Four Days in Santorini with Kids

Santorini with Kids

As we began researching a trip to the Cyclades, we continually read that the Greek islands were not especially kid-friendly. Without any other explanation, we assumed this word of caution meant that the Greek islanders and other vacationers were anti-children. I heeded the advice and started looking at trips elsewhere for a hot minute, then said “damn it! I want to go,” and we booked anyway. As it turns out, the Greek people adore kids. It’s the pesky cliff drop-offs that make the islands a little dicey for kids. Long story short: we had an absolutely fantastic time and the girls came home saying this was their favorite trip ever. If you’ve ever considered Santorini with kids, do it!

Getting to Santorini with Kids

It turns out that actually getting to the Cyclades in general can be tough. Prior to the busy travel season (June-early September), you usually have to fly to Athens, lay over several hours (if not a day), then take a ferry or a puddle-jumper to your island. None of that sounded good with little ones in tow. Traveling in late-May gave us the opportunity to take a direct flight from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Santorini on Volotea Airlines for about $700.

Accommodations

We chose to stay in Kamari Beach. While Oia and Fira–on the western side–are the most popular Santorini towns, Kamari–on the eastern side–boasts beautiful black pebbly beaches. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment at Blue Waves Hotel. At the risk of sounding elitist, we were a little worried since it was only a 2-Star; the Booking.com reviews rated it at 9/10 stars so we took a chance. Although the apartment was extremely bare bones (and the beds were terribly hard), the amenities, proximity to the beach (about a 2-minute walk), the awesome staff, and the price made up for it. We arrived hours before our room was ready due to an early flight. The staff allowed us to drop our bags and use all the facilities–pool, sundeck, bar, changing room/bathroom–before we were officially checked-in, which made the 5-hour wait comfortable. Everyone was shockingly good with kids, right down to the bartender. When Harper, the 2-year-old, got upset for any reason by the pool, he popped up a batch of popcorn for her and asked us all back to watch him make mojitos and Greek salads.

My girls are masters at posing for the camera.

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Food

I think one of the highlights of the trip was dining out. I mean that’s kind of a “duh” statement because Greek food is so amazing, but we generally dread eating out with Zoey and Harper. They act like most kids in a restaurant but we have (probably unrealistic) high expectations. Most of the restaurateurs we visited either had their own kids on-site and carted out toys if my daughters got restless, or the waitstaff did something fun with their food…little plastic monkeys stuck into the gelato, cool food picks in the shape of flags or fireworks, surprise finger-foods delivered to the table. Captain’s Corner Taverna, which was maybe two meters from the hotel, was good enough to revisit throughout our trip. Tomato croquettes, Greek salads, fresh seafood, baklava…we loved everything that came out of the kitchen. If you happen to be traveling to Santorini with kids, no matter where you stay, I highly recommend a trip over to this taverna.  

  Directly on the beach, Captain Hook Bar became our breakfast haunt for the holiday. Between the name and the kitschy life-size pirate statues, Zoey picked the place the first morning we were on the island. I was less enthusiastic about it based upon the decor but figured one bad meal wouldn’t kill me. Turns out the place was awesome. I think both girls ate chocolate chip crepes every morning with freshly-squeezed orange juice. Eddie and I wound up starting the day with a glass of wine and Greek coffee (think Turkish coffee but in Greece) in addition to all kinds of authentic Greek breakfast foods. Reviews on TripAdvisor are really mixed but I have to say that breakfast was pretty tasty.

Tours

Seeing and photographing the blue-roofed buildings in Oia was a lifetime bucket-list kind of thing for me. So we didn’t spend a lot of time looking around for the most beautiful, iconic spots, we decided to book a half-day private tour with Santorini Day Tours via Viator.com. Our guide picked us up outside the hotel in a van, listened to our list of must-sees, and helped us create a 5-hour itinerary to include Oia, the Profit Ilias Monastery, a quaint mom-and-pop tapas-style restaurant, and Venetsanos Winery overlooking the Caldera. Unfortunately Akrotiri had to be culled from the list due to time. The guide was patient with the girls, even helping us keep an eye on Zoey when Eddie was taking a picture and I was changing a potty training accident (ah, traveling with a potty training toddler). He also helped us time our tour so that we would be seated at a winery with glasses of wine in-hand for sunset over the Caldera. santorini with kids santorini with kids -- Caldera

I’m convinced Oia is magical. The colors! A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

On our third full day, we booked van service and traveled over to Fira on our own. Although the more popular way to travel from Fira town to Old Port is by donkey, we opted to ride the gondola. Honestly, unless you just love gondolas (or donkey rides), I would highly suggested saving your money and skipping Old Port. There’s really nothing down there; although, we did get a few knockout photos like the boats inside the alcove just below.

The old port of Fira

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Leather sandals were on my souvenir list, and despite them being a common Greek souvenir item, they were a little hard to find. It was Fira where I finally ran across the cobbler in the image below. He and his granddaughter were fabulous. She spoke fluent English and helped me find sizes, pick colors, and tie the laces up the right way. He called Zoey and Harper over to his workbench and made them custom gold leather bracelets all while grooving to James Brown on the radio. I left with a great pair of sandals for the equivalent of $35 and the cobbler gave us all bracelets completely gratis.

Day four was bittersweet. We were tired and ready for our soft beds at home, but none of us wanted to leave Santorini. In fact, I don’t think anyone on the island wanted to leave. Our flight over to the island was packed; our flight back to Italy was half-full, if even that. Zoey, who hates everything right now (I dread puberty and those hormones), proclaimed Santorini her favorite vacation spot so far and begged to come back. I joked that we left home with little girls and were returning with tiny goddesses. The Cyclades just seeped into our blood.

A Note on Getting Around

Santorini is a small island but is much too large and mountainous to travel on foot. Taxis are surprisingly few. I read that there are only 36 cabs to be found on the whole island. Buses are said to be hot and inconsistent. Cars, mopeds, and motorcycles can be rented cheaply in all parts of Santorini, with kids, however, you have to worry about safety (car seats, etc). Save yourself the headache and book van service. Service to and from the airport ran about $20 each way. Service from Kamari to Fira rang in at about $10, I believe. The vans were pleasantly cool, safe, and efficient. Our hotel did all the van booking for us, which was an excellent service.

Final Verdict

Santorini with kids…just do it! If price is a concern, go slightly off-season like we did. Accommodations and airfare set us back around $1000. Food, tours, wine, souvenirs, shuttles, and tips set us back another $1000, but you could significantly cut that amount down by cooking for yourself inside a hotel kitchenette and cutting out wine. In terms of time, four days was plenty to see what we wanted. With a week or two, you could easily navigate by ferry among the islands and experience several. If the Cyclades aren’t on your travel bucket-list, consider adding it, especially if you have small kids.

Five Days in Rome with Kids

Piazza Navona

The great thing about living in Italy is the fact that you get to see Italy every single day. That also probably explains why we always choose to visit other countries when we have time to travel. After we returned from Scotland back in February and realized we only have a year or so left here, we made up our minds to see more of Italy in the near future. The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Sicily…they’re all on our list but Rome topped it all.  Continue reading

Four Days in Edinburgh with Kids

Scotland 2016 160

If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be willingly traveling to Scotland in the middle of winter, I would’ve called you crazy. Cold and rain…no thank you. Then I happened to read BassetWrangler’s blog article discussing her January trip to Scotland. It didn’t sound so bad. So three days before our Presidents’ Day 4-day weekend, we booked a family trip to Edinburgh. We were so excited until we began researching specific restaurants, tours, and destinations and found that many prohibited kids under 5 from entering. We have a 2-year-old, so that automatically sent up some red flags. Still, we were about €1000 invested into the trip (airfare and 3 nights in a two-bedroom apartment), so of course we went. Long story short, Edinburgh with kids is not only doable, it’s a lot of fun.  Continue reading

Paris Cemeteries — Cimetiere de Passy

paris cemeteries

Some people are drawn to Paris for romance. Others come for the food. It was Paris cemeteries that initially drew me to the City of Lights. Paris was actually very far down my list of must-see places until a friend posted pictures of his trip to various Parisian cemeteries several years ago. We finally had a chance to fly over just before Christmas 2015. Given that I have kids–really small kids who are just grasping death and it kind of scares them–I wasn’t sure cemetery visits would be smart. Still, we chose to visit two and neither kid was traumatized. (We did have a lot of talks about where the people where located in the cemetery, and Zoey took the opportunity to spell out what we’d do if a zombie apocalypse went down while we were in there.)  Continue reading

Our visit to Fragonard Parfumeur in Grasse France

One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.

fragonard

Continue reading

Our Day in Ljubljana Slovenia

Ljubljana Slovenia May 2014 002I have a love/hate relationship with the map you can access on the seatback TV screen during international flights. It is nice to track your progress, but on eight, ten, twelve (or more)-hour flights, it becomes maddening. Really? We haven’t crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean yet?? As I watched us close in on Italy last May, I began seeing Ljubljana just east. I’ll admit that I had no idea how to pronounce it (Loob-lee-yahn-yuh is pretty close) and I really didn’t know where it was. Fast forward a few days. I looked over the Army MWR calendar and saw a scheduled trip to (you guessed it) Ljubljana, Slovenia. I booked all four of us because…why not?  Continue reading

Travel tips: Skerries Ireland

So…Skerries Ireland. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I. We were looking for one more place to visit before flying back to Italy, read about the Skerries Windmills, and decided that was as good a place as any. Skerries is a seaside village just outside of Dublin. We had a rental car and drove it in about half an hour, but I have heard it’s quite easy to get public transportation from Dublin to the Skerries station.

Things to do in Skerries Ireland

Skerries Mills.
After a week in Ireland, this was one of our favorite attractions. Traveling with two very small kids, we were constantly in search of spots that were appealing to adults but kid-friendly. I thought this was an iffy pick; turns out it was perfect. Although I didn’t see any signs of active flour milling, the self-guided tour (€12 for a family) allows you to see the fully-functional mill. Once we made it through the various rooms in the millhouse, the reception person came through and turned on the wheel, allowing us to re-visit the mill’s rooms to see everything in action. Once exiting the mill, visitors are allowed to walk the fields to see the small and large windmills.

After freezing outdoors, it was a real treat to come back to the millhouse for warm drinks at the Watermill Cafe. Although we only chose a pot of tea for ourselves and hot cocoa for our 6-year-old, the cafe served really delicious-looking scones, pastries, and sandwiches. And they do have a liquor license, so Irish coffees are ready to go in seconds.

Especially with a small market outside, there were plenty of opportunities to shop at Skerries Mills. The gift shop had oodles of made-in-Ireland items like pottery, woolens, jewelry, and flour (duh…it’s a flour mill). The market in the courtyard seems to be new. There were very few vendors that Saturday morning but I have a feeling it’s growing based upon the fact that their ramping up their social media efforts.

mills collage

Ardgillan Castle

I love a good castle in ruins. My kids, however, prefer the fully-restored variety. For this reason, we figured Ardgillan Castle was a good bet. As it turned out, they weren’t giving tours of the actual castle that day. We still managed to make the best out of the visit. The tea room is the spot where the tours begin. Since it was lunchtime and tours were out, we decided to grab lunch there. The sitting-rooms-turned-dining-rooms were pretty. The period decor was busy enough to keep the kids entertained–nothing was drab or boring. They had highchairs, too, which was a major bonus. Sans tour, we headed back out to see the grounds. Early spring is probably not the best time to view the walled gardens. There were plenty of blooming flowerbeds but the gardens appeared to be geared toward mid-summer-bloomers. The view of the sea was breathtaking. Perhaps the real winner here, though, was the huge play area. The playground was divided into an area for little ones and an area for big kids. It was perfect for letting the kids run out some energy.

ardgillan castle

The biggest “bust” of the day was our Bed & Breakfast. Despite its great reviews, it was terrible. The bedroom looked clean enough but the rest of the house was nasty. It was so bad, we paid half a night’s stay to get out of there and booked a room at Maldron Dublin Airport. Maldron was a little overpriced but it’s a 5 minute shuttle to Terminal 2 at the airport. Most importantly, the Maldron was clean.

As a whole, I wouldn’t skip someplace like the Cliffs of Moher or Rock of Cashel for Skerries, but if time permits and you have little ones, Skerries might be worth your time. Especially in the summer months when sea breezes don’t lead to frigid windchills, you could easily spend the day beachcombing.

If you’re traveling to Ireland–especially if you are traveling with kids–check back in the coming days. I will have some other can’t-miss attractions, places, and pubs to discuss. Visit me over on my Facebook page if you have questions or just feel like discussing Skerries Ireland.

 

Checking back in

What’s the point of having a blog if you never add content? There really isn’t one, so I have vowed to get a little more content up. I’m honestly not sure how those other bloggers with kids and jobs and lives get copy up regularly. Anyway…I wanted to just add a quick post to get back in the swing.

We spent Christmas up around Ramstein Germany. We stopped off in Garmisch the first night, then stayed in Grainau on our way back. Our hotel in Grainau was a quaint little mom-and-pop place. The minute we checked in, I realized it was not the best choice for a family with boisterous kids but there was a snowstorm. We weren’t going to be driving around looking for a new place. I had to eat dinner in the room since little Harper was too excited for the formal dining room. It was dark outside and I was a little ticked that I was eating a fine dinner while chasing a toddler. Well, the next morning I woke up and opened the curtains. What you see below was my view. Clearly I had the better view during dinner. It’s too bad I couldn’t see it.

Hope you had an amazing holiday season! Catch you in 2015.

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Our day in Venice

If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you probably well know the scene where Dorothy walks out of her sepia-tone Kansas farmhouse and witnesses the technicolor vibrancy of Oz. It’s completely unlike anything she’s ever seen and she’s overwhelmed with awe. This was Venice for me last weekend. Truth be told, I’ve never had much interest in Italy, let alone Venice. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m missing the romance gene, so gondola rides with my sweetheart…I gag even writing it. Stepping out of the Venezia San Lucia train station, though, was akin to Dorothy stepping into Oz. The color, the architecture, the buzz of watercraft and people, the surreal blue sky…words just can’t describe it.

This is in front of the train station with Venice's Grand Canal as a backdrop.

This is in front of the train station with Venice’s Grand Canal as a backdrop.

Focused so much on getting a map, Eddie was literally head-down, walking with determination and purpose to the ticket and information kiosk. The saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees” was applicable here. “Eddie. EDDIE. You’re missing it. Look.” He nor the girls felt the same way I did, but once we got that damn map, he was ready to see what was in front of him.

Because Venice is an easy day trip from Vicenza–our home base for the next three years–we didn’t bother planning the day. Our goal was to make it to the Piazza San Marco simply because that was as good a goal as any. For future trips, we’ll read up on the history and plan a bit just to know what we’re seeing. In hindsight, it was very relaxing to just see the city organically, to navigate the tiny alleyways and just genuinely feel surprised by what we encountered around each corner. Sometimes, it was a major tourist destination (the Rialto bridge in the second photo below), other times it was just a really cool square or bridge. Still other times, it was a great little pastry place or cafe.

venice 189 venice 211In terms of the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), it was grander than anything I had imagined. It was hard to choose one focal point. It’s busy and full of kamikaze pigeons (seriously, they’ll flap you in the face totally without provocation), but it’s simply amazing. To think that these buildings have been standing since the late 1400s and 1500s (the youngest being 400 years old), is simply…at the risk of overusing the phrase…awe-inspiring.

With just an hour until our return train trip, we chose to take a ferry back to the station. This was a great way to see Venice from the water. Truly the highlight of my time on the water was watching the gondoliers blow air kisses at Harper. They were completely and utterly stoic–focused, even–until they passed our ferry. At that point, the whole gondola could’ve sunk. Screw the paid passengers, there’s an adorable baby on that ferry. Italians love kids and they seem to really, really adore Harper.

St. Mark's Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica

venice 226I won’t lie: getting there was much harder than I’d imagined. There are three Venezia (Venice) train stops (if you ever plan to go, it’s Venezia S. Lucia that you want). Also, on the way back to Vicenza, your train will be the Venezia to Verona line (nowhere will it say Vicenza). Venice can also be expensive. Take plenty of Euros or be prepared to find an ATM. We didn’t find many and none of the Italians we encountered could understand “ATM.” Luckily there were some no-fee types just over the Rialto bridge. There’s too much to adequately see in a day, but luckily, we have all the time we need.