Soon after Scott and I met, we realized why people always say, "You just know when you know," about the one you are going to marry - because it's true! We got engaged one year after dating and got married September 5, 2010. We decided to wait one month after the wedding to leave for our honeymoon, to save our sanity and to wait for low season in Europe for a more affordable trip. We both love to travel and always talk about where in the world we want to go to next. Within a day of the engagement, we began discussing the honeymoon possibilities. We narrowed it down to the Mediterranean, and then narrowed it further to Greece. It seemed the perfect destination with warm weather, beaches, amazing history and beauty.
We researched the Greek island destinations and decided to make the most of our time without rushing between too many destinations. The trip would include Athens and two islands so we could relax and enjoy! Naxos is the largest and most fertile island in the Cyclades, offering a wide variety of activities. We couldn't go to Greece without staying on Santorini, the most picturesque island and famous for its sunsets. We booked our airfare using mileage points and the best option was taking Air France through Paris on arrival and departure. Knowing that, we had to arrange a four-day "lay over" in Paris since it is such an idyllic destination and the epitome of romance! So we had our two-week vacation set: three days on Naxos, four days on Santorini, two nights in Athens, then finally four nights in Paris.
For the entire Greek portion of our trip, we used a travel agency that set up all our lodging, transportation, taxes and fees. We would highly recommend Fantasy Travel as they were so easy to work with, friendly and accommodating. They greeted us at every location, were on call at all hours, got better rates on lodging, and gave us great ease of mind not having to figure out those details!. We chose the star-rating of our accommodations and were able to personalize our itinerary. Using miles to book the airfare was ideal for cost, but not for the most direct travel. We flew from Seattle to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Paris, then Paris to Athens. This made for a late night arrival, with a quick overnight stay in Athens before an early departure on the gigantic Greek ferries out to the islands. The ferry was a new experience but so easy and so fast. This all made the arrival on the beaches of Naxos that much more rewarding.
Low season in Europe meant a very quiet stay on the island of Naxos. We stayed near Agia Anna, outside of the main Hora of Naxos town. The beautiful suites of Liana Studios had incredible beachfront views and a very friendly staff. Only a handful of local restaurants were open nearby our hotel, but the food was good and service welcoming. One thing we didn't expect was that most of the dining was outdoors, without the option for indoor dining. Good thing we brought some layers and jackets as it did get chilly at night in October. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and wine everywhere we went. We are so used to rushing through meals in the U.S. that it was nice to really take our time and spend a few hours enjoying all the many courses offered. From moussaka, lamb dishes, gyros, seafood, pasta and the delicious breakfasts, we savored it all! My new favorite is Greek yogurt with honey, and French fries with lemon instead of ketchup. The simple things in life...
One of our favorite nights in Naxos included a local Bouzouki concert (traditional greek guitar and dancing) in the Castro (ancient castle on top of the hill). They had "all-you-can-drink" bar including wine, ouzo and rachi with an intimate setting to hear the wonderful music. We rented a car (very compact!) one day and ventured inland to explore the farms and mountains. Although we never did quite figure out the proper trail up to Mt Zeus - the highest point on the island - the views were still great. Small, historic, unassuming towns were all along the way, and the narrow winding roads and tons of castles along the way made for a very fun road trip. During our stay in Naxos, the weather was pretty windy and not ideal beach weather. Then we found our own personal beach alcove between the cliffs to protect from the wind and cold. It was such a wonderful day basking in the sun, enjoying lunch and some local vino.
Then it was on to incredible Santorini. We had a three-hour ferry ride and amazing entry into the bay with everyone on the ferry deck trying to get that "perfect shot." It was interesting to learn that Santorini is actually the island of Thira, with the main town of Fira, next to Firostefani. It can be a little confusing! The weather was great with sunshine and 78 degrees - you couldn't ask for more! We stayed at the Kamares Apartments, which we highly recommend. The studios are beautiful with a personal veranda and views as far as the eye can see! Since it is on the south end of Fira town, there are no neighbors looking down on you with unobstructed views of the volcano and caldera! As cliché as it is, Santorini really is the place to go if you are in Greece. The beauty, the wonderful pedestrian paths through town, hiking, donkey rides, beaches and wine tasting all add to the romance. We rented an ATV to explore the island one day, drove to a lighthouse, and visited black and red sand beaches, local wineries and art galleries. Our favorite was Art Space, a renovated traditional wine cave transitioned to a gorgeous art gallery and featured a knowledgeable wine maker to give the tour. We did splurge on a sunset catamaran cruise with Santorini Sailing. With great homemade food, swimming in the warm water springs, views of the volcano and a wonderful sunset, it was definitely worth the cost. My one regret from the trip was that we never made it to far enough north, to the town of Oia (ee-ah). This is the most photographed town on Santorini with incredible views of the famous sunsets. Maybe next time, though!
We took a flight back to Athens from Santorini and spent two nights to take in all the historic sites. We stayed at Hotel Adonis, which was undoubtedly the worst hotel of our trip with small quarters, loud neighbors and very uncomfortable bed. But it was a short stay and the location was perfect with easy access to all the sites and the desirable Plaka district. Our second day was a beautiful 80 degrees and sunny, perfect for sightseeing. There were many protests against the austerity measures during our stay in Greece, but none disturbed our travels until we tried to see the Acropolis. Unfortunately, they were closed that morning due to a strike. So instead we headed to the museum (highly recommended), other local sites and had lunch. By the time we finished the entrance was open and free! The Acropolis is a site everyone should have the chance to see - the sheer size, history and all it represents was incredible to see. It was amazing to learn they are still excavating and uncovering lost treasures. I love that the Acropolis is still the highest point in Athens with views all the way to the sea. I've heard mixed reviews of Athens and we both agreed that it was not our favorite city. Very busy, dirty and somewhat difficult to navigate. We definitely felt we did not need to leave the Plaka district, and that one full day was plenty of time to see it all. After taking a couple hundred more photographs, we enjoyed our least Greek meal and looked forward to Paris.
And then we fell in love with Paris! We now understand the passion so many people have for this city. Fortunately, I had taken French in school, which definitely helped with the language barrier. We never felt "snubbed" by the French as you often hear in stories. We found the city very easy to navigate with lots of walking and simple subway systems. Despite protests and strikes, we found the city very safe, friendly and had no interference to our travel schedule. We decided against going to the many museums of Paris and instead saw nearly every other monument. Notre Dame at night is indescribable. Then we crossed the bridge to the quaint Ile de la Cite. The Louvre offers wonderful gardens, plus there's the pyramids and incredible architecture. The Champs Elysees started with the ancient obelisk, then a beautiful walk down the corridor to the Arc de Triomphe. Then we wandered through more parks and along the River Seine to the magnificent Eiffel Tower. We took the stairs to the Second floor observatory and came upon a spectacular view. With a slight fear of heights, the second floor was plenty of elevation for me! We came back down to the Parc du Champ de Mars to view the tower lit up and glistening in the evening dusk - all while sipping from a small bottle of wine. It was very magical and a highlight of our trip.
Montmartre was everything we had hoped for with the charming squares filled with flea markets, artists and cafes. We bartered for a 40-year old painting, signed by the artist. It turned out to be our prized memento from Paris! The top of the hill finds the remarkable Sacre Coeur cathedral with a vast expanse of views, street performers and a carousel to top it all off. One of the highlights in Paris was finding the Pont de Arts Bridge. It's a simple crossed-wire bridge that has a tradition of couples writing their names on a padlock, locking it onto the bridge and throwing the key into the River Seine to lock away their love forever. It was a fitting romantic touch for our honeymoon.
In Paris, we rented a flat in the heart of the St Germaine district. It was wonderful to have our own apartment, despite the 132 steps it took to get up to it. We also took one day to take the speed train up to Reims in the Champagne region. We enjoyed a small breakfast, including mimosas (of course!) that we had packed for the train ride. It was a quick 45-minute ride and we were there. We were surprised to learn that Reims was on the frontline during WWI and WWII and suffered nearly complete destruction. There is also a museum where President Eisenhower and all the diplomats signed the agreement that ended WWII. It was amazing, but we were ready to move on to the grand champagne houses! Martel came recommended and had a very friendly atmosphere. We went on the cave tour at Taittinger and it featured impressive chalk caves and a labyrinth of history and interesting facts.
Many friends have asked what was our favorite part of the honeymoon, but we can't pick just one city, day or location! Greece was such an incredible adventure, and we both know we will be back to Paris. Of course, our next trip will likely be to explore another part of Europe with more history, food, beauty and love.
Traveler's Joy gave our friends and family the chance to give us something we truly wanted and needed. The website was so easy to create, with simple management and very efficient payment redemption. Getting married in our 30s, we had just combined two households and did not need all the traditional tangible household goods. We also were responsible for paying for our own wedding and honeymoon. The financial burden can be a major hardship for many newlyweds and adds to the stress of wedding planning. Traveler's Joy alleviated that for us as we received nearly $3,500 toward our honeymoon! The entire Greek travel package cost $2,665, then another $560 for our Paris lodging. Including minor costs for airfare, food, drink, and shopping, our entire trip cost around $4,100. It was a very reasonable amount for so many incredible memories - especially with the help from Traveler's Joy!