Best Beach in Athens Yet!

Last week I complained that the beaches in Greece have been a constant disappointment. Turns out I’ve just been going to the wrong beaches! Last weekend we met a couple of friends at a beach I’d never tried before: Avlaki Beach. And it was a perfect antidote to the previous weekend’s disappointment. The sand was excellent — fine grain, no pebbles — and the surf was gentle and shallow. My only gripe was the crowd. The lot was already filling up with tour buses at 10AM, and the place was packed with seniors. Old lady hair-dos bobbed by the dozens in the water as far as the eye could see, and just about every umbrella for the first four rows was already taken.

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Admission was 5 Euros for adults, 3 Euros for children, and under 3 was free. Older kids could get a 10 Euro day pass to the inflatable, floating fun park on one side of the beach. (You could save a little money and get a one-hour pass for 6 Euros. It didn’t appear that anyone was checking to see who had paid for the day and who had paid by the hour.) The loungers weren’t in the best shape, but we didn’t spend much time sitting in them. There were also some cliffs on one side of the beach that older kids could jump from. A great beach for all ages!

We ordered a nice lunch for a decent price, and it was served promptly. The girls had a fabulous time digging in the sand, and the older boys raved about the fun park. Liam isn’t much for daring-do when it comes to water, so he stuck close to the shore. But he couldn’t get enough of this sand. Not quite as good as Siesta Key in Florida, but certainly getting there. I’m hoping during the week the parking and crowds will be less of a problem, which will make this beach hands down my favorite so far.

While we were there, another friend recommended another beach close to Glyfada that she claimed had even better sand and was even closer to our house. Where have these beaches been all my life?! September is my favorite month for Greek beaches, especially during the week while the older kids are in school.

Two kids, one adult at a resort…and I survived.

Saturday the kids and I embarked on a little adventure…an all-inclusive resort in the Peloponnese for Labor Day weekend. I’d taken Liam on a similar vacation when he was three in Florida, and despite the challenges (we were potty training at the time, as I recall), we had a lot of fun. I was hoping to recapture the magic.

Turns out that taking TWO kids on a beach vacation is about FOUR times more work. Coupled with our lackluster opinion of the resort, and the weekend was pretty much a bust.

The afternoon started out promising. Our room at the Barcelo Hydra Beach Resort was much bigger than expected, and we had three beds plus a proper crib for Violet. But when I sat on the beds, I realized only one of them was even remotely comfortable. I seriously thought they’d mistakenly put the box springs on top of the mattresses. Liam claimed the bed by the window, the only soft mattress, and I wasn’t about to argue with him. So I was already dreading bed time.

We headed to the beach for the late afternoon, and the kids had a wonderful time digging in the sand. It was rockier than I would have expected from a resort, but the Greek beaches have continually disappointed me, so I should have known. My recent vacation at Grand Cayman and our time in Florida have made me a bit of a beach snob, I’m afraid.

I was indeed impressed by the variety at the buffet — the kids could eat somewhat nutritiously while also indulging in french fries. And they had wine on tap, so everyone was satisfied. I wish my kids were a little older and more capable of getting their own plates. Liam can hold a plate, but couldn’t seem to get the food onto it. And Violet couldn’t manage it at all, though she certainly tried. (“Put the plate back where you found it, Violet!”) I spent most of our time ferrying food back and forth to our table, like that mom on A Christmas Story who hasn’t had a hot meal in eight years. At least the views from the dining room were lovely.

I had originally planned to book us a ferry from the resort to Hydra island for a short excursion, but much to my disappointment, there weren’t any ferries until Tuesday evening. The helpful desk receptionist suggested we take a ferry from a stop 15 minutes down the road, but after consulting the times table, I realized I’d be trapped on an island for eight hours with two children, one of them in serious need of a nap. No thanks!

Instead, we rented a sun bed and sat on the beach all day. Conveniently, I had received a coupon for 16 Euros for joining the Barcelo’s rewards club, which just about exactly covered the cost of a sun bed rental. If I’d been staying longer, I would have been annoyed by this little financial jab — pay for an all-inclusive resort, then pay extra for the only spots in the front row on the beach. But staying on a Sunday in the off season has its perks — we easily secured a bed in front of the beach bar. There wasn’t any wait service (another gripe), but I could easily run to the bar for snack and drinks while the kids played in the sand. The kids had another enjoyable day digging in the sand, though our spot was even rockier than the day before, and every foray into the surf left my feet aching from sharp pebbles. Liam wouldn’t swim by himself, so I was constantly in and out of the water. A few Mai Tais later and I didn’t mind it too much.

We spent a little time at the pool, which offered some lovely views. Liam wanted to swim to the very edge near the ocean, so I dutifully followed him while Violet screamed in my ear. Apparently she wasn’t in the mood for swimming.

After we’d had our fill of the sun, we cleaned up and took the camera on a walk about the resort. I got some great photos despite Liam and Violet’s sour moods.

The walk was hillier than I had expected, and it didn’t take long for the heat to drive us back into our room. We had to wait around for dinner to be served at 7:30. I regret not bringing more food of my own, or at the very least snagging some food when they decided to serve it.

That evening I managed to trick Liam into sleeping in the big bed, so at least I could enjoy a soft bed for one night. Of course, I also had the annoyance of a hot room. I complained in vain at the front desk about the thermostat stubbornly locked at 25C — a balmy 77F — apparently a hotel policy. One of many cost-cutting measures that left me disappointed in this resort. We were also limited in the number of towels we could have for the week. It wasn’t a problem for our short stay, but I would have been annoyed by this if I’d stayed the whole week. Who wants to bring a sandy towel back to their room to reuse the next day?

I had considered staying an extra night, but by Monday we were ready to just be home. Besides, you’d have to pay me to sleep on that hard bed in that hot room for one more night!

The road less traveled

I found myself thinking about our first day in Athens as I drove from my dentist’s office near the airport down to the embassy. I have bleary memories of these beautiful hillside vistas, and as I peered out the window I could see the vast city below. We went through a few tunnels, and then suddenly there was the Acropolis in the distance. It’s funny — I’ve never had occasion to drive on that road again until the other day. It was called the Imittos Ring, and as highway driving goes, it is one of the most lovely drives in Athens. I would imagine most tourists approach the city this way. It was a nice little drive down memory lane.

Tomorrow the kids and I are off on a journey of our own. James had to travel to Africa at the last minute, so I decided to book us a couple of nights at a seaside resort in the Peloponnese. When Liam was three I did a similar thing in Florida, and it was one of the most lovely mini-vacations I’ve ever had. Our Greek resort provides all-inclusive food and drinks, three private beaches, and excursions to a Greek island, so it promises to be even more luxurious than Florida. However, I am a little nervous about the drive down with car-sick prone children (I have Dramamine at the ready!) and the sleeping arrangements with one child afraid of the dark now, and one who can’t stand the light on when he sleeps. Sigh. I wonder if the staff will let me take a bottle of wine to my room before bed?

The kids wanted to watch Toy Story 3 this morning, and as I’m blubbering through the ending, I’m reminding that I need to cherish these amazing years when they are so young. Sure, vacations might be a hassle, and they may drive me crazy sometimes, but these sweet little years won’t last forever. I plan to bring my Nikon, so stay tuned for some (hopefully) nice photos of the kids in my next post.

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…