Plan my trip!
April 14, 2007 4:36 PM   Subscribe

One week in Italy, one week in Greece, two weeks in Spain. What can't I miss? What should I avoid? Where should I stay? What else should I know?

The trip will start around June 20th (no hard dates yet, but I need to be back in the USA around July 20th). I will have a decent amount of money and probably a decent line of credit, but I'm not generally an extravagant lady and would like to save where I can. I'll likely be alone for Spain and with my boyfriend for the rest. Neither of us have ever been to these countries before (well, he's been to Spain, but he won't be going back). We don't speak Greek or Italian and I speak only the Spanish any Southern CA kid picks up, pretty much.

My itinerary is extremely wide open, so just tell me what you loved/hated. I know I need more time to explore these places properly, but I have to sandwich this between graduation on June 18th and a family reunion in late July, so this is what I've got and these are the countries I want to see. Sigh.
posted by crinklebat to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A short trip to Greece can consist of basically doing one of two things (actually, three): sticking to the "mainland" towns and villages and travelling by bus or car; going by boat to visit nearby small islands; or travelling by boat or plane to large islands that are a little bit further away - Cyprus and Crete come to mind. It's hard to pick one of these options, but if its your first time, maybe I'd lean towards the nearby islands. Keeping in mind that you've picked an excellent time to travel - not quite that hot, and not that many tourists.

There are so many beautiful islands. Santorini, Serifos, Paros, Mykonos, Rhodes, to name a few. There are beautiful sight ruins scattered around Athens, but if you're on a short leash, I recommend hitting the sea.
posted by phaedon at 4:51 PM on April 14, 2007


Never been to Greece. In Italy, I would say you can't miss Venice. It is touristy and a little trashy but it is still Venice and it is still magical if you wander the neighborhoods. One or two days there will suffice. From there it is not far to central Italy where you can see Florence, and if you are feeling adventurous you could go to Siena to see the Palio in early July, which was one of the highlights of my European trip last summer (see my previous Askme.) Cinque Terra is near there as well; I think it's a national park. I missed it but it was spoken highly of by other travellers. I didn't like Rome as much as Tuscany. Too hot and too big; lacking the small town medieval charm.

In Spain, I loved Barcelona. A very chill city, great place to relax and hang out for a few days. Great nightlife, decent beaches (especially in some of the towns nearby), lots of cool stuff to see. Madrid was also pretty good but I think Barcelona is easier for the traveller to enjoy, mostly because Madrid is a lot more spread out, I think. If you can make it to southern Spain I heard very good things about Tarifa and Cadiz. Personally I got as far south as Grenada, where I saw the Alhambra, which blew my mind. If you want to see Moorish (Islamic) architecture that is the place to go. Though it will be hot in the summer.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2007


This is where I stayed in Santorini. Loved it.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:43 PM on April 14, 2007


And for Italy, do you have any idea of what part you want to go? Last year I ferried from Turkey through Greece, then took the ferry cruise from Patras (Greece) to Venice. After hanging out in Venice a bit, we went by train to the Cinque Terra, which I recommend. It's very nice.

The only thing is that since you'll be going during high travel season it will be far harder to find spur of the moment great hotel rooms so you might want to book things online in advance. Sometimes I used hostels.com and sometimes I used venere.com. They were both pretty good.

Are you going to get a Eurail pass at all? Are you taking the train from Spain to Italy? Not going to stop in France at all? Or were you thinking about going by water & stopping in Sardinia or something? Where are you flying into and out of?

I know it seems like you have a lot of time, but I traveled for 7 weeks last year & I felt totally rushed covering the ground I did. I recommend just picking a few places you really want to see and don't stress about the places you'll miss. You'll have a great time!
posted by miss lynnster at 5:53 PM on April 14, 2007


I just had to do a whole bunch of research on Greece. All my notes are at work, but off the top of my head:

Hydra is a beautiful island. It's a nature preserve, and they're very careful about what you can bring to/leave on the island. I seem to recall no cars are allowed there.

Mykonos is very touristy, and a major gay destination.

Santorini is, apparently, stunning--but also pretty touristy. Crete is gorgeous, lots of ruins and history, but takes a while to get there from Athens.

Vouliagmeni, which is a resort area just outside of Athens, is pretty incredible. The Astir Palace (or the W) there is a bit spendy, but lets you get the feel of being on an island while actually on the mainland.

In Athens, of course there's the Acropolis and the Plaka, as well as the numerous Olympic sites.

Email in profile if you want to poke me on Monday for more info.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:00 PM on April 14, 2007


heh. dirtynumb's observations are correct. but please don't go to greece to end up in vouliagmeni - i will slap you. that's like visiting manhattan for the first time, and staying in the hamptons. (in and of itself unobjectionable - but come on.)
posted by phaedon at 6:04 PM on April 14, 2007


This hotel is pretty decent/reasonable in Athens, btw. Good location. Gotta book in advance though because it's in Rick Steves books.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:27 PM on April 14, 2007


By reasonable I mean it's less than a lot of the other places you will find listed online for the Plaka. It's definitely more than a hostel though. Obviously.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:29 PM on April 14, 2007


Oh yes, phaedon. But it's difficult to get the island experience in Greece if you also want to do the mainland. So staying in Vouliagmeni allows you to get the mainland feel. Personally, I'd rather stay at the Grand Bretagne in Athens.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:31 PM on April 14, 2007


I actually recommend mainland Greece, especially Delphi and Thessaloniki. They have some of the most beautiful monuments on the planet. Athens has stunning sunsets if you go up on one of the taller hills.

Make sure to go to Meteora, a network of monasteries built on top of black basalt cliffs. Do not take the bus; hike up the mountain, it's like being put into the middle of a fantasy novel.

In Spain, the old Roman cities are quite a sight--Tarragona (formerly Tarraco), near Barcelona, and Merida, a few hours west of Madrid. There are plenty of picturesque crumbling walls, and Merida has a preserved interlinked theater and amphitheater which look fantastic. The museums of Roman antiquities there are especially good.

Madrid has art shows everywhere, most of which are pretty well-done, and just walking around the city never gets old.
The south of Spain has lots of remnants of Moorish culture, orange trees, fountains, tiled floors, placid crystalline pools. Paradise.

staying in the hamptons. (in and of itself unobjectionable

I disagree strongly with this statement.
posted by nasreddin at 6:37 PM on April 14, 2007


Several years ago, I did a week in Greece doing the loop from Athens to Corinth to Olympia to Delfi to Kalambaka (town near Meteora) then back to Athens. It's not far distances, and you see nearly everything on the mainland you would want. It's even easier now since they built a bridge over the part where you had to take a ferry before. My route map and photos. I went in November over Thanksgiving and we were the only tourists in Greece, so I'm sure June is better.

If you still want to, you can get a taste for the islands with a one day trip from Athens. The standard trip includes Aegina, Hydra, and Poros with a few hours in each.
posted by smackfu at 7:07 PM on April 14, 2007


I second Meteora, and the "fantasy novel" description. It's unlike anything you'll have experienced before. It feels like something from an alien world. Also, if you're not a vegetarian, the meat dishes at the Koka Roka Hotel in Kalambaka (at the foot of Meteora) are the best I've ever had.

The must-see places in Athens are pretty obvious: the Parthenon, the Agora, the open-air markets. Downtown, buy some shoes from the poet sandalmaker Stavros Melissinos.

You could easily fill up a week with just Meteora and Athens, but if you want to hit the islands, Santorini is good (I haven't been, but friends have and they loved it), and Crete is wonderful. I spent a week backpacking through Crete and it's one of my happiest memories. If you can, hike the Samarian Gorge - it's about six miles, and eventually deposits you at a gorgeous black-sand beach called Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea.

I'm so jealous! Have a wonderful time!
posted by granted at 7:09 PM on April 14, 2007


You can take a night boat from Athens to Crete, by the way (you'll need to bring a sleeping bag).
posted by granted at 7:10 PM on April 14, 2007


Cinque Terra, Ligeria Italy.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:12 PM on April 14, 2007


If you like old buildings (I do) then southern Spain has a lot to offer. The cathedral in Seville is one of the largest in the world and contains the remains of Christopher Columbus. In Cordoba you can see the Mezquita, and Granada has the Alhambra as well as the best ice cream I've ever had (where all the restaurants are near the cathedral). Other things you can do there are catch a flamenco show or see a bullfight (but you can do that pretty much everywhere in Spain). It does get very hot in the daytime (into the 40s) which can be uncomfortable, but has the advantage of thinning the crowds.

Other sights in southern Spain would be orange trees, fields of sunflowers (although the end of June may not be the right time for them) and white-walled houses.

Elsewhere, Madrid has great art galleries. I don't really know what else the city has to offer because the art galleries were that good (I don't even like art all that much). Oh, and there's a train station that's one big greenhouse with a jungle inside.

In Barcelona there's this one ice cream shop off Las Ramblas with pictures of all these famous people who had ice cream there. The ice cream is good, but doesn't come close to the stuff in Granada.

Also, in Spain they have pizza cones. They may have them elsewhere as well. If you like pizza it might be worth a try.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:24 PM on April 14, 2007


Oh, yes, definitely Cinque Terra! And Venice! And Ostia Attica (near Rome), an ancient city like Pompeii but better preserved and with fewer tourists.

When I was travelling from Florence to Barcelona, I started chatting with a Spanish woman who recommended that I visit Parc Guell. She said that Gaudi, the architect who had designed it, made everything look like a Dr. Seuss drawing and that I shouldn't miss it. She was right.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:57 AM on April 15, 2007


In Spain, Toledo and Granada are both stunning, small cities. Toledo is a city on a hill, overlooking a river. It has the feel of a medieval fortress town.

Granada was among the last muslim strongholds in Europe. It features the Al Hambra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's stunning.

Take the bus from Madrid to Toledo and Granada. The bus services are cheap there.
posted by thenormshow at 7:40 AM on April 15, 2007


I was twelve the last time I was in Spain, but I still remember the Alhambra as the most beautiful building on this earth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra

http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/The_Alhambra.html
posted by xammerboy at 9:59 AM on April 15, 2007


This hasn't been addressed, but language-wise you will not have a problem in Greece. Apparently, nearly everyone there learns English as a second language. It may vary a bit – I haven't been around the mainland outside of Athens (which is enormous) – but I was completely surprised at how much English was around. Not on signs, though.

Spain and Italy, it's more what you'd expect, so break out the phrasebooks.
posted by furiousthought at 11:52 AM on April 15, 2007


Not on signs, though.

Yeah, signs are rough. I can read Greek letters given enough time ("let's see, sigma is S..."), but it's hard when you're driving.
posted by smackfu at 2:23 PM on April 15, 2007


In Spain maybe stretch the budget a bit with at least 1 night in a Paradore
posted by johnny7 at 3:57 AM on April 16, 2007


Spain; I don't know what your interests are but just the plain, average tourist itinerary is Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Granada. Buses are the cheapest to get from one to the other but will eat up time. If you time it right you can take overnight buses and sleep on the bus, thus saving you hotel costs.

Personally my list of places to go is San Pol on the Meditteranean during festival season in July, Canfranc to see the abandoned railway station, and exploring the old Roman city under Merida. But that might not be your idea of fun. The festivals are the one thing that must be seen in Spain. I would forego the generic tourist sights just to enjoy one of the festivals.
posted by JJ86 at 6:00 AM on April 16, 2007


My idea of travel is less is more. I'd pick wonderful places that don't necessitate the need for long drives and tight schedules.

I absolutely adore Florence, and I love Tuscany. It's not like there isn't more to see in Italy-- you could spend years-- but Florence and the environs are wonderful enough that you won't be pining away and wishing you'd gone to Rome.

One part of Greece I love is Delphi. It's easy to get to, and I think exceptionally beautiful. There is a museum of bronze sculpture that is so impressive I still picture it twenty years later.

(If you're not set on Greece, my favourite city-- politics aside-- is Istanbul. I've been to over thirty countries, and hundreds of cities, and it's still the city I most love to spend time in, even after three visits. I understand why Greeks, Kurds and Armenians would shun it, but it's incredibly beautiful and the people are everso hospitalable).
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:57 PM on April 18, 2007


P.S. Learning the Greek alphabet is not difficult if you get a text book and practice for an hour. Get a phrase book and relax. Greeks are incredibly helpful, even when they don't speak English.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:03 PM on April 18, 2007


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