Greece Post #4 – Schinoussa to Santorini and getting home (the long painful way)

So by now you must be almost sick of hearing about Greece. I am almost tired of writing about it, although it really was amazing! Let me tell you though you don’t want to miss the end of the story which is the epic saga of how I got home and the epic failure of our national airline to care that I exist.

Amorgos

Amorgos was my favorite of all of the islands we visited. It was larger than some but smaller and less touristy than some of the others.

We rented cars and went up the hill to an amazing little coffee shop and sat on a deck with amazing views, sipping Russian Coffee and seeing the ruins of ancient windmills. The nicest part about having Alex with us was that we did get exposed to some of these little places. Alex disappeared at some point during coffee though (as he was apt to do) and it was decided that I should drive, mostly because I know how to drive standard transmission and all of the Australians and Tasmanians were used to driving on the other side of the road. We survived…

The following day we went to the Monastery of Hozoviotissa which was built into a side of the mountain and is still managed by a group of monks.

To get there you have to climb a lot of steps and it was a very warm day. Adding to the fun there is a strict dress code and everyone must be fully covered and women need to wear skirts, which lead to all of us borrowing from the supply located in the entrance of the monastery.

This spot was amazing to see and it is a wonder how they worked at this location on the side of a mountain. The monks were very nice and served jellied candies and hard liquor when you reach the top. The liquor is similar to paint thinner and being already overheating from the sheer quantity of clothing I was wearing I managed to discretely leave it behind.

Schinoussa to Ios to Santorini

I wrote less in my journal as these days whiled away. The islands largely blended into one another and the days became less remarkable. I don’t remember a time in my life when I felt as comfortable and relaxed as I did in these final days on the boat.

Ios was more of a party island and we toured around the central core but we were late in the season and most businesses and shops were closed. We didn’t feel like we had missed too much.

The night in Ios was our last night together and had the most amazing meal of the trip all together as a crew at the The Mills.

 

Leaving the Boat

The next morning we were to get off the boat. Alex told us to be ready to go for 8am. This is the guy who up to this point we were hauling out of bed to start things moving at 9… But this morning he bounded out of bed and had everything ready to go for our departure (he was REALLY ready to get off the boat).

The original plan was to sail to one of the ports on Santorini and leave us there to find our way to our various destinations. Alex informed us that the seas were too rough and so he dropped us on a tiny side island, Theresa,  and we took a ferry over. We got off the boat into a little skiff and let me say it left a lot to be desired in the stability department.

I really enjoyed the people on the boat. I was sad to say good bye to this amazing group of people but I was so looking forward to a bed, a nice hotel and some time to relax on the most famous of the islands.

We spend a large part of the time in Santorini dealing with how we were going to get home (see below for the fantastic story) but when we did finally get it all worked out we enjoyed an amazing sunset on the balcony of our hotel.

 

We had very little time in Santorini but I got to see a lot of the island and we walked around a fair bit and I honestly felt like I have been there and seen it. It was very touristy and the busy season was behind it, I would not want to be there when it was actually busy.

Getting back – The debacle – Oh Air Canada why do you try my patience so!

I actually wrote this part of the post first even though it will end up coming last. Travel is not all glamour and excitement. Much of the time it is stress management. Getting home from Greece was a great example of this!

We got off the boat in Santorini, ready for a couple days of rest and relaxation in a nice hotel before travel home to Canada. As soon as we got off the boat everyone starts checking their phones (a theme of the trip) and the notices started to arrive that flights within Greece were cancelled because the air traffic controllers were planning to strike. Unfortunately, this included our flights from Santorini back to Athens and Athens back to Canada.

The strike was set to be 4 days – Sunday & Monday and Wednesday & Thursday. We were booked to fly back Sunday and that meant if we couldn’t get on flights Tuesday we could have been in Greece for almost an extra week. Despite my initial elation of the extra time away I had been away for 10 days at this point and I missed the family and my bed, not to mention didn’t relish the idea of having to pay the costs of an extra week abroad.

You always have a choice in how you will deal with these situations. My first thought was “lets go to the hotel and relax and figure it out later” but the group affected were all heading to the airport to try to re-book flights so we jumped in a cab. The airport was pandemonium as people were trying to get out and also change their flights. Air Aegean gave us one option – cancel the flights and get a refund. Unfortunately, that didn’t get us home we decided to cancel the flight to Athens and figured we could take a boat and figure it out there…

So off to the Port. The main Port in Santorini in at the base of a large cliff and once you are there you really need a cab to get you back to the top, especially if you have luggage in tow. We got out of the cab and went to see the office to try to book a ferry. No one seemed to understand what we needed and at this point we were very tired from not sleeping the last night on the boat and didn’t really know what we were asking for.

While I tried to book the ferry Anne called Air Canada to get our flights changed to Tuesday. Now this is when my blood really started to boil. After waiting 1.5 hours on hold – at international rates for the call – we were told there was nothing Air Canada could do to help us because they didn’t have the issue in their system and it wasn’t their airline that cancelled the flights… Which we both had a problem with since we had both booked the entire trip through the Air Canada website.

I said to Anne lets get to the hotel. Lets take a shower and relax and deal with this when we have wifi and a little rest.

We had to call Air Canada again (this was our 2nd call which lasted over 1.5 hours) and again it took over an hour to get through to an agent but at least we finally got someone with some experience and she managed to rebook us on Tuesday which made us feel much better and we were able to enjoy

Guess what! The next morning at 9am I woke up and saw the story that said that the strike was cancelled… On the phone we got again with Air Canada – another 1.5 hours on the phone and we got rebooked back onto our original flights except for the Santorini to Athens leg which we had accepted the refund for from the airline and which was now not available with all the stranded passengers…

 

So off the to port we went again… This time we knew we were looking for a high speed ferry to Athens and booked it and were off shortly thereafter. The ferry was 8 hours long and what was remarkable was when Anne and I both finished our books after a couple of hours we stopped and started to talk and realized with all of the people on the boat and excitement of trying to get off the island we hadn’t really talked all week. So with that we chatted all the way back to Athens.

One of the smartest choices we made was to book the airport hotel for the night before our 8am flight. It is always more expensive but being right at the airport when we had so little time was brilliant and the next morning was a breeze.

No, it is still not over

The flight out of Athens was delayed… So when we arrived in Munich to see our plane at the gate but it was already closed and they would not reopen for the 14 people who were supposed to connect on to it (a direct flight to Toronto)… So we went to the desk…

Anne let me take the next flight (because she knew I was dying to get home to the kids) which was through London, Toronto to Saint John. She was going on standby on a later direct flight to Toronto . Funny enough she made it onto that standby flight and got home several hours before I did.

I on the other hand flew to London but my London flight was delayed into Toronto and so when I raced through customs in Toronto I was thrilled to get to the gate and was there before my flight boarded – yeah! I sat down and waited for them to call the boarding of the Saint John flight.

BUT when I went up to get on the flight and they told me I had been removed from the flight because my other flight was delayed and they didn’t think I had time to make it. I said no problem, I’m right here, put me back on the flight… BUT NO I had to go to the customer service desk… Do you feel my frustration yet?

By the time I got to the desk and they realized they had filled my seat on the Saint John Flight I noticed a Moncton flight leaving 15 minutes later. I made them put me on it, at least I was getting closer to home. I figured I could rent a car and drive home.

Then I got to Moncton and realized I had not taken my drivers licence to Greece and therefore I could not rent a car! ACK! I won’t ever travel without my driver licence again! Which meant at 1:30am I had to get in a cab, in Moncton, to get home – at a cost of $200. It turned out to be a blessing though because I could not keep my eyes open on the drive and I don’t think driving home would have been the best thing at that time of night after the crazy travel day I had. That being said I made the right choice because when I got home and climbed into bed (at 3am) I felt SO good!

The one good thing was that Monday my baggage arrived in Saint John. There was no note on the system as to why it was there or who it belonged to. Luckily I had my business card in the pouch and the staff at the Saint John airport gave me a call and even had it delivered right to my office. So a shout out to the Saint John staff!

After all that I contacted Air Canada to see if at least they would reimburse me for the cab fare. I figured if I had stayed in Montreal they would have had to feed me and put me up in a hotel and all of that would have cost more than $200… And you know what… All I got was a lousy 30% off voucher, only good for the next 12 months…

Air Canada – epic fail!  I am pretty excited to take Westjet to Ireland – not to say they will be perfect but I’m glad to spend my money elsewhere after such a horrible customer service experience.

Moral of the story is that you need to relax, take it all in and realize you can’t control everything. It will all work out in some way and don’t stop travelling because these things happen – my time in Greece was worth it and now I have this crazy story to tell!

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