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Asia, Europe, France, Italy, Sri Lanka, Travel

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

March 1, 2017

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Every once and while when I travel I run across the unexpected and the surprising. Many times these are hidden gems. They could be lesser known destinations, an unexpected hotel or a travel experience. Many times they may only be a hidden gem to you and not necessarily to others.

Places

Slovenia – Slovenia is a hidden gem to most people even those who know of the famous Lake Bled and its church. What struck me the most was the beauty of Slovenia. It hits you right as you walk out of the doors of the airport where snowy peaks greet you with green pastures below.

Dropped into a Fairytale in Slovenia

Driving from Ljubliana to Radenci, the green pastures and mountains continued, but I also saw lots of fields filled with yellow flowers. Cows grazed at angles on the sides of hills. Church steeples shot up from the valley floors and called to your with their bells to come see their beauty.

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Florence – Florence – is definitely a hidden gem to me. It took me three trips to Italy to finally go there. This was only after my Mom spent hours extolling the greatness that is Florence. Don’t ask me why I didn’t want to go. I was more into Rome and Venice, and now Florence is my heart in Italy. So much so I went three times last year! I think it is the fact that the city is a museum and there are over 70 museums to visit. I have only seen about nine of these even though I have been there three times. Guess I will have to go back!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Giverny – Many people know Giverny because Claude Monet painted many of his paintings there. What some people don’t realize is that he painted his famous Water Lilies pieces based off a pond on his property there. You can visit both his house and his gardens. As a Monet fan, I had to do this when I went to Paris. Most travel sites talk about to go from Paris to Giverny as a day trip. However, there is more to Giverny than Monet.

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Monet must have inspired gardens in Giverny.  The whole town is one long garden. Many people that live here have gardens in their front yard that line the main street, and they are lovely. There is a small area where shops and restaurants can be found. I had this “salad” there that was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Salad is in quotes because while there were vegetables, there was no lettuce of any kind.

Hidden Travel Gems Found While Traveling

While I can’t be sure, as it is the only small French town I have been to, it was the classic French country village. I walked from one end to the other several times and rarely saw another person until I reached Monet’s house. It has the added benefit of Monet’s house and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism.

Hidden Travel Gems Found While Traveling

Hotels

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum – Booking a hotel hours before staying there is not usually my style, but I would happily do it again if it led to hotels like this. Not having tons of time to research the hotel, I didn’t realize it used to be a monastery that was built in 1275! There are only 18 rooms in this hidden gem. Each one is unique.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

That isn’t all! The ancient Roman baths are below and have been transformed into a spa. I had one of the best massages of my life in this spa. The space is gorgeous, and you can relax the underground pool.

Heritance Kandalama – Hidden in the jungle is a hotel that is probably the longest hotel in the world. The hotel was built by famous Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel was built into nature with open air hallways so that rain and animals could move around and under the hotel unobstructed. There was a warning on the balcony door to keep it closed, so monkeys won’t come inside!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Never in my life have I wanted to stay a hotel one more day so I could take pictures of it. It sits on a reservoir that imitates a lake. Birds, monkeys, elephants and giant squirrels can be seen on the property. The views over the reservoir are also stunning. There will be a full review of the hotel coming soon, but this is a sneak preview!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Want to share your hidden travel gems? See how below.

Europe, Greece, Travel

Why I Didn’t Love Santorini

January 30, 2017

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

I debated writing this post for a while. I went to Greece in September and almost everything I have to say about it so far as been good. Santorini is the exception to this. I didn’t fall in love with Santorini as so many people, and blog posts promised I would. Let me say this now before everyone tells me I am terrible, it is beautiful and it is romantic. However, it just wasn’t for me, but I am glad that I went.

Crowds

I expected it to be crowded, but this was beyond my expectations! Most of the crowds were in Oia, where I happened to be staying. Since I had never been to Santorini, I want to stay in the heart of it or so I thought. There was a constant stream of people walking past my hotel.

The first night I was there, I headed to watch the sunset like everyone else. It was crowded, but not too much as I had been told to head there early. The captain of my boat advised me to walk further down from the fort where everyone gathers to watch. I trudged down a set of steep donkey crap covered stairs and claimed my spot.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

After watching the sunset, I started the walk back to my car. I think it took 30 minutes when it should have taken 10! At some points along the way, I was stuck at a standstill because it was so crowded. The streets of Oia are just too narrow to handle the crowds.

Traffic and Driving

Santorini is a large island, larger than I expected. I had read up about getting around the island and decided that renting a car was the best way. Best decision in terms of time I could have made. However, the traffic on Santorini is terrible. Getting from the port to the main road was a winding road, and if you got stuck behind any bus or delivery truck, you could be stuck for a while. This was one of the main reasons I left my hotel two hours before my ferry was to depart.

Getting around was made easier by the car, but all the roads are winding! It makes getting around take much longer than expected. As a result, I didn’t get to see all the things I wanted to.

The roads in Oia were so narrow in some places; cars had to go one at a time. Granted, I probably should not have been driving in Oia, but I was suffering from land sickness and walking in the heat was not a good idea. The narrow roads led to the long waiting area, and you had no idea if the traffic was moving or if there had been an accident. Only at night did I see police out directing traffic. It also didn’t help that my hotel was right at the start of the really bad traffic spot.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

Parking in Oia can be done, but you have to find a parking space. The best spot I found was down the hill from the bus station parking lot. I was able to park my car along a wall that offered some shade.

Touristy

I am sure you are thinking, Tiffany it’s one of the most popular places on the planet to go and you didn’t expect it to be touristy!? I expected it to some degree, but some parts of it were over the top touristy. One of those places was Fira. Fira is the capital city of Santorini. I stopped here to buy an SD card for my camera and it was just one souvenir shop after another. It was also quite dirty. That is probably due to the overcrowding of Santorini during the season. It also one the cheaper areas to stay on Santorini, which probably contributes to the crowds.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

Oia had its touristy sections as well. Lots of shops along the walk to the sunset. Many of these shops offering souvenir and over priced designer beach wear. Slightly ironic since all the beaches are located elsewhere on the island.

The Heat

I live in Qatar, and I am from Texas, but the heat on Santorini was something I hadn’t experienced. The combination of the heat the white washed walls created an oven effect. There is no offer of shade because all the trees have been removed out to build hotels! I had on sunscreen and still felt a bit burned after only an hour in the sun. Hats and umbrellas are needed!

Let me say you will be hard pressed to find too many blog posts saying someone didn’t like Santorini. I tried! I managed to find a few. One is Suitcases and Sandcastles, and you can read about how she didn’t think it was worth the hype. The other is from Hannah Rose and how traveling there as a backpacker may not have been the best plan. Christina of Santorini Plus, who is also a Santorini tour guide, tells you want not to do on a visit to Santorini.

Of course, tons of people love Santorini. Here are some of the posts I have found about loving Santorini! Radha and Brook from On Flight Mode think Santorini should be at the top of your bucket list and give some great tips on what to see and do! Angela from the Sunday Chapter gives us 7 reasons to visit Santorini.

Why I Didn't Love Santorini

How to Make Your Experience Better Than Mine

  • Go in the off-season, like October or April. The crowds will be less, and the weather will be cooler. Some hotels and restaurants will be open, but now that Greece is going to limit the amount of tourists that can arrive by cruise ship more places might stay open.
  • Give yourself more time. I was only there for two days. You probably need 3 to 5 days depending on what all you want to see.
  • Stay outside of Fira and Oia. Those places can be visited by car, and you can still have a great view of the caldera. If you really want to have a caldera view, stay in Oia one night for the experience and spend the rest of the time elsewhere.
  • Walk through Oia in the early morning to beat the heat and the crowds.

Maybe one day I will go back, and I will love it, but for now, I will visit the quieter Greek islands.

Have you been to Santorini? What did you think?

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Europe, Greece, Sailing, Travel

Sailing the Greek Islands – Arrival and the Boat

January 2, 2017

When I first told people that I was going to sail the Greek Islands, they thought I was going on a cruise, but they were wrong! Inspired by sailing up the Nile in Egypt, I decided to find another sailing adventure. I wanted to be close to the water and for more than a couple of days. After doing some research, what exactly I wanted out of the trip. I wanted a private cabin charter in Greece. Is that all Greek to you?

Basically, I wanted a small sailboat, not a cruise ship. I also wanted my own cabin. After looking at some budget options, I decided that going with a more expensive charter with some meals included and a tour guide was more my sailing style. Ultimately, I booked with Poseidon Charters for this sailing adventure. Then the long wait for the trip began!

Arrival in Athens

The start of the two-week sailing trip begins in Athens. Most charters will leave from Athens, but some have options of leaving from one of the Greek Islands. Three years ago, I had a trip planned to Athens, but I had a medical emergency and it was canceled, so I arrived a day early so I could do a quick stop at the big attractions. I did the usual Acropolis, Hadrian’s Library, Agora, Acropolis Museum and some people watching.

Sailing the Greek Islands

Sailing the Greek Islands

I would say the best part of Athens was meeting a cousin I had never met before! Yes, I had to go all the way to Athens to meet my American cousin. She was there starting a semester abroad, and we thought we should meet up. She lives in Nebraska and given how little I am in the US now; this made sense. Unfortunately, we are not related on the Greek side, only the German side so I am still not Greek! We also didn’t have the good sense to take pictures of this epic meetup, so we will just have to remember that it happened.

Boarding the Boat

I will admit that getting to the marina and finding the boat made me nervous. Yes, even after all these trips, I still worry about some things. The best way for me to get to the marina was to take the tram, but the tram wasn’t close to my hotel and dragging my suitcase across ancient streets and summer tourist crowds was not appealing to me. I also wasn’t too keen on taking a taxi in Athens as I have heard of people being scammed. I can be very firm, so I decided to let the hotel call me a taxi and they estimated it should be €15 to the marina. They gave the taxi driver directions in Greek, and I prayed I would make it to the correct Marina! Even though he didn’t speak a word of English and my Greek is zero, I made it, and he got a big tip from a grateful tourist.

The charter company had sent good directions, but arriving at the marina, I became worried as there were hundreds of boats. I walked down the pier looking for the name of the boat. It was all the way at the end due to its size. Arriving early in case of taxi mishaps, I had about an hour and a half to kill.  I took off to buy drinks for the happy hour aboard the boat as alcohol is not provided by the charter company.

Sailing the Greek Islands

Life Aboard the Sailboat

Once I returned to the boat, most of the other passengers had arrived and we were allowed to board. As I hadn’t seen my cabin yet, I was anxious to see what my home for the next two weeks would look like. I had been told the cabin was on the short side. This turned out to be just fine for me since I am short. The bonus was that it was wider than the other cabins and I was able to stand up in part of the cabin. I did, however, have to shower sitting down.

Sailing the Greek Islands

The first night we went to dinner near the marina and then slept on board in the harbor. We left early the next morning after a wonderful breakfast of greek yogurt, fruit, boiled eggs and granola; this would become the standard breakfast for the whole trip.

After leaving the harbor of each place we slept at, we would usually leave early, motor out till we found some good wind and raise the sails. Then we would head to the swim stop.  Some days this was on an island and other days it was off-shore somewhere. We would then have lunch aboard the ship. Lunch was usually something light and quick as sometimes we were underway while eating lunch. Other days we had more elaborate lunches, like the day we had spring rolls! The captain had brought the rice sheets all the way from Canada. Still not sure how he rolled all of them with the rocking back and forth.

Sailing the Greek Islands

After lunch, we would head to our next port, which is where we would anchor for the night. People have asked if we slept in hotels on the islands and the answer is no. We slept on the boat. Given the unpredictability of weather, there is no guarantee of what islands we will sail to, so you can’t make a hotel reservation in advance. Only one island was a guarantee, Ios, as that is where the second-week passengers get on. Not everyone did two weeks like crazy me!

Sailing the Greek Islands

After arriving at the next island, we might have time to sightsee if we arrived early enough and then we would usually go to dinner as a group. If we didn’t have time in the evening, a few places were closer together and we could go sightseeing in the morning. One night we didn’t anchor at a marina and we slept in a bay. This was my favorite night. We had a barbecue, stayed up watching the stars and a thunderstorm in the distance and I awoke to a stunning sunrise.

Sailing the Greek Islands

In the next post, I will talk more about the itinerary and what I did all day! There will more posts about specific islands later too, so stay tuned!

Have you gone sailing on a vacation? Tell us where and if you liked in the comments!

Sailing the Greek Islands
Egypt, Europe, Greece, Italy, Middle East, Packing, Travel

My 2016 Year in Review

December 19, 2016

I know the general consensus from the world is that they would like 2016 to be over. While I agree some awful things are happening in the world, I would like to focus on the good things of 2016. This year I am going to tell you all the good things, not just the travel things. Here is my 2016 year in review!

January

As usual, I was looking to plan a trip right when I returned from my trip home. I quickly decided, with the help of my Mom, to head to Egypt in February! Not sure why it took me so long to decide to go there as I had wanted to go for a long time.

February

My trip to Egypt was the second week of the month, and I loved every minute of it. Seeing the pyramids was an experience I will never forget. It just baffles me that humans made them. Sailing up the Nile was another experience that I truly enjoyed. I can sit and watch the water go by for hours and not get bored. Not only that I got to see the sun set and rise over the Nile. Here is the video from that day.

 

I started working out with a personal trainer. This set me up to lose four clothing sizes over the next several months! If you follow me on Snapchat, you probably saw lots of snaps of me on the treadmill and pictures of the sunrise over Doha.

March

One of my friends invited me on a Dhow boat cruise, which I had only done once before. It was a warm day with great company. I met new people and watched the lights come on in Doha as the sun went down. I also took one of my favorite photos of the year that day!

 

April

A paper I wrote was accepted to be presented at a conference, and the conference just happened to be in Slovenia! Slovenia is by far the most beautiful country I have been to so far. I got to see much of its beauty because I drove from Ljubljana to Radenci, where the conference was being held. Not only was it beautiful, but the food was also amazing. Most of it was local, and you could taste how fresh it was.

I treated myself to a staycation at the W Doha. Staycations may become my new obsession! I felt totally relaxed after the stay, and there was no stress of having to travel anywhere.

SONY DSC

May

May was a month of prepping. By now I had lost all the weight and desperately needed new clothes. I was heading to Italy for a month at the end of May and had nothing to wear! Not that I am complaining. A good friend went with me to try on clothes, and it was a good thing she did as I would have left with clothes slightly too big because I wasn’t convinced yet that I had lost so much weight.

At the very end of May, I left for a month in Italy. Believe it or not, this was for work. I was taking a course on bookbinding and bookbinding restoration. The first weekend though was spent with my friends in Italy. They just happen to live close to the course and it was great to start of my trip with them. They live in a small village and when I arrived the Infiorata was happening.  Such a neat experience.

7 Unique Italian Things to do During a Summer Visit to Italy

June

June stands out as one of the best months as I finally discovered Florence! The second weekend in Italy, I headed to Florence for the first time despite having been to Italy twice before. I fell in love right away. So much so that I went back the next weekend. I enjoyed just walking around and looking at all the amazing architecture. It was like walking through an outdoor museum.

GPSMyCity

The fourth weekend I was in Italy, I spent it exploring more of Umbria. This was when I discovered the lovely towns of Assisi and Gubbio. I recommend you drive to these towns to see the wonderful Umbrian countryside.

July

Right when I returned from Italy there was a holiday in Qatar and headed to Oman. Every summer Oman has a monsoon season which, as you can imagine, is rare in the Middle East. For three days I didn’t see the sun!

 

August

In August, I need to attend a conference in the United States. I decide to combine the work trip with a visit home. This time I decided not to take a direct flight from Doha to Dallas. I wanted to fly business and the only way I could afford it was to fly American Airlines with a stop in London. Even though I prefer to go direct, the layover was short and it was nice to get a break from the plane.

I spent about a week with my family. I did my usual see doctors and get a haircut routine. It is always great to spend time with my family even though it was short.

The conference I attended was in Atlanta, and one of my good friends lives within driving distance. I hadn’t seen her in 3 years, and she volunteered to drive down for the day to see me! We spent a day catching up at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens seeing the Chihuly Exhibit.

 

September

The sailing trip up the Nile in February inspired me to find a sailing cruise for later in the year. So I headed to Greece the first week of September to sail the Greek Islands for two weeks.  I know you may be wondering, why haven’t I seen a post on Greece yet!? They are coming, I promise. I took several blogging breaks this year and happy to say I think it has improved the blog post quality and I am motivated again.

 

October

I hadn’t planned on going anywhere in October, but I found a conference I wanted to attend. The conference just happened to be in Florence! I was thrilled. The conference was being held in the Uffizi Gallery Library. While most of the time was spent at the conference, I got to stay in my favorite Florence hotel. I also got to wake up in Florence on my birthday!

November

While I didn’t travel anywhere in November, I had three Thanksgivings! It was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. One of these Thanksgiving was an invite to the Four Seasons Doha to taste their Thanksgiving buffet. It was a beautiful meal offered at their Italian restaurant, El Teatro.

December

The first weekend in December, I was invited by the Intercontinental Doha the City to enjoy a staycation! The room offered a stunning view of downtown Doha. I really enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sun went down from the couch.

InterContinental Doha the City

Now I am back home again enjoying time with family. We are having the usual crazy Texas weather where it is 70 during the day and then drops 50 degrees in one day. My parents have a fireplace and I am loving the fire. Christmas celebrations at our house include getting presents and stockings from Santa. Our Christmas tree has a train around it and elves climbing the side.

This will be the last official blog post of 2016 as I will take the rest of the year off to enjoy being with my family before heading back to Doha.

What was your best memory of 2016? Share with us in the comments.

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