Los Angeles 2016/2017 Trip Report Part V (Spas)

I love spas. There's nothing better than the feeling of being pampered and I'm always on the lookout for great spa deals/places. Knowing that L.A. has a big spa culture, I looked up a bunch to see which one to try and I settled on two: Wi Spa, a Korean spa in downtown L.A., and the Four Seasons Spa in Westlake (about 30-40 minutes from downtown).

Wi Spa

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Wi Spa is a 24-hour spa in downtown L.A., in the K-town section. I came here on New Years Eve, and was a bit nervous that it would be packed with people but it actually wasn't bad at all! Or maybe I am used to worst crowds in NYC, but by nighttime, the place thinned out.

Admission to the spa (which has free valet parking) is $25 and provides you access to saunas, the rooftop lounge area, and the gender-specific hot tubs (no clothes in this area only). If you get a facial/massage/etc., the admission price is included in the service. Since I came on NYE, I decided to go for the Buff & Seaweed treatment, which includes a body scrub, oil massage, seaweed body wrap, facial mask, and shampoo treatment for a glorious 110 minutes. I made the rsvp a week in advance for 8 pm, so I arrived at 4 pm to enjoy the other amenities.

I found Wi Spa to be very clean but not as big as the Korean spas in NYC. There are 4 hot saunas set at different heated temperatures and one ice room. You can also order food there but I didn't try any of it since I had a big lunch earlier. Compared to Spa Castle in Queens, NY, Spa Castle is more 'fun' in that it has more saunas in addition to co-ed jacuzzis on the rooftop (as well as gender-specific hot tubs). The body treatment was pretty good, my skin was baby soft after. Great place to relax and unwind if needed but coming on a weekday is probably better. While the place wasn't that packed as I thought it would be, there were definitely way more kids/teens that I care to be around when I want peace and quiet! My fave sauna rooms was the Salt Room (picture above, where you literally lie in salt!) and the Clay Room (where you lie in tiny balls of clay!).

Four Seasons Westlake Village Spa

When I was researching L.A. spas, the Four Seasons Westlake Village Spa popped up on many lists. I am so glad I checked this one out as the amenities and service here are great! On weekdays, they have specials so come then if you can. I did the Unity Daycation package, which is a 50 minute facial and a 50 minute massage for $290. I thought it was a good deal considering the amenities of a swimming pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room, and access to the fitness classes (though I didn't get to take any classes). My treatments started at 5 pm but I came around 1 pm and wish I came earlier to enjoy! They also have a nice sleeping/relaxation room too. 

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This Four Seasons Spa is also the largest in the world, with 28 treatment rooms. Thus the amenities are also one of the nicest of all the hotels. There are three hot tubs, two of which are outside and one inside.

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Even though it was 50 degrees out, the plush robes kept me warm, as did the outdoor hot tub. The service staff is really great here too, greeting you with a smile and providing anything you need. I stayed outside for about 1.5 hours, reading by the pool and enjoying the hot tub.

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Lying on these nice beds while listening to water trickling in the spa was lovely too. This was a perfect place to recover after my hiking activities!

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I really enjoyed my time here. If I do come back out to L.A. I would probably check out a different spa just to see what else is out there but this one was super nice to enjoy and may be hard to beat!

Los Angeles 2016/2017 Trip Report Part II (Hollywood Sign Hike)

Griffith Observatory/Hollywood Sign Hike

 

Hollywood hike from Griffith Observatory  

Hollywood hike from Griffith Observatory  

The highlight of my L.A. trip was hiking from the Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood sign on New Years Day. I initially had planned to go the day before but the weather was gloomy. I'm glad I didn't try to do this Saturday because I had lunch plans with a friend. If you do this hike, allot 4-6 hours!!! 

I had done a bunch of research online but some of the information is confusing until you get there yourself. The number one thing to know is that there are multiple ways to hike up to the sign. Though I haven't explored all the other ways, I feel like starting from the Observatory makes the most sense due to parking and facilities and the views are just breathtaking all the way!

La la land

La la land

The Observatory opens at 10 am and is closed on Mondays. I thought if I got there a little before 10 am I would have no problem grabbing a parking spot in the lot. I could not been more wrong! I arrived around 9:45 am and the lot was completely full. However, you can also park on the road up/out of the Observatory. I highly recommend you eat breakfast before coming--there are no food facilities and if you're gonna trek 8-10 miles roundtrip, you are gonna be hungry and thirsty! 

I had ended up grabbing Burger King breakfast on the way which I am so glad I did. Below is the view of all the trails going up to the mountain from where I parked my car. I have no idea if these trails lead up to the Observatory but some probably do.  I ended up parking on the road out of the Observatory, off to the side. A ton of cars were parked this way, up on the curb of the road. Basically, if you see a spot on the way to or from the Observatory, just take it! I ended up having to park in a way that my car was on a slant. Californians are super friendly. I was nervous with squeezing into the space and this random guy behind my car helped guide me into the space, and even lifted a big rock from the ground so I wouldn't hit it! And he disappeared before I could say thank you! Trust me, that type of kindness and thoughtfulness is rare in NYC!

Couldn't ask for a more beautiful day

Couldn't ask for a more beautiful day

I then went to the Observatory to use the bathroom before I started the hike. Although there are bathroom facilities right by the parking lot, there was a long line for them. At the Observatory (which is about a 5 min. walk from the lot), there were no lines and it's free to go in and the facilities are clean. 

At 10:30 am, I finally started my hike. The trail starts right to the north of the parking lot (easy to spot). Even though there were a lot of people on the trail, it was never overwhelming. By the time I came back in the afternoon though, the Observatory was SWARMING. The lines for the bathroom were like 10x longer than in the morning, and it felt more suffocating as people milled around the grounds of the Observatory. I think people who arrive in the afternoon just come for the views from this area and maybe do a short walk on the trail. Morning is definitely best to enjoy this place without hordes. I think getting here by 10 am is safe, but any later it might feel frustrating.

Anyway, at the very start of the trail, there is a sign and map. Definitely have a look!

 

The map  

The map  

As you can see above, there are MULTIPLE trails. If you don't want to hike all the way to the Hollywood sign, you don't have to. You can just go up to Mt. Hollywood summit, which is about 1.5 miles from the parking lot one way.

Pay attention! 

Pay attention! 

This little box on the bottom informs you how to get to the sign, which is 4 miles away, one way! To get there, you basically have to hike all the way to the top of Mt. Hollywood, then go down all the way behind it on another trail (there is only one). You'll come into concrete road (but there are no cars), make a right, and walk a bit further where you will see a gate. Make that left entrance to get back on the trail towards the sign. If you stay on the concrete road, you end up somewhere else. Basically, just follow all the signs you see! They are clearly marked and look like this:

Trail signs

Trail signs

Just keep following the signs to Hollywood Sign. Even though it's listed three times, it just means there are certain overlooks. Just keep going until you get to it. And when in doubt, ask someone coming from the opposite direction if you're going the right way! It's good to check, because like I said there are multiple trails in this area. Following the signs will take you to the sign but it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention. On the way back, I ignored a sign, thinking I knew the way to go. I ended up going down the trail to Canyon Drive and had to climb up a steep hill to get back on track. My quads or appetite were NOT happy with this detour!!

As gorgeous as this hike was, it was definitely a quad kicker. I consider myself pretty active and fit and I was tired after 1.5 miles!! The walk from the parking lot is steep but manageable. So if you're not as active/fit, allot more time. All in all, it took me two hours to get to the top, and a bit over two hours to get back (due to the detour). My legs were so exhausted by the end of the hike and I knew if I sat down, I was not getting back up! There's not too many places to rest on the hike either. You can sit at the top (on the ground) but there are no benches or anything on the way up (well, there was a bench on the Canyon Drive trail detour, which is how I realized I went the wrong way because I did not remember seeing it on the way there!).

 

Made it to Hollywood! 

Made it to Hollywood! 

The view of La La Land from the top of the Hollywood sign is breathtaking. I got here around 12:30 pm. Thank goodness I had a huge bottle of water. This hike definitely dehydrated me!I What better way to spend the very first day of 2017! 

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I forgot to mention, the night before on NYE, some pranksters changed the sign to say "Hollyweed." Lol. I only caught the sign when it said "Hollywoed", the authorities were quick to change it back. By the time I reached the sign the letters were back to normal.

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On my way back to the Observatory, I stopped by the top of Mt. Hollywood summit (I bypassed it earlier). You can also go to another viewpoint called Captain's Roost nearby but I skipped that since I was so tired and just wanted to eat. Below is the view from Mt. Hollywood summit. 

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By the time I got back to the Observatory, it was 3 pm. I wanted to check it out but like I said earlier, this place was swarming with tourists! So I ended up just leaving. Another reason to start your day here as early as possible: it took me over an hour to get out!!!!!! Because there ar a ton of people here as well as at the park down below at the base, there was so much traffic. I think I got into my car around 3:45 and didn't get out of the Griffith Park area until close to 5:30. I did put my time to good use though--I ended up calling a bunch of restaurants because so many were closed on New Years Day! I ended up eating pizza at Gjelina Take Away, which was thankfully open (and so delicious--will do a food post too).

I really enjoyed this hike though and it's one of the best ones I've been on. I'm not a huge hiker, and this one was challenging, beautiful, and very safe, which is very important to me as a female solo traveler. I'll also post my thoughts on two other hikes I did (Runyon Canyon and Culver City Steps) but of the three this was my fave for sure!

Los Angeles 2016/2017 Trip Report Part I (Overview)

Have you ever wanted to hear a particular song on a radio (and not necessarily something that's currently in the top 10 of the music charts) and then suddenly that song comes on? That type of coincidence has happened to me many times in my life. I remember these moments because my song of choice may not be that popular for that point in time. I've always found it funny when I come across something in society that seems to directly pertain to my life. For example, tonight, about 15 minutes ago, I opened up mail after I finished unpacking from my L.A. trip and this cover stared back at me:

 

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What are the chances my fave NYC magazine, which hardly ever discusses other cities, covered La La Land the same weekend I was there? 

I've been to L.A. a few times before. My first time was during a layover back to NYC from Australia when I was 21. I remember I was in awe of the palm trees, the cool laid back vibe, how everything looked so shiny and new. I visited two more times during my 20s, once with family and another with friends, and I remained fascinated with West Coast culture. It's probably been close to 10 years since my last visit and a few months ago, I just had an itching to go back out to California again so I decided to head out there for New Years weekend. I am so glad I did because it was exactly what I needed to nourish my soul.

Living in NYC is great, I love it here. But every so often I need to get out of town because although everything is accessible here, I do feel like I'm living in a bubble sometimes. In NYC, it's so easy to get caught up in yourself, your peers, your jobs, high expectations, etc. Before I left for L.A., I was feeling stuck, frustrated, and just bored with life. Getting out to sunny L.A. was just what I needed.

I came back last night and I feel so refreshed and relax. L.A. is an excellent place for a solo trip, there's a million things to do. I also forgot how nice Californians are. When you talk to someone, they seem genuinely nice, unlike in NYC where (and I'm guilty of this too), you're generally in a rush to go somewhere else or you have your guard up and/or you don't care to make small talk with anyone. In L.A., I struck up a conversation with a woman in yoga class, something I can say I've never done in NYC. In addition, some random stranger on the street helped guide me in parking my car in a narrow space. He even lifted a heavy rock out of the way of my car wheels, and he disappeared before I could say thank you! 

L.A. has everything--culture, beaches, outdoor activities, great food, and generally awesome weather (it never got lower than 50 degrees during the day while I was there, compared to the freezing temperatures we've been having in NYC!). It was nice to see everything that I fell in love with in L.A. years back was still there and seemed even better than before. I was there for just 5 days and the trip for me was my own personal health/wellness trip. I wanted to be outside as much as possible and do non-touristy things (ie I could care less about shopping or visiting Beverly Hills). A brief summary of my itinerary is below.

The Itinerary (arrived 12/30 but this starts with 12/31 and ends on 1/4)

Day 1: Yoga class, lunch with an old college friend in Studio City, then spent the evening at Wi Spa, a popular 24-hour Korean spa. Admission is $25 ($35 if you go btwn midnight and 4 am) and gives you access to saunas and hot tubs.

Day 2: Visited Griffith Observatory and did an 8 mile roundtrip from the observatory to the Hollywood sign and back. I'll do a more extensive post on how to do this and what to expect!

Day 3: Checked out Runyon Canyon, walked around Santa Monica, Venice, and the Grove.

Day 4: Went to Malibu and visited Zuma Beach, then had a spa afternoon at the Four Seasons Westlake Spa.

Day 5: Checked out Culver City Steps (aka Baldwin Scenic Overlook) and realized how I unfit I am compared to Angelenos! Flew home in the afternoon.

All in all, I had a fabulous time. I stayed at an Air BnB in Venice Beach and my hosts were AMAZING. So friendly and thoughtful. I arrived on Friday evening at 7 pm and they offered to share their dinner with me which was much appreciated after a long flight. Dinner was just a salad but it was a super fresh and tasty salad. They also invited me to ring in New Years with them, which was so lovely of them. I had just gotten home from the Korean spa and planned to go straight to bed, but right after my shower, they called my name and offered me a glass of champagne. They also lit up their front patio with fireworks at midnight! It was such a fun but low key way to celebrate, and quite unexpected!

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It was also nice to just drive around everywhere. I love just cruising around singing to music. The freeways were a bit nerve-wrecking but I got used to it (and stuck to the right lane most of the time!). All the signs and roads are clearly marked and makes sense once you get used to it (like knowing if lanes were going to merge or not). You can easily Uber everywhere but I like the freedom of coming/going anytime I wanted. Parking was not bad either, but I didn't really go out to anywhere except a couple of restaurants and parks. All parking meters took credit cards and I was able to find free street parking in some areas as well. The Santa Monica parking garages all offer free parking for the first 90 minutes too. Never had to valet! But that depends on where you go/what you do. 

I will post details on the highlights of my trip in upcoming posts (total of 5 posts)!

Other Links

Though there are a ton of resources online for L.A., my favorites ones were:

Other Things I Wanted to Do but Didn't On This Trip

  • Museums. I thought I would visit some but didn't because I rather be outside! If I had time, I would've gone to LACMA, Getty Museum, The Broad.
  • Other beach communities. I heard Manhattan Beach and Hermosa are pretty nice but didn't make it down there. I've been to Laguna and Newport Beaches before and can attest that those are lovely as well!
  • Venice Canals. I did go here at night for a peek but couldn't see much since it was so dark at night! It's a small neighborhood with a few canals running through it but the homes there were gorgeous. See it during the day if you're near Venice Beach or Marina del Rey!
  • Amusement parks. Of course Disneyland and Universal Studios would be fun to go to but I've been to the Florida ones multiple times and would only have gone here if I really had nothing else to do.
  • More hikes in Malibu/around L.A. There are a ton of places to go! While the 3 that I did were good, there's still so much to explore.

Where to Stay

Since I was traveling solo, I didn't want to spend too much at a hotel. I also wanted to go somewhere low key, so I opted for Air BnB. Venice Beach was really the perfect location. So close to LAX and it's a good mid point to travel to anywhere else in the L.A. area. Santa Monica would be good too but there's not as many Air BnB options in Santa Monica as there is in Venice Beach, and it's just a 10 min. drive away.

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People did warn me that Venice Beach can be seedy, and that's true. It's not a place you can really walk around at night. There are bums around and druggies near the very commercial streets at night. But I found the residential area I stayed in with my hosts on Woodlawn Avenue was very safe and quiet both day and night. 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 16 (Aegean Sea)

This morning my worst (travel) nightmare happened. I received an email from Aegean Airlines saying that our flight for Sunday morning at 6:40 am was canceled due to an air traffic control strike. I leaped out of bed. We have to be in Athens to get on our Delta flight at noon back to NYC. I raced to reception of our hotel without washing my face or even combing my hair. I asked what should we do. They said our best option was to get on the next ferry to Santorini right away. The next one would be leaving at 3:30 pm and take about 8 hours to reach Athens. I would need to go to a travel agency to pick up tickets when the office opens at 9 am. I raced back to my room to get ready. 

The Unglamorous Side of Travel

When I returned to the reception desk in a more presentable manner, the woman there gently told me that if my flight to Santorini to Athens was canceled, than most likely my flight with Delta was as well. That thought had not crossed my mind at all during the frenzy of recalibrating my thought process of forgoing the other hotel we had booked tonight on the other side of Santorini and getting a refund from Aegean. But deep down the news sunk in and I checked my Email and had no communications from Delta. I went on the Delta website and it said my flight was still on. 

Confused, I tried to call Delta but because I'm in Greece, you cannot make toll free calls to the US. Ok. Let me trying calling a Delta office in Greece. I checked online only to find those offices are only open Monday to Friday. Of course. Given that it was 9 am on a Saturday in Greece, I wasn't sure who I could text in NY to put me thru. Luckily I have a night owl friend in Florida and I saw on facebook messenger she was just active 6 minutes ago.  

I texted to see if she was still awake (must have been 2 am her time). She wrote back yes immediately and asked what was up. I told her I needed to call her so she could connect me to Delta. Done. She helped put me thru.  

The woman I spoke with at Delta insisted the flight was still scheduled to leave. I asked if she was sure. She said yes. An hour later, Delta even sent me an email asking me to check in online. By then I had gotten the tickets to Santorini with Blue Star Ferry. I gotta say the staff at Santorini Princess Spa was kind. They saw how upset I was and did whatever they could to help. You would think I'd be thrilled to have an extended vacation but that's not how I saw it. I saw this as a mess I would have to untangle later with refunds and rebooking and new bookings. Also I have so much work waiting for me in NYC, I do feel bad being out of the office for any more time.  

Anyway I tried to find more news about the strikes. Finally the Athens International Airport spelled it out loud and clear. Two strikes are to happen. Sunday and Monday and then Wednesday and Thursday. A glimmer of hope. That means the airports should run on Tuesday. And they obviously planned it this way to annoy travelers and promote their cause but not have too much disruption.  

 

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I was really upset by the news. Moreso because I remember when I was booking this trip, I was going to leave Saturday instead of Sunday. Had I left today, I wouldn't have to deal with the stress and extra expenses. I also remember reading about the strikes from the around the same time as last year. And I remember thinking what are the chances it'll happen again on my exact travel dates?

Anyway I tried to call Delta again, by way of another friend who woke up in the middle of night who saw my text (Florida friend was asleep). I spoke to a man and he also said my flight was still on not to worry. I asked anyway if there were any seats for Tuesday and could I rebook just in case. He said there was nothing available for Tuesday (Delta seems to have just one flight a day to JFK from Athens).  I insisted it didn't make sense. I told him about the Athens airport website and how other guests at my hotel definitely had canceled flight notifications too. He finally seemed to check into it and put me on hold to talk to supervisors or another support area. I was on hold for maybe ten minutes. Finally he confirmed yes. The flight would be canceled due to the strikes. I don't know why Delta didn't have this information sooner. I had spoken to guests from Canada earlier that morning who said their Airlines had told them and the receptionist also had told me other American flights had said it too (but she didn't remember which ones). 

He then said he could get me out next Saturday! On a flight that would connect via Rome. It would be of no extra charge. He said I could rebook before the 17th and try to take a train to another city in another country and fly out if there's availability with Delta or one of their partner airlines (Air France, Alitalia, KLM). Since I was about to board my 8 hour ferry, I told him I would think about it then and call Delta back later when I got to Athens. 

I hate wasting time so I was annoyed to take the ferry to Athens. But honestly it's not too bad at all. Economy tickets are cheap (40 euros) and it's a huge ferry and no assigned seating. But the way the seats are seem more comfortable. There's tables and chair settings to choose from like at a restaurant rather than lined seats like it is on planes. They have those for business class but I honestly think Econ is more roomier because you can rearrange your chairs around.  

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Also there is wifi on board (3 euros for 2 hours) and places to charge your electronics. And phone carrier service works well too. Before we left Santorini I did manage to book a hotel in Athens for tonight. We were initially going to sleep at the airport but once we knew there are no flights there was no point. Also I wasn't sure if we could get on the ferry tomorrow and didn't want to risk it so gave up our last day in Santorini to get to Athens as soon as possible. 

Because we don't get into Athens until close to midnight, I asked the hotel to arrange a pickup for us at the port. Athens Status Suites was very helpful and so we have a transfer to the hotel for 25 euros. I like arranging with the hotel just in case because I don't feel you can trust the taxi driver you run into especially late at night.  Also I had done no research on how to get from the Athens port to Athens and didn't have time to either so having the hotel arrange it was easier. 

So 30 min. into our ferry ride, the boat made an announcement that it was returning to Santorini due to a sick passenger. I thought, wow could this day get any better. Luckily they also said the boat would still continue at least. 

I forgot to mention if you ever take Blue Star Ferry from Santorini, the check in is at Gate 4 and best to get there an hour early to get in line. The ferry is coming from other islands first so there is as rush/horde to get on after other passengers depart. Otherwise boarding wasn't too bad and unlike Hellenic Seaways where we had to put our luggage downstairs, we could bring everything up. I think because this ferry holds automobiles down below. 

Finally another hour later, I got an email from Delta. They had rebooked us on a new flight at 10 am to JFK to depart Tuesday. I'm not sure if this is a brand new flight in addition to their usual 12:30 pm one. I had checked before that there was only one Tuesday flight at 12:30 and not sure if this is moved to 10 am or they are having one flight at 10  and another at 12:30. In any event, my fleeting dream of one extra week of vacation in Rome faded and it looks like I just need to figure out a hotel for Sunday and Monday.  

I know there are bigger issues in the world and this travel inconvenience is really nothing in the grand scheme of things but I just didn't want to stress about making more bookings or dealing with refund requests. And I do feel bad not being at work because it is a busy period for us this week. Lastly I'm sad I missed out on a final beach day! But I'll get over it. I'm also not thrilled about having to be in Athens again but will make do...

The ferry ride has been beautiful though.  

Naxos

Naxos

One last island sunset

One last island sunset

Zooming away towards Paros  

Zooming away towards Paros  

My love for the Aegean Sea remains though

My love for the Aegean Sea remains though

Okay this ferry ride is not so bad

Okay this ferry ride is not so bad

Whoops didn't realize this is blurry and don't know to delete from the blogging app

Whoops didn't realize this is blurry and don't know to delete from the blogging app

Love the afterglow

Love the afterglow

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 15 (Santorini)

Touchdown

Touchdown

Today we took a sunset boat tour around Santorini and it was lovely! It is something worth doing but don't go expecting amazing food. We went with Santorini Sailing, on their Dream Catcher catamaran. This one was slightly more pricey than others but I didn't want to be a huge boat or a small boat and this one was pretty steady in terms of not having too much motion sickness. If you pay in cash it's 95 euros but they charge your card first for 105 euros pp and then refund you later.

The tour lasted 5 hours and they picked us up from the hotel and dropped us off. Food was given about three hours into the trip, it was your typical Greek salad and grilled meats. I've given up on hoping for amazing food in Greece. The food wasn't terrible but nothing compares to NYC food! I get that food here should be more authentic but if that means overly salty (and believe me I love savory food) then no thanks. Also I noticed here in Santorini they don't really give complimentary desserts the way they do on Rhodes or Crete. 

Pick up from Ammoudi Bay

Pick up from Ammoudi Bay

We made two swim stops but I didn't get in because I didn't want to come back feeling wet and cold. I'm also not a strong swimmer but they give you life jackets and floaties. The first stop was near the hot springs and the second was near a black sand beach. I loved just being on the boat though and marveling at the Caldera and its history.

It was amazing to see all the towns of Santorini lined up along the edges of the cliffs. And to see the sheer cliffs that were created by the volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. So according to the tour, Santorini used to be a circular island with a volcano in the middle. When it erupted, everything around the volcano collapsed and the sea came in. The cliffs all around the western edge was caused by the tsunami, which apparently reached as high as Imerovigli.  In addition, the volcano is still active and land continues to form from the lava flow which is cooled by the seawater above. They think that in a few hundred years, there will be land rising again and no more water all around. I can't imagine that happening in this beautiful place but who knows. 

The vast Caldera  

The vast Caldera  

We also grazed by a red sand beach (which they recommended not to visit because of possible landslides) and we saw more cool limestone cliffs. The tour ended with clear views of the sunset and we were back at the hotel by 8:15 pm.  

Black sand beach

Black sand beach

Red sand beach

Red sand beach

Limestone cliffs

Limestone cliffs

Sun down

Sun down

Forgot to mention earlier this morning we did a mini hike from Santorini Princess Spa hotel towards Oia. We only went a mile north because the road gets really narrow and steep and the sun was coming up fast, which seems to make any kind of walking outside more difficult. The mile north hike was also only about one third of the way to Oia and I was starving for breakfast so we walked back. Took us a whole hour in general (started at 7:30 am and sun came up at 7:15) as it is quite steep in some parts. We saw some people running the trail. I don't know how they do it! 

 

Sun rise

Sun rise

Part of the Caldera Walk to Oia  

Part of the Caldera Walk to Oia  

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 14 (Santorini)

I had trouble posting yesterday so posting Day 14 & 15 today! 

Oia

Oia

Today was a spectacular day of walking. The Caldera hiking trail from Fira to Oia sounds great in theory but I have no idea how people do it in the summertime, or any even after 9 am even in October! With the sun beating down on you and zero shade anywhere, it feels way hotter than the temperature says. That and the humidity, I don't get how people venture this climb at all!

Instead of doing the hike, we took the hotel car service to Oia to walk around. It's tiring just walking in the city! With all the steps up and down and also with no shade.  

Stair master city  

Stair master city  

I love Oia more than Fira. Oia was more scenic and had more pathways to walk around and explore on. We spent about 4 hours (including lunch at Skala, which was very good and beautiful views) walking around and taking it all in. Aim to get near Ammoudi Bay, and then you know you've seen most of it. It's about 200+ steps down to the bay so we didn't go (didn't want to climb back up!) but there's supposed to be good seafood taverns there and an area to swim in. 

Ammoudi Bay

Ammoudi Bay

After Oia we went back to Fira to explore it some more as well but we were done in two hours. After we went back to the hotel and rested, we watched the sunset from our hotel which was gorgeous and different from the night before since there were some clouds. 

We then raced against the fading light to dinner up in Imerovigli. We barely made it, it got dark fast and the way up from the hotel it is not   an easy walk. A flashlight is recommended as there are some parts of the trail that are well lit be others not so much. Also, although it's generally pretty safe in Santorini, best not to walk this alone since it's so dark and you need to be careful since the path can be rocky/not even/has steps. We ate somewhere not worth recommending and then went for a stroll all the way down to Fira. Walking along the rim of the island at night was also wonderful.  It took us about twenty minutes to walk thru Imerovigli to Firastefani and then finally to Fira (think this walk was about a mile total). It was a different experience to see the villages at night. From Fira to Oia, it's about 5 miles. From Santorini Princess Spa to the center of Imerovigli, it's about a mile (due to the uphill climb). From Imerovigli to Fira it's about a mile. 

Down to Fira

Down to Fira

The northwest side of the island, Firastefani and Imerovigli  

The northwest side of the island, Firastefani and Imerovigli  

Cruise ships in the Caldera 

Cruise ships in the Caldera 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 13 (Santorini)

The day I've been waiting for finally arrived. Off to Santorini!! Bought the ferry tickets in advance and booked online through Hellenic Seaways.  One way tickets were $70 USD from Heraklion and the first ferry is at 9 am. So we took a taxi from Kronos hotel to the port, which was $7.50 euros for three and got there by 8:15 am to board. Every ticket purchased comes with an assigned seat and the ferry doesn't allow you to walk around outside after it passes thru the city port. I thought we were in for a smooth ride when we departed Heraklion but as soon as we reached open water, the boat swayed side to side and everyone on deck was ushered back in. Thankfully it's a short trip, just under two hours to get to Santorini. Also, the ferry was recently upgraded in April 2016 so the Hellenic Seaways 7 was quite nice. The ride was a bit rocky but not too much to get you sick. I fell asleep for most of it and we arrived in Santorini at 11 am. 

Hellenic Seaways 7

Hellenic Seaways 7

Port  

Port  

We were picked up by our hotel, Santorini Princess Spa. I picked this hotel because I wanted to eat in between Fira and Oia and read that this place has great views of the Caldera (where everyone angles to watch the famed sunsets). I also picked this hotel as I know they have their own car service (which you need to pay for but it's less than taking a taxi and apparently there are only 35 taxis on the whole island!). 

Here are the views from the hotel:

Picture perfect  

Picture perfect  

Santorini sunset

Santorini sunset

Had lunch at the nearby town Imerovigli and then went swimming at the pool before heading to dinner in Fira. Feel very relaxed here!  

Fira from afar (really took my breath away in person)

Fira from afar (really took my breath away in person)

Brave to walk out to this point! It's so hot! 

Brave to walk out to this point! It's so hot! 

The high life

The high life

As night falls

As night falls

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 10 (Crete)

I can't believe this is my tenth day of vacation! It doesn't feel like it. I know there are some people who don't like being away from home for more than 7-10 days. Not me!!!! I could totally continue on for weeks. I feel like time has flown by and I'm sad to go home next weekend. Sigh.  

Today was a beautiful day. Woke up at 6:30 am for breakfast at the hotel and then shot down to Elafonissi Beach, which is in the southwestern part of Crete. The drive down is about 1.5-2 hrs, depending on the route you take and traffic. Luckily it's the end of the season so not too much traffic. There appears to be different ways to get down there and Google maps seemed to take us the most 'safe' way. I read about hairpin turns and no guard rails on narrow roads. While we did encounter this, the route we were on seemed to only have 15% of this. Otherwise I thought the drive down was fine though very windy. 

We arrived close to 11 am and there was plenty of parking. When you walk in, there's like three main areas where you can choose your lounge chairs with umbrellas. They charge 8 euros per umbrella and two chairs total. There's also some food and bathroom facilities (gotta pay 50 cents euros to get on) but probably better to bring your own food if you can. Choices are limited.  

Anyway I thought Lindos Beach in a Rhodes was nice but this totally took the cake. I loved it here!!!! You're surrounded by beaches and water all around since this area is kind of shaped like an island. As you walk in, towards the left is the seaside where water is more rough (but not really). To the right is where it's reeeally calm because it's more enclosed.  

 

The calm side, where I frolicked much of the day

The calm side, where I frolicked much of the day

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It's really hard to capture the scope of this place. You can wade out very far out and still be in knee or hip deep only. Even though we came on the first Sunday of October, it was still warm enough to spend the day swimming in the water. Plenty of fish swimming around too. Best to bring swim googles to really enjoy this place.  

Can't get enough of this

Can't get enough of this

Why would you not want to come here?? 

Why would you not want to come here?? 

Elafonissi is also known as pink sand beach. You can see flecks of this at the shoreline of the sand. It's subtle but there. 

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. See the slight pink in the shoreline? 

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. See the slight pink in the shoreline? 

Wish we could stay longer but left at 3 pm for the drive back.  

Tiny tunnel goes one way at a time  

Tiny tunnel goes one way at a time  

I hung out at the hotel pool a bit before showering and heading out to dinner. Dinner was unremarkable so won't comment on it. But I love walking around the alleyways of Chania at night. Very lively and lots of shops and people watching!

Pool at Samaria Hotel

Pool at Samaria Hotel

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 9 (Crete)

Woke up at 8 am and packed our bags to head westward towards Chania. Left at 9:45 am and arrived close to 1 pm. It is a long drive but the pretty scenery helps past the time. Plenty of gas stations along the way and easy to follow the highway. 

We are staying at Samaria Hotel which is sooo much nicer in terms of comfort and amenities than the past two other places we stayed at. I booked thru Expedia but I used rewards points too so I got $200 off the rate. I always try to book a flight/hotel package with Expedia to accumulate these rewards points. The beds are so comfy and there is a nice pool with a nice lounge area too and breakfast is included with the rate. The hotel is just on the outskirts of the center of town and parking can be found for free on the south side of the hotel. You can pay for private parking for 8 euros too but we were able to find spots three short blocks away. 

Afterwards we wandered around the maze-like streets in the center of town and found a great place for a casual lunch. It's a very local place (no website!) called Draft Bistro Cafe. It looks like a drinks only place but they have a small food menu. We got the club sandwich and the chicken sandwich and it was soooo good! I know, it's just a sandwich but everything was fresh, tasty, and light. Way better quality than most sandwiches I've had in NYC and sooo cheap. With the sandwich you get crispy potato fries all for under 6 euros! 

So good and so cheap, all things considered

So good and so cheap, all things considered

Then we wandered around town a lot. I like it here much better than Rhodes Old Town and Agios Nikolaus. Rhodes seemed too touristy. Agios was too quiet. Chania has the right mix of charm, locals, and tourism comfort.  

Can't get enough of these blues

Can't get enough of these blues

Bustling port

Bustling port

Chania Town from the lighthouse side (to get here have to walk allllllll the way around)

Chania Town from the lighthouse side (to get here have to walk allllllll the way around)

Dinner at night was at Theodosi, which is highly ranked on Trip Advisor. The views are nice but the food was hit or miss. Prices were ok but I guess I wouldn't really say this is a must, especially since the drive here is a little difficult thru the winding streets.  We came right before sunset and had a nice view though. 

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During dinner a cat jumped onto the table behind us and ferociously licked whatever was left. Some may find this cute, I find it gross!!

 

Leftovers

Leftovers

When the waiter saw he shooed it away but yech. There are tons of stray cats and dogs all over Greece and I guess this is how they survive.  

I will say one thing I appreciate about eating out in Greece are all the complimentary desserts! We have gotten different things each time, though it's mostly been ice cream with fruit. Not complaining though! 

After dinner we wandered around more alleyways in the main area which was really nice. A lot of cute and more interesting shops than Rhodes but definitely catering to tourists. 

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I don't know why but growing up I always thought if I came to Greece, breaking plates would be a thing. This is what I get for getting all my culture from watching Full House on TGIF when I was a kid! 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 8 (Crete)

Today was spent visiting Elounda in the morning and then Agios Nikolaus in the afternoon. Elounda is just 15 min. north of Agios Nikolaus and full of luxury hotels and resorts. The water here is just as nice as Rhodes but seemed a bit rougher. There's free parking by the beaches around Elounda but just need to look for and follow the signs. Otherwise we saw some lots that charge 3 euros for the day.  

Most people do the day trip to Spinalonga, which is an island that housed a former leper colony. Had no Interest to visit it but it's very close by to Plaka Beach in Elounda.

 

 

Love the clear waters  

Love the clear waters  

Spinalonga time  

Spinalonga time  

After walking around Plaka Beach, we headed to the center of Elounda for a nice lunch at Lotus Eaters. Owned by a British man and his Romanian wife, the view from the restaurant is fantastic and the food for the most part was good as well.  

 

Same blue, different view

Same blue, different view

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Lotus eaters with no lotus

Lotus eaters with no lotus

Not a big fan of octopus but I wanted to try it here so got it. Tasted like chicken! But I hate the look of it so couldn't finish it!!  I had the pasta too because I was getting tired of a Greek food.  

Afterwards we walked around all over Agios Nikolaus. It is a cute beachy town but not much else to do. The beach in Rhodes was much nicer. Overall it's nice to come here for a slow pace of life but not sure that it's a "must see."  However the colors of the water against the backdrop of the barren mountains do relax me from my NYC life! 

 

One of the beaches in Agios Nikolaus  

One of the beaches in Agios Nikolaus  

I will miss vistas like these in the winter  

I will miss vistas like these in the winter  

Lastly, had dinner at To Karnagio which was good and our cheapest meal yet!!! Had grilled shrimps (yes...again) with chicken souvlaki and an Asian noodle dish (nice change from Greek food). Also potatoes/fries in Greece are so much more fresh and tastier than in the USA so been eating a lot of that too on this trip! and Greek frappe coffee is delicious! 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 7 (Rhodes/Crete)

One of the reasons why we spent four nights in Rhodes is because the only flight from Rhodes to Crete was on Thursday. It doesn't fly out before then. So far our experience with Aegean Airlines has been quite nice. Lovely attendants and good snacks on the plane. Also, no issues with delays so far. Our flight to Heraklion in Crete wasn't until 5:45 pm so we had tons of time to kill. We woke up a bit later than usual and then walked around Elli Beach, which is right be where our hotel was located but never had the chance to walk around.  

You can stand under my umbrella ella ella ella... 

You can stand under my umbrella ella ella ella... 

Afterwards we did some browsing at the shops nearby. There's Zara, Mango, H&M and the British chain Mark & Spencers. Didn't buy anything but was a good time killer. Really wanted to have lunch at Tamam (my favorite so far) before we left but they don't open for lunch until 1 pm. So we headed back to Mama Sofia's, where we went when we first arrived and wow do they know service!! 

They remebered us and welcomed us back. Even though it's been three days since they saw us, I guess it's easy to remember three Asian women since there were hardly any other Asians around the time we were there. The owner of the place greeted us warmly and took care of us. The food was even better this time around. We had the grilled prawns which were so flavorful and very fresh. Also mussels again, a shrimp salad and this time beef souvlaki. For dessert, instead of little chocolate ice creams we got watermelon and honey dew fruit with delicious ice cream. I don't even know what the flavors were but they were unique and perfect finish to lunch. 

Mama Sofia's take two

Mama Sofia's take two

We checked out of the hotel at 2 pm and still had time to kill so we drove around and just took more pictures of the beautiful Aegean Sea. I love the sapphire and turquoise colors. It's so pretty I want to drink the sea!

 

Overlooking the northern end of Rhodes

Overlooking the northern end of Rhodes

Loving these blues

Loving these blues

We had a hybrid car but had to fill up the gas for return. For the 2.5 days we used it, we only spent 15 euros on gas. Then we headed to the airport to drop off the car. Rodos Car Rental has a spot near all the car rentals at the airport, in both the parking lot and at the arrivals terminal where you pick up the car. Just park the car in the rental parking lot and drop off the key at the car rental desk at Arrivals.  

The flight to Crete was short and sweet. By the time we were handed our refreshment drink, it was time to land. And one way was only $45 USD! We landed at 6:15 pm even though the time said we would land by 6:35 pm. However, by the time we were bussed over from the plane to the terminal and picked up our luggage, it was 6:35. I had read really bad reviews on the Rhodes airport but since we came at the end of high season, things were smooth. Aegean Airlines has been great so far and the check in desk is at desks 7-12 (middle of the terminal). There is no separation for domestic and international flights. 

When we landed at Heraklion airport, had to wait for our car rental which I booked for 7 pm pick up. I rented from Dimitris Auto rental Crete based on Trip Advisor recommendations. We got an automatic for 5 days for $190 euro which includes insurance. A rep picked us up and drove us to the lot to get our car and go over the paperwork. The only 'negative' was that she gave us the car with a quarter tank of gas left! So we had to go find a gas station since we had an hour drive to Agios Nikolaus which is where we stayed on our first night in Crete. 

GPS with Google Maps is hit or miss. Mostly hits but sometimes it doesn't identify places well (like a non existent gas station in Rhodes or taking us thru private property instead of public).  So just really pay attention when driving especially in Crete where the local streets can be so narrow!!! And it's so easy to miss a turn because you won't expect a street to be there. Or you might not be able to turn because it's one way and not two. So best to study directions a bit before going somewhere. 

It took us an hour to get to Agios Nikolaus from the airport and we got a bit lost trying to find our accommodations. Stayed at Mantraki Apartments which is owned by the cutest old couple. We were a bit worried because reception closes at 9 pm but we made it in time and the room we have is so adorable with two balconies.  It's not fancy but a step up from the last place we stayed at. 

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View from balcony

View from balcony

We had dinner late nearby at Bel Katsoralakia. Decent food at decent prices. Would recommend. At this point I've memorized the Greek menu. It's all the same offerings I feel like it doesn't matter too much where you go!!!!!

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 5 (Rhodes)

Beach day! 

Beach day! 

Today we got out of Rhodes Town and rented a car from Rodos Car. We got a Toyota Hybrid (save on gas!) for $150 for three days. Includes insurance! Anyway the car rep met us at the hotel lobby at 9 am (I made the rsvp online months ago) and explained everything to us. Luckily there's free parking near our hotel so nothing to worry about there.  

I read somewhere that Greeks don't really eat breakfast the way Americans do and that seems to be true. We were starving so we went to pick up breakfast at the nearby McDonalds because we wanted something fast and easy. I walked in at 10 am and everything on the boards were burgers. I asked if they had a breakfast menu and she said no, just McToast. So I got three grilled chicken McWraps instead and off to the beach we went. 

Drove all the way down to Lindos and luckily found parking off the side of the 95 highway at the very top (just past the supermarket and all the buses at the entrance of town). It was packed by the time we arrived at 11:45. There is beach parking closer but when we walked by I saw how narrow the streets down there are and it was pretty full. So you take a risk going down there if you're arriving at prime time. We ate our wraps in the car (which by the way was actually good!!! Much bigger than the American ones, like double the size, and fresh!) then walked down to the beach. I was afraid the walk would be strenuous but it's really not. If you're remotely fit you can make it. It took us about 15 min to walk down to the beachside and we paid 15 euros for three chairs and umbrellas. Hung out here all afternoon and it was very relaxing. The water is super calm and clear.

The beach in front of Lindos town and below the Acropolis

The beach in front of Lindos town and below the Acropolis

Afterwards we walked inside of town a bit. We  had zero desire to walk up to the Acropolis here but that's an option for tourists. It's just like Rhodes Old Town but seems a bit nicer and more modern. Tons of restaurants and shops. I love all the hats here!! So cheap but they look stylish unlike the pricey ones in America. Got myself a new sun hat for $8 euros. The brim waves out, it doesn't sit flat. 

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Then we went to have pizza somewhere on the way back to the hotel. Not gonna bother mentioning where because although it was run by a lovely family, it was ok. I'm addicted to NYC pizza and so this was just meh to me, although it was freshly made and not greasy. The rest of the evening was spent walking around the newer part of Rhodes Town. Overall a chill day!

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 4 (Rhodes)

Today was day trip to Symi, which is an island just north of Rhodes. I picked the 2nd day of our trip to do this because we're going to rent a car the rest of the time after today.  

So, is Symi worth it? Well, it's not pricey to go. Roundtrip ticket from local boat operator Nikolaos X is just 20 euros.  But there's not too much to see/do on the tour itself. It is picturesque though. I would say only come if you need to kill time or if you've never seen other European towns where they have colorful houses stacked on top of each other. 

 

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The pick up time is at 9 am from Mandraki Harbor in Rhodes. Get there early (like 8:15-830) if you want prime seats on the boat. The boat is high speed and had good bathroom facilities. The ride was smooth the whole time. The first stop is at Panormitis, which houses a monastery. I'm not a religious person so this was not too interesting to me. The boat arrives there at 10:40 and leaves at 11:40. You can walk around the harbor which is nice to see but not much else going on. 

 

Heading into Panormitis

Heading into Panormitis

The monastery

The monastery

Then after another hour, we finally arrive in the downtown area of Symi. It is very quaint and full of tourist shops and restaurants.

 

Symi  

Symi  

As pretty as it looks, something seems lacking. Maybe it's just too small or quiet? Also the meal we had here for lunch was pricier than the one in Old Town. It was good but not that much better. However if you do choose to come, Taverna Spitiko had friendly service and good souvlaki.  

 

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After eating, we walked back and forth a couple of times to kill time til the 4 pm pick up. You can also hike up to the top for an overview of the city but the stairs didn't appeal to us! 

 

White hot stairs

White hot stairs

So clear

So clear

Got back to Rhodes at 5:45 pm and then took a shower at the hotel. Afterwards we wandered around to find dinner and came across the #1 rated place on Trip Advisor, Tamam. We saw a line and almost didn't get on it. But because there are NO other restaurants that have a line, we figured lets try it. SO glad we did!!!!! We only waited 30 minutes but the time passed quickly. The owner, who is Greek and used to ice in Astoria, Queens, NY for ten years, offers a glass of wine to everyone on line!!!! And it was delcious. They called it summer wine and it had peaches in it. I liked it so much I ordered one for dinner too. 

Anyway the hype for this place is worth it. Best meal we had so far. Not traditional Greek but more modern. I had the BBQ pork ribs which were sooo tasty and juicy. Probably one of the better ribs I've ever had anywhere. We also tried the garlic prawns which were fantastic. I wouldn't mind coming back here for lunch! They don't take rsvps and the place is small so get here early to eat. No foodie pics because we ended up inviting a woman dining alone on line with us and she was Swedish and I didn't want to be rude or weird her out by taking too many pics! 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 3 (Rhodes)

Off to the islands! Had a 9:55 am flight from Athens to Rhodes through Aegean Airlines. After breakfast at the hotel, took a taxi to the airport. Was annoying because I know the flat rate is 38, you're not expected to tip, and of course the driver said the fare was 40 euros. I wanted to say I know it's 38 and would've probably had him keep the change anyway but it's just annoying that he took advantage because I'm clearly a tourist. Didn't think it was worth having negative energy on departure. 

Check in was smooth, there is no international or domestic terminal. Aegean Airlines was at drop off entrance #4 (the last one). You go in, shop if you want, and then go thru security. Once you pass security there are no shops! Or at least the nice duty free ones. The flight to Rhodes was very quick, less than an hr. I wanted to fly because otherwise it's an 8 hour ferry ride or something. The flight was $88 USD one way. Once we got to Rhodes, the baggage area looked like chaos! A ton of people from other flights waiting for their luggage. Luckily ours came up pretty fast (mine was first! Probably because we also checked in so early, about 1.5 hours before). Another note: try not to use the bathroom at the airports. Athens was ok but the line for Rhodes was long and gross. There are only two stalls in the bathroom. Even at the Athens airport too!

From the Rhodes airport, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel Rodian Gallery Apartments, near the old city. Flat fare of 25 euros.  It's not as nice as our hotel in Athens but it was cheap (312 euros for 4 nights for 3 adults) and we got a two bedroom with a kitchen and sitting area. Showers are tiny though. Basically seems like a college dorm. It's about a 15 minute walk from the Old Town, which is really a Medieval city. Everything is intact or at least seems to be. 

Palace of the Grand Master of Knights

Palace of the Grand Master of Knights

Since we came on the last weekend of September (European Heritage Days) the museum was free so we took advantage of that and saved 6 euros each. The Old Town is nice, cobble stone and windy narrow streets to get lost in.  

For lunch we went to Mama Sofia. It was pretty good. Had mussels (yes, again), Greek salad, fried sardines, and chicken soup (I love their soups). So far at every restaurant we've been to dessert is given complimentary. I love that we got small chocolate ice cream bars here! They taste like the Dove ones back in the US. 

Mama Sofia. Healthy right?

Mama Sofia. Healthy right?

For dinner we went to Island Lipsi. Also was decent. Their homemade garlic bread was good, as was the saganaki shrimp (shrimp in sauce), and grilled veggies. We tried the mousaka which was ok (don't think I'm a fan of it, it's like beef lasagna) and stuffed tomato and peppers with rice (local Greek dish, also not my style). For free dessert we were given some ice cream (strawberry and mint) and some cake/pastry. 

 

Island Lipsi

Island Lipsi

We didn't do much else but walk around and around the Old City. It's quaint but I personally like Prague a lot better. I guess my point is, so far Greece has been nice, but nothing has wow'ed me yet from a sight-seeing perspective. But it is really great to not be in an office for the next two weeks! 

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 2 (Athens)

Woke up at 7:30 am and had breakfast on the rooftop of Athens Gate Hotel. I really do love how central this hotel seem to be to everything! In addition to the Acropolis, other ruins/attractions are nearby within a 15-20 min. walk as well as windy pedestrian-only streets full of shops and restaurants. 

 

View from the rooftop of hotel

View from the rooftop of hotel

After eating, went to the Acropolis Museum. This weekend is the last weekend in September, and its known as the European Heritage Days so most museums are for free, including the Acropolis (which is 20 euros). However,  glad we went to the Acropolis yesterday at 5 pm. It wasn't that crowded at all. Today we saw hordes of tourists heading over at 11 am (though at 9 am it was pretty dead). The museum, which is along the path to the Acropolis, also offers free admission today (Saturday) but only from 5 pm-8 pm  and all day tomorrow but we're busy at these time so we paid the 5 euro admission per person to get in. The museum showcases excavations from centuries ago. It was pretty cool and worth checking out for a couple of hours. 

At the Acropolis Museum

At the Acropolis Museum

Lego replica of the Parthenon. Apparently Gandalf hung out with the Greeks too.  

Lego replica of the Parthenon. Apparently Gandalf hung out with the Greeks too.  

Ancient precious metal gold coins

Ancient precious metal gold coins

Afterwards we walked around the winding streets of Plaka where there's a ton of touristy shops and restaurants. Had a freshly made juice at Novagea. Loved it!! They blend fruits and veggies into a juice or smoothie for you. If you get a fruit or veggie juice, they hand you a glass to place in front of a tap faucet in front of the juice bar and you watch the juice pour out as they pummel the ingredients into the blender. Highly recommend this place if you're nearby. 

I can see why people say two days in Athens is enough. I was pretty done after seeing Acropolis. However we went to check out Ancient Agora of Athens since we knew admission was free due to the holiday. It was nice but when you see one structure with marble columns, you've kind of seen it all. 

 

 

 

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Where democracy thrived, at Ancient Agora of Athens

Where democracy thrived, at Ancient Agora of Athens

More ruins at Ancient Agora

More ruins at Ancient Agora

Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon

We were done and back at the hotel at 2 pm for a much needed rest. At 4:30 pm, we were then picked up by PK Travel for a private tour to Cape Sounion to see the sunset at the Temple of Poseidon. I chose PK Travel because the price difference between a private hire vs. going on a bus full of people was less than 10 euros. We were picked up in a nice big van with comfortable seats and headed 1 hr and 15 min down to southern Athens. The drive by the coastline was very pretty (didn't get to take pics since I sat on the left side instead of the right) and we stopped for dinner right before reaching the Temple. The driver basically gives you options where to eat and it's not like you can do any research beforehand so we just went along with whatever he suggested. Dinner was decent, have no idea what the name of the place is but we had lovely views of the Temple and the sea.  

Fresh grilled fish (tasty), fried cod (ehh was too salty and dry for me), and fresh mussels (meaty and good)

Fresh grilled fish (tasty), fried cod (ehh was too salty and dry for me), and fresh mussels (meaty and good)

Dinner was down near this beach

Dinner was down near this beach

Sunsets in late September are around 7:20 pm

Sunsets in late September are around 7:20 pm

Temple of Poseidon  

Temple of Poseidon  

The golden hour

The golden hour

All in all, this was a quick and easy day trip outside of the city of Athens. Was it worth it? I think so if you love chasing sunsets like I do and the color of the Aegean Sea was a beautiful blue. Our tour cost $160 euros for three people. We tipped the driver $20 so it's about 60 euros pp. I am pretty sure the bus tours charge between 53-58 pp depending on which one you look into. Also, you can skip dinner if you want. It's totally optional since it's not included in the price (our dinner ended up costing about 54 euros total). 

By the time we got back to Athens, it was close to 9 pm. Ready to move on to the Greek islands tomorrow!  

Greece 2016 Trip Report: Day 1 (Athens)

Acropolis Now

Acropolis Now

I'm on vacaaaation! After a few super busy weeks of work, I am finally on holiday and trying to soak up every minute that I can. With that being said, I'm also gonna try my best to re-cap my trip experiences while I'm here because I know I'm going to be too lazy to write about a 16 day vacation later after I get home!  So here goes:

Arriving into Greece

Flew from JFK on an 8 hr+ overnight flight with Delta. Left at 5:45 pm and arrived closed to 10 am (3 am EDT). The dinner on the plane was surprisingly good (chicken with pesto mashed potatoes and some pasta) and the flight crew even handed out hot wet towels! When did Delta step up their game??  I brought sleeping pills with me and was able to pass out most of the flight but was still tired when the plane landed. 

Going thru customs was super easy!!!!! Like what the hell? No immigration forms or questioning at all! Just show your passport, get it stamped and off to baggage claim you go. They don't ask you to declare anything! Even when you leave baggage claim, there are zero people asking anything. Not that I want to be held up with questions but I don't know. With all going on in the world, I expected some more security... 

Before leaving baggage claim, I stopped by the ATM to get cash. I heard many places take cash only but so far in Athens, the only thing I've paid cash for is the taxi! But maybe when I'm out of the city it'll be different. 

Taxi to the city center is a flat rate of 38 euros. I thought the taxi driver would automatically know where the hotel I'm staying at was but he had no clue. Thank goodness I have international service on my phone and showed him on my GPS. He didn't speak English or have GPS and even after he called his company for directions (since my phone wasn't getting great signals), he dropped me off at the wrong place! But he was off by just a block so I wheeled myself over. 

Where to Stay

Since I was only going to be in Athens for two nights, I decided to stay close to where the main attractions are and also at a place that's comfortable but on an upper scale side. The Athens Gate Hotel totally meets this criteria. Located right in the heart of everything, it's a great place to base yourself. And check out the view from my balcony! I don't even need to visit the Temple of Zeus because I think the best view is from my room!

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

All the hotels around here all seem to have rooftop bars/restaurants as well. This is the one at my hotel: 

First of many sunset obsession pictures to come

First of many sunset obsession pictures to come

Acropolis at night

Acropolis at night

Where to Eat

Had two good meals today

 1) Avocado Cafe. Vegetarian friendly spot near the hotel. Quality fresh food and decent prices. Casual and gives off a hipster vibe. They also offer yoga and Pilates classes. Tried the hummus with avocado (ok), caprese sandwich (good) and the mushroom burger (also good, different than other ones I've had).

 

Avocado Cafe eats

Avocado Cafe eats

2) Oroscopo. About 7 euros away from the hotel by taxi or 4 by Uber (took an Uber back). Food was huge portions and for the most part, delicious! Wasn't a fan of the table bread they give you but the complimentary leek soup and three different pieces of cake for dessert at the end was good. I had the Ionian seabass which was light and tasty with steamed veggies. Travel partners had Greek short ribs (so good) and other had a baked chicken dish, also very tender and flavorful. Would recommend to others. 

Greek diet

Greek diet

What to See (on limited time and when jet lagged) 

Decided to walk up the Acropolis in the late afternoon to avoid massive tourist crowds and the heat. The hotel is super close to it, by about 5-10 min. to the entrance. Note there are two entrances and you should take the second one for more direct access up to the Parthenon. You'll be missing seeing this theatre but think you'll survive. 

Are you not entertained? 

Are you not entertained? 

Also since we were going up late in the day, we skipped the new Acropolis museum to save it for tomorrow instead. I didn't want to wake up too early and rush thru breakfast to get to the Parthenon so this is why I jammed it into today. Glad I didn't because it's not as big or tough as I thought it was to get up there. There really are marble floors and walkways though so wear shoes with grip on them! Otherwise you might be sliding around. 

If I ruled the world... 

If I ruled the world... 

So I left the hotel at 4 and by the time I walked over, bought entrance fee (20 euros) and got up there, it was close to 5 pm. I think late Sept. is a good time to go because there wasn't as many people as I expected. Finished walking around up there and by the time I was done, it was just after 6 pm. It was enjoyable with wonderful panoramic views of the city all around. 

 

It's all Greek to me

It's all Greek to me

Under construction  

Under construction  

Lovely ladies

Lovely ladies

May 2016: 5 Day Itinerary for Copenhagen (Part II)

Day Three

Day 3: On my 3rd day in Copenhagen, I decided to relax a bit and not rush around to see everything. I saw most of the major highlights the past two days so today I wanted to slow down a bit. I started off my day by heading to Fiskebar, yet another restaurant owned by ex-Noma people. See the trend here? I couldn't get a reservation to Noma (the #1 rated restaurant in the world) so I opted for anything else (which was not hard, there are a bunch of other restaurants owned by ex-Noma people I didn't get to go to!). 

Well, this restaurant is located in the Inner Vesterboro of the city, near the Meatpacking District. On the weekends, there is an outdoor food market right in front of Fiskebar where you can get fresh seafood, burgers, etc. Wish I had known about it earlier, I would've gone to Fiskebar on a different day and sample the different foods at the fair instead! Fiskebar was good, especially if you love oysters. However, this was a really expensive lunch. Probably because of the really expensive humongous oysters that are native to Denmark. Those are the ones to the left below. I had that, other oysters, and the cod. The oysters grown in Denmark were delicious though, so if you're an oyster lover you should try one since you're there anyway!

After lunch, I really wanted to go shopping. I took the bus back towards the downtown area of Strøget and came across a photography exhibit on Mario Testino. I didn't plan on going to any more museums, but I am actually fascinated by his work, after years of reading celebrity and fashion magazines. He's a well-known photographer amongst the stars and I've always been drawn to his images so I decided why not check it out? It was at the GL Strand and his work is on display until Sept. 18, 2016. 

After browsing the exhibit for less than an hour, I finally went shopping. I didn't buy too much, but I like to look to get inspired. Strøget is a very long shopping street with tons of stores. There are three local places I really liked:

  • Illums, a major dept. store. What I liked most is that they have this huge rooftop/food hall where you can hang out on the balcony and view the city from above. 
  • Illums Bolighus, an interior design/decor store. Initially I got this store confused with the dept. store, I thought they were one and the same but they are not! A lot of different home decor stuff resides in here. I bought a candle from here that I love the smell of. 
  • Hay Market, another interior design/decor store. Had a lot of cute things, there's also a mini Hay market inside Illums Bolighus. And apparently, there is one here in NYC as well at the MoMa Design store in Soho! Which I found out about after I came back.
View from Illums

View from Illums

The only other things I really bought in Copenhagen were tea and cookies. For tea, I went to Tante Tea. One type of tea that I love that i can't really find in America is Milky Oolong tea. I first found it a few years ago in Vienna but haven't come across it since. So I was super happy to see that Tante Tea had some! If you like black tea with a hint of milky flavor, definitely check it out. There are two locations for it, one of them being in the Torvehallerne market I mentioned in an earlier post. 

In the evening, I went to eat at the Copenhagen Street Food at Paper Island. So it was Saturday night and it was paaaaacked! But I realized that no matter where you go in Copenhagen, even though there's so many people around, it never feels crowded or overwhelming. There is always room or a seat to find. With so many food choices though, it was hard deciding what to try. I finally settled on a surf and turf burger and it did not disappoint!

Afterwards, I walked over to the Opera house and watched the sun set over Amalienborg Palace.

Day Four

Day 4: Sunday was day trip day! Most stores are closed on Sunday so it's a good day to go on a day trip where shopping is not the goal. I woke up early and caught the train from Norreboro to Kronborg Castle, which serves as the inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet. For this trip, I knew I wanted to get to the castle by 10 am so I could have breakfast near there and then pop in when it opens at 11. I bought a 24 hour metro pass (choose the one for all zones). I forget which train I took but Google Maps had accurate directions and train times! And the castle was the last stop. It took about an hour to get there, and then it's about a 15 minute walk to the castle. The day I went was very warm and sunny. Be sure to bring a hat and sunglasses!

Anyway, so when I got there Sunday morning there were not that many restaurants open. I ended up grabbing coffee and a pastry from Spisehuset, which is inside a cultural building right next to the castle. The nicest surprise of the day though was when I walked into the building and heard classical music playing and thinking it was a CD. It was not! There was string quarter! Next to a very casual food stand! It was such a nice way to start the day.

Visiting Kronborg on the outside was beautiful. It's right by the sea, across from Sweden. The doors open at 11 am to sell tickets to visit inside. In the courtyard above is where they will have live productions of Hamlet. Inside the castle, it's a quick but interesting walk through. The Royal Family used to live here but there is not much furnishings inside.

Where they held their grand parties.

Where they held their grand parties.

I stayed here until about 12:15 and then headed back to the train station to catch the bus to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The museum closes at 5 pm, so I went to catch the bus (not the train) since I knew it would drop me off directly in front of the museum. If you take the train back, you have to walk another 15 min. from that train station to the museum so why waste time? Also, the bus and train take the same amount of travel time (about half an hour). I think the bus I took was bus 388. When I got to the museum, I had lunch at the cafe. Overall, I thought the museum was FANTASTIC! I am not one to love all museums, but I really enjoyed this one. It's in a beautiful spot right by the sea as well, and they had a lot of interesting exhibits. The outdoor area was really nice to sit out in and relax for an hour. I had taken a sarong with me to serve as a blanket so I laid out on the grass and took a nap.

I really enjoyed my time at the museum and highly recommend a trip out here. If you only had time for one, I say make time for Louisiana over Kronborg. And bring a blanket or something easy to lie out on!

In the evening, I had dinner at a place in Norreboro. Norreboro is a nice neighborhood--I didn't spend too much time in it but a lot of places to eat and hang out in. I had dinner at Oysters & Grill. Definitely get the langoustines here! Very fresh and juicy. Also, it was one of the more affordable meals I had in Copenhagen.

Day 5

Day 5: No more picture posts! I was soooo exhausted on my last day in the city. All I did was some last minute shopping, took a nap, and went to the airport. But I did have two good eats before I left: Grod, which is in Norroboro and had a really creamy and yummy parmesan risotto, and I got a juice from Joe and the Juice, which is everywhere in the city and wish I had time to drink more of their really fresh juices! However, it turns out there is one here in NYC too (which I discovered when I came back) so will definitely check it out here as well. My flight home was at 6:30 pm, I got to the airport at 4 pm and was certainly enough time to get thru security, etc.

SAS Airlines was great too, the plane was comfortable and in good condition and the flight attendants were friendly!

And I've successfully re-capped my last trip before starting my next one in a few days... ;)