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cemlaw  
#1 Posted : Friday, July 31, 2015 12:00:00 AM(UTC)
cemlaw


Posts: 7

This was my third trip with Gate 1, completed the last week of June/first week of July. Last summer I did an escorted tour of Italy, and then did Rome independently for New Year's Eve. 

Though classified as Independent, this tour felt more like my escorted tour last summer than the true indie I took NYE. In the islands, there were 12 of us that were always together, and 7 of us that were together from beginning to end- and they were wonderful people! I'm a solo traveler, so it's always nice to have some folks around. 

My flights were Charlotte --> Toronto --> Athens --> Santorini. Whew. I was with a group of 4 others from Toronto on, who were with me the entire time. When I landed in Athens, there was a Gate 1 rep there with my ticket to Santorini and my ferry tickets. She directed where to go to meet my next flight, where to get some coffee and wake up and answered some other questions I had. The flight to Santorini is on a crowded prop plane, but you can not beat the views and the flight is only about 30 minutes. Our guide was waiting for us at the airport and he was fantastic. He was happy and kind and knowledgeable. He got us all on a bus (there were a lot of other people, staying at other hotels). He had itineraries for us and tour vouchers and maps. He rode with all of us to each of our hotels. 


As a solo traveler I go with the least expensive hotels since Gate 1 has a large single supplement (my only complaint I've had with G1 yet). I am so glad I did that on this trip because our hotel on Santorini could not possibly have been any better. It was the Alia Hotel in Kamari. I liked staying in Kamari since it was more quiet and not so nuts like Fira or Oia. We had an easy walk to the ocean where there are tons of restaurants and shops and bars. I watched the sunrise over the Aegean from my balcony each morning. I actually found that much more satisfying than the famous sunset in Oia. There was a large grocery (really- it had an elevator!) very close by that had fresh baked bread and lots of fruit and olives. Even after all of my flights and travel time, as soon as I arrived and changed clothes, I walked to the grocery and stocked up on water and nibbles since there was a fridge in the room. Then I still had plenty of energy to walk down to the beach and wander around and eat at seaside restaurant. The hotel also has a good restaurant and I ate dinner there one night after a tiring day of exploring on my own. The bartender and waiter are good fun and love to talk to the tourists. 


I added on the optional Akrotiri Tour and I highly recommend it. It is much more involved than is advertised on the Gate 1 itinerary. The bus picked us up about a block from the hotel and we drove down to Akrotiri. Our guide was very, very informative and Akrotiri was much better than I had expected. Then we went to Pyrgos for lunch, which is the beach on the other side of the mountain from Kamari. Great lunch and time to wander the small village. Then we walked through the village of  Megalochori. The bus then took us up to the highest point on the island to take pictures. You can see the entire island. Then, the best part- Santo Winery. I have never seen a view so stunning. It doesn't look real. Plus- free wine! Good gift shop there. Next up we were dropped off to explore Oia on our own and watch the sunset. You could take the bus back or arrange your own ride back if you wanted to stay longer. I was able to explore and shop and eat dinner before meeting the bus to go back. This was a full 11-12 hour day. Well worth the price of the tour. I did NOT do the volcano cruise as that seemed more like a couples thing.

I went by myself, via the bus, to Fira. It was simple to manage the bus from near the hotel up to Fira and cost 1 Euro 60. I recommend the ancient museum which is next to the main bus depot in Fira. I much preferred Fira to Oia. It wasn't as crowded and I thought the views were better. I didn't feel rushed or crushed there. I also recommend stopping for a cocktail at the Palia Komeni Cocktail Bar. The view and atmosphere are unbeatable. It was surreal! 

The main bus depot is chaotic and confusing. I actually missed the first bus back to Kamari, so pay attention when the drivers start yelling! It wasn't a big deal as I waited about 15 more minutes and there was another bus. Also pay attention riding back so you don't miss your stop. I'm not used to buses, so maybe I was a bit paranoid. You pay your fare once you are on the bus, not before. 

I missed going up to Ancient Thira because I opted to sit at the pool at the Alia Hotel instead. Their breakfast is very good and served out at the pool. Once you sit down and start looking at that view, it's hard to leave. It's simply idyllic. My last morning I got up very early and walked down to the beach to wander around before there were any people about- highly recommend. Great photo opportunity. 


Our local guide met us at the bus and rode with us to the ferry to Mykonos. I was a little concerned about the ferries, but to no avail. These things are huge. You have assigned seats, like on an airplane, only much, much more room. The ferry has food and shops and lots of room to walk around. They herd you in very quickly and you leave your luggage down below where the cars and buses are loaded. No one stayed in their seats as there are plenty of unassigned and empty areas to sit. When you pull into ports on other islands, you can go outside to smoke, or just watch the docking process and get a glimpse of some other islands. 

The trip to Mykonos didn't seem to take long at all. It's a bit of a cattle car exit, but quick and efficient. Our Mykonos guide was waiting for us and had a bus to take us to our hotel. I stayed at the Despotiko. It is on the top of a hill, across the street from a windmill. It was the home of a Bishop and there are two chapels on the property. It winds around and has a lovely pool area. I had a first floor room and had a little grotto/patio to myself, looking out at the pool. This hotel was more modern that Santorini, but my TV never worked because the satellite never worked- but I was on Mykonos, so I didn't really spend much time in my room anyway. We met with our tour leader  at the hotel again, and he gave us maps and itineraries and vouchers. Then he arranged a car for those of us who wanted to go to a restaurant he recommended. I'm sure he knew the owners or got a tip for it or something, but the food was great and he even ate there as well. 

I didn't love the breakfast at the Despotiko, but I walked to a 500 year old wood bakery I'd found on TripAdvisor. You must go there! I think it is Gioras, but is mostly just called the Medieval Wood Bakery. Our second day I just wandered all around the town and hit Little Venice and the windmills. I went down to the Old Port and got lost in the winding streets. You can only stay lost for so long, as eventually you're going to hit the Aegean and know where you are. The walk from the hotel to town was maybe 10 or 15 minutes and the walk/views are worth it. The main bus hub is at the bottom of the hill the hotel is on. Good location, though some might complain about the walk back up the hill. It wasn't terrible. 


The third day, I did the optional Delos Tour. We all agreed this was the unexpected highlight of the trip. It's a short, but rough ferry ride out to the ancient site/island. Our guide was an archaeology student from Athens and told us so much about the island. My only complaint is I could have stayed another hour to explore more! There is a museum and gift shop on the island, but mostly you are walking streets that date back to 300 BC. You really want to add this tour. 

I spent more money in restaurants on Mykonos, but I also had my best meal at Nice N Easy, down by the windmills. I think everything costs a bit more on Mykonos, but not prohibitively so. I went to a couple bars on my own and wandered around very late. Everything closes in the evening and then opens back up for pretty much all night- shops and stores included. I was perfectly fine on my own for all of this. 

The ferry ride back to Athens was long, but not bad. Again, you had the freedom to move around, there was a snack bar and a shop, and on this ferry you could sit outside while we were moving, not just when we were in port. Two people from our group opted to fly back, but I was happy on the ferry. I preferred it to an airplane, actually. 

Athens feels like a blur. We got there late'ish and I was tired. The Alexandros Hotel was nice, more modern than the two on the islands, as to be expected. It actually had an elevator, but was so small, it was hard to get me and my luggage in together! Room was large and clean. Best bathroom of the three hotels as far as modern and size. This hotel has a restaurant and room service, which I took advantage of. 

The next morning, 3 of us did the 1/2 day Athens tour. I really highly recommend doing this tour as well. Our other 4 friends opted out, saying they could do the same tour on their own. No way. The bus picked us up early and our guide was wonderful! Really, I wish I could remember her name since she was the best guide I had on the trip. We first went to the Acropolis and while we certainly weren't alone when we got there, we essentially walked right up without waiting in much of a line. Just an hour later, the crowds were HUGE. If you do go on your own, get there at 8. Seriously. This was another surreal experience for me- just seeing all those buildings and listening to our guide fill in a lot of history I wasn't aware of. This was the only tour that had the headphones I'd become accustomed to with Gate 1. We had plenty of time to explore on our own and take pictures before we met back at the bus. Next stop was the all marble Olympic stadium. Here we just got out long enough to take some pictures, but did not go inside. I'm not sure if you can go in? Last was the Acropolis museum. This place is a must. It is very impressive, with endless artifacts. Our guide again gave us so much valuable info and had great stories for us. Here, you could opt to stay and explore on your own after the guided tour (plenty left to see) or take the bus back to the hotel. The other two women I was with and I opted to take the bus back. I wanted to change and freshen up before going walking on my own. There was a very good restaurant across the street from the Alexandros where I ate lunch.

Then I started out on foot to explore the area. While I was there, all public transportation was free since there were still economic controls for Greek residents (no bank controls or anything else for tourists, btw), but I opted to walk and see everything. It was an easy walk to Syntagma Square and the government buildings. I just happened upon the changing of the guards and even saw them marching down the sidewalk right past me as I approached. SO COOL.  Then I wandered through Monstiraki, the Plaka, and the flea market. Any ancient sites that were not on the morning tour were all within these areas and an easy walk from the Alexandros. I finally hailed a cab back though once I was ready to drop from all the exploring I'd done that day (and the prior 9 days!). I opted to eat in the hotel that night. Athens was the only place I didn't feel comfortable wandering around alone at night. It's safe, I'm sure, but that was my preference. 

If I HAD to have a single complaint about this trip, it was that I had scheduled a flight out of Athens at 6:30 am, so my driver arrived at 4 am and I really could have spent another day or even morning in Athens, but that was my own scheduling problem, not Gate 1. Communication, travel docs, transfers, hotels, tours, guides, everything was top notch. Even with the steep single supplement (come one Gate 1!), the cost vs the time there and what all was included was very reasonable I think. So far, my tours with Gate 1 have exceeded my expectations. I encourage anyone who is considering a trip to Greece, to look into this tour in particular. If I had more money, I would have added Crete. Maybe in a couple years I can! I would absolutely do this trip again, start to finish. Would love to hear others' experiences with this tour. 

As far as being a woman traveling alone, I felt very safe on this trip as well, as I did on my tour of Italy last summer. Even with the supplement, I prefer traveling alone, and knowing there is someone always there should I need help with anything. I loved the people I traveled with (I wish I hadn't left so early and had managed to collect email addresses!), and found that I could be as alone, or not, as I wanted. It's very reassuring knowing everything is already arranged for you. 

Currently waiting for next summer's dates to be released so I can schedule my next trip- either Spain or Sicily. 
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cemlaw  
#2 Posted : Friday, July 31, 2015 12:00:00 AM(UTC)
cemlaw


Posts: 7

Pictures attached above- Palia Kameni Cocktail Bar, Fira, Santorini. Double post of the Sacred Harbor, Delos, near Mykonos. And me at the Acropolis!
DHacketts  
#3 Posted : Tuesday, August 18, 2015 12:00:00 AM(UTC)
DHacketts


Posts: 1

Thanks for the great info!  We leave 8/24 on this exact independent tour.  I'm glad you had such a good trip.
Anyone traveling independently to Santorini, Mykonos and Athens 8/25-9/2?
Elvisguitarman  
#4 Posted : Sunday, August 23, 2015 12:00:00 AM(UTC)
Elvisguitarman


Posts: 19

Thanks for the in-depth review. I am taking the 14 Day Greek Islander W/ Classic Greece in mid September. Reading your review ... makes it seem worthwhile & exciting.

I travel solo also and take the basic rooms.  I will be staying at Alia Hotel in Santorini. Glad to hear about the bakeries and grocery stores. Also booked the optional tours.

Was there anywhere to do or get laundry done? 

Thanks for the tips ... btw -- Spain is on my list for next year. Can always use a travel buddy.

Tim W.
Tim W.
Milwaukee, WI
Bucket List:
Guatemala & Honduras
India
Petra
Turkey

Germany
France

Upcoming Trips:
15 Day Kaleidoscope of Spain - 09/17

Completed Trips:
12 Day Classic Vietnam - 03/17
11 Day Japan (NOT with Gate1) - 09/16
11 Day Egypt (NOT with Gate1) - 03/16
14 Day Greek Islander with Classic Greece - 09/15
14 Day China with 4 Day Yangtze River Cruise - 06/15
10 Day Affordable Peru - 03/15
12 Day Enchanting Italy with Almafi - 10/14
18 Day Classic Thailand with Laos & Angkor Wat - 04/14
Big O  
#5 Posted : Tuesday, September 15, 2015 12:00:00 AM(UTC)
Big O


Posts: 1

Thanks for the infer CEMLAW.  Leaving on the same trip on 9/21/15
DavidKims  
#6 Posted : Wednesday, January 4, 2017 7:39:06 AM(UTC)
DavidKims


Posts: 0

Hello! Talking about destinations, we simply cannot forget about http://onlineclassmentor.com/blog/where-to-go-this-christmas-top-10-destinations, as this post revelas all possibly budget places to travel to.

#Luvtotravelworld  
#7 Posted : Friday, January 6, 2017 4:08:41 PM(UTC)
#Luvtotravelworld


Posts: 0

I did the 14 day Greek islander with main land, and I upgraded to B and the hotels were not the greatest. It's a beautiful country but I think your guide really makes it. Mine was a bore who talked way too much making us late for checkins and the upper class rooms gone. Plus the waiting around for each level of services is a pain in A--. It's beautiful, but wasn't my favorite trip.
Sharon ~ Florida, USA
LuvToTravelWorld
https://youpic.com/LuvToTravelWorld
Next: Russian Cruise 8/17 & Baltics 8/17 , 16 day India/ Nepal 2/18 & Spiritual India to follow
Done (and rated):
Vietnam&Cambodia 3/17 3-4*
17 day Discovery China&Tibet 10/16 3 1/2*
Ethiopia, on own, & 10 day Tanzania 6/16 5*
10 day Copper Canyon and Mexico 12/15, 3 1/2*
11 day Guatemala/Honduras 1/2015, 4*
14 day Greece 9/2014, 3*
7 day Dubai 2013 11/2013, 4* with
15 day Thailand, Angkor Wat, Cambodia 11/2013, 5*
11 day Ecuador and Amazon 5/2013, 4*
10 day Costa Rica w/ Tortuguero, 11/2009, 4*, & 2/2013, 3*
10 day Affordable Peru, 5/2012, 5*
15 day France, 9/2012, 3 1/2*
15 day Turkey , 9/2011, 5*
15 day Egypt/Nile Cruise, 2/2009, 4*
Globus trips..... Scotland Highlands, Norway, U.K., Ireland, Alpine Countries, Italia, Spain, Morocco, Portugal
Independently toured South America- Chile, Argentina, Iquazu
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