Island hopping the Cyclades – from Greece to Turkey in 5 days…

Days 6 – 10 – part of wider blog ‘Island Hopping and Hot Air Ballooning – Greece and Turkey in 2 weeks’

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This part of my wider blog documents the journey we took from Santorini to Cappadocia. From island hopping, including an overnight boat, exploring ancient ruins and a couple of long bus journeys to and from the ‘White Castle’ of Pamukkale, this is how we forged a path from the islands of Greece into the heart of Turkey…

Days 6-7 – Mazed in Mykonos…

When asked about the party town of Mykonos it’s not the nightlife I remember it for. Nor is it the famous white winding streets that forever lead you in circles (significantly more difficult to navigate at night after several beers!). No, funnily enough, it’s the smell.

As if every street had been coated with perfume, the whole town smelt like a rose garden. It was oddly wonderful (- if you like the smell of perfume that is!).

Anyway we only spent one night here which, should you plan to ambitiously undertake visiting Greece and Turkey in 16 days, I felt was enough (tight schedules and all). Here are a few suggestions.

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SLEEP?

We stayed at budget lodging Villa Pinelopi in the centre of Mykonos. For the very reasonable price and wonderful hospitality I’d happily recommend this as a one night stop-over. Check out online reviews here.

GO?

Getting from Santorini to Mykonos (or vice versa) is straight forward with regular boat schedules between the two – just don’t expect an on time departure (they hop between several islands and regularly fall behind schedule)! Follow the link here for more info on schedules and ticketing. I should add that ferry schedules run less frequent during low season so make sure you check ahead of time when planning your trip!

Around town walking is the best way to explore (the centre being largely pedestrianized). As for the (rest of the) island bus or boat can be taken to  most areas. Most hotels will also organize a form of pick-up on request.

EAT?

Plenty of good eating options exist in and around Mykonos town. I recommend checking out highly rated M-eatingKaterina’s or Fato a Mano.

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SEE?

The main thing to see here on Mykonos isn’t on Mykonos at all. The small protected island of Delos, housing one of the most important archeological sites in Greece, is a short boat ride away. The ancient ruined city, once one of the most sacred places in ancient Greece, boasts the birth place of mythical twins Apollo and Artemis. Traveler’s Tip – I highly recommend hiring a guide to take you around. We didn’t and regretted it! The handout leaflet explains little and the museum on site is forgettable to say the least…

Boats run frequently from 9am till early afternoon and take approximately 30 minutes. You can grab tickets from the water front on the Old Port at Sea & Sky Travel Agency not far from the Old Jetty where the boats to Delos depart.

As for Mykonos itself, a couple of sites exist including the WindMills, Museums and a quaint little Church. Oh, there are some nice beaches on the island too, apparently!

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PLAY?

Wandering the mazed white cobbled streets of Mykonos, after several cocktails, as you try to find your way home before giving up and stumbling into yet another bar, is ultimately what this town is all about.

Aside from that, windsurfing, diving, or general beach lazing tend to be the other main activities partaken on the island.

Days 7-8 – Sleepless to Samos…

Figuring out a way to Turkey from the Cyclades proved to be extremely difficult to plan.

Inconsistent ferry schedules among countless different companies, not to mention only a select few islands from which to cross into Turkey, resulted in several hours of homework. The end result?

4 separate boat journeys, 3 long bus rides, a day driving and a flight  – all in 5 days.

This section covers a stop over in the large port town of Ermoupoli on the island of Syros before boarding a slow overnight boat to Vathy on the island of Samos.

Below are some suggestions and links so you can save some time figuring out how to do it should you feel inspired to do the same…

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GO/SLEEP?

Like the rest of the islands in the Cyclades regular boats run between Mykonos and Syros. For exact times and dates follow the link here.

Much more difficult to figure out, with far fewer options, boats from the major ferry hub in Syros to Samos are irregular to say the least! After extensive research, however, I was able to find a boat.

 (I should mention the only reason we went to Syros was to catch this boat to Vathy for another connecting ferry to take us onto Kusadasi, Turkey. I spent hours and hours on the internet, over many days, so we could figure out a way into Turkey without having to fly! At one point we considered going via the island of Rhodes which also connects to Turkey via Marmaris or Fethiye).

The overnight boat that took us from Syros to Samos was big and loud. I won’t sugar coat it – it was awful! Stopping off at various ports, throughout the night, to load and unload what sounded like a herd of elephants, I was awoken by the massive reversers being set into motion followed by some very loud clanking noises! We barely slept…

On the plus side it was cheap, we had our own cabin and it took us to where we wanted to go with the added on bonus of not having to fork out for an additional nights accommodation.

The company we used were called Nel Lines. Follow the link here for more information on schedules and ticketing.

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EAT/SEE/PLAY?

Following a morning tour around the ancient island of Delos before checking out of Villa Pinelopi, we arrived into Syros from Mykonos early afternoon. With only that afternoon/evening before catching our overnight ferry we were fortunate to find a locker for a small fee (along the waterfront), to leave our bags for the afternoon while we explored the lively port town of Ermoupoli.

Should you also find yourself with just an afternoon here I highly recommend hiking, via the town hall square of Plateia Miaouli, up through the hill area of Ano Syros. A series of narrow lanes lead you up past beautiful old paint-peeled houses to the stunning 13th century Agios Georgios Cathedral and views across the port.

Following this spend the evening at one of the nice Tavernas just back from the waterfront for some dinner and drinks.

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Day 8 – Greece – our final day on the island of Samos…

Having spent the whole night in perpetual fear that our massive rust-ridden boat might be crashing, rather than simply docking, we eventually awoke to the sight of Samos. And boy, what a sight! Its large rolling mountains and orange-roof villages, nestled in and amongst the lush green coastline, were enough to open blurry eyes and calm agitated nerves as we eagerly awaited our arrival into Vathy…

This short section covers our day trip on the island of Samos.

GO/SEE?

With only the day to kill we decided to hire a car so we could explore a little of the island before our departure that evening. Samos is a large island and I highly recommend  doing the same should you have a day or more here. You can hire a car from one of several agencies on the waterfront in Vathy. For the best deals I suggest looking online ahead of time.

We headed to the beautiful beach of Psili Ammos for some much needed R&R following our hellish night. Should you desire something else, however, the island is scattered with a number of historical sites, charming villages and beautiful wineries. For more information of the islands sites and activities follow the link here.

One final option, should you really be short on time, would be to explore the beautiful port-side town of Vathy itself. We only gave ourselves enough time to stroll along the waterfront before catching our final cross-boarder ferry into Turkey…

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Days 8-10 – Turkey – Kusadasi, Pamukkale and the ancient city of Ephesus…

Bidding a farewell to Greece, with the site of Kusadasi on the horizon, we tried to commemorate our adventure by having a Gin & Tonic on our way from Greece to Turkey. (We had affectionately dubbed the holiday ‘g&t’). Failing this, however, with no gin or tonic aboard, we settled for a beer as we toasted our arrival into Turkey.

This final section covers our introduction to Turkey. From our budget accommodation in Kusadasi we had two things in mind – the natural ‘White Castle’ in Pamukkale and the ancient city of Ephesus – before catching a flight to Cappadocia.

Below are some suggestions on how to get the most from 48-hours in this region.

SLEEP?

Off the dock, through immigration and then a quick walk around the corner, we checked straight into the Liman Hotel. At excellent value in a great location, this is perhaps the best in the budget-accommodation-category we enjoyed during our 2 week holiday. Governed by the notorious ‘Mr Happy’, who was sadly away during our visit, the staff were nonetheless very helpful and happy themselves. There is a great rooftop terrace from which we enjoyed our (included) breakfast each morning. The rooms were basic but not uncomfortable. Check out more reviews here.

On a side note about location, we decided to stay in Kusadasi for the large number of eating and drinking options to choose from during our stay. Aside from that, however, Kusadasi holds little value as a place to visit itself, largely lacking in the way of charm. If that’s what you’re after then I suggest staying in the nearby towns of Selçuk or Şirince instead.

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GO?

Boats depart daily to and from the Greek island of Samos during the high season (from April 1st till October 31st) and everyday except mondays and fridays otherwise. Tickets cost around 35-40 Euros one-way and can be purchased online here, or from the Meander Travel office at the dock in Kusadasi.

To get to and from Kusadasi and other areas within Turkey, depending on what you wish to see and do, there are a number of options.

Buses depart from the main Kusadasi otogar to other towns in the vicinity. Otherwise your best bet is to hire a car, or organize a tour, from which to go and explore the major tourist attractions in the area.

The nearest airport serving the area is Izmir’s Adnan Menderes Airport although there are no direct links from Kusadasi.

(To get there we had our tour guide drop us at Selçuk following a tour on our last day. We then caught one of the regular bus services to Izmir from the bus terminal there. We asked our driver to drop us at the junction road that leads to the airport and then caught a taxi. From the airport we flew direct to Cappadocia with Sun Express. Not the simplest way of doing things but then again it was all part of the fun…)

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SEE/PLAY?

From Kusadasi I highly recommend organizing a couple of day-tours to explore the major attractions in the area. We organized a couple of guided tours including a visit to the ‘Cotton Castle‘ and crumbling ruins of Hieraplois near Pamukkale and also, on our second day, the remarkable city of Ephesus.

There are plenty of operators to choose from and you can book online or try to organize it on-the-go. We organized ours through the front desk at Liman Hotel which turned out to be much cheaper than the tours advertised online!

Anyway a 2-hour drive will take to Pamukkale from Kusadasi. When we arrived  we were taken on an interesting tour around Hieraplois before being given an hour or so (not nearly enough time), to go explore and bath in the famous white travertines of Pamukkale’s natural calcite shelves (a.k.a. Cotton Castle). Traveler’s Tip – you’re not allowed any footwear so consider bringing a pair of old socks and be mindful of some of the sharper rocks!

Following that we barely had enough time to pay (the somewhat extortionate fee) to enter the scared pool where you can take a plunge among ancient ruins. We felt it was a must  – check out the underwater shot above!

On a side note I might mention, as part of our tour, we were asked if we wanted to visit a glass blowing workshop. Clearly a gimmick, with shop set out front, this was a colossal waste of time. We felt that hour would have been much better spent exploring the ruins or bathing in the tavertines. As a result we felt rushed trying to see everything before heading back. Should you get asked the same on your tour say NO!

The second day consisted of another guided tour around the remarkable ancient city of Ephesus. Considered one of the most well preserved classical cities in all of Europe Ephesus is a must-see! You can pay the entrance fee and explore the area yourself, however, I recommend paying for a guide so you know what you’re looking at.

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EAT?

Food options in Kusadasi, based on our experience, were nothing to write home about. That said we still found a fantastic kebab house Oz Urfa a short walk from our hotel. I recommend trying the cheese dessert. The other restaurant we tried Selam Restaurant we felt was distinctly average although their reviews tell a different story. We also heard good things about Dedem K Restaurant

CONCLUSION? 

Our journey from the pristine island of Santorini to the surreal landscape of Cappodocia is one that sits fondly in the memory bank. From partying round the scented white streets of Mykonos town to bathing in the sacred pool at Hieraplois, the highlights were as varied as they were great. Having said that it was by no means a glamourous trip.

Island hopping, including my worst experience on a boat to date; waiting for ferries, buses and planes; always on the move, lugging our heavy backpacks around; constantly trying to work out where we needed to go to pick up tickets, or hire cars, or organize tours – this part of our journey was far from relaxing. But then again that was kind of the point.

If you wish to ambitiously undertake a journey from the remote islands of Greece to the heart of Turkey in only 5 days you should take heed! This is an adventure for those who want to see as much as possible and meet the people; explore the towns, islands and countryside; drink the wine; eat the food and learn about the history and culture. More than that, however, this is for those who want to experience the journey as much as the places in-between…

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