That surreal feeling, the one you get when you know when you’re doing something for the last time, began to sink in swiftly after we got up. The same breakfast that we’d enjoyed day after day came with a side helping of melancholy; the gorgeous ocean views only serving as a reminder of what we’d be leaving behind. Still, as always, it was enjoyable. A brief respite before we’d leave this place leaving only the memories of the time that felt all too short. Dawdling back to our hotel room we started the process of packing everything up, making sure we hadn’t left anything behind.
We got a call from reception, our transfer company wondering if it was ok for them to show up 10 minutes early. This posed no issue for us, since by the time we had everything backed it was almost time to go anyway, so we let them know that was fine. Soon afterwards a man in a golf buggy came down to pick us up from our room, saving us the 5 minute uphill journey back to reception with our now heavy luggage in tow. It was then I realised that I had only seen one other set of people making this same journey, everyone seemingly staying for longer than us or somehow being whisked away without anyone noticing.
The drive back was uneventful, the same countryside rolling by as when we had arrived here 6 days prior. Our driver this time around reiterated what our previous one had: we should hire a car and drive around, Thessaloniki is worth exploring and we needed to come back to Greece and explore its many sights. I’m sure these are the same lines that are repeated by many numerous times over but in the post-holiday glow you can’t help but feel the attraction of them. There’s always another place you have to explore.
We arrived tragically early at the airport; so much so that the Ryanair check-in counter was bereft of any staff who could take our luggage. This was part us leaving early and part our driver being very efficient at his job, getting us to the airport in record time. Without much to do we found ourselves some seats in eye shot of the check-in counter and whiled away the time with books and free airport Internet.
About 2 hours before our flight the Ryanair check-in people appeared and with them a long line of people who had been milling about for some time. Seasoned travellers will know Ryanair for being one of the cheapest fares you can get, that is if you can abide by all their rules and not run afoul of something that they will charge you for. When I was booking this I had no choice, unfortunately, and the extras I bought (including our checked-in baggage) ended up doubling the price of the ticket. Worse still reading some of the fare rules led me to believe that my suitcase would violate both the weight and dimensions rules, a potential €100 affair. Thankfully though we checked our luggage in with no dramas, the exorbitant price I had paid many months ago being enough to appease the Ryanair fare gods.
The flight was both amazing and completely ordinary. I was amazed at all the things that Ryanair has done in order to drive their fares down to as low as humanly possible. The seats were packed in so tight there was barely a hair’s width between my legs and the person’s seat in front of me, likely meaning they could squish in an additional row at the back. They also didn’t recline, nor did they have a seat pocket in front of them. The safety instructions were attached to the seat in front of me and the overhead luggage compartments looked like they had been developed with slot in advertising in mind. Truly it was a marvel to behold but woe betide anyone who flies with them for longer than a couple of hours.
We arrived at Athens airport a little over an hour later and made our way over to the Sofitel Athens hotel for our short, single night stay. After what we’d had experienced in Greece anything would’ve been a step down but this felt like a drop worthy of a continental shelf status. Still all we needed it was for sleep so we unpacked a few things for the night before heading out to find some dinner.
All the restaurants in the hotel were overpriced garbage, charging €35 for a buffet dinner. Disgusted we headed back over to the airport where we managed to sort out some decently priced grub along with some delightful almond truffles, all for half the price of what one buffet would have cost us. Retiring to our room we enjoyed our simple dinner over a few shows before turning in for the night, hoping to catch enough sleep before our 4:00AM start the next morning.
Tomorrow we begin our journey home in earnest, making for Dubai before our real long haul flight back to Australia. It almost seems fitting that the end to our trip should be this long, the finale to something so long and grande requiring its own epic to close off the journey. I’m certainly not looking forward to it, I think we spend some 32 hours out of the next 48 in planes, but that does mean that there’s still a few instalments left in this travel log before I close it off. They might not be the most exciting, indeed I’m sure I’ll be lamenting whatever small slight may happen to me along the way, but it will definitely give me time to reflect on the journey and it what it all means that it will be done.
Today was our last full day here at Ikos Oceania, a bittersweet moment for us both. On the one hand it feels like we’ve been here for almost the entire holiday, this being the longest we’ve spent in any one location. But like all holidays it feels like we’ve been fast-forwarded up to this point, implanted with the memories of the days that have gone by. We had only one goal today: to go back to the town of Nea Moudania to look for a store that we could buy a few things from.
We didn’t get around to doing that until mid-afternoon however, spending our morning in the usual fashion: breakfast, beach and then slowly deciding what should be next on our hit list. We went up to reception to ask about the shuttle service into the town (so we wouldn’t have to walk or worry about the bikes getting stolen) only to find out it would stop running not 10 minutes from when we arrived. This also coincided with many of the shops closing as well, although for what reason I couldn’t be sure.
Defeated we started to walk back down to our room but decided on the way to walk down there anyway. Lucky we did too as it turns out that most of the shops were still open, especially the few that we wanted to visit. We didn’t find what we were looking for though, unfortunately, but it was a good walk there regardless. We then made our way back home and again went our separate ways to read and nap.
The afternoon was spent in the usual fashion: spending some time at the indoor pool to cool off before hitting up the sauna and the heated chairs. We’d taken to bringing our books along with us making the time speed along even faster. Indeed this was the first time we had to be told that the place would be closing. In hindsight it was good that it did close then or else we would’ve likely missed our dinner appointment that night.
Our last dinner was spent at the Italian restaurant, the last of the four on-site places à la carte restaurants. Our meals were fantastic, the small portions being deceptively filling especially when they were combined with the nice Chianti I had selected. Tired and full we headed back to our hotel room, slowly drifting off into the night.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end. Originally I had intended to stay for 7 nights here however after we got the flights sorted I noticed the heinous time out of Athens: 6:30AM. This necessitated us spending a night at the airport so we didn’t have to get up at some other wordly time in order to make it. So tomorrow we’ll likely enjoy our last breakfast, head to Thessaloniki and then spend the night in the Athens airport hotel. After there we start our journey back home and a return to normalcy.
The days are beginning to blur into each other; a combination of good food and a steady stream of alcohol putting a lovely haze over the day’s activities. Things are starting to become…routine, as if this is the life we had always led and would continue to do so until long into the future. That’s not the case of course but it was interesting to note just how quickly my mind shifted into that mode of thinking. It’s probably the first time since I started blogging this journey that I’m struggling to come up with a good explanation for what we did early in the day apart from “food, beach and a nap or two in there somewhere”.
We did try to get ourselves some of the stand up paddle boards so we could meander around the ocean for a while. However we were told that we’d need to pay €20 for a lesson before they’d allow us to use them. After that however we’d be free to use them every day we were staying there, something which would’ve been useful to know early on. Instead we got ourselves one of the (free) canoes and paddled around for a while, although the lack of any destination meant that the 20 minute time limit they gave us didn’t feel like much of a constraint.
I then retired back to the hotel room, the heat starting to get to me. My wife stayed down on the beach, wanting to enjoy the ocean and open air. I believe we both read our books for some time until we fell asleep, waking some time before dinner. We ended up going back to the sauna area but I avoided the steam room this time around, not wanting a repeat of a previous night’s sinus debacle. We relaxed on the heated chairs until about an hour before our dinner appointment which we’d struggled to get a reservation at until this night.
It was easy to see why when we they got there; the restaurant was about half the size of the others. This was also the only time we were seated indoors as well, every other restaurant being able to seat us outside to enjoy the sunset and glorious night sea breeze. The meal was great, even if their interpretation of classic Asian dishes was a little off center (the dish pictured is Bulgogi Beef, although I’d class it as beef with bulgogi sauce). The cheeky waiter even ordered an additional desert for us, saying we didn’t know what we were missing out on, and to his credit it was the best of the lot. He did, however, neglect to get the bottle of wine sent down to our room successfully although I think it may have just ended up in the staff collection.
We finished off the night as we usually did: cuddling up with the laptop to watch Netflix whilst we slowly drifted off to sleep. Once again I’m sure tomorrow will be little different from today although I have planned to see if I can find a certain shop to get one of my family members a certain gift.
The days have taken on a different cadence. The time once spent on planning and scheduling activities now spent appreciating food, wine and impressive coast of the Aegean Sea. I have lost most of my ambition to do any of the activities on offer, instead whiling the hours away with my face hidden behind my Kindle, my wife doing the same. It’s certainly not the same kind of experience we had back at Turtle Island but all the same have I found myself wanting to do not much more than sit down and watch the hours tick away.
We headed out to the main pool area to check it out. We spent a few minutes there but after a short swim felt our time was probably best spent down at the beach. There’s no surf to speak of here so after milling about in the water, admiring the small sand fish that swamped our ankles, we headed back to our beach umbrella. Feeling the heat of the early afternoon sun starting to cook us we headed back to the room to clean up before heading to one of the restaurants for lunch.
Disappointingly it was basically the same buffet as we’d had at one of the others a day or two prior. It’s still good food, especially when its accompanied with as much beer as you could want, but a little variety wouldn’t go astray. Afterwards my wife returned to the beach to read her book whilst I holed myself up in the hotel room, eager to escape the unrelenting heat that soaked everything it touched.
From there the hours ticked away, some of them spent in a book others with my head resting unceremoniously on the cushion I was using to prop up my kindle. When the sun started to make its way below the horizon I thought I’d better go find my wife to make sure we could make our dinner reservation. Coincidentally I bumped into her on the way down to the beach, the resort staff only kicking her out as they were setting up beach front dinners for a few couples.
Our dinner at the French restaurant here was just as good as the previous experience we’d had at the Greek one. I choosing steamed mussels and a rack of lamb, my wife the cod croquettes and the beef bourguignon. I was halfway out of the restaurant with the unfinished bottle of red in my hands when the staff spotted me, only to give me a sly wink and a thumbs up as I made off to our room.
I will be surprised if tomorrow is much different.
Waking up seems to be the hardest thing to do here, especially with nearly anything you could want a mere phone call away. We persevered however, managing to make breakfast at the leisurely time of 10AM. My wife really only had one goal for the day: ride her first bike in Europe, something that had gone unrequited the whole trip. So once we were fed and happy we went up to the equipment hire shed and procured ourselves 2 bikes to take on an adventure. The shed operator let us know of a few attractions nearby that we could cycle too and so we headed out to the first of them.
The town of Nea Moudania was reminiscent of other rural coastal towns I’d been in before. Cafes lining the beach, odd shops dotted along behind them and from there a mix of residential and other commercial buildings. It did have a rather large harbor however and I’d hazard a guess that that’s where it derives the bulk of its income. At the top of one of its hills lies the church, a massive monument that towers over much of the region. We didn’t go inside, since they neglected to give us bike locks, but it was an impressive structure to see in such a small town. Satisfied we decided to head back down the other way.
It was a similar story as we made our way up north with cafes and residential buildings hugging the coast. We took a detour through the various apartment blocks to see if there was any shops we wanted to look in but it was mostly just small supermarkets. Again the poverty that Greece is struggling with was evident with numerous abandoned structures and others in varying states of disrepair. Still many of the cafes and bars along the coast seem to be doing an alright trade, surprising given their proximity to our resort.
The ride there and back had been relatively easy, thanks to the rather small changes in elevation, however the ride back up to the top of the resort quick took all our remaining energy away. The shop operator expressed his disbelief that we’d managed to make it to both of his suggestions in the time we’d be gone, saying it’d take him just as long to get to one. Turns out we hadn’t made it to his other suggestion: a small village that was a few more kilometers away from where we’d turned around. Ah well, we can always try again another time,
We then went down to the beach to cool off and try our hand at rock stacking again (it’s surprisingly relaxing). As the hours ticked away I mentioned that we should probably head back to get lunch but my wife suggested we just get something down there. Calling over one of the attendants we ordered ourselves a few drinks and some food. The drinks came quickly, necessitating that I get another beer (oh the horror), but the food took quite a while to make its way to us. Still its hard to complain when you’re lounging on a sun chair next to a lovely beach.
I then made my way back up to the room to spend an hour or two reading while my wife stayed at the beach. This proved to be something of a fools errand, the carbs and beer hitting me with a food coma of epic proportions. I think I managed a single chapter before my wife returned, my kindle lying in my lap when she knocked on the door. We then returned to the indoor pool and sauna area, spending an hour or so relaxing before we made our way to dinner.
We attempted to make reservations at one of the restaurants for dinner but they were all booked and so we headed back to the main buffet. The offerings there are always good, including their large wine list. They didn’t have the one I wanted but they had a similar region and style. Our waiter also got a little aggressive with serving it, telling me “You think I don’t see?”, pointing to the meager effort I had made in draining the bottle before pouring me a huge glass. I finished it of course, although that did make the walk home a lot harder than it needed to be.
On the way back my wife grabbed a DVD from their library to watch whilst I roamed around the resort, taking a few photos (one of which adorns this post). I was probably an hour or so late, the usual intense pink and orange hues dimmed significantly now that the sun had dropped below the horizon. I’ll likely try again tomorrow as the colors are quite spectacular and worthy of being captured.
I’ll hazard a guess tomorrow will bring more of the same, although I might avoid the bikes for a bit. Whilst it turns out that you never really forget how to ride it does seem your ass can forget and mine is none too happy about what I put it through.
Our suite might be in a prime position for uninterrupted ocean views, being in the closest building to the beach, but that does mean our trek up to the restaurants is something of an uphill battle. It was late in the morning as we made our way up to the breakfast buffet, a veritable feast of all kinds of foods and drinks. As we walked there was a constant din of children playing in the background; the reviews about this place being great for families seemingly taken to heart by many. After a leisurely breakfast we decided to make our way down to the beach to take in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea.
We pottered around in the water for a bit, just enjoying the cool it provided. Around us were numerous other people enjoying (or trying to) other activities like paddle boating, stand up boarding or wind surfing. Once we’d had our fill of splashing around we decided to get some snorkeling gear to have a look around under the surface, something that proved to be much harder than you think it would be. Suffice to say we’ve figured out that most of the staff only really know their area and if you need to find something out you’re better placed asking reception.
The next hour was spent swimming around and checking out the marine life that makes its home here. Whilst there were no massive coral reefs or anything within a reasonable swimming distance I was surprised at the amount of sea creatures we were able to find. Once it became apparent that our sun screen was beginning to wear off we headed back into shore. We then spent far too long collecting various rocks from the beach (it’s a mixture of sand and pebbles) and then making rock stacks out of them.
It was highly relaxing though.
It was at this point, after we’d rinsed off back home and had a chance to relax a little, we checked the time only to find out that we had mere minutes before all the restaurants wouldn’t be serving lunch anymore. So we quickly dashed off to the closest restaurant and, thankfully, managed to secure a table. It was another buffet although with more French style dishes rather than the Greek of the main restaurant we’d been visiting. Once we’d had our fill we walked back to our suite and whiled away a few more hours reading, drinking and napping.
Not wanting to miss out on the sauna/spa again we made for it at 6PM, hoping to get a couple of hours of relaxation in before our dinner reservation that night. The sauna was pretty much as you’d expect however the steam room was far cooler than the one we’d used back at the Polar Bear Club. I wasn’t complaining about this though as that one was almost torturous when compared to this. What really set this one apart though was this kind of shower tunnel that walked you through different kinds of rinses, each of them getting slightly colder as you went through. They also had one of those Swedish Dousing Buckets in a separate room, a truly invigorating experience. To cap it off we sat in these heated reclined chairs for a good 45 minutes, the oh-so-right temperature being a perfect way to relax sore back muscles.
Our dinner was at the Greek restaurant and consisted of local seafood, Greek cuisine and a lovely Spanish Merlot. The sun was still setting for the majority of our meal, providing us with a lovely backdrop to cap off the day. It was after this we retired for the night, full and wonderfully tired.
I’m sure tomorrow will be much the same.