My husband and I got married in quite a hurry. After getting engaged following an almost five-year courtship, we decided to plan and make the whole wedding happen in less than two months. Completely aghast, all of our friends and family kept asking, “Why the rush?”
There were lots of practical reasons for the breakneck timeline. Living in Seattle, if you want to get married outdoors, you’ve got about a month-long window in the summer to do it, otherwise rain will most assuredly be an uninvited guest. In addition, it looked like Tommy was going to get a job offer in Maui, so a major move off the mainland was possibly looming in the future. Neither one of us wanted to have the title of wedding planner attached to our names for the following year, but the real reason was this; once we decided to tie the knot, we knew we couldn't wait another moment to start our new life together.
Of course, before we even had been able to find a location for the event, we were giddy with anticipation about where to honeymoon. A nomad at heart, my bohemian lifestyle traveling and living far and wide across the globe drew Tommy in from the moment we first met. Together, we love to find new adventures, traveling, experiencing new cultures, meeting new friends, sampling new foods, and learning new languages. Getting married is all about undertaking a new journey through life together, and our honeymoon would be the first steps in our newest adventure as husband and wife, so we wanted to make sure to pick a destination befitting the momentous occasion.
After pondering Morocco, Brazil and Antarctica, we ultimately chose Greece as the perfect place to begin our wedded bliss. Usually our travel budget consists of the “shoestring” variety, but we wanted to experience a bit more luxury and a lot less hostel this time around. We decided that since we were going to be spending a lot of money, we wanted to make sure those dollars would be going to a place that really needed it. After all the economic troubles Greece was experiencing, we felt good about infusing the local economy while visiting an ancient icon in world history. Plus, we felt in tune with the culture of the country, because as the Greeks say, “Mía glóssa then íne poté arketí!” (One way of seeing the world is never enough!)
As wedding planning got into full swing, we weren’t sure where to register. We already had a lot of the home items a newly engaged couple needs, and with a pending move where everything would need to be shipped, our friends and family were cautious of giving us homewares. After much research, we chose to make a Traveler’s Joy honeymoon registry. The website layout was user-friendly and beautiful, accepted credit cards, and we were able to easily manipulate how it looked to best reflect us. We included some of the specific places, activities and experiences we wanted to enjoy in the registry, from food and beverages we wanted to sample to museums and clubs we wanted to visit. Our guests immediately gave us glowing critiques of the travel registry and were really enthusiastic to be able to take part in the planning of our honeymoon with gifts of a shared one-in-a-lifetime experience. Our friends and family were incredibly generous and enabled us to make our perfect honeymoon come true.
After a whirlwind two months of wedding planning, we couldn't wait to soak up some sun, swim in crystal clear water, explore the Greek islands' natural wonders, discover one of the world's oldest and most developed cultural heritage, and engorge ourselves on Mediterranean cuisine! With a Kaló taksídi! (Bon voyage!) to our wedding guests, we set off for Greece as Mr. and Mrs. at the very end of July, the peak of the Greek tourism season. We had a little over two weeks to enjoy as much as we could, so we decided to limit our visit to the area surrounding Athens and the Cyclades Islands.
Since our trip’s activities were entirely determined by gifts from our registry, which we received up until halfway through the honeymoon, we hadn’t pre-planned every detail of our trip. We also wanted to have the flexibility to change our travel plans a bit once we reached a place in order to stay longer or move along based on our experience there, so we didn’t pre-arrange hotel or transportation reservations. We purchased a Lonely Planet guidebook and considered its recommendations. We used public transportation and purchased our tickets the day before we planned to leave. We researched and reserved most of our hotels the day we arrived using Booking.com. Normally, this way of flying by the seat of our pants would not have been possible during the peak travel season. But due to the recent local riots, not as many visitors were traveling to Greece. Tourism was down 60 percent, so not only were we able to make last minute travel arrangements, but we were able to get even better deals due to “crisis prices.”
The only thing we had arranged was our hotel in Athens to avoid wandering late at night looking for lodging (which unfortunately we’ve had plenty of experience doing). We chose to stay at Central Hotel because of its price and location, but we were very impressed with the service and the room amenities, and the view of the Acropolis from the rooftop bar was stunning! We awoke in Athens and immediately hit the ground running, visiting museums and monuments, ancient archeological sites, bustling and colorful markets, and talking to every local we could get our hands on. There was so much to see! Athens is the capital of Greece, the founding city of the Olympic games, and a historical source of culture, science and commerce. The city is surrounded by hills, and on the most prominent of these, the Acropolis stands as the ultimate architectural and artistic expression of the ancient Athenian spirit.
The climb to the top was grueling in the intense summer heat, and nothing on our trip tasted as good as the frozen lemonade we purchased on the way down. The immense effort to reach the top made the experience of standing at the foot of the structure that is so rich in history and such an important influence on the development of Western civilization left us completely awestruck. Imagining what skill and labor it took to build, the powerful and everyday people that passed through, and the force it must have taken to overcome such a powerful city and destroy such a colossal monument was simultaneously uplifting and disheartening. In our opinion, experiencing the Acropolis is not complete until you visit the Acropolis Museum as well and truly experience how grand and beautiful the building originally was.
During the day, we fed our minds by hitting the ancient hot spots. On a day trip to Delphi, we caught a bus and headed into the mountains, crossing surprisingly dry and rugged terrain speckled with thorny growth of olive trees. Home to the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, Delphi is a sacred panhellenic sanctuary of spiritual guidance, physical competition, monetary gifts and godly devotion. Perched high atop the mountain cliffs, this revered place provides sweeping views of a stark landscape, reminding the visitor of the punishing journey it would have been to reach this magical and transcendent destination in ancient times. The history and mythology of the place alone leaves the unassuming rubble with a kind of metaphysical presence. With eery imaginings of beautiful young virgins breathing deep the mind-altering natural vapors from a chasm and determining the future actions of armies and empires, the experience of standing in such a historically significant spot is surreal.
During the night, we fed our souls by following cobbled streets and wandering aimlessly through the city’s neighborhoods, stopping in cozy courtyards to eat delicious meals, drink ouzo, dance to folk music, make friends with the cats from the ruins, and visit with the locals. Our favorite moment drifting into the unexpected was when we arrived at an outdoor theater with a midnight showing of a comedy in English. We were thrilled! We made it just in time for the movie to start, and as we settled in during the opening credits we realized that although it had an English title, it was in fact a Canadian movie, in French, with Greek subtitles. Luckily I speak some French and comedy is universal, so as I whispered basic translations to Tommy in the dark, we enjoyed cold drinks in the muggy night viewing the light of the illuminated Acropolis in the distance and got the main points of the film. It was amazing! Though perhaps not known for it, Athens was incredibly romantic, living up to its namesake, the goddess of love and wisdom. Its quietly charming atmosphere was the perfect start to our honeymoon.
After four nights in Athens, we headed to the city's port, Piraeus, and hopped on a ferryboat headed for the Greek isles. Located in the central and southern part of the Aegean Sea, there are 39 islands in the Cyclades, of which 24 are inhabited. On these small islands, narrow paths full of flowers, whitewashed houses, blue windows and white churches under the dazzling sun are complimented by golden and black beaches. There we found a place of both peace and tranquility to simply relax and explore our gorgeous surroundings, and plenty of colorful culture and nightlife to eat, drink and celebrate being married!
Our first stop was Mykonos, where the island is famous for its sandy beaches, dining, amazing architecture, non-stop parties, and a continuous parading of who’s who of the rich and famous. As the guidebook warns, getting lost in the maze of streets and alleyways is eminent, and we couldn’t wait. However, we took getting lost to a whole new level. The worst experience of our trip was trying to find our hotel, which seemingly didn’t exist. For hours we circled and retraced our steps, sure we were so close and then winding back to our starting place. No one had ever heard of the hotel, and we were getting desperate. Ultimately we met the oldest cab driver on the island and he drove us out farther and farther questioning the locals until we found the place. It turns out we weren’t lost, but the hotel was. The owner had given a false “downtown” address to Booking.com though it in fact was located more than two kilometers outside of town. We were sorely disappointed and quickly learned our lesson of pre-booking online sight unseen after not being able to get our money back, but c’est la vie.
We spent our time lounging at the beach, visiting historic windmills and the Little Venice District at sunset, and going to clubs. We spent one day exploring the ruins on the nearby island Delos. Tommy was impressed with the beachware, and wanted to get an authentic Greek linen shirt. We ended up in a tiny cave of a shop covered wall-to-wall with doilies as a handful of elderly women measured my husband and had him try on different shirts. Needless to say, Tommy got exactly what he wanted, and I walked out of there hand-in-hand with my husband looking like a Greek Jesus. Similar to Vegas, you can only spend a limited amount of time on Mykonos, otherwise your sense of time gets completely jumbled. People are still partying from the night before at noon, so after three days we were ready to move on.
Catching a ferry to Naxos, we spent two days in a much more relaxed atmosphere of a quant seaside town. After getting some much-needed rest following our short stint on Mykonos, the highlight of this island was a day-long horseback ride through the countryside and along the beach.
After that, we moved on to Santorini and spent three of the most memorable days of our trip. We stayed at Maria’s Rooms, which is only advertised by word-of-mouth and sits right on the edge of the caldera with breathtaking views over the island. We visited black, red, gold and green sand beaches. We went snorkeling in remote caves in search of exotic fish and octopus. We hiked up the volcano, went on a death-defying donkey ride, and watched the sun set from the deck of a historic sailboat. Driving an ATV, we explored the farthest reaches of the island, tasting local wines and taking pictures of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen. The best experience of our entire trip was meeting a wonderful Brazilian couple and taking a cooking class together with one of the most renowned Greek chefs at Selene. We not only learned how to cook an amazing meal and got to eat the fruits of our labors, but we took a sampling tour of all of the unique local ingredients and learned about the history of Greek cuisine. It was amazing, and we made lifelong friends from the experience.
With three more nights left before we had to return home, we sailed to our final destination, Crete. We rented a vehicle (which we were incredibly skeptical of making the trip) and headed to the remote beach of Elafonissi. The drive was the scariest and most exhilarating thing we’ve ever done, but we have never seen a more beautiful beach. The location was so remote that we weren’t able to find lodging until we arrived, and everything was full.
After knocking on many doors, a local family let us stay in their guest room and even cooked for us, charging us a pittance that was to them a fortune. The best feeling of the entire trip was putting money in their hands for their immense kindness. Stopping to explore the gorgeous cities as we made our way back towards the airport was the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Greece is one of those magical places where the reality outstrips the postcards. Offering a myriad of experiences, landscapes and activities, Greece had everything we could have hoped for in a honeymoon destination, and we would highly recommend it for any other honeymooners. The Greeks indomitable bonhomie and zest for life, their curiosity and their unquestioning hospitality to the visitors in their midst is what made traveling in the country an unforgettable experience. Again and again, we were thanked profusely for choosing Greece as our destination. From the street artisan selling earrings on a blanket to the small restaurant owner cooking dinner for us, so many people went out of their way to genuinely thank us for our business in their country’s time of need. It was humbling, and made our trip feel like it had a greater purpose.
Overall, the entire trip cost us around $8,000, although half of the price tag was due to our last-minute flight purchases, which would have been considerably cheaper with more lead time in planning. The travel registry was not only helpful for outlining what activities we wanted to pursue, determining how much money to budget for the trip, and keeping track of how much money we had received for each activity, but following our trip, we were able to show our friends and family our love and gratitude by thanking them with stories and photos from the individual gift they had given us. We are so honored to have received such generous gifts, and we will cherish the memories of this dream trip for the rest of our lives.