Greece Part 2: Mykonos, Athens, and a Haunted House

If you are reading this, hopefully you have read Part 1, so I will spare the background. This one is a wee bit long… but fun, I promise, so bear with me.

The ferry to Mykonos was fairly uneventful – other than – oh I left my phone in the Taxi. So let me start with a tip that’s useful for every time you step out of the house with baby. [Tip: If you are carrying a baby do not carry phone in your hand – put it right back in the purse or diaper bag after using it.  Because when you get up from the table or leave the taxi in a hurry your mindspace will be more occupied with the baby and you will not remember to pick up your phone. OK, but I really had no excuse for leaving the phone everywhere before Arya was born ;-)]

Luckily we had the Taxi driver’s number – we called him and he promptly came back to the port with it – just in time for the ferry to depart. Phew!

First Night in Mykonos – Mommy’s Night Out

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The balcony of our room

We arrived in Mykonos at around 5pm and were received by Marietta – the owner of our Hotel – Marietta’s. It was a quaint little place with only five rooms – of which we had three. It is the ancestral home of the owner, and located right by the Windmills. We hauled our luggage and stroller up two flights of stairs and settled in (annoying part was hauling the stroller up and down each time – but Saurabh and my Father-in-law managed). But the view from our balcony was worth a million bucks! Pristine blue waters, white houses with blue windows, and the windmills lining the back. This was not the most baby friendly room with its metal bed and sharp moldings on furniture (yes, that is how detailed your research needs to be with a baby) – but sometimes that is the price you pay for the view. One of us was always carefully watching Arya who had just discovered her mobility and was testing it in every which way!   [Tip: Consider the tradeoff of practicality and the location.  If I had to do it over I would probably still pick a great location over baby friendliness in Mykonos… it was only 2 nights!]

 

 

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Cocktails at one of the bars

We sheepishly requested my mother-in-law to watch Arya for the night so Saurabh and I could enjoy a night out in Mykonos, and yippee! She agreed (or I would haul poor sleeping Arya to restaurants and bars with me)! Excited by the prospect of real partying with great cocktails and grown up music (no Wheels on the Bus!) – I switched off from mommy-mode and pulled out the sexiest dress I fit into without the baby fat oozing, slapped on some makeup, gave my hair a blow dryer and hair spray lift, and set out to paint the town red with Saurabh. Except… everyone outside was wearing jackets and jeans because it was 13 degrees and drizzling. Adamant on making my night out count, I refused to go back to change. Three bars, two frozen legs, and only an hour and half later I was ready to go back and snuggle in my bed. [Tip: Ok… I wont even bother spelling this one out.  But lesson learned]

 

 

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Photo credit: Tripadvisor (I forgot to take a photo at Il forno di Gerasimo)

The next morning, Saurabh went on a coffee run while I played with Arya, who was awake way earlier than I was ready for her.  Some days I really wish babies came with a snooze button! We dragged our feet and performed her morning massage and bath rituals and set out for breakfast at an artisanal bakery – Il forno di Gerasimo. If you are breadaholic like me, bring your sponsor – because you die and go to bread heaven as soon as you enter the bakery. I wanted to pounce at every croissant, patty, and bun in sight (then I saw the love handles on top of the waist of my jeans…). Arya had some fresh orange juice and spinach bread for breakfast and Saurabh and I had our favorite – sausage rolls and coffee.

 

 

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Arya and I enjoying Paraga Beach

We were walking towards the taxi stands at the center of town to head to Paradise beach when we ran into Marietta, who suggested that we go to Paraga beach instead, which she said was more “family friendly” (read: fewer nude people). So we took two taxis and headed to the beach. Paraga beach was definitely a vision! The sun glistening against the beautiful blue water was so inviting – but I wasn’t going to fall for it this time. Arya and I enjoyed the view and the beach from the sun bed. We loitered there for a bit, had some coffee and Prosecco, and started to making our way towards the famous Nikola’s Tarverna, that everyone on Tripadvisor raved about. Nikola’s was awesome! Even the vegetarians loved the food there. And they are extremely baby friendly – have all the baby

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Arya in sling with Saurabh

equipment and will modify recipes to suit babies. Well fed and sun soaked, we headed back to Mykonos city for some street shopping. We walked around in our neighborhood with Little Venice and Old Port within walking distance, went in and out of art galleries and boutique shops. Saurabh and I took turns carrying Arya in the sling – which is better when you are in crowded areas – strollers are bit harder to maneuver through crowds. [Tip: I know I mentioned this at the end of my last post – keep talking to the baby about how beautiful everything is – I really do believe it calms them down. Each time I felt Arya was getting a bit restless I would start describing things around me and ask her if she liked them – I probably sounded insane to passers by – but it helped keep Arya calm.]

 

 

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Arya playing on our bed

We had a relaxed half day next day – I went for a walk through the farmers market while Saurabh massaged and bathed Arya. [Tip1: Daddies have their own method of massaging and bathing baby – let them do their thing. I feel like if I issue too many instructions Saurabh wouldn’t enjoy this chore as much… so what if their method involves “dunking baby in bucket like an Oreo in milk” in his words] [Tip2: It’s ok to spend some time alone on vacation – Saurabh doesn’t care much about farmer’s markets anyway – so why drag him through it?] When I came back I found them playing in the room. We walked to the restaurants at the Old Port for some breakfast with Arya in stroller. We had some breakfast while Arya slept in the stroller – perfectly timed that one. We took a long walk to the New Port from there passing street performers, vendors, and art galleries on the way. By the time we got back to the hotel it was time to pack up leave for the port for our ferry to Athens.

 

Athens and the Charming Neighborhood of Petralona

We docked in Athens at about 7pm, where we had taxis waiting for us (Thank God for that because it was raining and the taxi line was about a hundred people long). We made our way from the Piraeus port to the neighborhood of Petralona where I had booked a three-bedroom house on Airbnb.

 

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Our most charming backyard sitting area

This was possibly my best Airbnb experience! The host Clio was the most charming lady who warmly welcomed each one of us with warm hugs and kisses on each cheek – now (for those of you who are in traditional Indian families) imagine my Father-in-law getting kissed by some strange lady in front of all of us – awk-warrd!. These cultural mismatch situations always crack me up! Clio had so thoughtfully made us a huge bowl of Greek salad, a jug of fresh orange juice, and some spinach and cheese pie. She even stocked the pantry with milk, eggs, bread, butter, and jams so we wouldn’t have to run to the grocery store in the morning. What a sweetheart! No hotel can ever match the warmth and welcome of an actual person letting you in their home (and their lives)… So thank you – Brain, Joe, and Nathan for founding Airbnb! Clio gave us a grand tour of her house, which was decorated with artifacts and paintings collected over decades. We promised to keep the children careful around her precious crockery and curios. Arya was just happy to have a huge space to crawl in after that restrictive room in Mykonos. I think Clio and Arya were instantly in love with each other – each time Clio spoke to her Arya chirped as though she found a long lost friend! [Tip: I think Airbnb’s work better with babies. See if there is an option to get one instead of a hotel. Having a kitchen and free space for the baby to crawl/run around in definitely makes is more comfortable for both parents and babies.]

 

 

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Orange tree lined streets of Petralona

Clio gave us a tour of that enchanted neighborhood – it’s like time had come to a halt there. Tavern and restaurant owners, who all knew and greeted Clio as we walked by, sat in front of their establishments – smoking and chatting. The most charming part was an open-air movie theatre on the next block from us – it was like from those 60’s Hollywood movies. The owner knew Clio and let us in for a peak. It was a big screen in front a lawn with wrought iron chair chairs and bougainvillea lined walls. There was a French movie playing in the background – I felt as though I had been transported to another decade! After the tour Clio left for the night, and we explored the house and neighborhood on our own.

 

 

I could have sworn that house was haunted!

 

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Creepy dolls

Ok, I will tell you more about Athens later – but I could have sworn that house we stayed in was haunted. So – I am the last one to believe in ghosts – but when things are this creepy even I get creeped out! I could write five more pages about all the things that made the house appear haunted at night. But I will list the top three. First, when we went up from the ground floor to the first there was painting of a woman in the landing between staircases that seemed to creepily follow you. And all of us independently noticed that. Second, right as you arrive at the first floor you see these creepy old dolls (one with a broken arm) sitting in a rocking chair. My mother-in-law put them in the closet for the duration of our stay. Third, for our first two nights, Arya was super restless as soon as we entered the bedroom. Each night she would randomly wake up in the middle of the night and cry uncontrollably while looking at the painting in front of our bed. And I don’t know if it was to scare me even more, but Saurabh pointed out that Arya cried at the same time as when the cats in the streets start meowing. Ok, I am creeped out just writing about this… I don’t even want to think about it. But while we were there it was scary and funny all at once – funny because grown-ups were afraid to go down alone to get water from the kitchen at night, and we traveled around the house in twos! ☺

 

Now… About Athens

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Odeum of Herodes Atticus

So I don’t want to ruin Athens for those of you haven’t been there yet – but I was a bit underwhelmed by the sightseeing. Possibly because Saurabh and I had gone to Jordan less than two years ago, and thought the ruins, and the architecture was a lot more impressive there. We were within walking distance from the Acropolis and the Museum. We spent pretty much all of the first day sightseeing. Since we had a fully equipped kitchen at our disposal we decided to eat in – which was a relief especially for Saurabh’s parents because their traditional Indian palates were tired of eating bland food for the last week. We cooked up some Maggi noodles that we had packed.   

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Our delicious breakfast!

On the second day, after a breakfast with a view of the Acropolis, Saurabh and I decided to explore Athens on foot. We enjoyed the day walking through the National Gardens to the neighborhood of Kolonaki – which is supposedly (according to the all-knowing Wikipedia) like Soho in New York. The National Gardens, of course, was a relaxing walk through tree lines streets and trails – reminded of lazy Sunday afternoon in Central Park in New York. Kolonaki was just as charming as I had imagined it to be – we stopped at cute little bakeries to taste their wares and finally settled on the Chef and the Dog for lunch.  They had an incredible menu of modern fusion hotdogs.  I got a lobster roll, and Saurabh got a wasabi dressed Japanese hot dog. Both of us were immensely satisfied with us lunch. [Tip: if you know you are going to travel a lot I would invest in a heavy duty stroller.  We bought the Graco Click-Connect Jogging Stroller and it has survived a lot of terrains – beach, pebbles, cobble-stones, and what not.  Its large wheels help absorb shocks and keep the baby stable and safe. I also use it to jog in KBR Park]

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Arya and I at A for Athens

After some quick shopping in the streets and we Googled “bars with a view in Athens” on the phone, and the first one that shows up is a bar called “A for Athens”. Google maps said we were just 1.5Kms from the bar. So we decided to go for it – walked through the narrow streets to the neighborhood of Monastiraki. The bar staff looked at us all weird because – who brings a sleeping baby to a loud bar?! But here is my take – why care about what random people you will most likely never meet again, think?  You know best what makes your baby uncomfortable and you wont do it.  Luckily for us, Arya can sleep through a rock concert once she is asleep (just not to the sound of other babies). We parked the stroller next to our table and enjoyed the fabulous view of the Acropolis and the Monastiraki Square with some cocktails. [Tip: I know this is the age of Helicopter Parenting, and we strive to do everything that is right for the baby everyday. But I think we have to cut ourselves some slack every now and then and do the little things that make us happy too. I think that can only help us sustain a great relationship with our babies in the long term]

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Arya at the kids area in the business class lounge

The next day was our last in Athens, and we had to leave for our flight at noon. Clio was back to check us out and help us to the cabs. Clio and Arya enjoyed their last moments together.  In our Airbnb review Clio wrote more about Arya than she did about us – calling her a “joie de vivre.” It was Mothers Day so Saurabh used his miles to upgrade me to business class as a gift! Arya and I enjoyed the style and comfort of the Emirates hospitality on journey back to Hyderabad, India.

To Summarize My Learnings from the Trip to Greece…

  1. Traveling in a group helps – even if it is in-laws. You have the option to have other people watch the baby for a bit when you need it. But even if you don’t have that option – don’t fret – just tackle all baby chores as a team. Or if you are a single mom traveling alone with baby – reduce the chores as much as possible – not massaging or bathing the baby for one day won’t affect their health or future athletic career!
  2. You become more confident as the trip goes on.  While I was nervously unpacking on my day 1 in Santorini wondering what clothing and gadgets I will need that day, I was a pro by the time we go to Athens – knew exactly what was needed for each day. So, give yourself some time to figure it out.
  3. If daddies are not regularly bathing or changing babies at home, make them practice a few times so that they are up for it during vacation. And, I will say it again, let them do it their way. Don’t issue too many instructions.
  4. Do a little of research about where you are staying and consider the pro and cons of the features offered by the accommodations. Keep a good mix of features that make you happy and those that make baby happy. If you can find both in one (like our Airbnb) then Bob’s your uncle.
  5. Most of all: cheesy and cliche as it sounds – stay positive. Tell yourself loudly that you can do this (if you need that affirmation) or just talk out loud about how much fun you are having and baby will latch-on to that sentiment too.

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So, my dear mommies (and daddies and anyone else reading)…

Tell me about your travels with your baby. Do you have any tips for me before I plan my next vacation?

Well… I have the next one planned already – I am off to Sri Lanka in two days. Look forward to telling you all about it!

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Greece Part 1: Santorini

IMG_1905Some Background
So – this wasn’t our first trip with the baby but it was the first international one, so in the spirit of starting with a bang, I thought I would start here. This was a family trip celebrating my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday. This meant that we had a little extra help from Arya’s grandparents. We planned on Greece because it was the right flight time, weather, and budget, and has decent healthcare infrastructure (which factors in when you travel with old people and babies). I have to admit – despite all the support, I was a bit nervous about taking my 7 month old on an 8-day trip with long-ish flights.

Getting There
We checked her into business class with the grandparents while we enjoyed some alone time (read: peacefully watching a movie or sleeping) in economy – ok, fine, we cheated a little. But I have to say… Emirates hospitality and baby friendliness surprised me! They had age appropriate toys, allergen free brand new blanket, diapers, Similac formula, and Gerber baby food. It took us 20 hours from the time we left home to when we arrived at our first hotel in Santorini. (Handy Tip: Buy disposable bottles and spoons if you can – washing and sanitizing bottles and spoons and sippy cups at the airport was not fun)

So, Here is the Play by Play…
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We arrived in Santorini at about 6pm local time. Not much to do that day since it was 8pm by the time we settled into our hotel – Oia Suites. This is probably the best hospitality I have experienced in Europe – ever! Although they don’t typically allow babies, (they made an exception since it was low season and we were booking three rooms) they went out of their way to accommodate the baby. They got us one of those pack and play cribs – which was a God-sent! And through some stroke of luck – Arya adapted beautifully to local time. She slept at 9pm in the crib and woke up at 7am (with her regular two feeds at night). Being a crib sleeper – I think she felt comfortable in her crib, while we enjoyed being horizontal and comfortable in our double bed. (Handy Tip: If your baby is a crib sleeper request a crib – everywhere. If you request in advance they may be able to help you)

We woke up at 6am to enjoy the view of the entire island and the volcanoes from our hotel. Saurabh went for a run up the scenic trail to Fira while I enjoyed a quiet coffee with a view from the balcony outside the room, and waited for Arya to wake up. Arya woke up chirpy as ever – oblivious to the beauty of the view – just happy to see us and her grandparents. S and I tag-teamed bathing the baby in a shower – this is definitely a two people job – one person hold the hand shower while the other cleans the baby. (Handy tip: hotel bathrooms do not have tubs for babies. So, bathe the baby before you shower because you will be drenched)  

IMG_1914Minor Bumps Along the Way…
So, everyone was ready to go by about 9:30am – happily fed on Greek yogurt, bacon, toast, muesli, juice, coffee and more… when we were told that we might have difficulty getting around because many establishments and monuments were closed due to Greek Easter (May 1st). The lovely receptionist came to our rescue – she suggested that we rent a car for the day and drive ourselves around for a tour of the island. She also suggested that since it was 8 of us we do a private boat rental the next day to visit some of the must-see sights like the volcanoes, hot springs, and Red Beach. I thought she was going to drop a price bomb on us – something ridiculous like 2000 EUR. But the whole private yacht rental for 5 hours which included pick up from hotel and drop off to the port where our ferry to Mykonos would board, butler service, unlimited food (including barbeque and drinks), and sightseeing would be 800 EUR. Not bad – I thought the catamaran looked really posh with three bedrooms, slick leather covered indoor seating area, and a pretty deck. So we went for it. (Handy Tip: If you are willing to risk availability – these things are much cheaper to book when you are there – I looked up prices for pre-booking and they were at least double what we paid) 

A Laid-Back Day 1
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We packed ourselves, some sun hats, a snack bag, and a diaper bag into the SUV and drove away to Fira – the main town in the Island. While the rest of the group enjoyed walking around for some street shopping, S and I headed straight for the bar with the view. Handsome daddy with baby in sling sure gets the attention of the hostesses! We enjoyed the chilled beer and chardonnay with some olives and handed a piece of fresh baked bread to Arya to nibble at. (Handy Tip: we invested in a comfortable sling that works in both inward and outward front carry positions. If you buy sling models from earlier than 2014 they probably wont be designed for comfortable front facing carrying. The sling is great at keeping a baby of that age engaged and manageable at the same time. Just be sure to move plates and glasses out of her reach!)

IMG_1924We then drove through the hilly area of Pyrgos, to Perissa Beach. Since it was Greek Easter the traditional restaurant at the beach there was roasting a lamb outdoors spreading a yummy smell all around. We goofed around at the pebbly beach for about an hour taking selfies and pushing each other in the icy cold waters. May is NOT a good time to go if you want to really go into the waters – its still a butt freezing 15-170C. But you can enjoy the blue hues and sunshine from a distance. We had a really late lunch at the traditional Greek restaurant and headed back to hotel to rest and change for the evening.

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Since sunsets are pretty late at around 8:30pm we had ample time to rest before heading to Amoudi Bay for a dinner with a sunset view. Happily settled into our table by the edge of the cliff, listening to waves hit the rock, when we hear a shrill clink… in the one nano second while we were sitting to enjoy the view and the waiter went to bring the high chair, she had knocked off a plate from the table into the sea! A bit embarrassing, but hey its their job to embarrass us once in a while or they wouldn’t be babies, right? (Handy Tip: dress the baby warm in the evenings, duh-you-knew-that, and bring a warm cap that covers ears – Arya looked ridiculous in the napkin we tied around her face to save her from the wind)

Definitely not ideal for vegetarians, most of the restaurants in Amoudi Bay are known for their sea food. We picked our fresh fish, and ordered a whole bunch of sides, salads, potatoes and Greek yogurt for the two vegetarians in the group. If you have a dominantly vegetarian group skip dinner there and get Pizza at Oia instead! We wrapped up the day with a gorgeous view and some dancing to local music. By 9:30pm my happy little trooper was turning into her evil avatar James Cranko. So we headed back to hotel.

Our Day 2 in Santorini is the Stuff Bollywood Movies are Made Of…

13133274_10154818222389097_3843568759735820669_nWe packed up from the Hotel and were picked up by our lovely catamaran crew at 8:30am sharp. They took us back to Amoudi Bay where we ended the previous night, and we boarded a brand spanking new 60 foot catamaran with 3 bedrooms and “butlers’ quarter” (ehm… fancy much?). With six adults, two babies, two crew, and a fridge full of food and beverages, we departed from Amoudi bay for the volcanoes. We spent the next 4 hours on that beauty, being pampered by our personal chef and butler. I was a little bit paranoid about having Arya, who was just learning to crawl, on the boat. So Saurabh and I carried her in the sling for nearly the whole trip – she slept for about half of it.

13164333_10153769124694121_7571832907814032100_nOur first stop was the supposedly “hot” springs at the volcano. Ok, the captain did warn us that the springs weren’t exactly hot but warm. Saurabh was the first brave soul to jump in. Of course he was freezing his butt off – but didn’t tell us that or I would not have jumped in after him. These were NOT EVEN WARM springs… freezing-effing-cold springs is more like it!!! I swallowed a whole bunch of that sulphurious water because I was yelling so much from being cold and had a scratchy throat for the rest of the day. Oh well – you live and you learn, right? (Handy Tip: uhh dips toes first to check temperature before jumping in, and also carry goggles – I did, and they helped!)

 By the time all our “hot” springs shenanigans were over the butler had finished cooking our meal and put a whole bunch of meat on the barbeque. I ordered some white wine while I dried myself on the deck. We enjoyed a great meal and some great views of the pristine blue waters, red cliffs of the Red Beach, eerie lighthouses and churches, and hill top villages.

We headed back to Amoudi Bay and then to the Fira port in a van to board the ferry to Mykonos. Arya and I were in the back seat – enjoying the quiet ride and the picturesque Santorini views for one last time.

IMG_1920Summing up… My Top 5 Tips/Takeaways for This Post…

1. Try to broadly stick to the baby’s nap-sleep schedule during the flight and during the vacation as much as possible. This will make the jet lag adjustment process a lot easier (of course this only works when the time difference is 3-4 hours or less)
2. Babies tend to sleep more on vacations in day time – especially when they are warm and cozy in a sling. I prefer to let her sleep because that keeps my hands and mind-space free to experience the holiday.
3. If you are giving them solid foods – feel free to experiment with some of the local food (as long as its baby safe) – Arya loved Greek yogurt and homemade bread there.
4. Email hotels in advance to let them know that you have a baby in the party so that they can offer you the suitable equipment and room.
5. Most important of all: leave as much time for yourself and the baby as possible… happy mommies and daddies make happy babies. Talk to them about how much fun you are having, and how beautiful the holiday is… positivity is infectious! 

Stay tuned for my next post on Mykonos and Athens. And feel free to email me if you have questions about traveling to Santorini with a baby, or if you would just like to share your own experience.