LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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On our last day in Athens, we arrived in the city early in the morning from Santorini, and were leaving equally as early the following morning for our flight back home. Though we’d stayed in an AirBnB rental the first two days of the trip to get a more local experience in Athens, we decided to stay at a hotel on the last day, both for the convenience of having a line of taxis waiting to take us to the airport, and to splurge a bit.
Since Jamal travels so frequently for work (our flight to Athens was booked on miles), he has a slew of hotel points for all the major chains. This came in handy for us in Paris on our first trip there together, as well as in Brussels. For the end of our honeymoon, we wanted something central, luxurious, and elegant. The King George Hotel, part of the Luxury Collection of Starwood Group hotels, is situated right on Syntagma Square, in the center of Athens, and usually costs upwards of €280/night. We wanted luxury, and we got it.
We had a balcony overlooking Syntagma Square and the Parliament building, complimentary chocolates and a bottle of Mastic waiting in our room when we checked in, and later, as we were reading/napping/trying not to succumb to exhaustion, a complimentary bottle of champagne and a glass of strawberries, delivered by a kindly bellhop. And the bed. I don’t know what sort of magic they inject into the mattress, bedsheets, or pillows, but it was the perfect level of plushness. We loved that bed so much so that Jamal, who shuns pillows entirely and prefers to sleep flat against the bed without any (I don’t know, he’s weird, don’t ask me), raved about the pillows for days after we checked out. “Weren’t those pillows so soft? They were so soft!”
After some Internet Squirreling on my part, I found that you can buy all of the bedding (pillows, sheets, mattress and all!) online. So after a lot of help from customer service, who called the hotel to find out which pillows specifically we had in our room during our stay, I went ahead and bought two new feather and down pillows, hoping to replicate the bed-bliss we had at the King George. At $105 each they weren’t exactly cheap, but the last pillows we bought were $4 and from Target (and both of those facts are extremely evident after two years of use), so this was a very adult, very necessary splurge. I can’t wait until they get here!
That just about wraps up the honeymoon posts, kiddos! Thank you for being such good sports and sitting through all my photos. Back to your regularly scheduled programming (read: Paris) on Monday. Have a great weekend!
As both a avid reader and devoted bibliophile, Atlantis Books had popped up on my radar on more than a few occasions before our honeymoon to Greece. I love bookshops, so a bookshop in paradise was a no brainer. I’ve made it my mission in life to visit as many English bookshops in foreign countries as I can, starting first in Paris with Shakespeare & Company, Galignani, The Abbey, and San Francisco Book Company. (I’m excluding W.H. Smith from this list, even though I did frequent their location on the Rue de Rivoli more than I’d like to admit for the easy access to British chocolate, only because they are an English chain that happens to have a branch in Paris, and aren’t an independent store) Sure, I’ve only been to English bookshops in France so far, but I take my newfound raison d’étre very seriously, and I knew a trip to Santorini would be incomplete without visiting Atlantis Books, in Oia.
So the afternoon we took a bus to the town and had lunch on Ammoudi Bay, we scouted out the shop, and had a peek around. Nestled into the side of a cliff and situated below street level, making it feel like you’re descending into a secret literature lair, Atlantis Books was opened in 2004 by expats from the US, England, and Cyprus, who fell in love with Santorini (obviously) and decided to stay. From their website: “We found an empty building facing the sunset, drank some whiskey and signed a lease. We found a dog and cat, opened a bank account, applied for a business license, found some friends, built the shelves, landed a boat on the terrace and filled the place with books.” Simple as that. And the result is something extraordinary.
There are books everywhere, stacked to the ceiling, displayed on tables, wrapped around columns. There are books in every language, books they print and hand-bind themselves, old first editions of books you’ve only dreamt about seeing in the wild. There was a sleeping pup in the doorway, and a lofted bed in the back I immediately thought about claiming. It is, in short, magnificent, and I made three laps of the space, Jamal trotting dutifully behind me to catch me if I passed out from joy. We left, eventually, with a paperback copy of Eleanor Catton’s behemoth “The Luminaries,” a Michael Lewis non-fiction for Jamal, as well as a cotton tote bag with the shop’s name and logo as a souvenir. I could’ve spent days in there, and on the way out I had a fleeting vision of begging for employment, jettisoning all our belongings, setting up a home on the island, and figuring out a way to keep Fitz from diving into the water at every turn.
Are you totally sick of seeing Satorini photos yet? I’ll spare you the countless sunset photos from here to eternity. I didn’t realize I took quite as many as I did, it didn’t feel like I was glued to my camera the entire honeymoon –I promise, I was glued to my honey on my honeymoon– but Santorini is so pretty I couldn’t help it. You got that gist by now, right? Heaven on earth, gorgeous blue everywhere, etc etc. The weather was a glorious 75-80 and sunny the whole time we were there, dipping into the 50s at night with a strong wind. Mid-day, I was clinging to the shade on the side of buildings, fanning myself with my sun hat. But our walks back from dinner usually were at a fast clip, wondering why we wore sandals and not fuzzy socks, our arms wrapped around our torsos. Our cave room was always the perfect temperature, as an upside.
Many of you have asked some variation of, “How could you come back?” and the answer is, “In tears.” Truly, leaving Santorini was a struggle, which I suppose is the most complimentary thing to say about a honeymoon. Sure, we missed Fitz (who somehow managed to develop a skin infection on his belly while we were away, because he’s Fitz), but I could have survived another week or month or two just fine. I wouldn’t have fit into any of my clothes and would have had to wear the bedsheets on the plane back to Athens, but it would be a small price to pay for living in heaven.
On our first morning in Santorini, our hotel manager gave us a map of the island circled some of his favorite spots to visit. George is a Santorini native, he grew up in Imerovigli, so we trusted his judgment about which beaches were best and which tourist sites we could skip. He recommended we rent a car for at least one day, so that we could drive down to the southern part of the island. I was hesitant at first; why would we want to do things like leave the lounge chairs on our terrace?
Needless to say, George was right, I was wrong, laziness is sometimes conquerable, etc. etc. We got our teensy rental car early one morning and headed half an hour down the coast to the bottom corner of Santorini, to Perissa and Perivolos, two black sand beaches where the topography is drastically different. Those of you who know me know there are few things in this world I detest more than sand (green peppers, republicans), and that I’ve spent my entire life avoiding having to touch it. It gives me the ultimate willies and makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I don’t know why, I’m weird. HOWEVER. Black sand? Seemingly the novelty of the entire thing worked to dispel any of my weird anxieties about the stuff. We pulled into Perissa well before any beach-goers had arrived, and had the entire stretch to ourselves. It was unbelievable. Black sand! And it wasn’t so much sand as tiny little pebbles. In retrospect, I wish I’d bottled some up and brought it back. Perissa seemed like a great town –tons of beach bars, really casual vibe– and Jamal and I vowed to go back one day.
We drove a few miles to Perivolos, which is just up the coast and also boasts black sand, but we were more impressed by Perissa, because of the huge cliffs that border it. At George’s recommendation, we went next to Ancient Akrotiri, the Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed and buried during the volcanic eruption in 1627BC. We’d visited the archeological museum in Fira earlier in the week, and couldn’t get over how many relics were rescued from Akrotiri. Bowls, vases, figurines, full pieces of frescoed walls, all dating back to 2000-2700BC. The excavation site was massive and, thankfully, indoors, covered by slatted wood planks, with elevated walkways winding through the half-dug zones. It was pretty incredible.
Then it was back on the road to the aptly named Red Beach, which is exactly what you’d expect. Only we felt like brazen explorers in our quest to reach it; you park in a designated parking lot, and then you have to climb over rocks, around a bend, down a cliff, through some more rocks, down a path, and then voila. The first time you round the cliff bend and see the striking red sand though, and so worth the effort (though I wish I’d been wearing different shoes, as my sandals were useless). I could have stayed and stared forever. The contrast of colors was almost too much for me to even process accurately. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
We stopped for lunch in Vlychada, an almost deserted beach town with a fishing port, and had lunch at another Dmitri’s Taverna (we’d eaten at a Dmitri’s in Ammoudi Bay in Oia, too). Vlychada beach was your more typical beach, regular sand and all. We gorged on tomato fritters and saganaki and tzatziki, before heading all the way to the very southernmost tip of the island. We were told there was a lighthouse, but we wouldn’t have made the trip just for that. The views, however, made it feel like you were at the end of the world.
We decided to head home, back to Firostefani, but made one last stop at a winery. We missed the last tour of the day, but were happy to park ourselves in their wine bar and have a wine flight tasting. They tried to push an 18 glass flight on us to share, but we figured with the winding, narrow two-lane highway back up the island, we were better off sticking to just three each. We bought a bottle of Vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine and a Santorini specialty, and drove home.
We took a bus –an experience in itself– to Oia one afternoon, at the northern tip of the island. You’ve seen Oia if you’ve ever seen a photo of one of those iconic blue-domed churches, framed against the blue water. You know, that first photograph up there. Everything in Oia is postcard perfect. The town itself felt a little more prim, the shops a little more expensive, than our beloved Fira, but the views were just as amazing. At the suggestion of our hotel manager, we trekked down 280 winding, steep stairs to Ammoudi Bay, a small fishing inlet and beach, to have lunch at one of the four little restaurants set up on the water. And the water. My god, that water. I almost fell in during lunch (because this being Europe, there was nothing in the way of a protective barrier between our table and the end of the patio), craning my head to get a better look at the schools of tiny fish swimming by and to just stare at the turquoise and cerulean goodness. Why isn’t water that color everywhere else in the world?
Ammoudi Bay was heavenly, and worth the effort to get to. The climb down was fine, expect for dodging the occasional surprise left by a passenger donkey. The hike back up was more challenging, our bellies full of grilled fish and Santorinian beer, made all the more difficult by the oppressive midday Mediterranean sun. A very sweet passing tourist (Canadian!) took approximately fifty photographs of us, even running up the stairs ahead of us and shooting down like we were in a photoshoot (I thought she was trying to steal my camera).
We had a glass of wine at a rooftop taverna overlooking the sea. I made a special pilgrimage to an English bookshop (photos of that coming soon!). We got “lost” wandering the back streets, and then shared a can of beer on the bus back to Fira, where we enjoyed yet another amazing sunset.
Later in the week, we rented a car and drove around the southern part of the island, and I have a bunch of photos to share on Friday of the black sand and red sand beaches we visited.
Though I said we would be doing ‘absolutely nothing’ in Santorini, that wasn’t quite how it turned out. Our days started with champagne and fresh fruit and breakfast overlooking the caldera, and ended with cocktails while we stared in awe at the sunset every night. “Look at it now!” was an oft repeated phrase, for every second of every sunset was prettier than the last, the sky changing hot orange to pale pink in minutes. There was gelato before lunch, casual strolling through Fira and Oia, amazing dinners with even more amazing views, jugs of house wine, and dessert at every meal. I ate cake for breakfast, we laid on lounge chairs on our terrace and read in the afternoons, and generally stuck to no schedule whatsoever. It was incredible. We did enough without doing too much to feel rushed or too little to feel lazy. We loved Athens, but we both felt the honeymoon didn’t really start until we got to Santorini.
We stayed at the Alta Vista Honeymoon Suites, three elegantly appointed private cave villas with a shared pool, in Firostefani, halfway between Fira and Imerovigli. I totally and completely understand now why people return year after year to the same resort or timeshare; this place was heaven. It didn’t have to do much, because the view and the island compensate for a lot, but our stay was phenomenal and we almost didn’t leave. I know, I know, how can I love any place as much as I love Paris? I’m sorry, have you been to Santorini yet? It’s self-explanatory. The view of the caldera is literally enchanting, and I never got used to it in the six days we were there.
On Saturday, we went to the Athens Central Market, the long (and loud) halls of fish mongers, butchers, and produce stands. While not a typical tourist destination, multiple guidebooks (and Trip Advisor) recommend a visit if you’re in town. And what a neat experience it was! Purveyors shout their prices over one another, throw fresh buckets of ice on top of their displays, slice open fish right in front of you. Who knows what goes on in the butcher stalls, because I gave them a wide berth and refused to venture down those aisles. Some things are better left unexplored, yes?
I should mention that this was Jamal’s second trip to the Market that day; unable to adjust to the new time zone and sleep in, he had gone bright and early at 7:15am. I, on the other hand, have no such issue when it comes to sleep. Ever. I might as well be a particularly narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty. So when you throw in a 9hr plane ride and a 7hr time difference on top of my normal snooziness, plus the fact that we were on vacation, I was happy to catch the second, later showing of Jamal’s Great Market Adventure. But really, you have to go if you can. It was here that we bought all the ingredients for our dinner. We might have been the only tourists in the place, made all the more obvious when Jamal was yelled at for handling the produce before buying. That was a fun cultural difference; at our market in Philly, you’re encouraged to fondle all the tomatoes you want before handing them to the vendor to weigh and bag them for you. In Athens, that will earn you a stern, “DO NOT TOUCH,” from a gruff Greek produce man. We are still laughing about it. Jamal got in trouble!
We were only in Athens Friday and Saturday before flying to Santorini at the ungodly hour of 6am on Sunday morning. Photos from the island all next week (and maybe the week after that), pinky promise.
Have a good weekend, kiddos!
We were warned before we left for Greece for our honeymoon by a few well-meaning friends who have been to/lived in Athens that the city might seem underwhelming or worrisomely run-down, and to expect shuttered stores and graffiti. Of course, it would be different once we got to Santorini, since the small island is almost exclusively a tourist destination, but in capital Athens so much of the city had been affected by the recent economic turbulence, it was impossible for people to not brace us for the worst case scenario. I think we were expecting to land in Syria, honestly. Continue reading
Ah, Brussels. After spending a week in Paris and the charming little towns of Bruges and Ghent, Brussels seemed well, kind of like a disappointment. It was too urban, too charmless, too dirty for both of our tastes. There is too much graffiti and a ton of people. Less than Times Square, but definitely more than Bruges and Ghent combined. We walked through a very sketchy neighborhood (I live in a gentrifying neighborhood and I still say that) near the Brussels Midi train station to visit a local Lambic brewery, and it turned out to be totally worth it. We took a tour of the 100 year old Cantillon brewery and had a tasting at the end (we even bought a pint glass with the brewery logo on it to bring home. It made the journey without cracking!). It’s one of the last remaining true Lambic breweries that uses spontaneous fermentation still in production. We met the 4th generation brewer and his sister.
On the tour I found out that a true Lambic brewery does not use any pesticides for the natural fruit they add to their beer during fermentation, that they let Mother Nature take care of it. In the way of spiders. So they never kill a spider they see or destroy a spiderweb in the brewery. I’m pretty sure I dropped dead upon receipt of that information when my brain started calculating how many lambics I’ve imbibed in my life and thus how many spiders I might have growing inside of me, plotting my demise from the inside out. Omfg. Brb, dying.
Anyway, unfortunately for Brussels, I was so burnt out by the time we got there that I sort of slacked on taking pictures. We walked around a ton and had some really excellent meals (here and here, the latter is an old French hardware store so you can imagine the incredible architectural details), and I even achieved nirvana in Zara Home. We didn’t go to a single museum (for shame!) because everything was closed on Monday, but we did make sure to see the Grand Place and of course the Mannekin Pis. The statue of the chubby little boy peeing into a fountain.
We flew out Tuesday morning and had a disaster of a time getting to the airport. First, the hotel didn’t give us a wake up call, but thankfully we were both attuned and anxious enough to wake up around the right time. Trying to save money, we took a cab to the train station to take a train to the airport, since by this point we considered ourselves train-pros, having taken roughly 450 of them on the trip. It would have been great, except our train stopped after two stops at Nord station and everyone had to get off because there was a fire at the airport train station. A fire. Obviously. So an entire train of tourists makes a mad dash to the taxi stand to try and make it to the airport in time for their flight. It was every man for himself and I was throwing elbows and running over toes with my luggage to get a cab (somehow I feel like my mom would be proud). We randomly found another guy from Philly (what are the odds?!) and one French guy and agreed to split a cab, which was a good thing because it ended up being €55. We made it to the check-in counter with literally less than an hour until our flight took off. It’s a miracle we made it through immigration and security and onto the plane. And Boyfriend still had time to buy me a waffle. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
Friday morning we beat the crowds and took a 40 minute canal tour through the city. The guide did the entire tour in Dutch, French, and English. It was pretty impressive. Equally as impressive were the views of the city the canal provided. I can barely stave off seasickness in the shower so I was nervous about getting in the little speed boat, but thankfully I did not have to hang my head overboard at all. It’s probably a good thing, too, because Bruges has a big population of swans, all of whom seemed really pissed off to have boats in their water.
We finally had our first typical Belgian dinner of moules frites. Afterwards, we walked back to the Belfry to take pictures of the square lit up at night, and ended up walking into a multi-bar outdoor viewing of the Premier League Championship game. The next morning we set off for Brussels.