In early March, Farmer J and I took a vacation to Greece! Greece was our runner-up honeymoon location (eventually losing to Alaska). We love to travel in early March because (1) it is typically the best time for the farm – before planting happens, and before the weather is nice enough for other farm projects, and (2) it is the low travel season for everyone else! Our trip was nine total days including travel to and from the US. Here are my top 5 highlights.
1. The Cost.
We did our research before we even committed to the trip and found our most affordable travel route was quite unconventional. We flew out of the tiny Mason City airport to Chicago O’Hare on a lovely little airline called Air Choice One. Air Choice One has very affordable direct flights to Chicago daily. They fly eight passenger Cessnas with WAY more leg room than you are use to on any other airline. It is a little strange as you descend into O’Hare in the little plane next to the large jets! The next leg of our trip was booked round trip from Chicago to Athens which was much more affordable than taking a connection from our nearest airport. The bonus was getting to fly Swiss, which has fantastic customer service. Our extra bonus was that that dollar to Euro exchange was very beneficial to our pocket books. A strong dollar makes for a more affordable vacation!
2. The Food.
In full honesty, I didn’t think I was going to like Greek food. I don’t even like olives (gasp!) But the food was amazing. We were big fans of everything we ate. Our favorites included any seafood, souvlaki (basically a kebab), anything with tzatziki sauce, and the delicious olive oil. Off season travel means that your eating options are not bountiful; however, the places that are open are good . . . because even the locals eat there! In Herkalion (Iraklio), we found a delicious restaurant called Ippokambos, which provided us with some deliciously memorable seafood and a lovely atmosphere. Other culinary highlights included walking into a Taverna where the owners did not speak English and having some fellow patrons order for us. We didn’t know what we were getting . . . but suddenly small plates started appearing and we started eating and enjoying raki shots with the group. I am still not 100% sure what I ate that night, but I do know there were some snails!
3. The People.
Specifically in Crete, the people were amazing. We had lovely conversations with locals who shared their insights on Cretean life. We learned about olive production, the difficulties of the Greek tax code, and why they love life on the island. People were welcoming and hospitable everywhere you turned. I think the low season is a perfect time to sit and talk to locals as the pace is just a little bit slower and relaxed. Those same tavernas where we had slow conversations in March are probably a bit busier in June!
4. The History.
Saying Greece is a historic place is probably an understatement. We enjoyed Greece’s main attractions including the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. We also toured the ancient Angora (basically the historic city center) and more ruins I can’t even remember! In Crete, the ruins were even older which is hard to believe. There were multiple sites from the Minoans who were on the island between 2600 and 1400 BC. We went to the ancient palaces of Knossos and Phaestos among many other roadside ruins. My other favorite pieces of history included the very old olive trees. They can live for thousands of years, which was news to me!
5. The Land.
Greece was just beautiful. The ocean was never far away, but I had not expected to see fertile agricultural valleys or tall mountains! We enjoyed many hikes whether it was on the island of Hydra (where your feet or a donkey are the only forms of transportation . . . no cars allowed), or on a gorge hike in the Imbros gorge in Crete. We saw beaches and vineyards, windmills and citrus groves. I was surprised at the diversity of the land, and I never tired of our scenery. The day we left Crete, we spend an hour sitting on some rocks near the ocean just watching them roll in. It felt like we were on the edge of the world!
I know Greece is going through some troubled times right now, but hopefully they come through it. It truly is a lovely place. Now we are just deciding where to go to next . . . stay tuned!