Want some travel ideas for the Greek islands?

Check out this 6 min slideshow of our travel adventure on the islands of Crete, Rhodes, Kos and Symi – a pictoral summary of the previous 15 blog posts. It is dedicated to IMF hero, car crash survivor, and epic uncle, Tony Pellechio. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your experiences on these or other islands in Greece!

Symi island, Greece

Gialos, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Ah, Symi – that last of the islands we’re visiting, and perhaps the most picturesque, particularly the harbor at Gialos, with its custard-colored neoclassical villas lining the hillside, and its stunning beaches with turquoise and emerald water set against dramatic cliffs. We took a water taxi to Agia Marina beach, which had water so crystal clear that I could see the ocean floor more than 10′ below me. Elise urged me to swim across to the tiny island with her, where she had a blast doing cannonballs off the pier.

Agia Marina beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Later, we visited Nanou Beach, which had tame goats and a dreamy, tree-shrouded beachside cafe. I floated endlessly in the emerald water, listening to the pebbles rolling over each other with each gentle wave (underwater, it sounded like the crushing of ice), while Elise developed her water ballet routine in honor of the Olympics.

Nanou Beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

tame goats at Nanou beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

tree-shrouded cafe, Nanou Beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

In the evening, we passed Agios Georgios beach on the way back, where one last glorious sliver of light electrified the turqouise water.

last sliver of sunlight at Agios Georgios beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

water taxi to Gialos, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Back in Gialos, we climbed the 500-step Kali Strata to reach a hillside restaurant. It’s not one monstrous staircase favored by fitness buffs like my sister Lisa Ollmann Mair, but a few steps followed by a stretch of flat road, followed by a few steps, and so on, so the guidebook’s description of it as “calf-crunching, knee-knobbling” made me assume the writer had never tackled the likes of the Samari Gorge trek – for which the description would have been much better suited. From the bay, the villas on the hillside look so tidy, but up close, many are windowless and roofless, with weeds as tall as me. I wish no hardship on anyone, but the photographer in me simply loved the decripitude.

derelict villa, Kali Strata, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Kali Strata, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Back down along the harbor, a lady selling all manner of sponges plunged a few into a bucket of water and then squeezed them dry so we could feel their texture. One’s apparently good for the face, another for skin conditions, another for “females” (she didn’t elaborate), and still another for household cleaning. I suppose I should have bought one, but when I learned from intrepid traveler James H. Bluck that their black exterior must first be broken off and their milky guts squeezed out to make them useable, I couldn’t really bring myself to buy one.

natural sponge, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Rhodes Old Town

Apart from the tacky tourist shops, Rhodes Old Town was dreamy to this American’s eyes – an ancient walled city of derelict mosques, cobbled alleyways, and romantic restaurants in hidden courtyards. We lucked out and found a room in the Jewish Quarter, which felt like a ghost town, inhabited only by cats. To protect guests’ heads from unwelcome contact with the ancient world, there was a pillow tied to the low stone archway above the staircase. We strolled the Knights’, Turkish and Jewish quarters, toured the 14th century Palace of the Grand Master, sipped refreshing pomegranate and watermelon juice, and dined in bliss in a quiet restaurant beneath a giant tree strung with glowing lanterns.

winding walkways in Rhodes Old Town -@World Travel Mama

boats in the harbor at Rhodes Old Town - @World Travel Mama

dinner beneath a giant tree strung with lanterns, Rhodes Old Town - @World Travel Mama

charming cobbled walkways, Rhodes Old Town, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Mosque in Rhodes Old Town - @World Travel Mama

ancient archways, Rhodes Old Town, Greece - @World Travel Mama

pillow tied to an archway in Rhodes Old Town - @World Travel Mama

Chania’s Old Town

Chania’s Old Town was extremely touristy, and yet, still charming, thanks to its narrow lanes and leafy canopies, colorful shops and cafes, and biscuit-colored buildings lining the harbor. Many wait staff were also super friendly. During lunch at a seafood restaurant, the waiters played with Elise’s Beanie Boo turtle, pretended to steal her hat, and even brought her an extra crab and taught her the right way to eat it. The maitre d’ had surreally green eyes, which she told me were her Albanian Grandmother’s eyes. Later, in a toy shop, we met a Bulgarian woman who’d come to Greece on Erasmus 12 years ago and just stayed. I wondered how many other Eastern Europeans had come – perhaps for the laid back lifeystyle or tourist-industry jobs, and how they – along with everyone else – were weathering the financial crisis. A Greek manager from Athens told me that the islanders had it slightly easier, since they have chickens and gardens (not to mention lots of tourists in towns like Chania), but his statement is nonetheless worrisome, because it means that many are existing at the subsistence level.

Chania's Old Town - view from our hotel - @World Travel Mama

Chania's Harbor - @World Travel Mama

Chania's winding shopping alleyways - @World Travel Mama

Chania - Albanian maitre d - @World Travel Mama

Chania - narrow alleyways - @World Travel Mama

16km Samaria Gorge trek

Holy calf muscles, Batman! Yesterday we hiked the Samaria Gorge, a 16km stony trail with walls soaring as high as 500m that winds its way through cypress forests, past ancient chapels and abandoned settlements, and zigzags over the river via stepping stones and rickety bridges. The most dramatic point is at the 11.5km mark where the walls narrow to just 3m. Things I could’ve done without: the scorching heat and slippery stones. Things I loved: the mighty scale of the place, the gorgeous wavelike striations in the rocks, a sign at the trailhead showing no high heels (um, duh?), being able to fill our water bottles risk-free with fresh mountain water, the thousands of tiny stone sculptures like relics from some ancient cult, the scent of wild sage, spotting a kri-kri(!), a rarely seen endangered goat, and the cool ocean spray at end of the trail in Agia Roumeli. Oh yes, and having avoided the Samari Gorge tours touted by every single travel agency, by figuring out that we could do it on our own by taking a bus there and ferry back.

Samaria Gorge trailhead - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge - no high heels - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge piles of stones - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge - massive vertical walls - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge - endangered kri-kri - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge - gorgeous striations in the rock - @World Travel Mama

Samaria Gorge - cooling off in Agia Roumeli - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora, Crete

I love breezy, cheery Paleochora. It’s a coastal town like (gritty) Kissamos, but it has a marvelous vibe – perhaps because it’s a peninsula, and so more like a tiny island in its own right. The sign for the beach points both east and west (joy!), and the cafes along the seaside and in the pedrstrian zone are overflowing with familes with kids, even well past sundown. Elise loves that there are friendly cats everywhere. And while it’s not unique to this town, I’ve also come to enjoy the tradition of having watermelon for dessert – and sometimes a sip of raki.

Paleochora cat, Virginia Studios, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora beach sign, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora, Virginia Studios, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora, Galaxy Restaurant, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Kissamos, Crete

Kisses from Kissamos! gateway to the epic beaches on Crete’s Western coast. While the name of the town, which makes me think of ‘Kiss the Most’, is lovely, the town itself, unfortunately, is not, though it has a nice sandy beach and some good, unpretentious seaside restaurants.

Kissamos kisses, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Kissamos beach in the evening, Crete - @World Travel Mama