It has been over 2 years of no overseas travel and I was very excited to finally get to travel! Travel during the pandemic can be challenging as entry rules are constantly changing but so glad we made it to Greece, it was totally worth the hassle. As you might already know, we got married in Santorini 11 years ago and said we’ll be back for our 10th anniversary. Well…Santorini is so beautiful that I couldn’t wait for 10 years so we went back on our 4th year. Even though we made it back once, we still planned to go back for our 10th anniversary. That didn’t happen due to the pandemic last year. Once we got fully vaccinated end of April, we were hoping that we can make the trip this year. Fortunately, Greece re-opened the border to Americans back in May and lifted most of the COVID restrictions! I started to plan…
The entry requirements for vaccinated Americans are quite simple: a CDC vaccination card as proof that you are fully vaccinated for more than 14 days and submit a PLF (Passenger Locator Form) online at least a day before departure in which you’ll receive a QR code via email on the day (Greece midnight time) of your arrival day. The PLF is one per family, almost near the last pages of the form, you’ll see an option to add additional travelers. As I mentioned before, rules constantly changing so please check the latest by visiting the Greece travel website: https://travel.gov.gr/#/ There are other complications if you are transitting through another country in which you’ll need to also fulfill their rules. For example, some countries require PCR testing within 48 or 72 hours even for vaccinated passengers. To avoid the additional hassle, I looked for direct flights from the US to Greece. The good news is that United, American, and Delta all started direct flights from the US (Newark, Washington D.C., etc.) to Athens.
Important to know that for returning to the US, a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID within the last 90 days is required regardless of your vaccination status. The list of acceptable tests is listed on the US Department of State website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/covid-19-information1.html The easiest and fastest is the rapid antigen test which is offered right in Athens Airport, how convenient is that! It only cost €20 and the result in less than 30 minutes but the wait itself is around 50 minutes when we got there early in the morning.
Our flight was at 11:00 AM with United from Boston to Newark and had a very long layover; our flight to Athens was at 5:40 PM. I was lucky to book it when United was having its 40th-anniversary promotion for 40,000 miles roundtrip (the cash price would’ve been over $1000)! When we checked in at Boston, the United staff checked our CDC vaccination card and the PLF confirmation email as we haven’t received our QR code yet. I received the QR code just before we board our flight at around 5:05 PM (right after midnight Greece time). Don’t worry if your QR code arrives during your flight, there is free 60 minutes wifi at Athens Airport.
Our flight was slightly delayed due to construction at Newark Airport. Our flight was almost full, I guess people are desperate to travel like us! When we board, the first thing we received was a sanitize wipe so we wipe down our seats and surfaces that we’ll touch. The 9+ hours flight was nothing to be excited about and United’s selection of movies was really bad! The only movie that caught my attention was Doraemon’s 50th-anniversary movie: Nobita’s New Dinosaur LOL! Yes, I watched that during the flight 🙂 United did serve a hot meal but it tasted awful; glad that we were prepared and brought our own food. The only thing I like was the mango sorbet. Wearing the mask for more than 17 hours was dreadful; that was the sacrifice to make!
We landed almost on time at around 10:30 AM local time, the captain said it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit out and guess what, we had to get off by stairs and to the bus! It was blazing hot even though it was windy. Athens Airport didn’t change much, their buses are still old so the AC was really weak, and with the mask on after almost 24 hours, yikes I felt like suffocating! We were the first ones off the bus and into the terminal building, the first thing the staff checked was our CDC vaccination card surprisingly! It was a quick peek and then next we queue up for passport control. Within minutes it was our turn and got stamped in no time, no question asked. We got out to baggage claim so fast that I was really surprised no one asked for the QR code! It was different from what I read from people who visited a few weeks ago that the first thing they checked was the QR code. Hum…I guess they trusted the airline checked that we have submitted the PLF? It took us longer to get our bag (waited for half an hour) LOL! It was unreal that we entered Greece just like that!
Our domestic flight to Santorini was at 1:35 PM so we had plenty of time to check-in and drop our bag; Athens Airport is small and easy to navigate. The Aegean Airlines agent did check our CDC vaccination card for the check-in as it’s required (proof of vaccination or negative COVID test) to travel from the mainland to the islands. We got through security and still have half an hour to spare so we utilize our Priority Pass to enter the Goldair Handling CIP Lounge in Hall B where all domestic flights depart. The lounge was not busy, seatings were spread out for social distancing, mask is required, and all the food were packaged (sandwiches, fruits, salad, and even dessert). We boarded our 1-hour flight and turned out we sat inside the plane for an hour! Mask was strictly enforced by the flight attendant, I applaud Aegean Airlines for that! The delay was due to some negotiation between Aegean Airlines and Santorini Airport according to the captain. I informed Gabi Birbeck, with whom I arranged the Santorini airport transfer via Facebook Messenger about the delay. I got her contact from TripAdvisor. The hotel quoted us €90 one way while with Gabi, it was €85 for the airport to the hotel in Oia and hotel to the ferry port total!
We finally arrived in Santorini at around 3:30 PM, picked up our luggage, and Gabi was right outside waiting for us. Santorini has had a new airport since we last visited but according to Gabi, it’s still slow! Gabi called the hotel, Canaves Oia Suites, to let them know we are coming. It felt like a long ride and a totally new way to get to Oia, I recalled we passed by Fira on our last trip. The bell boy came to help with our luggage and showed our way to the hotel, actually, it was right on the main road so not many stairs to climb down! I will have a separate post on the hotel as we stayed in two different rooms in two nights 🙂
We asked the hotel front desk about the current rule on wearing a mask. He said it’s only required to go inside the store and in public transportation. We got to our room, freshen up, and went out to see Santorini! We are back!!!
Just right outside of the hotel:
We walked on the main street toward the village center, it was so quiet and peaceful. It felt so weird to not wearing a mask but we quickly get used to it.
As we walked along the way, Jason and I chatted about if this store was there from seven years ago or not 😉 Big change #1: a lot more high-end hotels and villas!
I think those stores were there previously.
One of the hotel rooftops, sort of wasting space and we have never seen anyone sat there for the multiple times we passed by.
Another luxury hotel’s reception area, nice views!
See how quiet it was on this side of the village?
The first place we stopped by was this cute church right next to the playground. We did quite a lot of photos here back then 🙂
We couldn’t believe it that no one buys this land to build a hotel!
Armeni Village Hotel is still there!
How cute is it to have your own bell on your house?
When we got near the center, there were a lot more tourists.
The Mother of Lord of Akathistos Hymn Holy Orthodox Church at the main village square; it still looks the same as 11 years ago!
We remembered this souvenir shop!
Then, we went to the bell towers which is owned by Aspaki by Art Maisons Hotel. They added ropes to prevent people from climbing on it. A lot of people were there taking photos, well I should say selfies! I took a quick picture and left.
Next, we turned around the corner thinking to go to the blue-domed church location but when we saw a line of people there, we changed our mind to visit it tomorrow morning. More souvenir shops along the way to our next photo location.
This location has a gate at the entrance of the road but it wasn’t marked private property nor locked so people were taking turns to enter and have their photos taken. I do appreciate that people were lined up and take turns to take photos so we are not in each other’s way! Late afternoon wasn’t the best timing for this location as you can see, harsh shadow on one side. We’ll try again tomorrow 🙂
We continued our way to the Oia Castle direction passing a lot more souvenir shops. Somehow, nothing caught our eyes. I said to Jason that he has a higher expectation! He said our souvenir bookshelves have limited space so need to be picky on what can be qualified to place there 😛
There is a lot more art galleries.
We arrived at the Kastro Restaurant where we had a delicious sunset dinner back then. They painted the Kastro Oia Houses (a hotel) and the restaurant in bright orange color, a lot more picturesque and became one of the most photographed spots!
The color of the flowers matched the paint 😉
Right across from it is another cute hotel.
Keep going down the stairs to Ammoudi Port, of course, we didn’t make it down there. Once is enough! We made it down to the Oia Castle ruins for the views and turned back.
A lot more hotels opened on this side of the village, it used to be abandoned broken houses right underneath that yellow hotel!
Santorini is as beautiful!
Time flies and when we checked the time, it was already 6:50 PM; we have a dinner restaurant at 1800-Floga at 7 PM so we headed back to the center. We dined here 7 years ago and still remember the shrimps wrapped in angel hair. This restaurant has moved up the rankings in TripAdvisor so I decided to have our dinner there. I emailed the restaurant two weeks prior to reserve the best view table 🙂 The restaurant was almost fully booked! The waiters were wearing masks and each table has a bottle of hand sanitizer. As the restaurant is open-air, no mask is required for guests.
We asked the waiter to help us to take a photo with our phone, the waiter asked if he can take it with our DSLR camera, he’s cool!
Freshly baked breads: warm and soft.
For appetizers, we ordered the steam mussels……the portion was small for the price! It looked fancy with lemon jelly that’ll melt; the waiter said to have it with the mussels to give extra flavor. We thought it was just okay! The mussels were not fresh (mostly likely frozen ones) and overcooked.
The shrimps wrapped in angel hair, still as delicious but with a different presentation and a lot more pricey.
For the main course, Jason ordered a seafood risotto. It was flavorful but once again, small portion.
I had the duck breast pasta…..the duck breast was okay but the sauce was too creamy for my taste. After a few bites, it was quite heavy.
The dinner was okay but not impressive for the price, total €95 and we tipped €5, the view pays for it! The meal 7 years ago: €78…..inflation or Santorini is more expensive? Big change #2: the payment machine now has the option to add tips! It was convenient to add a few Euros as tips to the bill and pay by credit card so no need to carry around coins for tips. After our dinner, it was sunset time around 8:30 PM and since we were nearby, we decided to walk to Oia Castle to check out the sunset. Oh boy, the first time we saw this many people (already significantly less than pre-pandemic times).
We kept walking down to the ruins hoping to have fewer people, nope, we were wrong!
I took a few photos and we left. The sunset wasn’t as colorful as we have seen in the past and we tried to avoid the crowds to decrease our chance of getting infected!
Our first overseas trip in 2 years and 7 years since we last visited Santorini, so glad we made it back. Santorini is always special in our hearts; it is as beautiful! Despite the 24+ hours wearing a mask to get there, we were rewarded with lesser crowds. I read that in 2019, there were 32 million visitors to Greece whereas in 2021 so far to July only 2.3 million, less than 10%! We were exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel, we didn’t have proper sleep in the past 24+ hours! Regardless of how sleepy I was, I waited until 10:30 PM to have a video chat with our 1.5-year-old daughter; she usually wakes up from her nap at 3:30 PM. I missed her more than she missed me! She didn’t cry when she saw me, she just called “mama” and “baba” and be the usual her haha! After 15 minutes of chat, I said night night and she waved and said “bye-bye”. She even knows the hang-up button!!! I am glad that she’s independent and not as attached to me as I thought so I don’t need to worry as much about her when I travel 😉