Our First Greek Island

It’s been a long time coming, but we finally made it to one of these famed Greek islands. Actually, the one we went to, Agistri, isn’t one of the more famous ones, but this Saronic island is a short ferry trip away from Piraeus, and with two kids in tow, I need easy. My friend from Gymboree, Karen, set the whole thing up. Bless her! She even sent me detailed instructions on where to park. They were so hilariously, typically “Greek”, I have to share them:

Once you turn, you will be on a street that dead-ends at the sea. This same street is a little chaotic, especially because the bus lane is seemingly in the middle of it with traffic on both sides of this bus lane. You will want to be behind it (so all the way to the right) or keep in mind that you will have to turn right on to the coastal road so be prepared to maneuver accordingly. Now here is the tricky part, once you turn right on to the coastal road, you have to move quickly left because you need to turn left at the first light for Gate E8. (Try not to miss this turn!) While you are waiting at this light to turn left, you will see the PPA parking garage on your left (this is the photo that I took). So immediately after this left turn light, turn left for the garage entrance. I know that this sounds complicated but I wanted to give you a visual (without street names, I know…but this is Greece!)

She even had to send a photo, sheesh! And, after dragging my kids out of bed at 6:30 AM on a hot summer morning, rushing out the door without packing any snacks (d’oh!), and negotiating heavy traffic down to the port, I managed to miss the turn into the garage! Somehow there was a disconnect between reading it and doing it. Thankfully I could call her and she helpfully stood on the corner and pointed me in the right direction on my next go around. Whew! Made it!

On the tickets it says they recommend you arrive 30 minutes before the ferry departs. But this is Greece, so our boat wasn’t even there yet. Karen said in the not-so-distant past, Greeks who knew the captain would call them and have them hold the boat for five minutes or so if they were running late. But they are cracking down on things like that. Now the ferries run almost on time!

We bought tickets on the high speed Flying Dolphin — not the fastest boat in the fleet, but at 32 knots, it felt like we were going at a pretty good clip. The ride took less than an hour, even with a stop. The price was fairly reasonable, as well – about 40 Euros for an adult, a child, and a free infant. I worried that the kids would get seasick. In addition to forgetting snacks, I also forgot an extra change of clothes for Violet. But everyone fared well. In all we had four adults and six kids, and we managed to find seats on the boat together. The advantage of going on a weekday before most of the schools are out.

After a short stop at Aegina, we headed south toward Agistri. Liam was glued to the window while Violet was glued to the snacks. Thankfully a more cognizant mother brought lots of food. Perhaps my jumbo bag of sand toys would help make up for my lack of sustenance.

We made it to port without any major meltdowns, and a short bus ride later we came to our hotel. We rented it just for the day so we’d have a place to change and shower. Definitely the way to go for an island day trip. We were able to pay a discounted day rate, which apparently wasn’t terribly discounted, but I thought 40 Euros per room sounded pretty reasonable. But what do I know? At any rate, the accommodations were nice, the staff very friendly, and I was definitely thankful for them both.

We trucked our stuff down the lane to the beach. I was really starting to regret how much crap I brought. But I think the kids appreciated all of the toys and big beach towel I brought. My shoulders didn’t, though! The beach was…ok. Living in Florida kind of turned me into a beach snob. Of course it looked beautiful, but there was a lot of churned up kelp in the water, and there were some uncomfortable rocks you had to wade across. The surf was gentle, and the sand perfect for digging, so our pickiest beach-goers were satisfied. There was a concrete dock on one end that the oldest kids could jump from, and the little ones could play together in the shallows. Liam did a fare amount of complaining, as is his wont, but I tried not to let it get me down. He really hit it off with the other eight-year-old boy in our group, so that helped tremendously.

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Later in the afternoon we decided to head to another beach closer to our hotel. We ordered some dinner and laid around in the superior beach loungers. The kids, on the other hand, were planning a mutiny. One cannot deny the view at this beach was spectacular.

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But the rocky sand wasn’t conducive to digging, and there was no sand in the water — just cumbersome rocks that the kids couldn’t wade on without hurting themselves. I didn’t care much for the rocks, either, but I was ready to sit in my lounger, so I didn’t mind. But the older kids were definitely unhappy. Guess which kid was complaining the loudest? I got a burger for Liam, and while he waited for the food, another mom offered to take the three oldest back to the other beach to play. I owe her big time! The peace and quiet of one toddler happy to dig in the rocks with her Gymboree pals was priceless. I ordered a sangria and enjoyed it immensely. They served it with buttered popcorn. Yum!

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Around 5 we headed back to the hotel to clean up. Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 6, and we had to catch the 5:30 bus back. My kids were a little punch drunk — there was much rambunctious, naked playing in our room. But we managed to get everyone ready in time. The kids were great on the ferry home, but once we drove home and walked in the door, the long day in the sun with no naps caught up with us. Both kids begged for dinner, but then barely ate anything, and I started to lose it. Instead I sent them both to bed, and they were asleep within minutes. In hindsight, I wish I’d stayed the night on the island. Hotel stays come with their own set of challenges for my children, but I think a day trip to an island, even a close one, is just a tad bit ambitious for us.

I’m hoping we can make it to Hydra in the fall. I hear September is the best time of year for that. And we plan to take an island cruise at some point in our stay. This may be the first island we have visited, but it won’t be the last!

Another Day, Another Beach

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Violet and Aimelia enjoying the sand under the umbrella. (Violet tossing, Aimelia eating)

 

My husband says a beach is a beach is a beach. But I disagree. Many factors combine to make an enjoyable beach outing , and I’m always on the quest for something better. I love Trolley Café — they truly do have amazing frozen chocolates (called Freddos on the menu, apparently) — but I don’t love how far the chairs are from the shore. I’d heard good things about Schinias Beach in Marathon, so we met up with a few other families there last Wednesday.

First the pros. The beach and water are fantastic. The chairs are quite close to the water, and at least on the weekdays, we were able to sit in them without having to order anything. We sat by the Delphin Bar and Grill, so I was able to walk up and order some drinks. We picked a fantastic day — high in the upper 80s, not much wind. The water was relatively warm, and quite shallow. I found I had to keep on my knees just so Violet could get wet. And the waves were quite gentle. Violet loved getting in the shallow water and walking along the surf.

Now the cons. The drive took about an hour from my house, though if you take the mountain road over Pentilis, the view is stunning. The frozen chocolate wasn’t nearly as good as Trolley Cafe’s — though to be fair, their machine wasn’t ready, so the guy made one with ice. I did have a delectably sweet strawberry and lemon Icee that more than made up for it. And I was told that if the wind cuts strongly from the East, the beach becomes almost unbearable windy. We lucked out Wednesday, but will have to check the weather report closely next time we come. Also, I almost didn’t make it home in time to meet Liam’s bus!

Despite some of the cons, I had a great time, and will definitely be back. Next week Liam is off school, so I’m hoping to make it to some new beaches before we leave for the land-locked Midwest.

Back to the Beach

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Here I am rockin’ Ismenia’s sun hat from Mexico. I totally need one of these!

I love, love, love living 30 minutes from the beach. Or at least this beach in particular, the one I call Trolley Cafe Beach. I’m sure this beach has a proper name, but I cannot seem to find it on any maps. It’s in the town of Artemis, so maybe it is called Artemis Beach? At any rate, the sand is great, the water is shallow, and the frozen chocolates are amazing! And amazing affordable, at about 3 Euros a piece.

We spent a lot of time playing with Khloe here last September. My how these kiddos have grown!

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We were also joined by three other families, thanks to What’s App and Facebook groups that have been set up. There are so many 2-year-old little girls at this mission. I’m glad we’ve finally gotten connected.

So I thought Violet wouldn’t be eating sand now that she’s two. I was mistaken. She picked up a rock, told me it was a cookie, then proceeded to pretend “eat” it, which of course means putting it in her mouth. Mmmm…gritty. She was a little nervous about getting her feet wet at first. I have to remind myself that she probably barely remembers the beach from last year. But soon enough she was holding my hands and wading in chest deep, giggling the whole way. Occasionally a wave would get her in the face, and she’d cough and cry and insist on being picked up. But she would be back at it again in no time. That’s m’girl! I look forward to cramming as many beach outings as I can fit into our packed schedule before we leave for land-locked Missouri.

Right now, though, a summer cold is rampaging its way through the household. I’m patient zero, the one who powers through, so no worries there. But James isn’t feeling so hot now, and Liam complained of a sore throat this morning. I bought us ferry tickets to Hydra island this weekend, which is sounding like a decidedly BAD idea. I want my first island outing to be MAGICAL. And I’ve heard Hydra is quite picturesque and peaceful. Not so with a sick family. Thankfully, ferry tickets are easily transferable, so hopefully we can try again in another couple of weeks.

 

Summer like the Greeks

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James and I have been amping up our travel plans this year. I felt like last year we were just getting used to being abroad, and traveling with children definitely has a learning curve. But this year — this year! — we plan to do some serious sight seeing. Italy, Germany, perhaps Scotland or Norway, even! Europe awaits!

All these plans, and we STILL haven’t been to a Greek Island. What is wrong with us?! Well, for starters, James doesn’t care for the beach. But I may have a solution. I was talking with some moms at Gymboree, and when I told them I’d likely be spending August in Athens, they told me I should summer like the Greeks do. I can rent a beach house on a nearby island for just a few hundred Euros a month. A few hundred a month?! Seriously? The kids and I can stay there and James could come up on the weekends. Depending on the island, it’s only an hour or two away by car and ferry. I may not want to stay an entire month, but certainly I could manage a couple of weeks. We could do a little sight seeing on the weekend with daddy, then lay around on the beach the rest of the week. Sounds like heaven to me.

Alright, so this plan may be a bit ambitious for a non-Greek speaker, but even if I don’t manage to snag a dirt-cheap beach house, it sounds like we could easily make a day trip to one of these islands later in the spring. Adding to the bucket list…

 

Beach Day Fridays

The weather here in Athens is quickly turning slightly cooler (mid-80s instead of mid-90s) and wetter, so I’ve decided to get to the beach as often as I can in September before it gets too cold. Perhaps we’ll try a new beach every week. Beach Day Fridays! Woo hoo!

Now that Liam is in school, Violet and I are going solo…which is sooo much easier! Driving down to Sounio, I was reminded of my beach outings with Liam when we lived in Florida. On highway 50, due east to Playalinda or Cocoa Beach, we’d see stands for fruit and gator jerky, and as we neared the beach we’d have to cross a huge, tall bridge over the Indian River. Here in Greece the drive is quite a bit different. As we leave the congestion of the city, we drive along twisty, hilly roads that hug the coastline, sheer rock on one side, and a drop off to aquamarine waters on the other. Magnificent mountain islands dot the water here and there. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road because the view is so spectacular.

The drive time for the beach I tried on Friday was about the same as our drive in Florida, about an hour. A perfect amount of time for a morning and afternoon nap, I always found. This beach, in the town of Charakas in Sounio, was one Evi from Cut My Hair recommended.

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Wow. That is gorgeous. We sat under this tiki umbrella and ordered some lunch. A dad and his two young children sat next to us. The daughter was keen to share her dolls. Violet was keen to play with them. She kept giving them kisses.

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20160909_081728469_iosUnlike the beach at Trolley Café, the sand here was chock full of pebbles and a little hard to walk on. I had to keep Violet from eating the rocks. The food wasn’t as good at the restaurant here, though it was a little hard to order with no English menu. And the sand wasn’t the best for sand castles. But our seat was right up by the water’s edge, and once you got 20 feet past the break and made it past all of the sharp pebbles, there was a shallow sand bar that was quite pleasant to wade out on.

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Violet learned to say a new word today. “Boat.” She kept pointing to this boat that dropped anchor in the bay, saying, “Go-go-go.” She either meant for us to board, or she thought it was a toy I could get for her. Either way, she was upset I wasn’t doing what she asked. Sigh. While it is much easier to take only one child to the beach, the one I can take is the difficult one.

We stayed a couple of hours or so, then headed back so we could meet Liam’s bus. Violet got a big hug from her new little friend before we left, so cute. And she took a nice, long snooze all the way home. I had hoped to return to the beach over the weekend with Liam, but it’s been raining all day, with more chances Sunday. Perhaps next weekend we’ll try another beach.

A solo mission to the beach

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Back in April I took the kids to the beach by myself. It wasn’t such an ordeal because we only brought a couple of towels and some snacks. No swim suits. No sand toys. And we rode the tram, which I definitely wouldn’t attempt for a summer beach outing. At least not with children as young as mine.

Where did the summer go? Between vacations, trips back home, and illness, we have only managed one trip to the beach this summer. And with this wicked wind we’ve been having lately, it took me awhile to find a suitable day to go back. Today was the day. And I was going it alone.

Back when we lived in Orlando, I used to take Liam to the beach by myself all the time. It was about an hour drive to the beaches along the Atlantic Coast, and while it was a lot to carry an umbrella, a beach chair, towels, toys, snacks, and a kid who refused to walk on hot sand, I was determined to enjoy those Florida beaches. And enjoy them I did, especially as Liam got closer to age 4 and would actually carry something.

Now I’ve got two kids in tow, and Violet is quite a bit younger than Liam was when we lived in Florida. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle taking them on my own. But thanks to another mom’s good recommendation, I tried the beach at the Trolley Café, about 30 minutes east of Athens. They have beach loungers and umbrellas all set up, and you can use them as long as you order something. There was ample parking right by the beach, and the affordable menu included milkshakes, ham sandwiches and excellent fries, so my kids were happy. I had a peach juice, which was delicious (Violet gulped a lot of that down), and they had an array of coffees, teas, and alcoholic beverages, as well.

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I liked this beach better than the one we went to earlier this month. The sand was a little finer, and it extended into the surf, so it was much easier to walk out into the water with a child in one arm and a nervous seven-year-old clutching the other hand. Violet didn’t exactly love being out in the water, but as the afternoon wore on she started walking by herself along the surf. The waves were quite gentle, so Liam could hold his own in the shallow end. He spent most of the afternoon digging holes and watching them fill with water. Violet sampled some sand. Yep, still not tasty, dear.

With such a short drive to the shore, I didn’t mind packing it in after only a couple of hours. Unfortunately Violet can only handle so much fun in the sun before she starts clamoring for “nigh nigh” time. She actually says that now when she’s tired. It is. Adorable.

School starts in a week, but I have high hopes we can squeeze in another beach outing soon. I’m also hoping I can talk another mom into bringing her infant along when our olders are in school. It would be nice to have some company who isn’t ordering you to dig holes and build sand castles. Heh.

An outing to the East

I was told Athenians clear out of the city in August. Many restaurants and businesses are closed right now, and the streets are refreshingly free of people and traffic. Despite the lack of congestion, the city is still oppressively hot, so we decided to take page out of the Greek book and head out of the city ourselves. First stop, due East to the Temple of Artemis.

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We did a little wandering to find the entrance. But once we found it, we had a splendid time as the only visitors walking along the catwalks mere feet from the ruins. Nothing was roped off, so I suppose we could have gotten an even closer look. But I decided it was best to keep the children on the beaten path.

We wisely packed a lunch in the cooler, originally intended for the beach, but certain children (and me!) couldn’t wait that long, so we had a little impromptu picnic in the car. Next stop, due South to the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. On the way we had to stop for gas. Normally we buy gas for half price at the Embassy, and the only other time I’d gotten gas in Athens was for our rental, which took much cheaper diesel fuel. During that last experience, I discovered that an attendant pumps your gas for you, so I was all prepared for that. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the bill: almost 70 Euros for a full tank of unleaded! Yowza!

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Finally we arrived at the incredibly scenic cape, and up on the hill was a remarkably preserved temple. As the wind whipped around us, we scaled the rocky hills and took in the amazing views. Deep blue and aquamarine seas crested with white caps. Sandy beaches and dramatic, rocky islands. Liam predictably got tired of climbing around, so we promised him a slushy if he cut out the whining. Thankfully, the bribe worked, and after exploring and taking photos, we all enjoyed super sweet slushies as we drove another ten minutes to a more secluded beach.

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The beach we found was a little dirty, as to be expected this late in the summer, but we still had a nice time. The wind was a little much, blowing over our umbrella and making the beach tent impossible to use. But we certainly didn’t get too hot in the sun, and the water felt great. The sand was course — not as fine or as white as the sand I love in Florida — but the surf was gentle, and Liam got right in to play. James and his friend Travis could walk several meters out into the water, it was so shallow. The underwater terrain was rocky and uneven, though, so I didn’t carry Violet too far in. She started to get cold, so she spent most of the time playing in the sand…and eating it. Ewwww.

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After our fun in the sun, we headed back to Athens, just about an hour in the car. Not a bad drive, and I totally think I could handle the beach with two kids on my own now. Some of the beaches we passed had loungers and umbrellas, presumably for rent. Perhaps we’ll give one of those a try in the next couple of weeks before school starts. And James and I have decided later in the fall we’ll hire a sitter and head up to the temple for some dinner and sunset pictures at the Temple of Poseidon. Sounds like a spectacular date night to me!