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International Travel and Covid - Greece - Part One Santorini

Updated: May 11, 2022

When planning a trip one of the most important things is to be flexible. No matter how meticulous you are, things are bound to change. Always have a plan b. (or c, or d as long as it’s covid’s world and we are just living in it) Wanting to shore up our plans for a trip abroad we started the booking process close to 6 months before our departure date. Our initial plan for our first post Covid-19 vaccine international trip was to use our miles and fly to Athens with a return from Naples.

Having done a lot of advance planning, trying not to leave anything to chance, we still found the need to tweak things. The idea was to leave the New York area with two layovers, one in Boston, and the other in Paris. This was what was available at the time of booking using our frequent flier miles.(“free” is not always convenient) About a month after we booked, we were contacted by the airline because the leg of our trip from Paris to Athens was canceled and 3 other legs were added. A few days later, flights from Naples to the New York area were canceled and so we needed to change our point of departure. So much for our carefully considered routing.

I went to the Delta site to find a trip on the same day as our original flight, but a little earlier with a connection in Atlanta and a direct flight from Atlanta to Athens. When I called Delta, and the representative saw and heard my quandary, she arranged for our flight from the New York area to Atlanta and then Athens. It was really nice talking to a helpful human.

A month later, alas, our flight from Athens to Rome was canceled as Alitalia went out of business. The good thing is that this happened BEFORE our trip. We found a substitute flight via Aegean and were good to go. Then some of our Aegean flights got canceled and we had to look for different flights, change car rentals and more. Just when we thought that everything was finally planned, including cousins overseas contacted with the itinerary, we went to a family event where the two of us and 8 other family members contracted Covid-19. LOL, and to think, we had been worried about getting it while traveling.

Fortunately we were vaccinated and fully recovered in two weeks. We were informed that we could take a while to stop shedding virus for negative PCR test results. On the other hand, Greece does allow entry if 30 days have passed since the initial positive diagnosis. So we changed our trip dates just in case we got a “bad” PCR. Unfortunately, this meant we also had to shorten our trip and forgo the Italy segment. So back to the planning stage.

The planning for this trip proved to be challenging but highly educational regarding restrictions, airline schedules, rental agencies and third party travel sites. Ultimately, schedules were decided upon when and where we could get the Covid-19 testing that would enable us to fly. Leaving NJ was easy because there are many testing spots, some not needing an appointment. Our first flight was scheduled to leave Newark airport at 1:30 pm and we were required to have a Covid-19 negative test before. That meant that we could test at about 2pm three days before in order to get on the plane and have results ready in time. In November the USA did not require a PCR test for entry and so we scheduled the Rapid antigen test at Athens airport. We had the results in about 3 hours. The testing is not free in Europe, varying from 20 Euros for a rapid test to 60 Euros for a PCR test. Covid-19 is definitely not fun, a non stop cough where you think you can’t get your breath, aches from the cough, the powerful sneezes, the muscle aches, the wheezing, no thank you… and this is the mild Covid that vaccinated people get… the plus side is a stronger immunity to Covid while traveling and coupled with the vaccine card the 30-90 day Covid window eliminates the need for all the required island hopping testing.

For our flight, we could not use those stylish cloth masks I created in various camouflage patterns. Medical-grade surgical masks were required on all public transportation, buses, taxi’s, trains, boats, etc. It was also recommended that these masks be changed every 4 hours according to the airlines. As we were taking 4 back to back flights, that would be dozens of masks.

At the airport wearing a surgical mask covered by a cloth mask
At the airport wearing a surgical mask covered by a cloth mask and a pair of 0 magnification glasses.

In the Airport - Double masked - one surgical, one cloth and plain glass eyewear with no magnification. (Nothing is getting through, even oxygen) The airport was the usual hassle despite “no one traveling”. Place was packed but no problem, we had CLEAR travel to jump ahead the Precheck lines. Oops, we left from terminal B and no CLEAR lanes there. At least we had TSA Precheck. Aargh. The line for the “regular folk” was enormous, but, there were 5 TSA agents working it. Our “special” Precheck line was shorter but only had one guy, whose shift ended, and took longer. No sweat, this kind of thing happens in the grocery check out line all the time.

We decided to visit: Santorini, Milos, Athens, Thessaloniki, and Lesbos.

While I have been to Santorini twice, as it is a touristy, picture postcard kind of place, I recommend that you try to visit at least once. Six months before our trip, we opted for the Kastro Mansion in Pyrgos Kallistis as our first destination. As stated earlier, when traveling, you have to be flexible and be able to change plans in an instant. Our bout with Covid-19 made our dates change and so our hotel plans had to change too.

Every flight, every passenger ferry, required a Covid test within 72 hours of take-off or proof of Covid-19 infection more than 30 days and less than 180 days from the boarding date or a recent vaccine. In Europe the cost of the tests are more than some of the flights and with multiple destinations the cost adds up quickly. While I am a proponent of mass public transportation and, in other times would make use of the wonderful rail service, now with the contagion of Covid, a car is not only an easier way to travel, but a much safer way to do so.

Why Santorini?

My first trip to Santorini was as a teenager in 1973 when I went to Greece with my family. I will not forget the ride up the mountain on a donkey, the azure waters and stark white buildings. It is a very touristy place for a reason. The views captivate you and take your breath away.

The donkey path - Fira, Santorini - August 1973
The donkey path - Fira, Santorini - August 1973

View from the top - Fira -1973
View from the top - Fira -1973

Somewhere in Santorini - 1973
Somewhere in Santorini - 1973

During the Summer of 1987 I revisited Santorini, again for a few hours and watched the sunset on the water.

Santorini Sunset - 1987
Santorini Sunset - 1987

Six days and nights in Santorini and several splendid sunsets in 2021.

In October 2021 I had the opportunity to return to and spend a few days on this glorious island. We flew in on October 8th, opted for a hotel relatively close to the airport, and spent our first night at the Marousi Rooms, which are located a few minutes walk from the black sand beach of Perissa on the quieter side of Santorini.

The beach was the perfect place for us to relax after spending a day between airports and in the air. Like other beach areas in Greece, beach chairs and umbrellas were offered at a nominal cost and came with wi-fi.

The sand was fine and felt wonderful under my feet as did the sun-kissed Aegean water.. While the water was not as warm as the waters of early September, it certainly was warm enough to enjoy on this second week of October,

Later in the evening we dined on an excellent seafood meal at Apollon, one of the beach restaurants. I had one of my favorites, Tsipoura, a delicate white fish, seasoned and grilled to perfection, and octopus on the skara (grilled) that made my olfactory senses go wild . A great beginning to a great trip.

Enjoying dinner on the beach
Enjoying dinner on the beach

Our second day started with another walk on Perissa's silky black-sand beach,

a short stop at the Ilias Profitas Monastery, and a few hours in the town of Pyrgos (the Greek word for tower).

Ilias Profitas Monastery

and a few hours in the town of Pyrgos (the Greek word for tower). Pyrgos is a picturesque town built within the confines of castle walls and located on one of the island's highest points.

This small town has 48 churches. The largest –and one of the most significant on the island– is Eisodia tis Theotokou (Presentation of the Virgin Mary) dating back to the 17th century. The oldest is Theotokaki from the 11th century.

Saint George Basilica

Saint George Basilica dates back to 1680 and can be found within the castle walls of Pyrgos.

As we walked through this old town we heard the most beautiful sounds emanating from the castle walls and enjoyed a mini-concert by Keopas, the Wandering Melodist.

Our next stop before going to our second hotel was the beautiful Red Sand Beach.

The warm delicious water made the steep walk down and walk back up worth the trek. Oh the wonderful Aegean with sand that felt good on my feet. Not bad for mid-October.

Back to the car where we opened the WAZE app on our phone and towards our second hotel, the one that brought us to this marvelous island. We drove around and couldn’t find it and so we called the hotel using What’s APP. Remember how we mentioned flexibility…. We found out that our room was in the Finikia section of Oia, not Pyrgos and so we headed toward the parking lot in Finikia where we met the hotel manager. (Seems covid had other plans for the original location) Many of the towns in Greece (and you will find this in Italy as well) do not have vehicular traffic. You have to park outside of the town and walk in. We enjoy walking and so we did not mind not being able to drive directly to our hotel. We were very pleased with the service and our accommodations at Edem Santorini

Lounging by the Jacuzzi
Lounging by the Jacuzzi

After a check in, a welcome cocktail, and some lounging, we walked to Oia to see the sunset, and it was mesmerizing.


Not realizing that October was still in-season and crowded (and it was a Saturday night) we attempted to have dinner in one of the numerous restaurants in Oia. As it turned out reservations were required, who knew, and so we walked back in the direction of the hotel. Remembering that our host recommended Meze in Oia Finikia. We decided to give it a try and it did not disappoint. Unfortunately we were really hungry and devoured our meal before photographing it.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast from the rooftop, which was a really nice start to a beautiful day.

Wanting to revisit my first glimpse of Santorini in 1973, we headed for Fira. Unlike that visit to this scenic town, where my Aunt and Uncle took me on a cruise, rode a donkey up the hill, and a total exposure to Santorini of a few hours, this trip afforded us the luxury for more in depth exploration. We parked at the top of the hill and walled down to the harbor.

There, we spoke with people who had been to Santorini in October who told us that it can still be hot. On the day that we went to Fira, October 10, it was torrid. Forewarned, we dressed for it and were able to purchase water along the walk. Looking back at the photos from the beginning of the blog you can see the iconic white buildings that have changed little over time and the donkeys on the path. This set starts about halfway down the hill with a glimpse of the shops, most of which sell water.

The beginning of the walk down to the harbor
The beginning of the walk down to the harbor

As you go down you will see donkeys at rest until their next ride.

And of course the obligatory stop for a frappe.

Facing the wind while waiting for my frappe
Facing the wind while waiting for my frappe

Floppy hats protect your face against the sun, unless of course there is wind.

Cable Cars
Cable Cars

After we climbed up the 590 stairs that we walked down, we came upon an Irish Pub. As I say without the Greeks the rest would starve and as my half-Irish husband would say without the Irish they would die of thirst. It seems as if everywhere we have traveled has at least one Irish Pub.

A nice long walk made us hungry for dinner and so we headed back to Fira to try one of the other restaurants that was recommended.

Dinner at Lefkes
Dinner at Lefkes

Join us as we continue our exploration of Santorini in our next mini blog, "Our trip continues - Santorini Part 2 "

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