As many of y’all know, my family and I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Greece and Turkey. Greece has been thrown around numerous times in our “where are we going next?” family talks, so this year we finally decided it was time to make this suggestion a reality.
Guys… wow! That’s all I can say about this trip! Everything you’ve seen on postcards, social media or websites doesn’t do this country justice. I thought I had a decent idea of what this trip would be like, and I figured I knew what everything would look like, but I was totally wrong. Like even Mamma Mia! can’t do it justice. (Also, fun fact: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was filmed in Croatia to imitate Greece. WE’VE BEEN LIED TO!!!)
This trip far exceeded my expectations, and my family all agrees that it ranks extremely high on our “favorite trips” list.
Usually, when we go on vacation it’s just my family; however, we will have extended family tag along, occasionally. This year, I somehow convinced my college roommate Sarah Blazejewski (Blaze for short) that going on an Engles family vacation was something she needed to experience at least once in her life. For people who know my family, you know we call our trips a “cultural learning experience” because we do little-to-no relaxing on them. In fact, we usually ended up getting to our destination super early in the morning and then hit the ground running. Blaze sent me a text a couple days before we left asking if she needed to pack “real/sturdy” tennis shoes. It was in that moment I was scared she might never want to vacation with my family again, but she took this vacation like a champ and became an honorary Engles member by the end the trip.
For the rest of this blog, I will lay out how the trip’s details and include locations and sights for each day. For the first three days, we spent time in the capital, Athens, before setting sail on a Windstar cruise around the Greek Isles.
Day One: Arrival in Athens and the Acropolis
The first day is always a long and exhausting day on our trips. In the past we’ve arrived at our destinations, like Paris and Sydney, at the crack of dawn—like I’m talking 6 AM, folks. Luckily, our flight was scheduled to get into Athens sometime around noon and we had a little bit of time to get to the hotel and freshen up before our afternoon walking tour.
That afternoon our 4-HOUR!!! (sounds daunting, I know) walking tour began. Feeling pretty decent, we met out sweet guide Stella and began our Athenian adventure. Stella took us to the heart of Athens where the Old Royal Palace sits. This palace was the first royal palace of modern Greece and has housed the Hellenic Parliament ever since. It sits in the heart of Athens, facing onto Syntagma Square. Very similar to Buckingham Palace, the Old Royal Palace have guards that stand out in front. On the hour, every hour, they have the changing of the guards—which is fascinating to watch. They have an interesting way of stepping into their spots. If you every get a chance to see it, I highly recommend going. We decided to come back the next day to watch it since we had arrived just past the hour.
Sweet Stella then led us down the winding roads of Athens to start making our way to the Acropolis. The entire walk you see these amazing architectural buildings and old ruins that make you feel as if you were in Ancient Greece. It was like turning back time rounding every street corner. There is no doubt the Acropolis was going to be the highlight of the day, so as we kept getting closer the pep in our step continued to grow.
We rounded this street corner, and I can remember looking up at the Acropolis in pure amazement. It is so breathtaking to see in real life. We got out tickets and started making the climb to the top where the Parthenon sits. The Parthenon was built for the goddess Athena, whom the Athenians consider their patron. If Greek mythology excites you even just a little, this place will blow you away. The magnitude of this building just captures your attention as you walk through the gates. If you find yourself in Athens, the Parthenon is an absolute must. I don’t even care if you don’t like Greek mythology. You HAVE to go.
After we finished walking around the Acropolis, we made our way back down to say goodbye to Stella for the evening. We decided that the area we were in was a good place to try and grab a bite to eat before we headed back to get some sleep. Shout out to my mother on this one. She caved at the first person who told us to eat at their restaurant, but it was probably one of the best meals the entire trip. We all had a variation of the gyro, with tzatziki sauce of course, and it was so delicious. After we ate, we were all pretty exhausted from the long day of traveling and walking, so we headed back to get some rest.
Day Two: Delphi
Delphi was a stop my father really wanted to see. In ancient times, Delphi was famous as a rich sanctuary and the seat of the oracle Pythia. The ancient Greeks consulted Pythia bout important decision, and they considered Delphi to be the center of the world.
Delphi is about 2.5 to 3 hours outside of Athens, so our group hopped in a van and set out for a full, fun-filled day. Once again, our amazing guide Stella guided us through these amazing ruins. One thing about Stella is that she loves her some shade, and we were really thankful she was always taking care of us in the hot Grecian temperatures. After she finished explaining to us what all the ruins meant, we had a little bit of free time to go and explore.
At the top of Delphi sits the track stadium. It’s a pretty decent climb to the stop, but if you know anything about my father, we were going to make the climb. It wasn’t even a choice to sit it out. So, we all huffed and puffed our way to the top, but seeing how track stadiums were built then was really interesting to see. It made the workout to the top worth it.
After exploring Delphi, we made our way to the village to eat Greek cuisine at a local restaurant. Here, several of us explored many traditional foods such as moussaka, wine leaves and lamb. We enjoyed our food and the view of the villages down below before loading back up and heading to Athens. We all fell asleep on the road trip back, haha!
Day Three: Panathenaic Stadium and Temple of Zeus
This was our third and final day in Athens before we were to depart on our cruise. We all decided to sleep-in this day because we had all been going nonstop since arriving in Athens.
After a late breakfast, we set out to go see the Panathenaic Stadium. This stadium is so breathtaking and amazing. Made entirely of marble, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. You also get a chance to stand on the Olympic podium and run the track.
After taking an audio tour, we made our way to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Temple. We decided we could see all we wanted to see without paying money to go inside, so we just looked between the fences iron bars. After we saw all we wanted to see, we decided just to walk up and down some streets with local vendor, and a couple of paintings in hand later, we headed back to grab drinks on our hotels’ rooftop bar.
Day Four: All Aboard the Windstar
This day wasn’t really anything too exciting aside from boarding our cruise. We boarded around the early afternoon and hung out on the upper deck why we sailed out to sea. We met most of the wonderful staff on this day and got accustomed to where everything on the boat was located.
Day Five: Nafplio
Our first destination on the cruise was the quaint little town of Nafplio. Nafplio, or Nafplion to the locals, is a seaport town in the Peloponnese that has expanded up the hillsides near the north end of the Argolic Gulf.
Us and a couple other couples on the boat set out for a half-day of sight-seeing the ruins of the town and Palamidi Castle. Palamidi Castle consists of 999 steps from the town below to the top; thankfully, our tour guide dropped us off at the stop so we could walk down, but we all know my father would have made us climb those steps to the top if our guide hadn’t have dropped us off at the top first.
After walking around the castle, our crew made the hike down to the town to get something to eat before heading back to the boat. Nafplio is such a pretty, quiet town, and I highly suggest adding it to your own Greece itinerary.
Day Six: Mykonos
Now this is the day we had all been waiting for… MYKONOS!!! Mykonos is one of the most popular Cyclade Islands in the Aegean Sea and is most known for its windmills, white buildings, blue doors and stone paths. It lived up to all the hype.
We did a tour called the Five Senses of Mykonos—which featured a walking tour of the town, a drive around the island, wine tasting and then live Greek music and tasting of the infamous Ouzo.
First off, Ouzo is disgusting. Unless you like licorice and don’t mind drinking it, you probably won’t like it. With a 96% alcohol content, Ouzo is sure to knock you off your seat. Only a few people could handle the flavor going down, including Blaze and my mother. The rest of us decided to hold off on Greece’s national drink.
(I’m skipping ahead here, but Mykonos is far better than Santorini, if you had to pick between the two. It’s less crowded making it easier for visitors to enjoy.)
Day Seven: A Day in Turkey
This day was one of my absolute favorites, if not my favorite.
Our ship pulled into the Turkish port town Kusadasi. We had a full itinerary of exploring Ephesus with a carpet weaving tour to end the day.
We started the day by exploring Ephesus. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia. With the library being the focal point of the city, every direction you look there are these amazing ancient ruins. We had a wonderful guide named Eyeshin (I’m only spelling it like this because she told me that’s how you pronounce her name… eye-shin, so here we are spelling it this way).
After exploring the ruins, we headed to a small village where we had a traditional Turkish meal at a bed and breakfast. This was by far the best meal I had this far on the trip. It was comprised on Turkish meatballs, chicken, rice and other vegetables. Literally, it was the best meal I’d had in a longgggg time.
After everyone finished eating, we walked around the BnB for a hot second before making our way back to the port for a carpet making demonstration. There are only a couple of carpet making places that Windstar approves of and this was one of them.
We got a demonstration of how a traditional Turkish rug is made. You’d be surprised at how long it takes to hand weave one of these things. The weaver has to stop every hour and take a couple hours off, so she doesn’t go blind. They treated us to some Turkish coffee and tea, and then we had some time to shop around for a rug if you wanted to purchase one. After several hours of looking and negotiating, we walked away with our very own Turkish rug. We then headed back to the ship to shower and get ready for our private dinner at Ephesus.
Everyone on the Windstar was treated to a private dinner at Ephesus this night. Ephesus shut down and specifically held a private dinner for the members onboard. It was so pretty walking up while the sun was setting. We were greeted by a glass of wine and violins playing while we walked to our table/took in the scenery. This was such an incredible experience. Just sitting in front of the library, having a nice elegant dinner couldn’t have been beat. The food was delicious, and this was one of our favorite highlights of the trip.
After dinner we all got on the buses and headed back to port. In the wise words of our bus driver, “Tell your friends to come to Turkey. We don’t eat people, we eat Turkey.”
Day Eight: Patmos
This was our first day that we didn’t have any on-land excursions planned. After going for however many days nonstop, we all thought it was a good idea to sleep in a little later than normal. After getting a good night’s rest, we decided to head to the island and explore the town a little bit.
We walked around the town, bought a couple of gifts and headed back to the boat for lunch and swimming. When the boat anchors, they open a swimming and watersports platform on the back of the boat. We enjoyed the crisp Aegean Sea water and several of us took turns paddle boarding and kayaking. We really enjoyed getting a chance to swim. The Aegean Sea is enriched with more minerals and has a higher salt concentration, so you float easier!!!
Day Nine: Santorini
Ahhh here we are… Santorini. THE most popular Greek island. The buildup for Santorini was real. Everyone knows this island for the beautiful village Oia. Oia is a coastal town on the northwestern tip of Santorini. The town has white houses carved into the rugged clifftops and overlooks a vast caldera filled with water. Known for the infamous blue dome churches, Oia is the islands biggest attraction.
If you know my family, you know we are all about the ocean. We love any water activity, and that day, we had a catamaran cruise of the caldera. We were all super pumped to get our bathing suits on and gets some vitamin SEA. It ended up being a small group of people going on this cruise, and we all had the best time. We swam in three different spots—one which consisted of sulfur water. We enjoyed a BBQ feast (but not our traditional American BBQ–to them it just means food cooked on the grill) and our bellies were super happy. By the end of the cruise, we were all wanting to spend extra hours out in the Caldera.
After we arrived back on land, we decided to take the gondola to the top of the island. Here we were greeted by large crowds and narrow roads. We cruised the narrow streets and explored some shops before stopping to get some gelato. We enjoyed the breathtaking scenery while eating before heading back to the boat.
Our dinner this night was a HUGE grill out on the back deck of the boat. They had everything you could have imagined from shrimp, pork, lobster and the list goes on and on. It was so good that I didn’t have enough room on my plate to get everything that I wanted. I made several trips back and forth to the buffet. Hands down one of the best meals I’ve ever had!!!
Day Ten: Monemvasia
We anchored in Monemvasia on the tenth day, and our group decided we would just go on land for an hour then make our way back to the boat for some swimming off the boat. We ended up taking a cab to the “old town” and we were blown away by the beauty.
The town had that “Mediterranean look” to it. I felt like I was in Spain or Italy. It didn’t resemble anywhere that we had been yet, and it was almost refreshing to see something different. We spent wayyyy more time on land than we had expected. The shops were so cute and had local Greek gifts to take home. After several spices, olive oil bottles and Turkish towels later, we made our way back to the drop-off location. Brooke, Blaze and I got left behind by the rest of the crew, so we had to wait a little longer at the docking station to catch a dingy back to the ship. We were mad that we got left behind, but we ended up seeing sea turtles, which quickly improved our mood.
We made it back to the boat just in time for a last-minute swim. We, especially Blaze, couldn’t get over how blue the water was. There isn’t anything like it. I don’t care where you’ve been, nothing compares J. We finished the night with some good food in the dining room and some chatting with one of the workers in the bridge. I think the poor guy was sick and tired of us constantly coming into the bridge to ask questions and look around, so shout out to him for putting up with this chaotic bunch!!!
Day Eleven: Homeward bound
Today’s the day we had all been dreading… leaving this wonderful place. None of us wanted to get off the boat. In fact, I think we all would’ve stayed on for another around if they would have let us. Even though it was hard to say goodbye, it was time to get back to the real world. Can we all just quit our jobs now and go back??
As always, if you have any questions about this trip or other trips we’ve been on feel free to reach out. We love sharing our experiences with other people!!
Travel Agent and Company: Amy Daniel with Alabama World Travel
Athens Hotel: New Hotel
Cruise: Windstar Treasures of the Greek Isles
Flight: Atlanta to JFK to Athens