Monday 28th March 2022 – Six Months Later
To anyone who’s followed my posts on this trip, you may have noticed that nearly all of them were uploaded retrospectively. I took copious notes during my travels but only began composing the articles on my return in September 2021, for what turned out to be six months. The final post was published two days ago, at the end of March 2022.
My notes served as a great memory aid, allowing me to reflect on each day as it happened, reliving the trip one step at a time. It’s one of the greatest things about blogging, and I always enjoy re-reading articles on my previous visits to Greece, particularly when it’s wet and gloomy here in the UK in early spring.
Now that the dust has settled, I think it’s good to write a retrospective and recall the best and worst parts of the trip. Let’s start with some highlights…
Seventy-three days is by far the longest I’ve ever spent in Greece or anywhere away from the UK, for that matter. Picking just a few highlights is impossible, so there will be several to do the trip justice.
1. Being visited by friends and family
Okay, this isn’t directly related to Greece itself, but spending the first nine days with my parents in Palaiochora, Ed visiting me on Kos in August, and seeing Mum and Dad again on my favourite island, Sifnos, in September were the stand-out moments for me. Much as I love travelling alone and enjoying the freedom it offers to do whatever you want, whenever you want, being on my own for such a long time made me appreciate the opportunities to share the experience with friends and family.
2. Rhodes and Kos
If you asked me before the trip to name some Greek islands I’d be unlikely to recommend, Rhodes and Kos probably would have made the list. Both have a reputation (in England, at least) as destinations for tourists looking for a cheap and easy summer vacation: think bland hotels, familiar food, cheap booze and tacky tourist shops.
I ended up on Rhodes after changing my mind about visiting Chalki, partly due to unfavourable ferry timings. The three days I spent in Rhodes Town were surprisingly great, and I wouldn’t hesitate to return: good food, lots of historical sights and easy to get around. I wish I’d managed to get to Pefkos, though, as it’s the resort of my first-ever Greek holiday back in 1990, but I guess that can be a reason to go back again at some point.
Kos was even more surprising. Okay, I never meant to get stuck there for over three weeks due to my poor planning and a lack of accommodation on certain islands in peak season. To avoid detouring too far off my planned route, I stuck it out on Kos until I could make it across to Amorgos and into the Cyclades for the final phase of my trip. A part of me wishes I’d been more adventurous and headed North to some other islands, but more of that in the next section.
Kos Town isn’t the sort of place I would usually stay or want to spend much time. Still, with plenty of good tavernas, a gym next to the beach and lots of friendly people (Yannis at The Sunburnt Arms and Argyriou at Hotel Sonia in particular) made it feel like a home away from home.
Sometimes, when you visit an island for the first time and have a fantastic experience, the next time can be disappointing due to a mix of high expectations and nostalgia. Not so with Sifnos. I enjoyed it as much as the first time, and it’s now firmly in the Number 1 spot on my top Greek island list. My parents loved it too and have already re-booked for 2022 (who knows, I might even visit them… watch this space!)
Despite struggling to eat a decent meal the entire time I was on the island, I loved the contrast between Sikinos and the islands I’d visited just prior: Naxos and Ios. Sikinos is so quiet and traditional; it felt like I wasn’t just one of the crowd of tourists but more like a true explorer on a wild island.
Though nothing really bad happened on the trip (thankfully), there are always things that, in hindsight, I’d do differently or avoid entirely if I had the opportunity to repeat the experience.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Tilos at all. It’s here because I regret giving up on it after my first night because of the power cuts that coincided with my arrival. With better planning, I would have had more reason to stay, but I made a rash decision to abandon the island because I didn’t know what I was doing there, and it seemed easier to move on rather than stick it out and get something from it. I do plan to go back sometime and make up for my mistake.
2. Booking Hotels for Peak Season
Though I pre-booked most of my hotels on Crete, I wanted the trip to feel like an adventure and keep my plans fluid. I was adamant that I wanted to avoid booking any accommodation until just a few days before I arrived on each island. This bit me badly when it came to leaving Kos: my only ferry option was to Amorgos to get into the Cyclades, and I couldn’t find any way of avoiding spending at least one night there to make an onward connection.
Amorgos is an increasingly popular destination, but with only two main resorts and limited accommodation, it was booked solid for the first two weeks of August, leaving me stranded on Kos until the 21st. In some ways, this was a blessing as I ended up loving my time in Kos, but it did mean I missed out on visiting some islands I wanted to see: Donousa, Schinousa and Iraklia, in particular.
Next time, I’ll ensure I pre-book rooms for August, especially on smaller islands likely to fill up fast.
3. Naxos instead of Paros
Naxos is one of my favourite Greek islands. Except for 2020, I’ve visited every year since 2017. After reaching Amorgos, my instinct was to head to Naxos to get back on familiar ground and spend a few days revisiting my favourite places.
While I don’t necessarily regret this, it turned out that I didn’t do much on Naxos besides relaxing at the beach – something I’d already done a lot of during my extended time on Kos, so the novelty had worn off a little. In hindsight, choosing Paros over Naxos would have made more sense as I could’ve been more active in exploring a new island (I don’t count my brief stay in 2017) instead of just chilling out somewhere that I know pretty well.
Learnings for Future Trips
1. Booking Hotels at Short Notice
Before this trip, I’d always booked all my accommodation up-front and had a fixed route in mind. Despite the hiccup getting stuck on Kos, I’m glad I resisted booking most of my accommodation too far in advance. Firstly, it allowed me to skip Chalki and visit Rhodes instead. On Kos, I spent the first three nights at a hotel I didn’t like (Captain’s Hotel). Then I decided to move to a different (much nicer) hotel for the rest of the time (Hotel Sonia). By only booking the first few nights, I could get a feel for the area without committing myself to an extended stay at one hotel or going through the hassle of cancelling a reservation and trying to avoid being charged.
2. Staying Longer in One Place
Except the four single-night stays as I travelled across southern Crete and onto Sitia for my crossing to Karpathos and the one night I spent on Amorgos to make a ferry connection, all of my island stays were at least three nights, mostly 4, 5 or 6. Aside from the obvious cost of moving around more frequently, staying in one place for longer improves the experience. It takes a good couple of days to feel familiar in a resort, and if, like me, you like to split your time between sightseeing and beach/relaxation days, having at least 5 or 6 nights offers the best balance.
Of course, it helps to have the luxury of an extended time in Greece to stretch out the time at each destination. Still, in future, I intend to make five or six nights my new minimum unless the island is exceptionally small or ferry timetables dictate a more brief stay.