Thank you 2022 for allowing us to travel and see the world again. We are thankful for the opportunity to check off a few bucket list this year, including Northern Lights in Finland, Maldives, Bora Bora, and now Santorini. Post-pandemic revenge travel is real...lol!
17 Oct 2022 (Mon): Athens - Santorini
After spending 2 nights in Athens, we continued our journey to our main destination of this trip...Santorini!
Landed at Santorini airport at 6.05pm, about 5 minutes behind schedule. Even though the airport wasn't busy and we tried to get out of the aiport asap, it was already 6.20pm by the time we got out of the airport so we missed the 6.10pm bus to Fira. That means we had to wait for the the next bus at 7.10pm. =.= We decided to wait outside to make sure we don't miss the bus but It was very windy and chilly (20°C/68°F). The Santorini public bus schedules can be found here.
The bus arrived on time at 7.10pm. We stored our backpacks at the bottom of the bus and boarded the bus. The bus conductor came to our seats later on to collect the fare (cash only) and gave us the bus ticket. The cost from airport to Fira was supposed to be EUR 2.20/pax but we had some communication barrier with the bus conductor so we paid only EUR 3.30 for two.
We read online that it should only be a 10 minute bus ride to Fira but somehow our bus ride took 30 minutes and we arrived Fira bus station at 7.40pm. Unfortunately, the last bus to Imerovigli, the town where our hotel was located, was at 7pm so we decided to get some exercise with a night walk to our hotel. According to Google Map, the distance from Fira to our hotel is about 2.5km and takes about 38 minutes, should be easy. =P
Well...what we didn't realize was that it was actually an uphill hike almost the entire way!! Besides, carrying a 10kg backpack didn't make the hike easier. =.= Looking on the bright side, at least we're still fit and strong enough for random adventures like this. =) Anyway, I'm still glad we made the decision to bring a backpack instead of a suitcase for this trip, else we wouldn't have been able to do this random hike...lol!!
Finally made it to our hotel at 8.25pm!! The hotel staff who checked us in probably wondered where we came from looking all sweaty coz we were supposed to call them when we are at the Astra Square car park and they'd come meet us and carry our bags.
We stayed at Astra Suites in Imerovigli for our 4 nights in Santorini. According to santorinidave.com, Astra Suites is one of Santorini's finest luxury hotel and is the hotel with best caldera sunset view. Thanks to IHG's partnership with Mr and Mrs Smith, we were able to book this stay worth $1,200 with 127,500 IHG points. The cost per night was 42,500 points/night and we got the 4th night free as a benefit of our IHG credit card.
Astra Suites is an all-suite hotel and the room we booked is the Studio. Our studio room was a cute cave room with a loft bedroom. The suite was nice and cozy but I'm not a fan of the tile color. Anyway, we were informed at check in that we'd only stay in this room for first night as they are upgrading us to a nicer room for the next 3 nights. =)
We received a free bottle of Santorini wine upon arrival and since it was already 9.30pm by the time we settled down, so we had a quick dinner with camping food and wine...lol!
18 Oct 2022 (Tues): Sightseeing at Imerovigli
Woke up to this stunning view from our balcony!! Wowwww...welcome to Santorini!!
We packed our stuffs and moved to our upgraded room for the next 3 nights - Senior Suite with Caldera View (Room 106) which costs EUR 600 per night!! As compared to the Studio, which is located at the ground floor, this suite is located on the 2nd floor so it offered more privacy. It also has a private balcony and outdoor terrace.
Interior of the suite features a separate living room and bedroom area, 'gold' bathroom, Marshall bluetooth speaker, kitchenette with Nespresso machine.
Received this special local wine from Mr. George, the hotel's Managing Director. =)
Welcome to our private balcony...
...with sweeping views of the caldera, Aegean Sea, Skaros Rock and Santorini’s stunning sunset! I don't know how I ended up taking sooooo many photos of this same view. =P Many people think that hotels in Oia has the best sunset views but many hotels in Oia doesn't have sunset views. In fact, hotels in Imerovigli actually have the best sunsets of any town in Santorini. This is because hotels in Imerovigli are perched high on the cliff with great views of both the sunset and the caldera. Best of all, Imerovigli doesn't have the crowds like Oia. Even better, we get this amazing view directly from our own balcony!
Even though I'm a IHG Diamond member, I know that the free breakfast benefit doesn't apply to Mr and Mrs Smith hotel so I wasn't expecting to get free breakfast in this hotel. However to our surprise, the hotel actually includes daily complimentary room service breakfast!!! They gave us a menu to fill out the day before, specifying the time we want breakfast delivered and we could order anything from the menu!!! Wowwww!!
Breakfast with amazing views on our terrace was cool but cold (17°C/63°F)!!!
Another breakfast with a view on the terrace of our upgraded room.
For the other 2 days, we asked the staff to serve our breakfast in the suite coz it was too cold outside...lol!!
Things we order over 4 days include Toast with guacamole & sauteed mushrooms, Summer tabbouleh (couscous, cucumber, tomato, zucchini & fresh herbs), Scrambled tofu with turmeric, vegetables & fresh green salad, omelette with onion, tomato & fresh asparagus, Egg-white omelette with spinach & cheese, Fried eggs with bacon, mushrooms, sauteed cherry tomatoes & sausage on the side, Pancakes with lemon/cinnamon cream & maple syrup, Ham & cheese French toast with briche & maple syrup, Selection of cold cuts, Selection of Greek cheese, Sliced seasonal fruits, Coffee, Milk, Corn flakes, Smoothie. They were very generous with the cherry tomatoes...lol!! As usual, we turned our breakfast into brunch and saved on our lunches. =P
A cool and thoughtful thing the hotel did was providing this brochure which was updated daily with the weather and some helpful info.
The surrounding of this hotel is very nice and clean and the different shades of blue all around the hotel against the whitewashed buildings looks perfect!
Infinity pool with caldera view. We didn't use the pool but it's nice that it was heated.
Can't get enough of this view. Spot the cruise ship in the distance.
Views of the hotel surrounding at dusk.
For our first full day in Santorini and while waiting to switch our room, we went for sightseeing around Imerovigli.
Our first stop was a short hike to Skaros rock. The start of the trail is conveniently located 5 minutes from our hotel.
The path begins with concrete steps and a thin wire guard rail, and transitions to a gravel path with no barrier. The hike was short and easy.
There’s a small church, Panagia Theoskepasti, half way along the trail, which seemed to be a popular spot for photoshoot. It was actually very windy and that lady's dress give you an idea how windy it was...haha!!
This site was historically used as a fortress, with its elevated position and wide views of the surrounding area with Fira on the left and Oia on the right.
We spent about 1.5 hours for the round-trip hike to Skaros Rock. Most of the time was spent taking photos...lol!
Looking back to Imerovigli from Skaros Rock and spotted both our hotel rooms from far.
After the Skaros Rock hike, we continued walking around Imerovigli town.
Imerovigli is a quiet town located in between Fira and Oia, which makes it nice to walk around coz we don't like crowds. =P
These restaurants in Imerovigli, which includes Five Senses restaurant in Astra Suites, offer stunning views of the caldera.
One of the many churches with blue domes on the island...Church of the Resurrection of the Lord in Imerovigli
Random photos around Imerovigli. As mentioned above, we love the fact that there weren't many tourists in this town. =)
Bought 3 souvlaki (marinated and grilled skewers of meat) pitas from Let's Eat for dinner and enjoyed it on our terrace. Total cost for 3 of these and 2 beers were $29.
19 Oct 2022 (Wed): Sightseeing at Oia + Hike from Oia to Imerovigli
Started our 2nd full day in Santorini at 9.15pm with a 40 minute walk/hike from Imerovigli to Fira. This was the same route we walked/hiked when we first arrived 2 days ago but it was sooooo much easier to walk this direction as it was mostly downhill and we weren't carrying our big backpacks this time around. =)
The walk was pretty easy through well-paved paths and the weather was cool which made the walk a lot more pleasant. It was still fairly early and a lot of shops were just opening up so there weren't many people around yet.
Quick photo stop at another blue-domed church, Three Bells of Fira.
Arrived Fira bus station at 9.50am, just in time to catch the 10am bus to Oia. The bus station was busy but we found the Fira - Oia bus pretty easily. We paid EUR 3.50 (cash only) for the two of us to the bus driver before boading the bus. The bus departed at 10.10am and was only half full. We sat on the left side of the bus but the view on the right side was better. We arrived Oia's bus stop at 10.30am.
There were obviously a lot more tourists in Oia, which made it difficult to get good photos. Oh well, I'll just show the true picture then. =P
Left: Church of Panagia Akathistos Hymn; Right: Ιερός Ναός Αγίας Τριάδας
Left: Church of Panagia Akathistos Hymn; Right: Ιερός Ναός Αγίας Τριάδας
The famous blue-domed church in Oia. Apparently this is one of the best photo spots of the church and it's not a secret (just google) so of course there are plenty of people wanting to get that perfect insta-shot here. I managed to the photo on the right for that 3 seconds without people...lol!
Random bell as we were exploring the many alleys and steps in Oia.
I brought my tripod but didn't get a chance to use it at all coz there were too many people around. =.= We managed to get a non-selfie photo of us thanks to a nice lady who offered to help us take a photo. =)
People here, people there, people everywhere. =.= This is not even bad, can you imagine coming here during summer? No thank you.
Castle of Oia is where people come to watch sunset but since we were there around 11am, there weren't as many people and I finally managed to use my tripod for photos. Thanks to the wind, my phone caught this hilarious photo of me trying to save my tripod and phone from the fall...lol!!
All those nice Windmill of Oia photos we see on instagram are zoomed-in and cropped. This is what it looks like without zooming...I'm keeping Santorini real...hahaha!!
We were gonna walk down to Amoudi bay but decided to turnaround halfway after realizing how much we need to climb when we return. There are other ways to get down to Amoudi bay without walking all these steps but we weren't planning to eat anything there so we decided to give it a pass.
Donkeys and their poop all over the steps.
Few more same same but different photos of this view before we head back.
After spending 1.5 hours in Oia, we decided to start our hike back to Imerovigli around 11.45am. Sorry Oia, you're too crowded!
8km hike to Imerovigli...let's go!! Our destination is that town at the top of the hill in the bottom two pics....so farrrrr!!
Passed by this quiet part of Oia which actually looks nicer than the popular part we were at earlier. The buildings here are more whitewashed than the ones earlier.
The trail from Oia to Imerovigli/Fira...uphill climb almost the entire hike. =.=
I'm not a fan of hiking and obviously didn't do my research well to know that there's quite a lot of uphill climb on this trail. Looking at the top photo, we started at the far right town of Oia and our destination was the far left town of Imerovigli. Looking at how far we've walked and how much more we have to go wasn't very motivating...lol!
Few photo stops along the way. Thank goodness we had music to keep us entertained during the hike. Even though it looked like it was gonna rain, luckily it didn't and the weather was nice and cooling for our hike. I definitely wouldn't recommend doing this hike in the summer because there is no shade at all along the trail (we were walking along the top of the caldera the entire hike).
Even though Google Map showed that the hike would take 1hr 55min, it took us about 2.5 hours to complete the hike and made it back to Imerovigli at 2.15pm...phew!!
Time to say goodbye to paradise. =( Checked out of the hotel at 11am and walked 5 minutes to the Imerovigli bus stop to catch the bus to Fira. Luxury mode off, backpack mode on. =P According to the bus schedule, the bus from Imerovigli to Fira was scheduled for 11.05am but the bus was late and arrived at 11.20am.
The bus ride from Imerovigli to Fira costs EUR 1.60/pax and took about 10 minutes. Fira is the main bus hub in Santorini and we had to switch to a different bus here to get to the airport. This bus stop was definitely busy but I'd say it's an 'organized chaos', and definitely a cost-efficient way to travel around Santorini. We took the 12pm bus from Fira and arrived at the airport at 12.15pm. Our total bus fare of EUR 4 is much cheaper than the EUR 45/way transfer the hotel was gonna charge.
Santorini airport is pretty small but there were two British Airways flight leaving around the same time so it took us some time to check-in and drop our bags at the British Airways counter. I'm impressed with my packing skill, getting almost the same weight for both bags without a scale...lol!
We used 30,000 AA miles +$98 per person for our flights back to the US. Santorini - London - Charlotte - Huntsville, with an overnight transit in London.
Our British Airways flight from Santorini - London was supposed to depart at 3.20pm but was delayed by almost an hour and departed at 4.11pm.
Arrived London at 6.15pm...welcome to rainy gloomy London! Spotted Tower Bridge and London Eye on our approach to Heathrow. Surprisingly, immigration was super fast and it took us less than 5 minutes to get through immigration...whoa!!! Even my cousin who lives in London was surprised how fast we got through immigration at Heathrow...lol!!
We had planned to meet up with my cousin for dinner so as soon as we got off the plane, we took a bus from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 to drop off our luggage at our hotel, then hopped on Elizabeth line at 7.40pm from Terminal 4 to Ealing Broadway station. This train line is fairly new so the train was nice and new. There was also free wifi in the train.
We arrived Ealing Broadway station at 8.10pm and met up with my cousin for dinner at Tonkotsu Ealing. So glad to be able to meet up and catch up with them over dinner, and thanks Audrey and Greig for coming all the way out to meet us! =)
We stayed at Holiday Inn Express in Hounslow (Terminal 4) for the night. This hotel is connected to T4 via a covered walkway which makes it convenient for our overnight transit. We used 15,000 IHG points for this stay.
22 Oct 2022 (Sat): London - Charlotte - Huntsville
Had complimentary breakfast in the hotel before checking out at 10am.
Took the free train transfer from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3.
Arrived Terminal 3 at 10.45am to make sure we have plenty of time before our 2.05pm flight. Wanted to go to the lounge but it was full. =.=
The 9 hour flight from London to Charlotte on American Airlines was completely full and food was ok. Typical US carrier...no expectation...haha!
That's a wrap for our weeklong Greece trip! Despite all the stress and uncertainties leading up to this trip, we are so glad and grateful that everything went smoothly. From the Penthouse Suite in Athens with gorgeous view of the Acropolis, to the suite with balconies overlooking the caldera in Santorini, we are so thankful for all these incredible experiences. Best of all, we were able to keep the total cost pretty low (approx. $530 for both of us) all thanks to points and miles! =)
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