For a long time, we’ve wanted to go to Greece. But Greece is not one place; the country consists of nine geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands.
We knew we wanted to go to an island, so that narrowed it down, then we looked up the “Top Ten Islands in Greece” and crossed those off our list. 😎 Eventually, we decided on a small island in the North Aegean Sea, just one mile from Turkey: Samos.
We had booked our flights almost a year before our trip; you can read about that adventure here. We’ve waited and planned and waited — and the day is finally upon us!
We arrive at San Diego International Airport, make it successfully through TSA, and board our 1:00pm flight. It’s just a short 2-hour flight, but they serve lunch and provided us with champagne throughout the flight which makes the time go by even faster.
We have a short layover in Seattle, and spend it in their sky lounge.
We have a small snack and a little more champagne and before we know it, it’s time to board our long flight to Frankfurt!
It’s a 10-hour overnight flight on Condor Airlines, a “German leisure airlines”. We hope we will be able to sleep for at least a few hours to try to reset our Arcadian rhythms (pun intended).
The business class seats recline almost flat, with options for leg rest positions. They serve us a snack, dinner, and then turn out the interior lights. The sun has set and it’s time to try to sleep. We did not do too well. Even though the seats are nearly flat, it is not a bed. We try to snooze, but we are too excited and say awake all night.
Fortunately, we have a layover in Frankfurt, so we’ll be able to relax there in a real bed.
We land at 1:00pm Frankfurt time and are in our hotel by 3:00. We are staying at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel which is literally connected to the airport. It took us a minute to realize how to get to the hotel as we had exited the street, and now know that there are walkways to the hotel from the 2nd floor. It is an easy check-in, and we get settled in and although we are tired, we take a walk to see the city, since we are only here for one day.
We attempt public transportation. Anyone who knows us knows how ((repulsed)) we are about public transportation; however, this is Germany and we believe it will be efficient. We get to the train station by the same walkway that took us to the hotel and…we are hugely confused. There is no one working at the information booth and when someone finally arrives, they tell us which automatic machines to use to buy the tickets but not which buttons to press. (Remember, we have been awake for more than 24 hours.) We spend a good 15-20 minutes trying to figure it out, and end up with two 1-day passes.
We walk to the tracks and are confused again — which track should we be on, which direction do we need to go, which train number?? We ask someone for help and she curtly dismisses us. Shit. Ok, we can figure this out–and we do. So, 45 minutes after our first attempt to get tickets, we are on our train! It’s a quick ride to the city.
We try to find the old Opera House but, in our sleepy state of mind, get turned around. Instead, we just meander the streets without any particular direction or goal in mind, and come upon the Main River.
We cross the bridge and walk on the more forested side, where there are plenty of parks and walkways. We find Metzler Park and many museums and art galleries, including the Museumsufer (museum shore), a landscape of museums.
We take in the sights and enjoy the cool, not-inside-of-an-airplane feeling.
It’s a beautiful, sunny, cool day, and we are happy to be here.
We walk in the general direction of the Dreikönigskirche, then see the tower clock and realize it’s getting late (and we are tired). We head for the nearest bridge, which happens to be Eiserner Steg, adorned with love locks.
Thousands and thousands of locks are attached to the bridge, each carrying a message of affection.
We wish we had a lock and could write of our love, but, alas, we do not.
So we take a selfie of a smooch, and are happy.
We walk back to the train station where a nice man tells us which train to take, and have a quiet dinner at the hotel (with German beer, of course), then climb into a real bed and SLEEP.
The next morning, we wake up early, walk to the airport, and board our Austrian Airlines flight.
We thought the seating arrangement was 1-2-1, but we were wrong. Business class is all the seats forward of the curtains (behind us), and the middle seat is unassigned. So we shared an aisle. 😛
We have a layover in Vienna, and the flight is delayed (ultimately, by 90 minutes). We wait.
While we wait, I see a large wallet fall from a women’s purse as she walks past. I hurry to pick it up and shout, “Stop that woman!” No one moves to act; perhaps they don’t understand English well enough. I follow her for about 10 seconds, catching up with her only when she stops to talk to her friends. I tap her on the shoulder and, as she turns around, hand her wallet to her. She takes it and quickly opens her purse to look inside, looking astounded, as if the wallet had been removed by magic. I tell her, “You dropped it back there,” but she says nothing, looking again in her purse to confirm the magical event.
We finally board our flight and arrive in Athens with not-enough-time to check in because the line was so long (we are flying coach because the flight does not have a Business class). An English gentleman notes our issue and said, “This is Greece. Just go in the Business class line.”
We take his advice and board the plane for the final leg of the journey.
Something to note about Europe: It is very common to take a bus from the gate to the plane, and vice versa. It seems like a lot of extra infrastructure, but it must work for them.
And finally, 46 hours after our adventure began, we land in Samos,
We have booked a house via TripAdvisor in the town of Kokkari, and the owner says it doesn’t have an address. Rather, it’s just called “Simian Tradition since 1836”, and the manager, Apollon, tells us to have the taxi driver call him when we arrive. Well, trust the system, right?
So we follow his advice and in less than 20 minutes are dropped off near some restaurants in Kokkari. A man with a smiling face introduces himself as Apollon and helps us with our luggage. Indeed, the house does not have an address and has no passable road to it. Apollon shows us around, offering us honey, sweet Greek wine, and a strong liquor, all of it made by the owner. We also have olive oil, selection of teas, homemade olives, onions, potatoes, garlic, and herbs included in our kitchen.
As soon as our manager leaves, we decide to take a swim in the bay. We can’t believe we are here! After 11 months of planning, we are swimming in the water of the Aegean Sea!
Our house is located at an interesting spot, giving us a view of the bay and out onto the sea, for miles and miles. It has an added room (called a California room in California) with a rooftop balcony where we can sit in the morning and watch the sunrise.
We find a postcard in the town and discover that the Traditional House has indeed been here for a long time. That’s it, the rightmost house. The town really did look like a fishing village.
From our house, it’s just a short walk to the bay. It is pretty secluded; this is the most people we ever saw swimming here.
And we can look out to the horizon and see the beautiful Aegean Sea, which can get choppy in the afternoon. But our bay is always calm. The trees on the hill are an easy-to-identify landmark.
The water is warm and particularly salty. We discover that we can easily float, keeping our heads above water without having the move our hands or feet. In fact, it’s difficult to swim to the bottom due to the buoyancy. However, this buoyancy also allows us to easily swim 30 minutes across the bay, easily resting whenever we want.
The house itself is 1950s small, just barely large enough for us. Fortunately, there is a small second bedroom where we can store our suitcases and such.
The house is decorated with the sea in mind, as it should be.
We like it here and we know we’ll have a great time. 🙂
We lay on the bed in the evening and notice that the ceiling is not plumb. Meaning, the corners are not square. Pythagoras is probably spinning in his grave…
Kokkari is a small town that “preserves its old traditional face, with small houses and lanes full of flowers. Kokkari is on a small peninsula full of houses which climbs up to the top of the hill with a small harbour on one side and a superb pebble beach on the other. Surrounded by green mountains and the view out to the sea, it’s worth a journey.” Yup, that describes it perfectly.
Over the next few days, we walk around the town, exploring the streets and shops.
When we leave our house and turn right, we find nothing but restaurants lining the water. (Notice the landmark trees in the distance.) The restaurants do not open until noon (don’t look for morning coffee here!) and are never full.
Small boats bring in fresh seafood daily. Note the animal on the rock in the background: it’s a statue of a goat. We never found out why it was there.
A long pebble beach is to the left of our house. The chairs are typically occupied by tourists staying at hotels nearby, and the tourists are mostly Germans and mostly elderly.
The industry of Kokkari is tourism, and the town is kept clean and bright. Many shops must be walked to, since the roads are too narrow for vehicles.
It is summer, and flowers are in bloom.
Kokkari has a small cemetery which we visit. It’s an easy place to practice reading Greek letters, since most first names are recognizable. We even find my name: Θωμάς.
Notice the silver canisters on the rooftops. Those are water heaters that use sunlight as energy, and they get the water HOT.
It is mid-day, yet there are very few tourists. Kokkari is a sleepy town and, many times, we feel like we are the only people here.
There is a small wishing well at the end of the row of restaurants. We don’t need to make a wish, because it has already been granted. 😀
A Samos selfie.
Agios Nikolaos Church
The most prominent structure in Kokkari is the Saint Nikolaos church in the town center.
The church was founded in 1902, but due to financial constraints and wars, was not fully completed until 1963.
The walls of the church are decorated with Byzantine mural paintings.
We find many churches in Europe to be very cluttered, but the simplicity of this one appeals to us.
Hmmm, those chairs do not look very comfortable….
In fact, the church is also a cultural center, and there is an ecclesiastical and folklore museum that exhibits religious relics. Saint Nikolaos church was declared a historic listed monument since 1939.
Dining on Samos
We have been looking forward to the Mediterranean diet — not the popular fad, but real Mediterranean food. And how can you go wrong when you are on a Mediterranean island, right?
The selection is what we are hoping to find: seafood and veggies. Hurray!
But first, breakfast!
We find a bakery very close to our house and want to get something fresh for breakfast. They do not serve coffee, though. The shop keeper points us to go down the street 20 meters to find coffee. We enter the cafe and I thought I heard him ask what size coffee I want. I ask what size he has and he shows me “medium” — it looks small by American standards, so I ask for the large. “No, if you want large, you go 60 meters that way…”. Ummm, okay, I’ll take a medium then. I have my coffee to go and we go back to the bakery where we order two chocolate croissants. She says it’s 4€10, we give her 5€10, and she gave us 4€ back… we don’t know who had the wrong math and we even told her we think she gave us too much back, but she yelled at us that it was right, so, our croissants were about 1€ total. Ok, we’ll take it.
The next morning, we walk to the far end of town and discover Grandma’s Home, with large coffee and has home-made pastries, fruit, pies (such as spinach pie) and coffee.
And the best part of Grandma’s Home is that we can walk across the road and enjoy breakfast looking out over the sea, on what seems to be our own private beach.
The first evening we have dinner at a restaurant on the beach, and the food is, well, sub-par. They are selling the ambiance, not the food. We decide to go “inland”, and discover Dream Kitchen, which becomes the only place we have dinner. The restaurant is located away from the beach and from a main street; it is cozy, the service is excellent, and the food is cooked by Mom. Really.
When you own a restaurant on the beach, you pay for real-estate. When you don’t, you pay for ingredients. 😎
Food never looks good in a photograph (sorry, Facebook), but the food at Dream Kitchen is health and delicious.
This is the closest we ever get to tentacle porn.
We don’t skimp on the desert, either. When in Greece, do as the Greeks do.
The Baklava was the best I’ve ever had. I will admit to a tear leaving my eyes when I had the first taste of it — it takes me back to my Grandmother’s home in Los Angeles and suddenly everything feels right and happy in the world… It is a perfect end to our long day of travel.
In our day-to-day lives, we eschew sweets for health reasons, but when we travel, we find an opportunity to indulge. Kokkari has many bakeries, but only one Temptation Pastry Shop, where we treat ourselves to custard-filled, chocolate covered delight.
A toast to healthy eating!
Sunrise in Samos
You may remember that our house has a balcony. We awake each morning and watch the sun rise over Turkey.
It is always quiet at this time of day, so different from our normal, hectic lives.
We love sunrises and sunsets. Please enjoy this gallery of some of our favorites.
Kokkari is lovely, but there is more to Samos than just this one town. Stay tuned for Samos in Summer — Part 2, coming soon to a wacky adventure near you!