48 hours in Mykonos

I’d read that Mykonos was a party town. All the magazines, guidebooks and blogs I scoured for information prior to my trip described it as Greece’s glamour island; a powerful magnet for the rich and the rambunctious. The Waterfront in Mykons, Greece

Oh, the stories were colorful! According to reports, in the busy summer season it is not uncommon to see global pop stars and A-list actors like Ariana Grande and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing barefoot in the sand at hip beach bars like Nammos. Nor is it out of the realm of possibility for guests staying in luxury villas to spot supermodels or internationally known DJs sipping fancy cocktails while lounging stylishly poolside and pretending they’re not looking to hook up. (Needless to say, their faces are usually hidden behind outrageously priced designer shades, of course.)

But apparently, Mykonos seduces us ‘non celebs’ too. Vacationers of all ages and from all walks of life flock to it. Even budget-friendly cruise ship passengers – sometimes as many as 10,000 a day – are drawn to its sandy beaches, chic boutiques, world-famous restaurants, and legendary parties. The island just has that special je ne sais quoi. I’d liken it to a hyperactive pulse rate; the result of an overdose of pleasure-inducing activities combined with bucket loads of charisma. And a reputation for non-stop partying, day and night. Blue on blue in Mykonos

By going during off-season, I missed all of that – deliberately. I was spared the cruise ship crowds, the 24-hour party atmosphere, as well as the bronzed, swimsuit-clad, and annoyingly blemish-free bodies basking leisurely in the sun. And yet, I loved it anyway. Largely because I had my pick of more affordable hotel rates, any seat I desired on the ferry to and from Athens, no sweltering summer temperatures, reservation-free dining, and all the time in the world to set up and take my photos.

These are some of my itinerary suggestions:

Lose yourself in the town of Hora Pretty streets of Hora, Greece_Mykonos

Hora, otherwise known as Mykonos Town, is a labyrinth of narrow streets with a meandering layout that unveils new discoveries around every other corner. Built like a maze to confuse pirates, it’s a modern day treasure trove of restaurants, bars, and upscale shops that sell a range of merchandise – anything from fashionable outfits to exquisite jewelry. The white-washed houses and vacation villas that are trimmed with either blue, red or green window shutters are utterly charming, and the vivid bougainvillea or geranium blooms that drape their balconies enhance their whimsical appeal.

Visit Little Venice LIttle Venice in Mykonos

Named after the famous city in Italy, Little Venice is perched on the most western part of the town where the buildings cling precariously to the edge of the sea. [Fun fact: Customers sometimes pull their boats up to bar windows for service.] There, you also will find art galleries, cozy cafés and small museums that document the island’s history. Two options you can consider are the Archaeological and the Folklore museums.

Swim, dive or sunbathe on a few of the many beaches

Head south for the most popular beaches, some of which include Kalamopodi Beach (Paradise), Plintiri (Super Paradise), and Ornos. But there are several more to choose from. In fact, I heard there are about 25 beaches on the island.

If you also enjoy being below the water, there are interesting caves, walls and wrecks waiting to be explored by diving enthusiasts. Before you go, check to see which dive operators are currently based on Paradise, Lia, Kalafatis and Agia Anna beaches.

Go to see the windmills 

The Myloi complex, a grouping of windmills that grace a gently sloping hill to the southwest of the island, is a must-see. Only seven of the original 10 are still standing, and although none of them generate power to grind grain any longer, they are a strong visual reminder of the region’s history, and form part of the iconic landscape for which this coastal village is known.

Take pictures of the Church of Paraportiani  

I have no way of verifying it, but all the locals are convinced this is the most photographed church in the entire universe. [You would expect that to be the Vatican, right?] Technically, the structure is an amalgamation of five small churches that were built on top of and next to each other. That unconventional construction method resulted in an unexpected pyramid shape that, on a cloudy day, blends seamlessly into the skyline.

Sample the local food Greek Food
No trip to this cosmopolitan isle is complete without a stop for fresh bread or sweet treats at Aptonoieio, a local bakery and pastry shop tucked away on one of the side streets next to Hotel Terra Maria. It’s where many of the locals gather to exchange greetings over their morning loaves and catch up on news. I was also encouraged to try kopanish (a spicy cheese), melopita (honey pie), and kremydopria (onion pie) – none of which actually happened, to be honest. However, among other things, I did have a traditional Greek salad! Restaurants along the waterfront that stay open in off-season include Allegro, Music Port and Raya.

Get front row seats to the spectacular sunsets Mykonos Sunset_Greece

Watching the sun slip below the horizon over the shimmering Aegan Sea is almost like a rite of passage in Mykonos. Terraces and bars on the western side of the island provide the best vantage points, but the free pink, orange, and sometimes tinged with purple light show is visible from many locations. Exact sunset times vary depending upon the time of year and can occur anywhere between 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Recommendations include the waterfront area, 180 Sunset Bar and Cavo Tagoo.

And there you have it, my friends. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: 

In case you’re wondering about accommodations, options vary from high-end hotels to budget-friendly hostels. I stayed at the Leto Hotel which is 3 minutes from the waterfront area, a comfortable walking distance from many of the main sites mentioned, and around the corner from a busy taxi stand. The rate includes daily continental breakfast and WiFi. Room layout is a bit unusual as the structure is built on an incline, but if you request a superior, sea view room, you should be fine. Tip: The beds could be a little more comfy, but they’ll do.:

A guide to Central Athens

It is near midnight when I step out of the cab that had just whisked me downtown from the airport. Tired but expectant, I emerge onto the sidewalk of a busy, vibrant street in the bustling metropolis that is Central Athens. With eyes darting alternately from left to right, and all five senses on full alert, I slowly begin to absorb the unique sounds and smells that engulf me. Gradually, my head turns upward and I get my first clear view of the Acropolis.

And suddenly there she is, an imposing sentinel aglow in honey-hued marble, presiding over her resilient subjects from a brilliantly lit citadel on a hill. View of the Acroplois at night_Greece

This is it, I think. This is when I finally get to time travel through the pages of vaguely remembered story books to see and feel the pulse of a place I’d been introduced to by myths and legends.

This is when I get to sample some of the rich tasting Mediterranean foods made popular through movie scenes showcasing platters piled high with olive oil infused delicacies, all being consumed by large, loud and lovefest-filled families.

And most importantly, this is when I finally get my chance to understand the secret behind Athens’ ability to hold and capture the attention of the world for so many decades.

Cloaked in robes that are a seamless tapestry of grit, gregariousness, graffiti, and old-world grandeur, the city does not disappoint. She quickly pulls you into her warm embrace and keeps you entranced until it’s time to say a reluctant good-bye.

THIS. This is Athens.

What to Do
Visit the major archaeology sites Temple of Zeus_Athens_Greece

Much like other major cities around the globe, Athens has a very organized tourist hop on and hop off bus system that allows you to stop at some of the world’s most well-known and revered archaeological treasures, for at-your-leisure exploration and to take pictures. The 90 minute ‘Athens Line’ route of Gray Line Tours bus, which is yellow, hits all the major stops: The Acropolis Museum, Temple of Zeus, Benaki Museum, Panathaneic Stadium, The National Archeological Museum, Parliament and National Gardens, as well as Monasteraki, Syntagma and Katzia Squares. Audio tours are available in multiple languages, and you can opt for a 24-hour or 48-hour ticket. There are also red and blue buses operated by City Sightseeing and Sights of Athens.

Take a free walking tour of the city View of Athens from the Acropolis hill_GreeceI heard about, but regretfully didn’t get to take, this two-hour free walking tour offered by a small group of local historians who love to share their passion for the country’s heritage with visitors. With their expert guidance, you can unravel the social texture and cultural nuances of Greek life that are impossible to really find in any guidebook. Plus, you get to discover hidden neighborhoods, art galleries and corner nooks the buses don’t reach. This is the only free option I’m aware of, and tips are welcomed, but a quick Google search will provide you with other market-priced alternatives.

Dine at one of the many restaurants or ‘tavernas’ Chef over fire in open kitchen_Athens_GreeceEating out is a national pastime in Athens, so restaurateurs have to cater to the gastronomical desires of both residents and citizens. Dining establishments range from informal, budget-friendly tavernas to upmarket Michelin-starred restaurants serving classic Greek dishes or the increasingly popular fusion cuisine. So it’s up to you to decide where you buy your seafood, grilled meat, feta and cheeses, dips, and Greek pies.

Immerse yourself in the nightlife Impromptu Drum Circle in Central Athens_Monastraki_GreeceLike New York, Athens is a city that never sleeps. It brims with youthful energy despite its age, and oozes life and unbridled pleasure from every pore. Whether it is enjoying a spontaneous drum circle and dancing in Monasteraki Square, sipping cocktails at sunset in stylish terrace bars, or going clubbing until daybreak, Athens has the power to enthrall you.

Tip: Try A for Athens’ rooftop bar, an insanely popular hangout for locals and visitors alike that offers stunning views of the Acropolis, Plaka and Monastiraki Square. Expect a queue for the elevator as it only fits about 6 people comfortably, or be prepared to take six flights of stairs.

Go on a day or overnight trip to see more of the outlying areas Mountai range and lakes in the Thessaly region of Greece

Surrounded by impressive mountain ranges in the north and east and the soothing Saronic gulf in the south and west, Mainland Greece offers a plethora of vacation opportunities. Take it from me, you’d be doing yourself a serious disservice if you didn’t factor in one or two excursions outside of Central Athens while you’re there.

By driving less than 10 miles south of the city, you can get a more coastal experience on the Athens Riviera, a scenic stretch of road dotted with seaside cottages, sandy beaches and picturesque coves that connect the Glyfada to Cape Sounion and the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon on the Attica peninsula.

Head several more miles further north into Central Greece and you will find the Unesco Heritage Site of Delphi and the Oracle Apollo. A longer drive takes you into the region of Thessaly, a place defined by snow-capped mountains, traditional settlements and ski resorts. It is also the gateway to Meteora, a geological and architectural phenomenon that is one of the most photogenic spiritual sites in Greece.

Where to eat Dining at Misafir Resturant in Athens_GreeceIf you’re staying in Central Athens and are looking for budget-friendly fusion food that is fresh, tasty and healthy, try Misafir Restaurant on Ermou Street (near Minastraki Station) or Belpaese on Athanasiou Diakou Street (near Acropolis Station). Menu selections at Misafir add a Middle Eastern touch to the culinary medley available in the country’s capital, and Belapese is a cozy, Italian gem that blends New Greek and Spanish tastes into its dishes. 

Persons who prefer a more formal, upscale dining experience with amazing city views should try Ioannis Restaurant, also on Athanasiou Diakou Street. It is a gourmet restaurant set amidst the roof garden of a five-star hotel. Their cuisine combines traditional Greek recipes with modern fare and the chef presents them both impeccably.

Want to skip the meal and dive straight into dessert? Head over to Little Kook on Karaiskaki Street in the Psiri area. It’s a quirky, fairytale-themed café full of sweet treats.

Where to stay 
There are numerous types of accommodations to choose from in Athens, but if you want to be in the heart of the city, I’d recommend looking for rooms in the areas of Syntagma or Monasteraki Square, as well as Plaka or Akroplolis. That’s where the bulk of the action is, and there are convenient metro stops close by.

Tips: For a clean, pocket-friendly hotel option, try A for Athens which is a small, apartment-style boutique hotel that overlooks Monasteraki Square. It is within walking distance of the flea market, Acropolis, Agora, Plaka and Syntagma Square. Note: Due to its location and popular rooftop bar, some rooms can be noisy.

A more pricey and luxurious option is The Royal Olympic Hotel, a family-run property just across the street from the famous Temple of Zeus and National Garden, and about a 5-minute walk from the Acropolis.

How to move around the city via  train Metro Lines in Central Athens_GreeceThe Athens Metro system has 3 lines (Green, Blue and Red) that make moving around the city easy. When combined, they give you easy access to many of the city’s landmarks through their underground network. Operating hours vary according to line/day/season, but generally they run between 5:30 a.m. – midnight. I also learned that on Friday and Saturday nights, some lines  stay open until 2:30 a.m.

Here are a few things to note:

1. Know your intended street address and ask for directions from the closest metro station.
2. Purchase your tickets inside the station in one of two ways: either from a kiosk with instructions in Greek and English, or from an attendant at a ticket counter. Have cash (euros)ready.
3. Depending on the length of your visit, you can buy different types of tickets. Options range from a 90-minute ticket for all modes (including bus transfers) to a 3-day tourist ticket or a 5-day ticket. I used the 90-minute and each time it cost me a mere 1.40 euros.
4. Read the electronic signs that indicate the correct platform to stand on, and be sure to pay attention to the ones that show train arrival information. You may be on the correct platform, but that doesn’t mean you should hop on the first train you see there.
5. In order to get off at the right stop, listen keenly to the announcements on the train (which are in Greek and English), and also read the station signs that are prominently placed along the sides of the buildings.
6. Keep your ticket in a safe and easily accessible place at all times, because you will need to scan it when you are entering or leaving each metro station.

Note: It is also a relatively simple process to get from the airport to Central Athens and back via the train. The cost is 10 euros one way. Ask your hotel for its connection directions.
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Come back soon to read my write-ups on my two-day trip to Delphi and Meteora, and my stay in Mykonos.

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A guide to Central Athens_The Acropolis

Five things to do on a short layover in Brussels

Thanks to a Google ITA Matrix flight deal I found for my trip to Greece, I benefited from a US$400 cost savings on my ticket, plus I also got to engineer a 10-hour layover in a city and country I’d never visited before – Brussels, Belgium. With the city center being less than 30 minutes away from Brussels Zaventem Airport (BRU), and easily reachable by train, bus and taxi, of course I took the opportunity to venture out and explore!

[Details on where to store your luggage and how to get to the city center via metro are outlined at the bottom of this post]

1.Treat yourself to an authentic Belgian waffle…or two or three, if you so choose

Two examples of the multiple versions of the Belgian waffle that are available all over town

In North America and the Caribbean, we’ve come to know Belgian waffles as quick and easy breakfast food made with a light batter, large squares and deep pockets that’s served with the ever predictable, yet taste dependable maple syrup. However, in Belgium, the true waffle experience is so much more. Menu selections range from savory to sweet, and a host of cafes and bistros abound to cater to every textural nuance invoked by the most discerning foodie palate. I tried a lightly sugared waffle with strawberry topping, and a tasty concoction called “campagnarde” with a bacon, cheese and tomato filling that belongs in the echelons of the gooey-goodness hall of fame.

2. Visit the Grand Place  

A glimpse of the opulent-styled architecture from the Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV eras.

The Grand Place is a rectangular-shaped square housing both government and private sector buildings in the heart of the city’s center. It is renowned as being an architectural jewel that showcases an eclectic blending of artistic styles, some of which date as far back as the late 17th century. I saw gold-trimmed and majestic-looking edifices, swoon-worthy entranceways, an impressive cathedral, and tons of bustling activity. The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), accentuated by its lofty bell tower, was also noteworthy. It’s no wonder it is the square’s most famous landmark. But even if you miss it, almost every corner has a photo op.

3.Hunt for the best Belgian chocolate

A chocolate replica of the Manneken Pis, the famous statue of a little boy taking a leak.

While this activity may not appeal to persons who are blessed unfortunate enough to not have a sweet-tooth, for others like me who like to indulge in occasional chocolate decadence, it could be a joy. After a few hours sampling the delicacies in Brussels, you’ll promptly forget about Hershey’s and Godiva as your go-to brands just because they can be easily purchased at your local department store. The good news is, the city center is pretty compact and the streets are very walkable, so it’s likely you’ll burn off the extra calories during your own personal hunt for edible treasures. You can also opt to go on one of the many chocolate-tasting tours offered, or visit the Chocolate Museum.

4.Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Tour

Here we go…giddyap!

If you’re in the mood for a more leisurely pace to your sightseeing, you can take a horse-drawn carriage tour through the cobble-stoned streets to view the historic parts of downtown Brussels. The route includes many of the city’s remarkable UNESCO heritage sites, and being able to view them a little higher from the ground gives you a different perspective. The carriages are covered, Victorian in design, quite roomy, and seat up to five people. So you can enjoy the scenery with family, a group of friends, or do it the romantic way as an intimate one-on-one with your special person. The cost is 39€ per ride (just under US$47), and the outing lasts approximately 30 minutes.

5.Up your Belgian history, language, and culture game by chatting with a few locals

Observing the crowd and deciding who to strike up a conversation with next

Before my layover, I didn’t realize Belgium was tri-lingual, nor did I understand the extent of its multilayered identity that pulled on contrasting French, Dutch and German influences. But I got a few history and culture lessons from two locals! The citizens I met – one kind woman on the train and a charismatic worker at the airport – spoke great conversational English, and they were fluent in at least two other languages as well. They told me about some of the cultural norms and what they described as an ‘over inflated system of government’ that resulted in three ministers for everything, and a lack of ability to make decisions by the federal government. In actuality, the leadership of the country is divided among various partners, who independently exercise their authority within their regions.

Impromptu twirling intermission at a street sign!

Incidentally, all signage – from street names to metro station stops – have French and Dutch translations, so other than attempting to have a conversation in one of those two tongues, trying to navigate through town by reading signs is also a good way to brush up on those rusty language skills! Be warned: doing that may make you hungry again, though!. Since the area was originally a marketplace for traders, the streets immediately surrounding the square are named after foods. You may feel like you’re walking on butter down Rue au Beurre, smell the herbs from the eateries on Rue du Marché aux Herbes, or find yourself yelling cheese when you snap you a photo on Rue du Marché aux Fromages.

Seasonal Bonus: Visit the Winter Wonders events and the Christmas markets!

Taking a close look at the goodies displayed at one stall

These events take place before and during the Christmas holidays at the Grand-Place in Brussels and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine, and the Marché aux Poissons. The trinkets, food, music, and gifts available at the more than 200 traditional wooden chalets that line the streets offer a captivating window into the spirit of Christmases past, and provide the appropriate touch of sweet nostalgia for the Yuletide season.  However, if browsing stalls, chomping on treats, and selecting souvenirs isn’t your thing, you can enjoy other activities like ice skating and carnival rides.

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Instructions how to get to Central Brussels from the airport by metro
1. After you clear customs and immigration (which is the most laid-back border control system I’ve ever come across in all my travels), go to level minus one (-1) to buy your metro ticket for Central Brussels. Your stop is called Central Station, and the cost is 15 euros roundtrip.

2. Take the elevator back to level zero (o) of the airport to store your bags. When the doors open, exit and go outside towards the taxi and bus area, then turn left. You will see the luggage sign overhead to guide you.

3. Look for a locker with a green light that indicates it is open, then place your bags inside and keep the door shut until a red light comes on. As soon as that happens, you insert the required one euro coin into the slot provided to the right of the light. That initial payment is just to secure the space. You pay the full amount when you retrieve your bags, once the machine is able to calculate the total number of hours the locker was in use.

4. Wait for the machine to issue a ticket that will have an access code printed on it, as well as your locker number. Make sure not to lose it as you will need to type in that access code before being asked to pay your balance!

Note: The cost for 24 hour-storage (the minimum time you can buy) is 7.50 euros, and please note that the EXACT change is necessary. The machines do not give change for notes or larger coins, nor can you substitute two 20 cents and a 10 for the 50 cents coin. So please ask for a 50 cents coin as part of your change at the metro ticket counter. 

5. Head back to level minus one (-1) to board the train. Please remember to hang on to your metro ticket even after you scan it at the validation point, because you will need it to exit the station as well.

Enjoy your layover, and be sure to return to the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave!

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5 Things to on a short Brussels layover

My 2017 Best Nine Instagram Posts

I began last year with Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the US Virgin Islands at the top of my travel wish list, but for various reasons ranging from passport delays to hurricane devastation, I didn’t get to visit ANY of those places. Despite the setbacks, I’ll borrow a phrase from The Travelocity Gnome and say I’m grateful I still managed to ‘wander wisely’.

In 2017, I visited three new countries (Mexico, Belgium and Greece), one new city (Montreal), and made new discoveries in old favorites (The Dominican Republic, and my homeland of Jamaica). Not too shabby considering these destinations weren’t on my initial radar, eh? According to the popular  #2017BestNine site, these were my nine most liked IG snaps.

9. Kingston, Jamaica 

8. Jamaica…again!

7. La Romana Province, The Dominican Republic (DR)

Salty air, sun-kissed hair Ah…the endless summer Take me there. 🌴

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6. Montreal, Canada

Au revoir, Montreal. You were dreamy!

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5. The DR..take two!

Leisurely beach walks can be so cathartic and magical! Thanks to the app #Plotagraph and tips from ace travel blogger Alyssa Ramos (@mylifesatravelmovie), I learned to animate photos y'all! Do you see the clouds and water moving? Oh yeah, I'm so excited about that. Alyssa and Gloria Atanmo (@glographics) just wrapped up their first Blogger Bootcamp in Bali and the group's IG stories and posts gave me all kinds of feels. If you're not following either of these ladies yet, you should be.  I've been a fan of their content since 2016. (See link in my bio to a post that included them on a list of inspirational IG feeds.) ________ PSA to Droid loyalists like me: A mobile version of Plotagraph isn't available for Android, but I worked with the app on my PC and figured out how to use it with the help of another online tutorial.  Check it out!

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4. Sanibel, Florida

3. A Providenciales, Turks and Caicos throwback.

 2. Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

1. Irish Town, .Jamaica

Cloud 9 kinda tings.🇯🇲

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I’m totally stoked that Jamaica made three out of the nine images in this compilation, because as Tinga Stewart so famously said, “when yuh check it out lawd, no weh no betta dan yaad, oh no.”

What would YOU (my blog readers) like to see, or see more of, in 2018?

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#2017BestNine

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