Key Learnings From a Whirlwind Mother/Daughter Trip to the Greek Isles

We sunbathed, we ate moussaka, we traveled by ferry, bus, plane and even a scooter taxi, but more than anything we LEARNED: a little Greek history, a little Greek culture and a lot of PATIENCE.


We had ten days for our vacation this year, and after choosing Italy in 2013 we decided we would catch the glorious sunsets of Greece.  So we planned a jam-packed maximized itinerary covering SIX islands: Mykonos, Delos, Paros, Santorini, Crete and Hydra. We even made time for three nights in Athens, but barely.  This itinerary was overly aggressive, and if it hadn’t been for our lightning speed walking cadence and fourteen-hour day trips it would have been too much, even for us.   But alas, we power-walked those six islands and in between racked the following stats: seven flights, fourteen bus rides, one train, two water taxis, one scooter taxi, seven ferries, two vegetarian moussakas, three sea bass, nine sunsets, five archeological sites, eight beaches, two seas, six incriminating travel sleeping photos and a whopping sixty three hours of sleep.

Bougainvillea kitty, Mykonos Bougainvillea kitty, Mykonos

There is a business success term coined “fail fast, fail often” that I would like to bridge over into travel.

Lock fence, Santorini Lock fence, Santorini

After reviewing our stats I would comfortably say we had explored enough in such a short amount of time that we failed extremely quickly and frequently.

Directions, road to ruins, Athens Directions, road to ruins, Athens

Greece surprised us in many ways, and we learned rapidly that the attitude and pace of life did not mirror what we have consistently experienced in other countries around the world.  We would learn these frustrations and have our patience tried while we ‘failed’ at transportation and dining.

Mykonos windmills Mykonos windmills

However, through these failures and trying patience we successfully experienced Greece with all its reputable beauty and corners of culture that sprouted the impetus of western civilization.

Santorini blue Santorini blue

This post will not follow typical Greece post guidelines or social media norms with island reviews, tips and checklists.  Instead, I think it would be more beneficial and interesting to cover our key learnings sprinkled with gorgeous photos as we did the Tokyo drift around Greece like two characters in The Fast and the Furious.

Santa Maria Beach, Paros Santa Maria Beach, Paros

Greece Key Learnings

The Beautiful:

The most obvious are the glistening beaches at every turn with chair and umbrella rentals. Second most obvious are the jaw dropping sunsets.  I have never seen a bright ball of fire sink into the sea like it does in Greece. Third are the bougainvillea lined streets and architecture.  But mostly, the beautiful is going back to the roots of our roots and wandering around the heart of ancient Greece, visualizing the 5th century BC.

The Dining:

Expect a minimal three hour dining experience, which is typical for Europe.  There was no shortage of breathtaking al fresco cliffside restaurants with stunning views.  Our favorite dishes were sea bass, vegetarian moussaka, beet salad with yogurt and shots of Raki after dinner.  Dining was similar to that in Italy; expect a steady flow of digestif alcohol free of charge at most restaurants. (see shot series below) The downside to Greek dining was the no-filter food shaming brought upon us by any waiter who caught wind of us not being able to finish our meal.  Large portions and a side of travelers belly had me constantly in a state of “Can you not right now?”

The Transportation:

Overall bus schedules in Greece are extremely organized and frequent, making inter-island discovery seamless.  Ferry schedules are also fairly frequent, but keep in mind there are fast and slow ferries so it’s important to clarify those details.  In addition, ferries are often late.  We experienced ten minute to four hour delays.  Lastly, I want to impress upon you the importance of listening to the announcement at each stop.  There is a very small window in which you can grab your bag and disembark the ferry.  Should you miss this window, the ferry will be off to the next destination without any remorse for your scheduled plans.

Oia pavement Oia pavement

The Highlights:

Favorite island = Paros

Best boutique authentic shopping = Hydra

Shopping and doors, Hydra Shopping and doors, Hydra

Finest pace of life = Hydra – vehicle free island, walk along the cliffside to Vlychos beach

Favorite beach = Kolymbithres, Paros

Best value hotel = La Selini, Paros

Best sunset view:  Little Venice, Mykonos

Beach with snorkeling opportunity:  Red Beach – take the bus from Oia to Fira to Akrotiri and then walk about 15 minutes.  Wear sturdy shoes and bring snorkeling equipment

Most picturesque beach:  Elefonisi beach, Crete

Best tour:  Delos – take ferry from Mykonos and arrange a guide once on Delos island

The Lowlights:

The lack of helpfulness and clear directions was approaching unbearable.  It’s important to remember to not take it personally, but also, do not be afraid to speak up with ALL the “follow-up questions” you need to get the clarification you need on transportation and directions.

Path to Vlychos beach, Hydra Path to Vlychos beach, Hydra

Sadly, the authentic culture of Santorini has been compromised by tourism and commercialism. Selfie stick sunset seekers have monopolized Santorini’s best viewing spots. The Santorini blue does cast a spellbound appeal, but marble streets now lined with Victoria’s Secret and Coach have definitely imposed on the authenticity of the once majestic cliffside city.

Santorini, Oia Santorini, Oia

The stray dog situation made my heart hurt. This feels like a social responsibility project that someone needs to make a priority stat.  Maybe there are reasons why this hasn’t been managed, and I myself need an education on why it’s been impossible to control the rampant homeless dog population.  But until then I will just plan to arm myself next trip with adoption paperwork and walk around passing out flea treatments and food from the corner store.

Luisa, the stray dog that followed us all day until we bought her food Luisa, the stray dog that followed us all day until we bought her food

While many bathrooms are very sanitary and clean, there is not a plumbing system in Greece that allows you the under-valued privilege of flushing your toilet paper.  While we tried our hardest to honor the rule of putting the paper in the garbage can, it was hard to shake your built in muscle memory paper to toilet routine.

Mykonos splash Mykonos splash

100 Percent Tips

– When on Mykonos, note that ferries leave from the Old Port not the New Port.  Plan ahead to find transportation to the Old Port ahead of your scheduled ferry departure time.

– Take the road less traveled up to the Acropolis on the Southwest side. 

Road less traveled to the Acropolis, Athens Road less traveled to the Acropolis, Athens


  1. Catherine Ostheimer
    March 31, 2017 / 1:10 pm

    Love, love, love this post, Bre! I’ve been to Greece 6 times (including to Santorini and Mykonos before they became overrun w/ tourists and lived on the island of Crete for a month way back when there were only hippies left from the 60s and Greek fisherman in Agia Galini) but I’ve learned so much! I will get back there, and include Delos, Hydra and Paros on the itinerary. Thanks for sharing!

    • Breona Graper
      March 31, 2017 / 4:33 pm

      Thanks so much Catherine! You will love Paros! Crete is the one island I would love to spend more time exploring!

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