Katie of Tripbase tagged me, so now it's my turn to write a post revealing my top three travel secrets. I felt a little overwhelmed when trying to choose my three so I decided to focus on what I learned on my trip to Greece in July 2008.
1. You aren't supposed to flush your toilet paper — at least not in most places in Greece.
It may not be guaranteed in the Constitution, but Americans take their right to flush used toilet paper down the toilet very seriously. Here in the U.S., I've seen plenty of signs requesting that nothing other than toilet paper be flushed, but never a request not to flush toilet paper. Nor had I encountered non-toilet-paper toilets throughout my travels all over Europe, the Caribbean or Mexico.
I first learned that you couldn't flush the toilet paper in Santorini when I was researching my trip in the Tripadvisor.com forums. I saw some people complaining about the toilets so I asked the people in the forum to recommend a hotel that had better flushing toilets. I then learned that the plumbing system there just isn't equipped to handle toilet paper. (I actually think that a lot of American toilets aren't equipped to handle toilet paper either, which is why when you go into a public restroom there are so many disgusting clogged toilets.)
So when you're in Greece, you will see a bin next to the toilet and that is where you are supposed to put the paper. Usually there won't be a sign, as the presence of the bin says it all. Some people (especially Americans), don't realize that's why the bin is there.
OK, so no one is going to prevent you from flushing toilet paper when you're on the john. But you don't want to be the American who floods the bathroom, now do you?
2. If you go to Santorini (and you should!), stay in Firostefani.
Santorini is the one of the most beautiful places on earth, and that is no secret. But once you make the excellent decision to go there, you're going to have to decide where to stay. For most islands, I would say stay by the beach, but this is not most islands. The whole point of Santorini is the magnificent view over the caldera, so you need to stay cliff side (west coast) as opposed to beach side (east coast).
The two main towns in Santorini are Ia and Fira. Ia is picture-perfect — it even has a windmill. But it's all the way up on the northern tip, so exploring the island will be difficult. And you won't want to miss the Red Beach, which is all the way on to the south. Fira is the capital, and it's right in the middle of the west coast. But it can get very crowded.
I recommend that you stay just outside Fira in Firostefani. You'll have amazing views without the crowds and you can easily walk to Fira. When I was there, I stayed in Villa Ilias, and I highly recommend it as a reasonably priced hotel with an outstanding location. If you continue north along the coast you'll reach Imerovigli, which also has great views and some more upscale hotel choices. But it's a longer walk to Fira, and one that I wouldn't want to do late at night after dinner (not for safety issues, but because it gets very dark).
3. They eat really late in Athens. No, I mean really, really late.
Before I went to Spain in the summer 2007, I was warned that Spaniards like to eat really late. Now as a New Yorker, I don't like to go out to dinner until at least 8pm, although I do like to be seated by 9pm. When I was in Madrid and Barcelona, I didn't find the dinner hour to be that different
I was also warned that Greeks like to eat late. In Santorini, Paros and Naxos, I didn't find that they ate particularly late there. But our last stop was Athens and, well, I can't imagine anyplace that eats later than Athens. Any later and it would be considered breakfast!
We only had two nights in Athens, and we wanted to go to trendy restaurants on both of them. We had splurged on one of Athens's best hotels, The Grand Bretagne, so we asked the concierge to make dinner reservations for us. The first night we requested Balthazar, a chic Mediterranean restaurant where you dine alfresco among gorgeous mosaics. The concierge told us that he reserved a table for us at 9:30pm. We were happy with that, until we got to the restaurant and discovered they were still setting up! It would be the equivalent of arriving at 6pm in New York. Well, we ate slowly and people started trickling in at about 10:30pm. When we left at midnight, the restaurant was in full swing. Now you have to understand, people weren't just hanging out drinking. No, they were eating appetizers, main courses and dessert, and drinking.
The next night we asked the concierge to choose someplace cool for us. He sent us to Villa Mercedes with a 10pm reservation. Luckily, our cab driver got lost on the way so we arrived closer to 10:30pm and we were hoping we were late enough. Not a chance, and the people at Villa Mercedes seemed to think we had insisted on eating early. Anyway, the whole thing was quite hilarious, as we were the only customers until almost midnight. (This was a Saturday night.) Again, we just ate slowly and pretended (to ourselves) that we were celebrities and we had asked the restaurant to open privately just for us.
So, if you want to eat dinner someplace trendy in Athens, prepare to eat very late!
OK, now I have to tag 5 travel bloggers. Andrew of The Brooklyn Nomad, Brian of NoDebtWorldTravel, Heather of HeatherOnHerTravels, Aly and John of HopandJaunt and Donna of My Itchy Travel Feet, you're on!