recommends. Maria herself looks like the stereotypical Greek grandma who does all the cooking herself while her kids run the place. When she came out of the kitchen, some regulars even clapped! No surprises there, as her food was hearty, warm and delicious!
After lunch, Keren suggested we rent a car to drive around town. He wanted to check out Nammos beach, which would have been a must. For 80 euros we were able to hire a car and I was the designated driver. With its winding roads, driving around Mykonos reminded me of Baguio. Leo was the designated navigator while Keren provided entertainment from the back seat.
At Nammos, we were surprised to see many high-end boutiques, among which was the late Virgil Abloh’s only pop-up store for Louis Vuitton. There were also the beautiful stand-alone designer boutiques of Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari and many more.
At the end of the strip is the entrance to Nammos Beach, where the super-rich park their million-dollar yachts and party all day and night along the beach. It’s Greece’s answer to Spain’s Ibiza. We stayed an hour just to soak up the atmosphere and people watch. It’s the playground for young and old, with loud music playing as people dance, drink, sunbathe and have a good time.
We arrived the next day in Athens, our last stop in Greece. Athens was named after Athena, the patron goddess of the city. We boarded a bus that took us to the Acropolis, located on a rocky outcrop above the city. Acropolis pretty much means ‘highest point’ and you can get a 360 degree view of the city below. It contains several ancient buildings, including the iconic Parthenon. Here you will find the ancient Greek theater where Margie Moran won her second Miss Universe title in the Philippines in 1973.
After exploring the ruins of the Acropolis, we decided to have lunch in town at another restaurant highly recommended by Keren. Ergon House isn’t just a deli that serves all-day brunch, it’s also a store that sells artisan cheeses, olive oils, assorted sausages (think Santi), and a variety of others. specialties. After lunch we continued to explore the town and did some souvenir shopping before heading back to the ship.
My trip to these mythical and beautiful islands was definitely worth it. The price of food is reasonable compared to Spain and Italy, and the Greeks speak very good English. The best time to visit is in spring or fall, as the summer heat can be quite uncomfortable. But whatever the season, Greece will reward you with its countless ancient and modern charms.