Travel Tuesday: Athens Day 1

Last spring, I took an absolutely incredible trip to Athens with two of my best girlfriends and their significant others. They were already going to be in Europe and when they asked me to join them in Greece, I couldn’t say no. Mostly because it was just so affordable – flights on British Airways through London were fairly inexpensive and we stayed in a beautiful AirBNB  in downtown Athens for about $20 per person per night. I left Baltimore Thursday evening and touched down in Athens Friday afternoon where I hopped a train from the airport to downtown. Before long I was climbing the stairs to our third floor apartment and joining my friends for an amazing Greek adventure!

I was exhausted but eager to explore the city so our group headed out for a walk to dinner. The weather was PERFECT the whole time we were there. Pleasantly hot and sunny during the day and comfortable in just a cardigan or light jacket at night. The walk from our AirBNB took us through the National Gardens and we ended up at a vegetarian restaurant to appease our veggie friends. For my first meal in Greece I wanted something traditional and opted for the falafel platter – the first of many delicious meals! After dinner we had a couple glasses of wine at the apartment and called it a night.

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We were up early the next morning for a day of sight seeing but first, coffee. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs (with feta cheese!) at the house, we ventured to Coffee Island – a chain coffee shop that we saw throughout Athens. Coffee Island was the bomb – they made amazing frappes, had clean bathrooms and free wifi! Frappes are a nescafe drink unique to Greece and Cyprus – instant coffee, sugar and water are shaken to make a foam which is added to cold water, ice cubes, and evaporated milk. You could specify how sweet you wanted it and it was so, so good. I had one a day and have been craving it since coming back to the States.

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After our coffee fix we started our walking tour of Athens. We followed a walking tour in our Fodor’s guide book and started at the Temple of Zeus where we purchased a set of passes for 12 different landmarks. The giant columns are all that remains of an enormous temple dedicated to the god Zeus. The columns were so impressive and this was one of my favorite sights in Athens. Right outside of the Temple of Zeus is Hadrian’s Gate – an arch honoring Roman Emperor Hadrian built in 132 AD. This seems obvious, but we couldn’t help being awestruck at just how OLD everything was during our walks around Athens.

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From the Temple we walked to the Theater of Dionysus and then on to the Acropolis (which were two additional sites we had access to with our passes). All of the ancient structures were so impressive.The Acropolis was noticeably more crowded than the other sites but not too overrun with tourists as March is still their off season. The views were fantastic!

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From the Acropolis we walked down the opposite side in search of lunch. We found a cafe with outdoor seating and dined on chicken kabobs, tzatziki, fries and pita. We spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Athens in a popular area with shopping and restaurants. We took an afternoon break at a cafe to rest, use free wi-fi and refuel with coffees (and spiked hot chocolate) and desserts. For dinner that night we walked to Smile Restaurant. The menu was vegetarian friendly and super affordable (like most places in Athens). I had a Greek salad with an enormous slab of feta and a delicious moussaka.

By the time we walked home from dinner we were exhausted – it was quite a busy first full day of vacation!

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Friday Five (Escape the cold vacation ideas)

The days are getting shorter (for another couple weeks) and the cold of winter is starting to set in. This is about the time of year when I start getting a strong bout of wanderlust and can’t help but daydream of warmer climates. Here are my top five favorite warm vacation spots for when you just need a break from winter:

Warm vacation destinations

  1. Florida – Adam and I have escaped to Hallandale several years in a row and are making the trip again in January to the small beach town between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. We stay in the condo of a family friend and usually make a pit stop at Publix for granola bars, cereal and sandwich makings. To save some cash money we eat breakfast in the condo, make sandwiches to bring down to the beach and go out for dinner. We have had some awesome meals at Kitchenetta in Ft. Lauderdale and Michael’s Genuine in Miami along with delicious authentic Cuban food. We usually hit up the casino and shops at Gulfstream, take a walk along the Hollywood Broadwalk and of course spend time people watching in South Beach.
  1. Cruise to the Caribbean – Last winter I escaped to the Bahamas on a three day cruise with ten of my best girlfriends for my bachelorette! We spent our days by the pool and our nights with big hilarious group dinners (thanks for the bread, Dino!). While we were docked in Nassau we walked to a gorgeous beach and basked in the sun while we waded in the crystal clear water. It. Was. A. Blast.
  1. Las Vegas – Vegas can be oppressively hot in the summer which makes the weather pretty perfect in the winter. When I was growing up my Grandad lived outside Las Vegas so we visited a lot, including for a couple of Christmases. It’s almost like visiting New York at Christmas, with fabulous shopping, holiday decorations and shows, but without the cold and with more gambling. It’s a trade off 🙂 Most recently, I’ve stayed at the MGM and the Flamingo and because of the many hotel options, it’s easy to find a good deal.
  1. Austin – While not as warm as a beach vacation, you can find temperatures in the low 60’s from December-February which is still a nice break from the bitter cold of Baltimore. Visit the flagship Whole Foods, eat some amazing Barbecue and Tex Mex and get drinks on 6th Street. The bbq is even delicious at their gas stations – no lie, check out Rudy’s for some amazing brisket.
  1. New Orleans – I haven’t been to the Big Easy since college, but I am dying to make a return visit. I’m ready for beignets at Café Du Monde and walks through the French Quarter and I’ve heard Frenchman Street is the bomb. Adam’s heading there in March and I’m tempted to tag along…

The best part about all of these locations? (Besides the glorious warmth and sun) Southwest flies directly to all of them from BWI. So check out Jeanette’s travel tips and book a fun vacation now!

Linking up with Courtney, Mar and Cynthia for Friday Five and Heather for Friday Favorites.

Are you traveling anywhere this winter? Do you prefer cold or warm climates? I am not a skier, I’m all about those tropical getaways!

Friday Five (of my travel tips)

Travel Tips

I’m stuck sitting on a runway waiting for a tech to reboot my plane’s computer system, so it’s only appropriate that today’s Friday Five is dedicated to summer vacation. I’m not a total pro, Up In The Air style, but I like to think I do OK.

1. Book It. Experts say the best time to book your flight is 50-100 days in advance. I like to start monitoring flight prices early, then book when I find a good deal. Remember that you have 24 hours after booking to cancel your purchase if you change your mind. I love Southwest, and if you’re loyal to a brand, definitely take advantage of any loyalty programs they have. My flight home ended up costing me $5 because of all the points I had racked up! I also rave about ITA Flight Matrix, which is owned by Google flights. ITA lets you customize your search more than any other travel site I’ve seen. It can be a little tough to use at first, but it’s definitely worth learning.

2. Plan ahead. I’ll admit, I’m a little overzealous on this. My boyfriend gets stressed out by my detailed Google doc itineraries. But I can’t stand being somewhere cool and wandering. I want a vacay bucket list–a list of cool places I can get to at a moment’s notice. Trip Advisor is great for this, as is Yelp. Research everything down to tour guide companies so you know who does the best ghost tour or which whale watching company the locals use.

3. Pack your bags. No, seriously.. Pack some bags. I stuff grocery bags, Ziplocs, a canvas tote and a collapsible duffel in my luggage. I can’t tell you how often I end up using them. Other packing tips: Keep at least one outfit in your carry-on in case of lost luggage; mini bottles of liquor are permitted through airport security (in your liquids Ziploc); photocopy your passport and other travel documents and keep separate from the originals; and alllwaaayyys have a few granola bars on hand.

4. Hit the app store. Make sure you have any apps that might help make the trip smoother. Download your airline’s app, your hotel’s, the destination’s, Yelp, etc. It makes looking things up so much simpler. In fact, I just helped my seatmate by looking up the flight status of her connecting flight.

5. Relax, enjoy, and don’t forget to take pix! I know I am probably making travel sound really stressful, but I guess my point is that by doing all this prep in advance, you should be better able to enjoy your trip. Don’t sweat the small stuff–a flight that’s two hours delayed and just got deboarded, for instance (grr)–and don’t be afraid to go rogue from your schedule. Have fun!