I’ve had a map of Athens pasted up in my closet for as long as I can remember. I have been hoping to somehow manifest actually getting there some day. For years I’ve been doing a little research here and there as to what would be the very best way to see those magnificent Greek Islands.
This trip was a long time in the making. It was a gift for my 40th birthday. Ha! Yes, it took us a little while to make it happen. But when we knew Lucy would be tucked away safely in her camp for a big chunk of the summer, AND our 28th anniversary, Dave and I decided to make that trip a reality.
And as I look back at these memories already passing in the wake behind us, I am filled up with so much gratitude for that week enveloped in azure Aegean Sea and Greek islands each with their own unique character.
We climbed (and descended) thousands of steps (my legs were so sore!), walked miles upon miles, visited all kinds of ruins, were incredibly charmed by the white houses hanging on cliffs as well as red-roofed villas stretching out to the sea below us on our hikes.
It all lived up to my high expectations with wildly picturesque narrow alleys and blue domed roofs, all packed to the brim with so much history. And also, there’s something pretty incredible about having a whole week of uninterrupted time with your husband, away from every distraction under the sun.
Phew! I am trying to figure out how in the world to keep all that I learned securely in my leaky brain.
I want to hold onto it forever. So here I am to report.
How to best visit multiple Greek Islands in one trip
Here’s how we did it:
We took a small cruise leaving from Athens so we could see as much as we could without rolling our suitcases all over those tiny cobblestone streets, waiting at airports or ferry terminals.
And we loved it.
Here is a map of our stops:
Some of these stops will be a whole post of their own, way too much to say in one post. But I will link to everything as we come to each island, and as I get more posts written.
Let’s start in Athens!
We got to Athens a day and a half early so we could explore before the cruise. We were so bleary-eyed from jet-lag when we arrived that evening but our taxi driver recommended a souvlaki (gyro) place for dinner.
This spot happened to be right on a main square where everyone (musicians, tourists, locals) were gathering for the evening in the slanted light.
The Acropolis looming up behind as a backdrop, see it way up there behind us?
So crazy these people were just walking along by like it’s no big deal to have these ancient ruins RIGHT THERE next to you!
We enjoyed that little square for the best dinner and people-watching evening.
We popped out of bed the next morning which happened to be our 28TH ANNIVERSARY to figure out the metro and get to our Acropolis tour.
A Tour of the Acropolis
Even though it was early, it was hot and crowded but LOVED it with all my heart.
Our tour guide was awesome and spilled out so much history about the Greek Gods and how every Greek city has an acropolis but how Athens became the most powerful.
Theater of Dionysus
En route to the top we saw the Theater of Dionysus, complete with “special” throne-type chairs for dignitaries or royalty who visited.
It is “considered to be the world’s oldest theatre. It was home to the annual spring drama festival where the ancient playwrights—among them Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes—presented their works in competition” (see this site for more information).
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
We also saw the Odeon of Herodes Atticus that was built by Herodes Atticus to honor his late wife:
Like most things in the Acropolis, it was destroyed and rebuilt. Recently it’s been used to host modern concerts including Sting and Elton John.
Our guide talked about how Pericles let down his guard and that Acropolis was conquered over and over again.
In the 19th century they wanted to bring it back to it’s original glory but it’s STILL a process going on today.
The Parthenon (!!!)
I couldn’t believe I was there amidst all that rubble on the top of that hill standing next to the Parthenon.
Athens stretched out below:
Yes, it was crowded!
Mars Hill is below on the right:
…where the Areopagus Court, the highest court in Greece used to meet.
It was also where the apostle Paul delivered so many important gospel messages, trying to convert the Greeks to Christianity and away from the worship of Zeus.
So many of the ruins have been taken and preserved by other countries, and our guide wasn’t shy about her frustration with the British museum for not giving back their treasures.
We went to the Athens museum and explored for a while. I loved how they created a such a beautiful way to view the Acropolis with so many relics of that place housed safely inside:
Athens Food Tour
I love taking food tours to show you the ins and outs of a place.
Especially when you get to do it with people from all over the world all filled with different stories.
We loaded into the cruise boat the next morning and headed off into the wide blue yonder. Loved settling into staying in the same bed for a while (we had slept in five different beds in the last five nights).
Our first stop was Mykonos.
Oh boy, was I ever giddy to get there.
It was like stepping into a fairytale, it didn’t seem like it could even be real it was so beautiful.
All that blinding white (even the grout between the paving stones was painted white) leading into this labyrinth of narrow alleyways filled up with light and colorful doors and balconies, and around the iconic windmills.
And wild combinations of architecture:
Kusadasi, Turkey — Exploring Ephesus
I’m not sure why Turkey was included on the cruise of the Greek Islands, but I’m sure glad it was.
Because it was so fascinating.
So fascinating that it gets a post all of it’s own too.
For this post I’ll just quickly say that Dave and I found a guide who took us to where they believe Mary the mother of Jesus spent the end of her life.
We explored the ancient ruins of Ephesus, once one of the most important Mediterranean cities for trade, architecture, and religion.
The Apostle Paul was the first to preach Christianity here, working to spread the gospel from this major trade city.
One of the most important parts of Ephesus is the Celsus Library reconstructed with 70% of it’s original materials.
We got to go back in the evening and have a special dinner right at that ancient library.
Complete with a string quartet.
We were quite wowed I have to say.
So many more details on “The Best Things to do in Ephesus, Turkey” post.
This is the island where it is believed John got the revelations for the book of Revelations. They have built up a special museum/shrine surrounding the cave up on the mountain where they believe the revelations took place.
We rented some electric bikes and headed up to explore the cave, with lots of breathtaking views along the way.
This photo below is from the inside of the cave.
The area where the brass gate is where it is believe he lay his head to get the revelations. The silver handle in the stone is where he grasped to get up following revelations. And the little stand is where the scribe wrote down what he was told.
We put our bikes to work cruising up and over mountains and back down again to get to a beach Dave had looked up that looked cool.
Little did we know that there was a mile hike up and over another mountain to get there. Ha!
But it was pretty awesome.
We hung out there (and got pelted by the sand in the wind, still worth it) before heading back to town.
We ate at a little cafe in the main square.
One of my favorite parts of the day was when we tried to ride our bikes to one more close-by beach before catching the boat. We were following the map that took us up and down steps in the most picturesque tiny streets.
We never found the beach, but the adventure was pretty fun.
Back on the ship for sunset.
This was my favorite day. Another “thin place” for me.
And a place I have dreamed of going for so long!
I wrote another post with all the Santorini details that you can check out.
But for this post I’ll just say we took a pretty spectacular six-mile hike along the ridge of that ancient volcano caldera from the town of Fira to Oia. Fira is the port where six million cruise ships come, HA!
But for real, so many ships! Oia is the main town where you find this view:
Dave and I kind of kept to ourselves on the cruise until we happened to meet up with two other couples who we just kept running into. They ended up joining us for the hike and we loved getting to know them. Can you see them as little specks below on that trail?
We explored and found a special swimming hole and oh boy I loved it all.
But “How to Make the Most of One Day in Santorini” has all the details.
This is actually a town on a tiny “tied” island off the east coast of the Peloponnese.
I say “tied” because it’s connected to the mainland of Greece by a long bridge. It is a super old walled “fortress town” and I took this picture from Wikipedia to show how cool it is:
We were tired this day and actually finally got our body clocks situated to sleep past 6:30am so we had a relaxing morning and I did yoga on the top deck. The ship put out the “water sports” of the back deck (paddle-boarding, kayaking, a trampoline, etc.) and we hung out there for a while.
Then I headed on the tender to do the walk to across the bridge to the ancient fortress city while Dave stayed back to lie low and I loved listening to my book. I’m still listening to The Robe I thought I’d have read at Easter, ha! But I LOVE that I’m listening to it now since it’s filled with so much of what we saw in Greece.
I loved taking in that little town, with the most beautiful little alleys made with old brown stones spilling out with bougainvillea everywhere I turned.
Slipped into the water with Dave again back at the boat and we ordered pretty much everything on the menu at dinner.
We were slow again getting off the boat this day, taking it easy deciding what we wanted to do.
We decided to take the 913 steps straight up the cliff to the ancient Venetian fortress that sits atop the mountain there.
Can you see it through that little window below? It’s kind of camouflaged in the mountain, but those stone stairs go straight up.
It was a good climb with pretty fabulous views.
Fortress of Palamidi
Finally reached the top.
And guess what was there?
Yep, MORE stairs.
But I’m telling you this is the coolest place.
Here’s a picture from one of the information signs so you can get an overall view of what it looks like from above:
And more information if you want to know the history of this spot:
Interesting that it served as a prison for a while too.
I was giddy exploring the fortress, all five bastions.
I wanted to see every view from every place we could climb.
After I explored every corner I could, (Dave loved it but wasn’t as adamant that we see every nook and cranny), we headed back down all those stairs, our calves still burning from the Santorini stairs.
We were both in the best mood as we walked through the story-book-type small streets in the old city.
Maybe we were especially happy because we found these:
Man alive, they were good!
Old Streets of Nafplio
Here’s a little peek at how the streets looked:
See that red sign up there on the right?
That is the Antica Gelateria di Roma gelato shop that is a must visit if you ever find yourself in Nafplio.
It was so funny we ran into our “cruise friends” like three times that day at the most random places, doing the same things we were doing but in a different order. It’s such a small world and I guess we’re really meant to be friends.
The six of us sat on the top deck for a long time talking after that hot climbing day.
Then we all met up to have our last dinner together up on the top deck as the sun set on this grand adventure.
Yeah, we didn’t have any trouble polishing off that food:)
Loved watching the moon shine behind the clouds that last night out on the Aegean Sea.
So sorry to leave all that beauty in our wake. All the good people we met too (Greek people are so awesome). But so grateful that we got to experience it in such a beautiful way.
Thank goodness for technology so you can sort of keep in touch while your on a cruise in the Greek Islands!
All the while throughout the week I love that I got to actually talk to Lucy a few times at her camp. Grace and Elle were all set to read with her each night since I didn’t know how much cell service I’d have.
But I got to talk to her most mornings (her nights).
Also loved talking to and getting pictures coming in of Baby Murphy smiling, Elle and Carson at the Golden Gate Bridge, Claire in Switzerland with my brother Tal and then checking into the London Centre, and Grace’s grand birthday en route to Lake Powell with some friends.
Oh boy do I ever love those kids and so grateful for modern technology.
But honestly the best thing was having that time with my husband who I haven’t been able to “see” much lately in the rushed life we live.
I am so grateful for him.
For his sense of humor and his faith convictions and that he will take adventures with me to lands as beautiful as Greece.