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Four Days in Beautiful Santorini

Four Days in Beautiful Santorini
via American and Emirates First Class
May 2018

Today, Mrs. SFO777 and I are off to Santorini, to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  Our first stop is London as we're using the return portion of our January Athens-LAX outbound.  Although it's a single connection, LAX-LHR flights misconnect to the one daily morning London-Santorini BA nonstop.   Surprising light traffic on the 405, 105 and Sepulveda on a gloomy Friday in SoCal.

I dropped Mrs. SFO777 off at the Flagship First entrance and then went to park.   Not sure what the deal was today but there was no porter outside and no one inside seemed to care.  #GoingForGreat indeed.

Door was closed, had no sensor or handle.

Ten minutes later, I was back to pick up Mrs. SFO777 and head to Pre-Check and the Flagship Lounge.

We headed for the Admirals Club/Flagship Lounge...

... and directly to Flagship First Dining which is reserved only for international First, transcon First and Concierge Key.

The coolest thing about the new lounge is the vintage photos of celebrities flying AA years ago.

This is second visit to the LAX Flagship Lounge and it continues to be an attractive oasis with excellent staff.

Breakfast on my previous visit was inedible, so I was interested to see if All Day Dining would be any better.  Hint: It wasn't.

We both had a glass or two of the lovely Bollinger, and then the Lobster Pad Thai which our server Jocelyn said was one of their most popular dishes.   

Ugh.  More inedible food.  The pasta was bone dry while the lobster was just plain gross and disgusting.  We had a couple of bites and another glass of Bollinger, while we lingered a while at our table until we headed down to our gate.

Yuck.

Los Angeles LAX to London LHR
American AA 136
777-300ER (77W)
7:40pm-2:20pm +1 (sked)
8:15pm-2:20pm +1 (actual)
May 11, 2018
Seats 1J and 2J

 

I remember the early boarding last time I was on this flight but tonight was crazy.  We arrived at nearby Gate 41 a full 50 minutes before departure and they were already on Group 6. 

On board, AA's 8 seat First Class cabin.  And classy as ever with bedding piled on each seat.  Maybe you could offer them later than pax wondering what to do with all of this crap until bedtime.  

The AA amenity kit.  Nice enough bag on the outside...

... but the same old garbage on the inside...

Tonight's menu...

... and wine list.  A great champagne but after that, AA is clearly cutting back on wine quality and wine budget.

Not a good sign when AA techs congregate at the front of the plane.   Tonight's issue is no IFE.  After an hour with no luck, the captain annouced that we are leaving without a fix.  #GoingForGreat once again.

After take-off, my usual G&T.

Showtime, AA style.

Mrs. SFO777 passed on all the starters and went right to the chicken, which looked (and apparently tasted) pretty good.

I always love a good movie while eating an inflight meal... but not tonight.  Think silent black and white movies from the 1920s.

My Lobster Salad Deviled eggs were tasty although a little bland.

The Tomato and Lentil Soup with grilled cheese "Crouton" was meh.

Horrible presentation but the Boston BIb Lettuce was quite good... 

... after I worked on it for a while.

For my main, the Slow-Braised Lamb Osso Buco was good although not as good as I remembered last year's version.

For dessert, I had lusted after the Warm Lousiana Praline Bread Pudding which I enjoyed on a previous flight.  Even mentioned it to our FA.  Unfortunately, said FA either forgot or didn't care, and claimed that only 2 were loaded and they were already gone.  And no sir, the Bread Pudding was not on the Business Class menu. So I was stuck with the Passion Fruit Mousse. Ugh. #GoingForGreat.   

With no IFE, I went to sleep... for nearly 7 hours.

On final to Heathrow, our classy First Class cabin with duvets and pillows just left on the counter at the front of each seat.  Seriously?

Not the best flight but heck, It's AA and the price was right.  But I was able to burn two SWUs to upgrade a cheap Business Class fare.  

The usual long, long T3 walk to Passport Control.   

Another lovely London weather day.  LOL.

Our one night London strategy is to pick a show and Amex FHR hotel within walking distance of each other, so as to not waste time with taxis and traffic.   The Savoy entertainment complex was ideal.  Hotel, show and resto in the same complex.   

Talk about a conveniently located theatre.

Despite the hotel being fully booked or "fully committed", we were upgraded to a lovely Executive King in the Art Deco wing.

While Mrs. SFO777 took a nap, I explored the hotel.  

Cool vintage pics along the hallway to the American Bar.

Meanwhile back upstairs, we split a burger to take the edge off before our post theatre dinner.

Just after 7pm, we headed downstairs and next door to the Savoy Theatre and Dreamgirls.  

From dreamgirlswestend.com

While theatre was crowded...

... our Ambassador Club Gold membership got us complimentary access to the limited seating Ambassador Lounge.   Upon showing our credientials, we were immediately escorted from the front door to the private Ambassador Lounge.

Pleasant, comfy lounge with 14-16 seats that one must reserve when you book your tickets.   The package (with our membership) include a complimentary cocktail and nibbles, prior to the show and at intermission.

Our two lovely servers, Emma and Laura, escorted each couple/group to their seats.  We were the last to leave so I was able to snap a few pics of an empty lounge.

Beautiful theatre and great front row 1st balcony seats.

At the interval, Laura was waiting for us at the end of the row to escort us back to the lounge.

Excellent show and experience, especially with the Ambassador Lounge package.   After the show, we walked back to the hotel lobby and Savoy Grill, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.  We'd eaten here one time before and chose it tonight mostly for the convenience.  Nice decor.  

Pic from gordonramsayrestaurants.com

Pic from gordonramsayrestaurants.com

Food and service was excellent tonight.   My pork chop.

And Mrs. SFO777's filet.

After a good night's sleep, room service breakfast which was complimentary with our FHR package.

Our Blacklane driver was waiting for us when we came down to the lobby at 9:30am.  

Looks like a perfect week for Santorini.  

With little Sunday morning traffic, we were at Terminal 5 in about 30 minutes.

One of the benefits of One World Emerald status is the use of First Class check-in anywhere in the One World system.   For all its warts and faults, First Class check in at Terminal 5 is quite nice.

A cool recent feature is First Class security directly from the check-in.  It was painless and quick this morning with only a handful of other passengers.   After security...

... down a corridor....

... directly into the First Galleries Lounge.

Nice views and plane-spotting.

First Galleries is large and mostly pleasant although a little dated and frayed at the edges.

Our gate was finally posted at 11:05am or just 50 minutes before departure.  We lucked out this morning with nearby Gate A13 assignment.

London LHR to Thira (Santorini) JTR
British Airways 652
A320
11:55a-5:55p (sked)
12:50p-6:50p (actual)
May 12, 2018
Club Europe (aka fake Euro Business Class)
Seats 1A and 1C

 

BA intra-Europe Business Class as with most any European Business Class is simply a garbage product.  Economy seats with an open middle seat is not Business.  But it is what it is and you suck it up and endure when it is the only option.   And London-Santorini nonstop is indeed convenient if you can survive the flight.  Fortunately, I was able to grab bulkhead seats which is the only good seating on the plane.

Today's menu.

Despite a delayed start to boarding, boarding was complete by 11:50am and we appeared ready to push.  Until we weren't and the captain announced an tech issues that he needed to resolve.  Kudos to him with timely updates and excellent lay explanations about the problem and progress.  "Imagine you are at home and your computer isn't doing what it should.  You reboot it try again.  That's kind of what we're going to do".

With the help of a BA tech and a reboot, all systems checked out and we were ready to go.

In the air, excellent service from a pleasant although at times annoyingly chatty FA.  

OK, I know we're sitting in Economy seats, but the food tray was way too small.  Cheese, dessert and starter with no room to spare.

The smoked salmon starter was good.

As was the chicken.  But there was even less room now.  Jeez.

OK, problem solved by moving the cheese and dessert to the middle divider.

With no one across the aisle in 1DF, I moved over to get a little sleep. 

Our inflight entertainment today.  LOL.  

Great views on our descent into Santorini.

How cool is this?  Flying right over Oia, our home for the next 4 days.

Thira Airport has one runway and no jet bridges. Indeed the tarmac is 50 feet below the "terminal".

The arrivals area.

And rental car counters.

Pleasant Avis agent processed our paperwork and we were on our way 10 minutes later.   The airport terminal as we looped around and headed for Oia. 

Canaves Oia Suites
Oia, Santorini

 

Thirty minutes and 8 miles of mostly narrow winding roads later, we arrived at iconic and gorgeous Oia.  Once in Oia, the main (only) road is so narrow that it becomes one lane when the tour buses are around.  And then there is challenge of actually finding the resort, let alone reception.  Granted there are a couple of Canaves Oia signs on buildings, but they aren't really anywhere near reception.  LOL.  We pulled into the private Canaves Oia parking lot, and lucked out finding a Canaves staffer who called a bellman to help us with the bags and escort us right, left, up, left, right, down and right to reception.  I'm guessing that they don't get a lot of walk in business.  Ha.   After a warm welcome at reception, we were escorted to our suite.

Inside Suite #25.

Wow.

OMG.

And our comfy Santorini minimalist style.

After we settled and soaked up the view, we headed down to the main restaurant for a late dinner.

Our amuse bouche spread.  Wow.  This looked and tasted like it was right out of Thomas Keller or Alain Ducasse.  Indeed, the new Executive Chef trained in Paris under Ducasse.

Our sea bass was to die for.  Amazing taste and presentation.  

And dessert.

Wow, wow, wow.  This was an extraordinary meal, made even better by polished and genuine service... and some excellent Greek wines.   

After a good night's sleep we woke to a gorgeous Santorini morning.   With a view like this, what better place for breakfast.

After researching local tour guides, We decided to book a day with Santorini Photo Tours, owned by professional photographer Olaf Reinen.  Originally from the Netherlands, Olaf grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Santorini and Crete with his wife and son.  Not only does Olaf know the best places in Santorini for photos, he shares his photographic knowledge to help make you better photographer.   Mrs. SFO777 decided to take the day off and just relax in our suite, so it was just Olaf and me today.   We started in old Oia.

Lots of touristy shops and restos on the main "street".

But the real story is the breathtaking vistas just a few steps away...

 

From Oia, we drove to the south end of Santorini to the town of Megalochori...

And then to seaside lunch at Asterias in Akrotiri.

After lunch, a short walk to Red Beach, ignoring the No Entry signs.  LOL.

Olaf dropped me off at the hotel just after 4pm.

Time to relax, have a beer and a swim before dinner.

Canaves offers a special Panaroma Dinner featuring a tasting menu and a private setting overlooking the Caldera.  But first to the bar.

OMG... with wine pairings.

Our wonderful server and sommelier Nikos.

And away we go.  Our amuse bouche starters, just like last night.  

The Sea Urchin with buckwheat, lemon confit, parsley and ouzo...

... was fabulous.

As was the Tartar with capers, handmade ketchup, San Michali cheese, pomme soufflé and lardo di Colonnato.

Oh yeah, that setting will work.

Scallops sautéed with cauliflower, bitter almond, green curry and raisins was very nice.

But the Carbonara was to die for... with home tagliatlle with guanciale, truffles and egg parmesan sauce.  OMG.

At this point, it was getting a little chilly and windy in the exposed balcony.  So we headed to a sheltered cave like room for the rest of the meal.

Our local Lamb on charcoal, vinsanto sauce, caramelized eggplant and Florina peppers was amazing.

Our pre Dessert palate cleanser.   Amazing.

Wow.

And just in case we were still hungry, fondue to finish.

What an extraordinary meal and experience.  

 

Some of the best vacations happen when you just do nothing... especially when you have perfect weather and a perfect location.  After a full day of touring yesterday, I joined Mrs. SFO777 in simply relaxing and pretty much doing nothing for the next two days.  Our morning routine... breakfast in our suite overlooking the caldera.

A little later in the morning, I walked up to main square and and around the resort for some pics.

Since we were now on a late breakfast routine, we decided to go with late lunches as our only other meal of the day.  And after two nights of wonderful haute cuisine, we were interested in getting back to the basics and more traditional Greek food.   Today we chose Lauda Restaurant located in the Adronis Boutique Hotel, a short walk down the pedestrian way.   As with many places in Oia, Lauda is difficult, indeed impossible to find on your own.  We checked in at the hotel front desk and then were escorted down winding stairs, like this...  As with many hotels here, elevators are simply not practical given the terrain and the "hanging off a cliff" location.

But once we arrived, it was well worth the effort.

Amazing menu, but we didn't need to go past the first page and the set Greek Lunch menu.

Our Greek Meze starters.  OMG.

And the Greek Salad to die for.

 

Simply spectacular.

After an incredible two hour food and wine orgy with wonderful service, now we had to find our way back up to street level.

Back at street level, we explored more of Oia and then headed back to our hotel.

The next morning, more of the same as our perfect weather continued.

Now that's relaxation.

Around 2pm or so, we decided to actually use our rental car and explore a little more of the island eventually winding up in Imerovigli, where we thought to have lunch.  OMG, if we thought Oia was difficult to navigate.  At least Oia has a street.  Most of Imerovigli hangs on the side of a cliff with only steep pedestrian walkways.   With our iPhone map function completely useless here, we threw caution to the wind and proceeded, mostly letting the force guide us.

Someone wants to get out of here.  "Do you know where you're going?"  Uh, not really but I can't tell her that.  LOL.

The problem was that it was hard to tell which pathways went anywhere or were just dead-end cul de sacs.  After 20 minutes or so of winding up, down, up, down... finally a promising sign.  

By this time, we'd given trying to find any of the restos on our list and were happy just to have escaped.  Mrs. SFO777 wisely suggested, let's go back to Oia.    Twenty minutes later, we parked our car in the Canaves lot (which really isn't near Canaves) and walked back.  Lo and behold, we found one of the restos on our Oia list, Laokasti.   By now it was 4pm and we had no problem getting a table.

More great wine, food and service.

OMG, the food was simply amazing starting with the best Greek Salad I've ever had.

Wonderful local mushroom and pork dish dish.

And our mains.  BBQ chicken for Mrs. SFO777...

And my amazing lamb dish.

Wow, another simply fabulous meal... with wonderful genuine, friendly service.  Amazingly, the total tab for this meal was only 97 euros.   Meanwhile back at our hotel, as the sun sets, may as well open our complimentary cheap champagne.

Sadly, it's getaway day and time to go home.   But not before one last sunny morning overlooking the caldera.

OK, the French Toast was very good. 

Packed and ready to go.

And success with OLCI.

Back on the road to airport about 30 minutes away.

Not sure how much Avis Santorini would charge for fuel, so I did the fuel refill thing along the way.  I was happy that there are apparently no self-serve stations here as I was about to put regular petrol into our diesel rental.  

Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the rental car parking lot across from the terminal.  

Fortunately, we had our boarding passes and only carry-on bags, so we were able to bypass the chaotic check-in counters with lines backed outside the terminal.  OK, this place is positively third world.

The domestic departure area with five gates, numbers 13, 4, 5, 6, and 7.   Very logical in Greece I guess. 

Even without many people here, there were still no seats.   But alas, I followed the stairs to a more spacious arean upstairs.  For a moment, I thought, maybe there is a Priority Pass Lounge up here.  LOL.

... with outdoor terrace.   Not bad for plane watching.

Our plane landed just after 12:35pm.

Meanwhile downstairs, the long queue for passport control for EasyJet to Gatwick.

Thira JTR to Athens ATH
Olympic Air OA 357
A320
1:15pm-2:05pm
May 17, 2018
All Economy
Exit Row 12CD

 

And the queue for our flight, or rather the queue for our bus.  LOL.   The fare was reasonable and I paid an extra 6 euros in advance at booking for exit row seating.

Boarding Pass says Olympic but the plane is Aegean.  Does Olympic have it's own livery?  Or is this just swapping planes when they need one? 

Not that the seating is any different but 4 rows of the usual European fake Business Class suggests a plane swap with its parent.

Inflight service on the short 30 minute flight included a mint and cookie.

In Athens, more buses.

Getting off Santorini is not a pleasant experience.  But once you get past the miserable airport experience, the short one class flight is reasonably comfortable especially in an exit row or bulkhead seat.