This is a guest post from reader Chris Moore, who recently spent two weeks in Greece and Turkey. Enjoy!
My wife and I went on a couple’s trip to Greece and Istanbul in May-June. It was a fantastic trip with a lot of great experiences. While it was difficult to choose a top 5, here are the ones that made the cut. I hope this inspires you to consider traveling to this beautiful part of the world…
Early morning in Santorini—Calm before the Tourist Storm
Even as a first-timer to Greece, we knew the crowds were going to be bad on Santorini. We also knew that we needed to see it and wanted to be in Oia for the best view of the Caldera. That said, the normal late spring crowds along with the two large cruise ship contingents resulted in an overwhelming mass of humanity that overwhelmed the narrow streets during our visit. Fortunately (?) I was still jetlagged enough to be able to get up shortly after dawn to walk through the village and get photos with a beautiful bit of fog still clinging to parts of the Caldera without the crowds. Mostly. Even at 6:00 AM, some couples in full formal wear were in the most popular spots with their private photographers.
The Island Vibe of Paros
After 2 days on Santorini, I couldn’t wait to get to Paros, as I figured this was where our vacation would really begin. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did our 5 nights of (perfectly-located sea-view) hotel cost less than one night in Oia, but the island was as beautiful and laid-back as anticipated.
We arranged for a guide to show us the island on our first day then rented a car and had days and nights filled with great scenery, food, wine and experiences that felt truly authentic. The great folks at our hotel even found us a local Rental Car company that saved half off what I had reserved at Avis stateside, including delivering the car to the hotel and allowing me to drop it at the airport at the end of our time on the island. This gave us maximum flexibility to be as busy (or not), as we wanted to be. We visited seaside-chic and mountain-rustic villages, great beaches and met wonderful people here a bit off the mass-tourist trail. While Paros is definitely not undiscovered, it’s still laid-back and largely unspoiled.
Sailing in the Small Cyclades
We were lucky enough to be 2 of only 8 guests on a small sailing yacht that took us from Paros past Naxos to Schoinousa and Koufonisi, 2 of the Small Cyclades islands. We explored deserted beaches, swam in crystal-clear, incredibly beautiful blue waters and saw undeveloped islands that are still what their more-famous neighbors used to be. Just when we thought the day couldn’t be better, 2 pods of dolphins decided to join us as we were returning to port. Up close with wild dolphins in the Greek islands? Yeah, that was a highlight……. 😊
The Beauty of Istanbul
After enjoying our experiences in Greece so much, we feared that Istanbul might be a letdown but couldn’t have been more wrong.
We stayed at the Conrad in the Beşiktaş area and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful suite, food and service. The view of the Bosphorus from their rooftop bar was a spectacular introduction to the city.
We hired a guide (Thanks Ceren!) for a 2-day tour of the top sites and she expertly led us on a journey that was well-paced, fun, scenic and informative. Highlights included the usual suspects (Hagia Sofia, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace and others) plus a Bosphorus cruise and the beautiful, lesser-known Rustem Pasha Mosque. I’m as cynical as anyone, but the Hagia Sophia must be visited in person to be appreciated. It was awe-inspiring and absolutely exceeded expectations. Lastly, we noted that the city had an atmosphere of inclusivity that was remarkable for such a mix of so many cultures.
A New Airline Experience
We were fortunate enough to find availability on Turkish Airlines business class from Houston to Istanbul round-trip. While this route doesn’t yet feature their new product and configuration (still has the 2-3-2 configuration on a 777-300ER), the food and service were still top-notch. Decent IFE, slippers and nicer-than average amenity kits were included. The food and wine menus were better than some other products I have flown and the food was plentiful and well-executed. The planes were clean and the crews worked hard, especially at meal service. The seats were comfortable enough that I slept almost twice as long as I have on any other flight. Interestingly, families with young children are invited to board before anyone else, including a group of at least 15 people accompanied by ONE (magic?) stroller in Houston. Finally, business class passengers are allowed 1GB of Wi-Fi data apiece, which was enough for me to email and surf the web off and on throughout the flights.
Miles & Points
I love this hobby that allows so many of us to go places and see things that would normally not be accessible to us and our families. For this trip, my wife and I used 176K ANA points via my Amex card to fly nonstop IAH-IST, and used cash to fly Economy intra-Greece and between Greece and Turkey. Due to our big family trip last fall detailed on this site, as well as another family trip this coming Fall, we didn’t use any hotel points on this trip. In Greece we did use Hotels.com to earn 1 free future night worth $172. In Istanbul, we earned about 68K Hilton points for our 3-night stay in a Bospohorus Suite. Finally, I used one of my favorite tricks in booking our tours through Viator on Rakuten to earn about 13K Amex points.
Note from Nancy: Thank you again, Chris, for sharing your photos and experiences with us. I’m so glad that you are able to maximize miles and points to see the world!
Are you interested in learning how to use miles and points from credit card bonuses to travel the world? Check out my Travel Hacking 101 post.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.