Two and a Half Days in Santorini

Bulgaria, for the first two weeks, was chaotic and eventful all the time. Bulgaria, after two days on Santorini, seemed like a peaceful, quiet, sublime place to relax for the rest of the week.

Lisa and I had been in Bulgaria for a week and a half, or so, before we took a short vacation from our vacation. We headed down to Greece to spend two and a half days in Santorini. We had planned this before going to Europe. Our trip to Santorini was really just a by-product of being near it. On our budget, it was much more feasible to spend some time there if we were already nearby.

Our Trip to Santorini, Getting There

Our plane was leaving at 6:45 am. We were only traveling about 700 kilometers from Sofia to Santorini. I don’t know how many miles that is. But, it’s not many. Still, we didn’t know if this qualified as international travel. We certainly didn’t know what to expect from security. We left the bulk of our bags at the hotel in Sofia and headed to the airport a few hours early with just carry-on luggage.

Turns out, it was no problem. Yay! We hung out in Athens for a couple hours to make a connecting flight and arrived on the island at about noon.

Earlier, when we booked the Airbnb for our stay, they said they would send a driver for us. We thought that was a cool benefit of staying at this place. We soon found out that it was not as cool as we thought. It was not free. We brought 200 Euros with us for our two day stay. We spent 50 of it 15 minutes after we landed.

Our Trip to Santorini, Accommodations

Our accommodations for the next two days were wonderful! Irene, the owner, greeted us when we got there. Glaros Beach was the name of what she called an Airbnb. Really, it was more of a tiny motel. We unpacked and took a nap.

Glaros Beach house on our trip to Santorini
Glaros Beach guest house

Our Trip to Santorini, Day ½

another view of Glaros Beach House
Glaros Beach guest house
Glaros Beach house flowers
Glaros Beach guest house

After resting for a bit, we took a stroll around our new neighborhood. The place we were staying was very charming. White stucco with Santorini’s signature blue trim, with plants and flowers everywhere! As I mentioned earlier, we were on a pretty tight budget. So, this place we rented was not on the more popular, caldera side of the island. We were all the way over on the eastern shore, about 300 feet from a beautiful, and uncrowded, black sand beach. We walked all afternoon visiting a bunch of tiny little beach-front shops. We didn’t understand how good we had it on this side of the island!

Our Trip to Santorini, Day One

Lisa booked us on an 8-hour Notos bus tour of the island on our first full day. We had a limited budget, and a short time to visit. We thought this would be a good way to see most of the attractions that we wanted to. The plan was to rent an ATV, but it seemed unnecessary when we got there. We walked a few blocks and met the Notos travel bus at a nearby Euromarket.

The tour

The tour was awesome! We saw the Akrotiri Excavations first. This is an archaeological site that is open to the public. It has excavations of ruins that date back to 4000 BC!

The rest of the tour was simply amazing! At the end of the tour was a special treat. They would leave us and the bus in the Village of Oia to watch the famed Santorini Sunset. First, though, Lisa and I had to go up to see the famous blue-domed white church that appears in every picture of Santorini, ever.

other view of Oia
….On the other side of the road from the blue domes
Oia on our trip to Santorini
Obligatory Santorini Blue Domes Photo

Oia

The crowds were unbearable! Thousands of people were jammed into this little tiny town. I was quickly losing interest in staying in Oia much longer. We fought through crowds up and down tiny alley ways. Finally, Lisa noted, “The crowd is bad. What’s worse is that when the sun does go down, all of these people are going to be in a mad rush to get out of here.” Neither one of us liked the thought of trying to find our bus through this mass of humanity.

As we walked around trying to decide about how to get out of here, a man with a taxi stopped us. He said we looked like we needed a ride. (-: We agreed.

We did the right thing and went back to the bus driver to let him know that we were going to take a taxi back to our hotel.

Our new driver seemed like a good guy. I’m sure he is. We asked him if he would be available after tomorrow for a very early morning ride to the airport. “No problem,” he said. More about him later…..

Sunset…. I mean, moonrise

We were sad to leave before the sunset. We got back to Irene’s place just as dusk set in and decided to go down to our little, and completely EMPTY beach. It was wonderful to be out of the crowds.

A small light shined way off in the distance over the water. Two minutes later we realized that it was the full moon starting to rise.

On a cloudless night, on an empty beach, somewhere in paradise, we got to see a full moon rising above the Aegean Sea! We sat there for hours talking about how lucky we were and loving that we had left the crowds behind.

The moonrise at Perivolos Beach
Moonrise over Agean Sea

Our Trip to Santorini, Day Two

After staying up way past our bedtime, we were tired the next day. No time for that though. We were booked to go on a catamaran tour of the caldera with Spiridakos Travel. We got on board the boat and sat in the prime spot next to the Captain. He seemed young but said he already had been a captain for over 10 years.

The tour was a blast! We sailed through the caldera of Santorini, stopping at several cool places. I got to jump off the boat and swim to an underwater thermal vent with several of the other passengers.

We stopped at one point to do a little snorkeling with the fish that the crew was feeding.

Swimming to the underwater thermal vent on our trip to Santorini
Thermal Vent swimming

For lunch, our cook made delicious grilled chicken. After which, we spent another half-hour swimming with more fish!

When our boat trip was over, we went back to our hotel and napped again. A little bit of shopping, dinner, and a walk on the beach later, we retired to the patio to talk and laugh about our time in Santorini for the rest of the evening.

walking Perivolos Beach on our trip to Santorini
Perivolos black sand Beach

The Taxi Driver… Almost Day Three

A day earlier, our new friend, the taxi driver, had said, “No problem,” when we asked him to pick us up at 4:30 this morning. At 4:25 we grabbed our stuff and walked out to the road to wait for him.

Remember the taxi driver?

At 4:45 he still hadn’t arrived. I started making phone calls. There was no answer and no voice mail at the number he had given us.

I started calling as many taxi services as Google would tell me about. Not one answered the phone. I left a few messages in hopes of someone waking up and learning of our distress. Our plane is leaving at 6:25 am. It’s now 5 am. We are, as they say in Greece, and elsewhere I’m sure, fucked.

Lisa and I walked to the Euromarket which was on what seemed like a busy street. We were hoping that anybody was awake and out and about yet, who could help us. It was completely deserted.

Disheartened, we went back to the hotel and sat down outside. We had already left our room key behind the now locked door. Irene wouldn’t be awake for at least a few more hours. We had 50 Euros left. We needed a plan. A very cheap plan. It would be next to impossible to catch our flight now.

At 5:35 my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the tired voice on the other end. It was a taxi service. I went into a tirade about how the lousy prick who said he’d pick us up didn’t show.

The voice said, “That’s me.” “I slept too late.”

No shit, dude.

He said he would be there in twenty minutes.

Good enough. We figured, at least we’ll be at the airport and can figure out how to get back to Bulgaria from there.

At 5:55 the driver comes racing up the street and slammed on the brakes. “Get in! Let’s go!” We did.

The speed limit on most roads in Santorini is something like 40 kmh. My hands still hurt from gripping the underside of my seat that morning. Our driver friend wasn’t much for being on time, but he was determined to try to make up for it with his driving speed! Santorini is a really small island with really skinny roads when you’re cruising along at 120 kilometer per hour!

Nobody talked the for the entire 17 minutes.

We skidded into the airport lot at 6:12. I threw him our last 50 Euros and didn’t wait for change. The ticket agent said, “That flight is boarding!” and rushed us through security.

We were the last passengers on the plane. We made it. Our taxi driver kept his word. “No problem.”

Back to peaceful Bulgaria

Bulgaria, for the first two weeks, was chaotic and eventful all the time. Bulgaria, after two days on Santorini, seemed like a peaceful, quiet, sublime place to relax for the rest of the week.

Remember to leave us a comment and tell us your travel adventures!

Our Welcome to Bulgaria

The lost luggage agent handed us a form…….. we kept looking back at the carousel as if our bags would somehow show up after everyone had already left the area. They didn’t.

Minneapolis

I don’t recall exactly how long the flight was from Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. I only know that it would prove to be the easiest part of the next couple of days. Our welcome to Bulgaria was anything but easy.

Lisa and I arrived at the airport two hours early, as we were instructed to do by the all-knowing internet, only to discover that our flight had been delayed for, “a short time.”

Three hours after our scheduled departure time the realization came upon us that we would now have no chance of making our connecting flight from Paris to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we had planned to spend the next two weeks on vacation. The person at the ticketing gate, however, was very reassuring as she booked us on the next connecting flight from Paris on a competitor airline. 

An hour and a half later we were in the air. Done. Nothing to worry about. Easy.

Paris

Charles De Gaulle Airport is massive. Luckily for us, all we had to do was take a bus to another terminal and check in for our next flight. We tried that. It didn’t work.

At the check-in counter we were informed that the flight we were scheduled to take to Sofia was not only the last one to that destination today, but it had been overbooked by someone in Minneapolis, and that we had been bumped off the flight. Insert explicative.

I was grateful that the airline employees spoke such excellent English. I wouldn’t have lasted the entire hour of negotiations with them had they not. A team of about 8 people behind the desk were trying to figure out what to do with us. Finally, after several rounds of what seemed like frantic exchanges between them, they had come up with a plan.

The person behind the counter handed us two tickets, printed on 8×10 sheets of paper, for a flight that was already boarding. We would have to HURRY to make it! It was headed to Vienna, Austria. We asked no questions and ran for the gate.

Security turned us back seeing as we didn’t have a boarding pass, only a copy of a ticket printed on a plain piece of paper. We ran back to the ticketing agent.

Now, I don’t know how the hierarchy of foreign airport employees is set up to function. I now have a good understanding, however, that nobody should make the ticketing agent manager angry. The manager saw us returning to the desk after being turned away and she came running toward us, told us to follow her as she ran up the stairs skipping every other step, and confronted the security agent that we had just spoken to. The French language, it is said, is a romantic language. Not this time. After about three very loud sentences of which I understood not one word, we were silently escorted through security and to our waiting airplane.

Vienna

winged go-cart

We hadn’t planned on stopping in Vienna, Austria, but here we were. The more relaxed atmosphere in the airport should have been comforting to us. We, however, have now been traveling for the better part of a day and we are exhausted.

We were directed to the tarmac to climb the stairs onto a 50-some passenger go-cart with wings and a pair of propellers.

But next stop is Sofia, our destination. It will be late at night, but we will be there before the sun comes up.

One Night in Sofia

The lost luggage agent handed us a form written in Bulgarian and rather broken English. As we tried our best to fill it out, we kept looking back at the carousel as if our bags would somehow show up after everyone had already left the area. They didn’t.

We knew the name of the hotel we were supposed to stay in that night but only had a partial address. It was not comforting to hear that they would try their best to locate us when our bags did arrive in an estimated two days. In our carry-on luggage we each had a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, and our hotel reservation receipt.

The receipt stated, in no uncertain terms, that check-in for a room ends at 8pm. It was 10:30 at night. I called the phone number listed to explain our dilemma which fell on Bulgarian-speaking-only ears. Which was fine, I don’t know their language either, but there was no use in trying to sort out the language barrier. He hung up on me after the third time I tried to tell him we were on our way.

Getting a rental car was no real trouble except that our reservation and insurance information was in our luggage. We later found out that one of our bags was still in Paris and the other was in Vienna. Before we could get the keys for the car, we had to buy an additional $400 insurance policy on top of the $500 that we had already spent online weeks earlier.

Nothing could shock us anymore on this day. Surely our technology won’t fail us. Unless of course, our cell phone provider back home hadn’t upgraded our coverage for international travel like we paid them to do. No luck. We have no internet connection which I was relying on to help us find our hotel somewhere in the mountains outside of town. Luckily, I had downloaded an offline map of the city prior to leaving home. This meant stopping every several blocks to determine our location and hopefully, pick the correct next turns to get us to our destination. After an hour and a half, most of which on cobblestone, mountain roads, we pulled into what amounted to the parking area of our hotel. It was now 12am local time.

The hotel had been a ski resort in its prime years. The Soviet occupation of a good part of the last century, and many years of financial struggles, had rendered it in need of mcuh repair. It was very charming, though; a cute little chateau in the woods, but we were desperate to get some sleep and didn’t care much about where that happened.

We were greeted by several, fairly intoxicated, people on the front patio of the hotel. One of which, I’m sure, was the gentleman who had hung up the phone on me. One spoke a small amount of English. The four others didn’t speak a word of it. I should have expected this when planning the trip and wished that I had spent some time learning the basics of the Bulgarian language. I hadn’t. I think we were informed that, because we had missed our check-in time, our reservation had been cancelled. The one we had paid for months ago in the planning stage of the trip. Luckily, they had a room available. It seemed that one of their guests hadn’t showed up earlier that day. Duh!

We paid for our room, again, in cash, because of course, the credit card machine wouldn’t work, and we passed out in our beds knowing that the next day would be amazing seeing as everything that could go wrong already has.

The Next Day

Everything had already gone wrong so far. We felt empowered. Wearing the same clothes that we had spent the past 33 hours wearing, we headed down the mountain and into town. Might as well get started enjoying our vacation while we wait for our clothes to catch up with us.

Sofia is a beautiful city! We stopped to visit the cathedral in the middle of town. It was our only stop that day other than going to the cell phone store to fix our internet problem. We cowered back to the mountain hotel immediately after paying a law enforcement officer the parking fine. He removed the “boot” that had been placed on our car’s front wheel for parking in an apparent no parking zone.  We had forgotten that not “everything,” had gone wrong the day before.

We spent the day back on the front porch of the hotel lamenting our traveling decisions.

Day Two

Well, never having been a couple that sits around for very long, we decided to head to a town called Plovdiv the next day. It’s now been some 60, or so, hours since we had changed clothes. Plovdiv was truly a wonderful city! I truly recommend seeing it. I’ll tell you more about it next time. It deserves its own story.

When we got back to our hotel that evening our bags had arrived from their own little European vacations. They were beaten up, scratched and dented, but they were here.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

We showered, changed clothes (!), slept, and left town for the Black Sea coast the next day.

Finally, On Vacation

Our troubles finally behind us on this trip, the next couple of weeks were awesome! Bulgaria is an amazing place. I can’t wait to share our stories about the place with you along with some of our other travels. Please stop back soon to read all about it.

In the meantime, leave us your travel trouble stories on our Stories page. We’d love to read that we were not the only ones!