7 Super Photos from My Travels

My seven super photos below show the some of the things that amazed me and the memories I cherish from my many travels.  I think I was tagged for this a few months ago.  I can tell because I had begun placing candidate photos in a special folder but I couldn’t find a post…  Thanks to Lola (@LolaDiMarco) for tagging me.  I will need to think about who to tag since she probably hit some people I would have hit and I also don’t want to hit the person who tagged me months ago! (and I can’t remember who that is… my apologies, I was trying to get it done!)

Here it goes!

a photo that takes my breath away

Flying over the Andes

Crossing the majestic Andes…

a photo that makes me laugh or smile

Walking like Egyptians... In Egypt.

Walking like Egyptians… In Egypt.

a photo that makes me dream

In the Greeks Islands:  A sunset in Mykonos

I dream of returning to Mykonos…

a photo that makes me think

Village savings and loan members posing near Mwanza, Tanzania

Village savings and loan members posing near Mwanza, Tanzania: not begging for help, but taking control of their livelihoods. How we have lost that in our own country…

a photo that makes my mouth water

The grapes that yield a delicious Bordeaux...

The grapes that yield a delicious Bordeaux…

a photo that tells a story

A victim of Vesuvius in Pompeii

Hated taking this pic but it was very moving to see this in Pompeii…

a photo that i’m most proud of (aka, my NationalGeographic shot)

Overlooking Queenstown and The Remarkables in glorious New Zealand

Overlooking Queenstown and The Remarkables in glorious New Zealand

A Quick Visit to Ancient Athens

Who has not learned about Athens and ancient Greece in school?  Who has not wanted to see the famous Parthenon in person?  I have left writing about Athens for last, no particular reason.  I guess if it has been there a couple of millenia without me writing about it, what’s a couple more weeks, right?  But I absolutely would write about this most ancient of modern cities, a open textbook waiting to be explored so the lessons of yore come to life!

My Travels into and within Greece

Landing in Athens, I was immediately thrown back to landing in Santiago, Chile from the vantage point of my airplane seat.  Seemingly, the same semi-arid look to the hills around the airport and the fact that there were hills in the landing path of the plane…

Upon landing, I was not leaving the airport since I had a flight to Mykonos in 3 hrs.  I had carried all my luggage on board as I didn’t want to risk lost luggage in the 3 flights I had to take to get to Mykonos.  A small roller bag and a backpack were all I had so that was good.  I went through immigration and then went to check in for the flight to Mykonos since I would have to check the roller bag as it was too big for the smaller plane’s cabin compartments.  Once that was done, my step was just a bit faster as I was freed from the bag.  I went to a café at the airport, ate something and promptly discovered that it offers free wi fi for 60 minutes. I had not brought my laptop but had by nice Android with me so I was able to leave some messages about having gotten there safely, etc.  The Athens airport was clean, well organized, with signage in English for everything – much better than some airports in the States, as a matter of fact.

I returned to Athens 4 days later after my visit to Mykonos and headed to the suburb of Athens named Kifissia.  I already wrote about the wedding events that led me to stay there, how I and later moved to downtown Athens proper after the wedding events were over.

Downtown Athens, I found, was again well signed for tourists, and there was plenty of info (for example, at the airport or kiosks) about the city.  As most cities, it has the Hop On/Hop Off type of buses which is a great way to get your bearings.  I used them to go take a peek at the port town of Piraeus and generally move about town as the buses stopped at my hotel.  I don’t mind walking, which I did, but it was sometimes more about getting to and from faster than walking.

Downtown Athens has a LOT to see and experience.  Experience being a key thing since I imagine most of us visitors jam pack seeing every possible sight (I don’t blame us!) and forget to just feel Athens.  I tried to do both and I am pleased with what I got to do on both counts though I certainly did not have enough time to do both well.

The Acropolis

Of course, first stop was the Acropolis.  If nothing else, that stop has to be made.  I had read that it was better to go early to avoid the afternoon sun but I also discovered that the volume of tour buses is greater later in the day.  Pictures I took when I arrived and when I left of the entrance to the Acropolis show a marked increase in the number of people coming in.  Though there were a lot of people when I got there, it wasn’t too bad.  One could manage.  The ticket to get into the Acropolis serves to enter other historic sites in that neighborhood so the 12euros was well worth it.

Athens, Greece from the Acropolis

A bit of Athens from the Acropolis

Unfortunately, the scaffolding in parts of the Parthenon detract from it but it still is an impressive structure considering its size, age, and location.  I was even more impressed with the great walls around the hill of the Acropolis.  The walls on the side of the hill were very high at some points – how did they manage to build those back when?!  The views from the Acropolis were very nice.  As one walks around, one gets a view of all of Athens.  The Temple of Zeus this way, Piraeus that way, etc.  The Acropolis has more than the Parthenon, of course.  I especially like the Erechtheion and the Porch of the Caryatids – the latter being the object of MANY pictures I took.  At the foot of the Acropolis are a couple of ampitheater-like sites that you can view from above and, one of which, you can actually visit when you get back down to street level.  It is amazing to think of the key historical figures and events that took place around these sites.  A good guide or good reference material will cite examples for these places.  Incredible to see firsthand that which we learned in high school (much as I had forgotten a good bit of whatever it was I learned!).

Porch of Caryatids in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Porch of Caryatids

One key place to see at the feet of the Acropolis is the NEW Acropolis Museum http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/.  Unfortunately, poor planning left it on my to do list as the day I thought of going, my last day in Athens, was the day the museum was closed… It was very highly recommended so I regret my mistake.

Plaka/Monestariki

Also at the feet of the Acropolis are the areas of Plaka and Monestariki.  The former seemed to be more about cafés, local and tourist shopping, and real life.  The latter seemed more a nexus of transportation (train station is there), eateries and the flea market.  However, I do them a disfavor as there are beautiful and old churches as well as very old sites like the Ancient Agora.  So these areas are both for tsightseeing and experiencing Athens.  I greatly enjoyed sitting at a side street café on a wide pedestrian street (off Ermou St.) and drinking a Greek frappé (a must have!).  I did this in the same café two days in a row – that’s how much I liked observing life and sipping my frappé.  These areas also made for great photo opps with all the people walking by.

Street scenes – 1.  Friendly table game on a sidewalk.  2.  Tourist movement through Plaka – lots and fast

Other Places in Athens

I cannot do Athens justice, nor will I try.  Of the many other places in Athens, some of the ones that may be worth seeing are:

  • Lycabettus Hill:  the tallest hill in Athens (abt 900 ft) best reached by funicular though you can walk it up or taxi part of the way.  The best view of all of Athens especially as you get to look DOWN on the Acropolis!  I highly recommend seeing it.  The neighborhood around it is nice to walk in as well so an enjoyable little trip.  It is not far from Parliament so walking to the funicular is easy.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycabettus_Hill
  • Parliament and Syntagma Square:  typically something tourists go see in any capital but with all the recent economic woes and protests in Athens, more of us know the name of this square than before.  It is not that it is an impressive square (like Krakow’s) or Parliament (like England’s) but it is the center of political activity these days.
  • Olympic Stadium:  where the first Games of the Modern Olympics took place in 1886.
  • Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch:  almost side by side and just about across from Melina Mercouri Square, these are also visible from the Acropolis (I guess everything is…).  The former is about 2500 yrs old give or take and the latter a youthful 1900 yrs old…  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Olympian_Zeus,_Athens http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Hadrian
The Acropolis from Lycabettus Hill in Athens, Greece

The Acropolis from Lycabettus Hill

Athens impressed me as did the overall visit to this ancient land.  I am eager to go back and keep exploring all that was left to be seen AND experienced by me in Athens, the Isles and the rest of the country!

Picture of the Week – Friends Enjoying the Greek Isles

Sights and Pleasures in Mykonos

Mykonos is known for many things in a wide range of mild-to-wild. The sights and pleasures range accordingly. But Mykonos is more than the headlines.  The views and food are phenomenal as are the beaches. I enjoy a few days of this paradise coming straight from Atlanta via JFK and Athens

After landing in Athens, I made a connection to my Olympic Airlines flight to Mykonos.  The Athens airport was extremely modern and well-signed so it was pretty easy to do the connection.  I had ample time so I ate something at an airport cafe and took advantage of the free-wifi the airport offers for 60 minutes. Flying over the Aegean Sea was dreamy, seeing all those islands dotting that beautiful-blue Aegean Sea.  It was a vision.

View of Greek Islands from plane

The Mykonos airport as can be expected is small but efficient.  I was met by a car from the resort where I was going to stay, the Apanema Resort which I discovered and selected after referencing Trip Advisor.  The hotel is across the water, separated from it horizontally by a road and by a boardwalk under construction right by the water’s edge, and vertically by maybe 20m.  This gives the hotel great views of the sea and the cruise ships coming in and out of Mykonos.  This one especially made for a sight right in front of us!

View of a cruise ship from resort in Mykonos, Greece

The hotel is a short walk from the northern edge of the Chora (“the main town” of Mykonos), about 500m.  Not a bad walk but you do have to walk on a curvy road without sidewalks… They are finishing what looks like a boardwalk down below but I didn’t a way up near the hotel.  In any case, the resort with its infinity pool, personalized breakfast til late and nice poolside area was a great choice for me.

So, I went to Mykonos as I wrote in another blog entry because I wanted to see one of the more popular Greek isles since I had limited time and because several people recommended Mykonos over Santorini as a solo traveler.  Though I am not a bar scene person nor a beach bum, Mykonos was a perfect place to go.  First of all, it is not just beaches and clubs.  There are a couple of museums (which I did not get to see) that are recommended plus a 20-min ferry ride away is Delos Island, a remarkable visible record of ancient Greek history.  In addition, there are so many people coming and going in Mykonos that sitting down to people watch can occupy plenty of time.  Plenty of shops around for those who may enjoy walking around and perusing (not yours truly).  Finally, and more my cup of tea, so much material for photography!  From the architecture, to the people candids, to the sunsets.  Plenty to photograph.  I played with my camera all the time and greatly enjoyed it.

Regarding Delos Island, it is best seen with a tour guide who can tell you what you are looking at and the interesting history of the place.  It is a good 2-4 hour visit depending on whether you want to do some solo (i.e., unguided) hiking.  Be warned:  no one stays in the island except archeologists and the last ferry out is at 3 PM so plan accordingly!  The ferry leaves near Little Venice.  There is a small museum and a small cafe.  Sunscreen and water definitely recommended!

Delos Island near Mykonos, Greece

Delos Island

Beaches

In terms of beaches, the hotel recommended Elia as more relaxing than Paradise but I ended checking out both.  Elia was bigger but without as many facilities as Paradise.  However, Elia still had a restaurant, clean restrooms and the like.  In both beaches you can rent a chair and an umbrella for 6-8 euros and both offer bar service though in Paradise no one came by the 2 hours I was there.  I hear Paradise becomes party central after 4 PM but I left around that time.

Overall, I think Elia felt less crowded (though neither was too crowded as it was the end of the season) and spacious.  Elia had a more mixed crowd whereas Paradise early in the day felt more like families or couples, though it could have been the part of the beach I plopped myself at.  To get to the beaches you can rent a car or scooter, take a taxi (though it will be expensive), or just take the local bus with for around 2 euros each way, is pretty cheap.  Paradise has more buses in the schedule than Elia which is less frequent.  You can also connect among several beaches by taking a caique or boat.  That may be a good way to sample different beaches in one day.

Little Venice

The Little Venice area of the Chora is one of the more popular parts of town.  There is everything there from shops, to the emblematic Paraportiani church, to clubs/bars/restaurants.  In the places facing the water (Katerina’s and Kastro, for example), you have great views of the windmills and of sunset.

View from Little Venice of the windmills, Mykonos, Greece

View from Little Venice of the windmills

Dining

I lounged a couple of afternoons sipping mojitos, taking pictures, and just admiring the vistas.  In that area I found two places that I enjoyed eating at.  One was Nikos Taverna.  I don’t know if the food qualifies as extraordinary but sitting at the plaza above the restaurant level makes for great people watching without feeling crowded in.  I enjoyed my time sitting there watching life.

The other place, which was recommended by an American couple I met in the ferry going to Delos, was Kounelas.  It is a phenomenal place hidden away between Little Venice and the waterfront of the Chora itself.  This place is a must if you like fish/seafood.

The catch of the day at Kounelas, Mykonos, Greece

The catch of the day at Kounelas

They make you walk from your table downstairs to the kitchen where they open several refrigerated drawers with the latest catch be them monster shrimp or sea bass.  Then they grill it for you.  I sat at the top of the external staircase which afforded me views of all the passers-by downstairs in the alley.  It was a slightly windy night which was perfect for me so I sat contentedly there through and after my meal!

View from my table at Kounelas in Mykonos, Greece

View from my table at Kounelas

So all that eating definitely required walking it off so I did that usually after dinner not only with the walk to my hotel but also just meandering in the Chora.  One who is never afraid to get lost, like me, is at home there!  However, how bad can getting lost be in this place where either you hit the water on a couple of sides or head up the hill?  Not hard to eventually get your bearings!

I mentioned the sunsets earlier and they are pretty spectacular though I guess that is true of anywhere with a clear view of the west.  In Mykonos, I either watched them from my hotel’s terrace or from one of the bars in Little Venice where I got to look at the windmills in the changing light.  We also enjoyed full-moon nights which made for a pretty sight on the walk back to the hotel.

Mykonos is an enchanting little island and I am glad I not only got to see it but got to see it slightly off-peak.  As it was there were multiple cruise ships every day but it never felt too crowded for me.   I can imagine the partying is louder and more crazy in July and August.  By the time I got there, the winds were blowing strong and Paradise was announcing its close of the season party on 16 September.  I found out most hotels and the like start shutting down so I guess it is not a place where Europeans go to escape northern Europe’s winter.

My sum-up of the visit is a positive one.  Though traveling solo, I was never bored.  There was plenty to draw my attention, to do, and to eat 🙂  I actually would like to return sometime, try staying in different parts of the island.  However, I would also like to explore other Greek isles.  The problem is which and how much time can I take to do it!

And to Greece I Went – Choosing a Greek Isle

Three months ago, I head no idea I would be coming to Greece in September.  A friend was getting married to a Greek-American and one night having dinner with them, they told me there would be a second event in Greece itself after the wedding in Atlanta; the key was when they said they would love anyone coming from the U.S.  My eyes opened big (at least, I think they did…) and an idea was born.

I had to make sure it would work with work but I planned it as if it would be OK.  Sure enough, most things are possible with good planning so on September 11 (yes, I know…), I boarded my plane to JFK where I would connect with my flight to Athens.

But, as is usual with most of my trips, it can’t just be “the one thing”.  I had never been to Greece though, clearly, with all the history it has, it was on my bucket list towards the top.  However, I said to myself, how could I go to Athens and NOT hit the islands??  That had to be addressed so I began asking around amongst people who have traveled here and the bride herself, which island to go to.

I am not a party-goer (anymore; did plenty of that already) so finding party islands was not the goal.  However, since I would be traveling alone, I definitely wanted somewhere that was not just for honeymooners and had something more than beaches since I am also not one to spend 3 days, 8 hrs each at the beach.  Santorini and Mykonos were my finalists just because they are so well known and I wanted to hit one of them (no time for two of them given the wedding related events and my schedule).  Everything zoomed in on Mykonos as the place to go.  Though it is known for the partying, it is also very close to Delos Island with its rich history (in mythology and after).  Friends also thought the eating and bar district would be fun for a solo traveler.  I will write more about Mykonos but my friends were spot on.

In the end, I would have like 3.5 days in Athens but about 1.5/2 were to be with my friends and the Greek side of the family for various activities including the reception in Kapandriti, north of Athens, and a BBQ at a relative’s in Oropou.  So, Athens was not a hard thing to figure out since the short time there would be taken up with the key sights everyone sees the first time (again, more later on this…).

I did split my stay in Athens in 2 as the reception being further north, it made more sense to stay in the stylish neighborhood of Kifissia than in Athens proper.  Yet for the sightseeing at the end of the trip, it would make better sense to stay in the Athens city center (that and I could stay for free at the Marriott there with my points!).  So, that became the plan and it worked out well.

Hotel Ledras Marriott in Athens, Greece

Hotel Ledras Marriott

As a side note, my connection on the way back was an overnight 11-hr layover in Paris.  As soon as I heard my boss was not going to be in this week, I went ahead and made it a 35-hr layover just to walk around Paris (I lived there in 1999 and have been back a few times since so it is like going to a second hometown of sorts).  I planned to do a maison du chocolat tour friends did in April and just hang out.

So, out of nothing, it would seem, a great trip shaped up.  Stay tuned for my writings on all the exploring!

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