Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some inside info about Santorini

Being Greek and in the tourist industry since 2007 I will give you a few pointers about Santorini and Greece in general so you won't be caught unaware:

  • If you make a reservation in a hotel and for some reason (i.e. you didn't like it, you found something cheaper, there is a genuine emergency etc) the hotel is allowed to charge you 50% of the total of the remaining stay whether you used the hotel or not. THAT IS THE GREEK LAW. It's not just one hotel's policy and if you try to contest it in a court of law you will lose. Normally your travel agent should inform you of that and the hotel usually "reminds you" upon arrival. It's mentioned somewhere on the check - in papers that you sign and you would find it if you pay attention. Normally the hotels don't like to go to extremes, taking your guests to the courthouse is not good for business after all, but they are entitled to and they 90% of all the cases.

  • The water is not always drinkable and not every hotel has the luxury of installing special filters to make it so. Ask them before drinking tap water. However it's easy to find water bottles - they are sold almost everywhere and the prices very from 0.50€ (for the small bottle) to 1,00€ for the 1tl bottle.

  • Most islands don't have sewage system and still use waste tanks so you must throw the paper in a small dust bin in the bathrooms provided for that reason. This dust bin must be cleared every day for sanitary reasons.

  • When you have made a booking through an agency and have some special request (double bed or non smoking room, etc) it's best if you contact them directly a couple of days prior to your arrival and let them know. Remember if you are in Australia and wish to visit Greece and talk about it to your travel agent, they will use other middle men to get you what you want and it's not unheard of that sometimes things are overlooked. Also keep in mind that "requests" are not the same as "reservations". The hotel may or may not be able to comply with what you asked for. They do their best because nobody wants unsatisfied guests BUT SOMETIMES THAT IS SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE.

Transportation

Here is the thing with Greek time: It's slower that the rest of the world. As a result all of the flights are ferrys are "late" Usually half an hour is acceptable and not worth mentioning as a delay. At the moment the best ships are the Blue Star Ferries. They are very reliable timewise and they are least affected by bad weather. Also they are considerably cheaper than hydrafoils. Here is the deal with fast ships. They are usually lighter and smaller than the heavy commersial ones but they are also the first ones to stop if there is wind. Here in Greece there is a time of phenomenon called "meltemi" which is basically winds. This starts usually around August and finish mid - September. When the winds are blowing the small boats usually don't depart (yeach!). The smaller the boat the more difficult it is to leave port. Hydra-foils are the most affected by that. And even if they do run then they take longer than conventional ships to reach their destinations and even the most sea-worthy travellers find the experience uneasy. So think ahead before booking one of those.

Flights are also late but 30 minutes is not considered a "delay" by our standards. The airports at the islands are not exactly as international as you would expect. They are extremely small so checking in is much faster. Usually the airline companies advise you to be two hours ahead of schedule to check in but usually one hour is enought plus if you add the delay time you are just about right. Once again the best source of information about the correct times so you won't have to wonder aimlessly in ports and airports and you don't lose your connection are the taxi drivers. After all it's their job!

Public transportation with a few exceptions who justifie the rule of course (like Santorini), is unreliable at best. If you just want to visit a beach or some other site at your leisure you may use them of course but don't rely on them if you have to catch a plane or boat. It's best if you allow the receptionists of your hotel to arrange your transfer and it's usually cheaper as well. Just remember that you can't arrange things last minute, especially if you are on an island during high season. One day in advance is usually the proper time.

Generally speaking if you don't have time, for example if you are island hoping, the best course of action is to hire a car. The roads are not excellent but they are better since 2004 and if you are carefull you may enjoy yourself. Drunk driving is of course not allowed!!! In order to hire a scooter you need an international drivers' licence for scooters but that does not apply for cars. ATVs can be driven with a driver's licence as well and are much cheaper than cars!!! Beware of extremely good deals. You know what they say:
When something is too good to be true, it usually isn't.

So when if you find an extremely cheap car rental agency beware! Usually they don't offer insurance.

Well so far so good. In my next post I will tell you a few things about the public services, various functions and health in Greece.

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