Europe, Greece, Travel

Things to Know Before Traveling to Greece

July 1, 2019

Greek Islands In October

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I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t have Greece on their bucket list. However, many people have preconceived notions about Greece that are not true or are less than accurate. Knowing the truth will help you plan better and help you enjoy your time in Greece even more. Here are all the things to know before you travel to Greece.

Athens is More Than the Acropolis

Most people think of Athens, and they think of the Acropolis that sits on a hill in the center of the city. Many people believe they can visit the Acropolis and be done with Athens. Some people only spend one day in Athens! You still don’t need a week in Athens, but you do need about three days to see more than the Acropolis. One of the best things to do is to visit the Acropolis Museum. It is stunning and is not very large. There is an archeological dig exposed under the building as well.

There are many more museums to explore in Athens as well, including the Benaki Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art. The Benaki Museum has a wonderful cafe with an outdoor terrace to view the city. There is also all the great food to eat as well. There is good food all over Greece, but Athens has a city feel and more upscale options if that suits you. Many places have excellent views of the Acropolis. I suggest going right before sunset to eat so you can enjoy your Greek food with a stunning sunset.

Athens has many other ancient sites to visit including Hadrian’s Library and the Ancient Agora. These sites can be seen with an additional cost added on to your ticket to the Acropolis. You can easily walk to them after finishing the Acropolis. A short tram ride away are some beaches if you want to make a day trip to the beach while in Athens.

Greece is On its Own Time

Unlike much of Europe, Greece has a much more laid back attitude and it is actually one of the things I love about spending time there. Ferries might be late or may be canceled. You may have to ask for your bill a few times before it arrives. There is no rushing in Greece unless you are driving. Then watch out!

This may be hard for some people to deal with but if you know about it in advance you know what to expect. The only thing I will say is that it usually all works out in the end. Greeks, for the most part, are pretty trustworthy and do not like to let the tourists down.

Strikes

Every summer there are ferry strikes. These seem to only happen during tourist seasons as well. I assume this is because it gives the workers more leverage. They are usually announced in advance so you won’t be standing at the ferry terminal waiting in the heat wondering if the ferry is going to come. However, by the time they are announced, you will probably not be able to change your hotel and everyone will be either buying new tickets or plane tickets. That is if you are on an island with an airport. My advice is to get travel insurance to make sure you are covered for any out of pocket costs you may have to incur. Also, do not book your flight and ferry on the same day! This is a good time to see more of Athens.

Tipping in Greece

I belong to several groups on Facebook about Greece and at least once a week I see questions about tipping in Greece. Like most of Europe, no one in Greece will complain if you don’t tip but most people tip about 10%. This is for restaurants mostly. Even in a cafe or coffee shop, I like to leave something if I have been waited on at a table. For larger groups, everyone should leave 10% as you are most likely taking up several tables during that time. If you feel like the waiter or waitress did an outstanding job, then more than 10% should be given. Another rule of thumb some people use is to round up. For example, if your bill was €18 then you could leave €2 as a tip. Keep in mind Greece is still suffering from economic issues so every bit helps the locals. Another thing to remember is that if paying with a credit card, you may not be able to add a tip after it has gone through the machine. Either ask them to add it to the total or have enough euros to tip in cash.

Santorini is Crowded

For many visiting Greece means the island of Santorini. Santorini is beautiful and has a unique landscape. However, everyone has Santorini on their bucket list and it means it is very crowded during the tourist season. If you must visit Santorini, here are a few tips that may help you avoid the crowds. First, go in the offseason. The main season is May to September with July and August being the busiest. However, I was in Santorini in September and it was still very busy. Go in October or April and you will still get to see the sites without the crowds.

If your only option is to go to Santorini in the tourist season, then stay outside the two main villages of Fira and Oia. They are the most crowded and probably the most expensive places on the island. A great alternative is in the village of Imerovigli. You will still get caldera views from here and the prices are less steep than in Oia.

200 Inhabited Greek Islands

There doesn’t seem to be an exact count of how many inhabited islands there are in Greece, but safe to say there are around 200. This is another reason that Santorini or Mykonos are not the only Greek islands to visit. These islands range from big islands like Crete, Rhodes and Naxos to small islands like Hydra, Aegina and Kythnos. All of these have many different things to do and see. Each island has its own culture and feel. You could go to a different island every time you visit Greece and still not see them all.

The Mainland

Mainland Greece is much larger than all the islands and there is so much to see there. The second largest city in Greece is Thessaloniki. Not only does it have the benefits of a city with cultural things to do but Thessaloniki has beautiful beaches as well. You can get to Thessaloniki by train from Athens or a quick flight from Athens.

Meteora is another gem of a place to visit on the mainland. Meteora is famous for the monasteries that are perched on top of high rocks that almost seem impossible to get to let alone build. You can either drive from Athens or take the train.

Another option on the mainland is the Peloponnese region. The Peloponnese is a peninsula and isn’t too far from Athens. This is were Kalamata is and where the famous Kalamata olive is from. This region is also known for its beautiful beaches.

Less Expensive

People are always asking me if Greece is expensive. The answer is yes if you are going to Santorini or Mykonos. However, if you are not going to these two places then my answer is no. Hotel prices vary across islands and the season, but even the 2 star hotels in Greece are nice. Most islands don’t have that many luxury resorts and you can always find something near the beach. I just booked a hotel in Naxos for 6 nights for less than $250 without breakfast. It is even less expensive if you go in September or later. Food is not expensive and you can eat out for about €25 for two people not including drinks. Although in some places, that does include one glass of wine. Look for where the locals are eating and not only will you get great food but good value for your money.

Smoking

This is the only bad thing about Greece. Greeks still smoke a lot and I am comparing this to Italians! For the most part, it probably isn’t a big deal unless they are smoking next to you at dinner. Most restaurants in Greece do not allow smoking inside and you will most likely be eating outside. If it does bother you, ask the waiter to move you or if you are in a cafe, just move tables.

Sailing the Greek Islands

Sailing is a great way to see many islands in a short period of time without having to ferry hop with your luggage. This was how I saw Greece the first time and I fell in love. We sailed to 14 islands. While you don’t have as much time to explore if you were visiting a few islands for two weeks but it gives you a good feel for what the island is like and you can plan your return trip. It is very relaxing and being on the water with the Greek breeze feels amazing. Most sailing trips have a preplanned itinerary but I have seen a few that let you plan the trip as you go based on the guests wants and the weather. Go in September as the water is warmest and the wind is not so high.

When to Visit Greece

My preferred month is September. The water is warm and so is the weather. The nights can be cool but never chilly. The crowds have left by then as well. October is also nice but many places start to close in October so there are fewer options for hotels and dining. However, you will have the beaches to yourself. You can also get good deals with shopping later in September you go.

If you must go in the summer due to work or school, I recommend going in June. The crowds haven’t started yet and the prices will still be low. The hotels and restaurants will be open by this time as well.

Beach Nudity

Beach nudity is common in Greece. Some beaches are more prone to it than others. If it is at a large beach the nudists tend to stay away from the sunbeds and umbrella areas. You will see some topless sunbathing on almost all the beaches. I am going to be totally honest and tell you that I am not a fan of full nudity for a variety of reasons. However, I have learned to accept it and try to look away as much as possible. Maybe I would feel differently if it was young fit people I was seeing naked and not 80-year-old men!

Cash

Cash is king in Greece. Restaurants would prefer you pay in cash. Some do this to avoid the taxes and some because they don’t want to pay the credit card fees. Technically the tax thing is illegal but unless you get a ridiculous bill, I would just pay and let it go. Paying in cash will endear you to the restaurant as well. Get Euros at the airport and take out enough to last you as long as you can. There are ATM fees in Greece and on some islands, the fee is quite high. On the small or less populated islands, ATMs can be a bit harder to come by.

No Toilet Paper in the Toilet

I saved the worst thing for last! On all of the islands, you cannot flush toilet paper. There will be a small covered trash can to dispose of your toilet paper in. It can be unsettling at first, but everyone is doing it. And no, it doesn’t smell either. The reason you have to do this is that the pipes can’t handle it. In Athens, this isn’t an issue as the plumbing is better there.

These are all the things you should know before traveling to Greece. I hope that I have answered all your pressing questions or have given you some things you didn’t know. Is there anything about visiting Greece that you think I have missed? Tell me in the comments.

Thing to know before traveling to greece

Travel

Two Years After I Left Qatar

June 17, 2019

Discovering Qatar from a Dhow Boat Cruise

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Two years ago, tomorrow, I flew out of Qatar for the last time as a Qatar resident. Four years ago, I had been in Qatar for two years. As you can imagine, my life has changed a lot since I left. Most of it for the good and some of it for the tragic. However, I am still glad that I went when I did. Here is how my life has changed and what I have learned about myself in the process.

Long-term travel

When I left Qatar, I planned to travel for a long time. There was no set plan in terms of timings or even countries. Although a few destinations were planned. I was in London for the first month. Even though I was totally unprepared for a London summer, I enjoyed myself immensely. I forgot how much I like a big walkable city with good public transportation. If you didn’t know, I used to live in New York City. London had museums and wonderful places to eat. I had sublet a room in an apartment, so I wasn’t in a hostel or a hotel. The only thing was I was a bit lonely as it is hard to make friends in such a large city, the same is true in New York City. By the time my month was up, I was ready to go. I have been back to London though as it has become one of my favorite places.

My next stop was Montenegro. This was a much shorter trip of only five days. I think I went way too short on this trip as I did with a few other stops on this journey. My next stop was a month in Greece! The only thing was the island was too small, and I was sometimes a bit bored because I had done most of the things. More short trips continued and over the past two years, I have learned that for the most part that trips of 3 weeks to a month are the perfect length for me.

Grief

In 2017, I fell in love with a wonderful man while I was in Greece. Things moved quickly, and we had discussed moving in together. After Thanksgiving weekend, his house caught on fire, and he died from carbon monoxide poisoning. I was devastated. My life stood still for a long time, and I wasn’t ready to work. I did some school, which kept me busy. It was an intensive course, and I knew that work wasn’t going to be so intense. I wasn’t sure I could concentrate on work fully. Interviewing was even a challenge. For so many reasons, I decided to delay working again, and I return to Greece for several months. This was either going to break me or heal me. Luckily, it was a healing trip, and while I still miss him daily, I can function now.

Freelance

Going back to Greece for the third time in three years, reignited the urge to want to live there full-time. I knew that I needed to find a remote job so that I could move there. I applied and applied, and then I slowly came to the realization that I didn’t want to work for someone for set hours. I wanted to work when I wanted and travel when I wanted. Never in my life have I ever wanted to work for myself. But I have been doing it for about six months now, and I love it. Even better, I have had lots of referrals and have not had to do a lot of hustling for clients. I have really been lucky and have great friends.

Naxos Beaches

What it has also taught me is that while I love working for myself, I also enjoy meeting new people. When I was in Antigua, I met some lovely people I met in one hostel I was staying in, and we are still chatting away planning to meet up soon. After I returned to my parent’s house, I worked from their kitchen table until my nieces got out of school for the summer. Then I joined a coworking space. I have loved being there. My days are more productive, I get dressed every day, and I have been meeting new people. I would love to join a coworking space in Greece, but the island I am planning on living on does not have one. So there may be some adjustment when I moved. More on the moving to Greece process later.

Returning to Qatar

Last November, after I left Greece, I decided to visit Qatar. It is such a short flight, and I had plenty of Qatar Airways miles left to fly there. Unfortunately, I got a horrible cold right when I arrived so I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. However, I did get to see many people and spent two days at my old job. What I did realize very quickly is that I was unhappy for the last six months that I lived there.

Interestingly, I didn’t see that when I was there, and it took me returning to realize that. Qatar will always hold a special place in my heart, and I miss my friends and coworkers. Although many of them have also moved on.

The Future

If one thing is constant with me is that I love change. No matter what comes, I am sure that I will learn something new and grow from it even though I am now “middle-aged.” I look forward to the next two years and beyond.

Has your life changed a lot in the last few years? What have you learned from it?

 

 

 

Guatemala, Travel

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City Review

June 10, 2019

Real Intercontinental Guatemala CityMy flight out of Guatemala City was supposed to leave at 7 AM, so instead of leaving Antigua Guatemala at 3 AM, I opted to spend my last night in Guatemala in the city. Guatemala City can be slightly dangerous so I needed to pick a safe zone and somewhere near the airport. Zone 10 is known to be good and is close to the airport. I found a great deal on the Real Intercontinental, which is right in Zone 10.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

I am slightly biased as I love an Intercontinental hotel. Of course, you never know. The Real Intercontinental Guatemala City did not disappoint. The lobby is huge and grand. There was no waiting to get checked in and even though I was two hours early for check-in, I was able to check-in and get to my room.

The Room

My room was located at the end of the hallway, which I appreciate as it meant I was not near the elevators. Sometimes elevators are loud, but mostly I prefer not to be near them as people getting off of them tend to be loud. Although, I would say this hotel was extremely quiet. I only heard one door open the entire time I was there.

Since I had gotten a deal, I was not expecting anything large. The room was small but very well laid out with a large floor to ceiling window. And no one should complain about this bed. Not only was it huge, but it was also very comfortable. Usually, I don’t sleep well when I know I have to be up early to catch a flight but I fell right asleep and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off.

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City

After not having watched live tv for a month, I really appreciated the large television with international news in English. They were about the only channels in English though. There was a large desk that made me wish I had stayed another night so I could work at it. Even though the room was small there was a comfy chair to sit in for reading with an overhead light.

The bathroom was also small but had all the things you could want or not want, including a scale. I had desperately wanted to take a bath but the tub didn’t look super clean so didn’t take a bath. I am not sure if it was dirty or just old but decided not to take my chances. This was not a huge deal to me since I could still take a shower and I was only there one night.

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City

The Amenities

The Real Intercontinental has a rooftop pool and I wanted to use it but it started to rain when I went up there. However, it looked great! There is a kiddie pool and a hot tub as well. On a clear day, you could probably see very far. There were plenty of lounge chairs to sunbathe in.

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City

Also on the rooftop area is the fitness center. I didn’t use it but it looked amazing. It was glass enclosed so you can see the pool and the view. The fitness center had free weights and plenty of cardio machines. Best of all it was open 24 hours a day, so you can exercise when you want.

There is also a Spa onsite, which I didn’t get to use. You can also have some services in your room, which is always a nice option.

The Food

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City

There were several dining options in the Real Intercontinental. I was only able to experience dinner though. My choice was to eat at The Market. You could customize each dish, which is why I choose it. My choice was carbonara with artichoke hearts, which was pretty good considering I was in Guatemala. The wine selection was decent and the wine was good. The service was great but I was there early in the evening and it wasn’t busy so I am not sure what it is like when it is busy. The Market is where they serve breakfast but I chose to wait till the airport since the price for breakfast was about $20.

Real Intercontinental Guatemala City

If I have to spend the night in Guatemala City again, I would definitely choose the Real Intercontinental again if the price was right. I felt safe and the room was comfortable. My only advice would be to go across the street to the convenience store for bottled water so you don’t pay $2.50 for a bottle of water.

Book at the Real Intercontinental at Booking.com.

Guatemala, Travel

Where to Eat in Antigua Guatemala

May 28, 2019

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

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From traditional Guatemalan food to fine dining, the food scene in Antigua Guatemala is outstanding. There are so many places to eat in Antigua; you will never run out of new places to try. Here are my recommendations for where to eat in Antigua Guatemala.

Union Cafe

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

The food here is delicious and healthy! If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, Union Cafe needs to be your first stop in Antigua. I ate here several times during my stay. My favorites where the Chapin, which is the traditional Guatemala breakfast but served slightly different, and my other favorite was the vegetable quesadillas. Breakfast is served all day too! Breakfast comes with two coffees as well. If you want something besides, the coffee I recommend the Mint Lemonade with Chia Seeds or one of their outstanding smoothies. Both will leave you feeling refreshed. There are two locations for Union Cafe, and they are just down the street from each other. I recommend the one that is across the street from San Pedro church as it is bigger and has a lovely partially outdoor eating area.

Cafe Condesa

This cafe is right in the main square of Antigua. One of my friends who is from Guatemala recommended this place to me. They serve breakfast and have great sandwiches and quiches. On the weekend, they serve a buffet brunch. The coffee here is excellent, and so is the food. You can sit inside near the front door and do some people watching or sit in one of the open air patios inside. Do some shopping in their lovely shops located inside the restaurant. Cafe Condesa has been open since 1993 and definitely know what it is doing!

Samsara

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

This is another excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans. This is an Indian inspired cafe. I am not vegetarian or vegan but do enjoy the food, so when some girls from my hostel wanted to grab dinner here, I happily when along. It is very small inside so you may have to wait if it is full, but do wait! You won’t regret it. The menu is quite extensive, and I really had a hard time deciding what to get. We were brought out a sample of some soup. We asked what it was and they said it was vegetable soup from whatever they had left in the kitchen that day. It was so good, I almost canceled my order and asked for the soup. I had ordered the Sweet Potato Quesadilla, which was amazing and covered in cheese. For the vegans, they did ask if I wanted vegan cheese instead. Samsara also has a small amount of packaged food for purchase in the front.

Bella Vista Coffee

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

A friend of mine who lives in Antigua posted about this place on Instagram, and I knew I wanted to check it out. When you walk in, you may think you are in the wrong place as it looks like a wine shop and not much of a coffee shop. Walk past the wine, or don’t, and find the stairs. Upstairs is where you find the cafe area of Bella Vista Coffee and where you find out why it has this name. The balcony area offers excellent views of the Agua Volcano. The balcony area is covered, so you don’t have to worry about getting hot. Try the chicken and avocado sandwich! It is tasty and huge, leaving you full for the rest of the day. Bella Vista also serves breakfast. If you need a quick coffee fix, you can get coffee downstairs at the coffee bar to take away.

Caoba Farms

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Not only was the food great here, but Caoba Farms place has a beautiful atmosphere. It almost felt like I had been invited to a party. The farm is located a bit outside of Antigua, but they offer a shuttle that will take you to the farm and back to Antigua. I walked there and took the shuttle back. In addition to the restaurant, there is an organic grocery store, and on some days, there is a farmer’s market. I happened to go on the weekend so I got to see the farmers market, and there was live music. The falafel I had was delicious, and the homemade hummus was excellent. However, the pineapple smoothie was the best thing I had. It was tasty and filling!

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Rincon Tipico

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Another person in my hostel recommended this to me for an inexpensive place to eat lunch. She was not wrong! Rincon Tipico serves only lunch, and they make their food fresh, including the tortillas being made by hand in the entrance. For 30 Queztals you can choose your meat, and the meal comes with potatoes, coleslaw, tortillas, and a drink. 30 Queztals is about $4 US. The meat is cooked over a fire slowly. However, the potatoes are the star in my book. They were cooked in butter and garlic and melted in my mouth. I did not care for the horchata drink, but that is my personal preference. There was so much food; I took one of the tortillas home with me.

Bistrot Cinq

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

I had walked by this restaurant several times but initially I wasn’t interested as French food is not usually my thing. However, I was doing some research on where I should eat, and someone mentioned Bistrot Cinq. In their review, it mentioned gourmet macaroni and cheese. I was sold! After I finished my meal there, I declared it the best mac and cheese I had ever had. I looked at the menu again to see why. Their mac and cheese are made with truffle oil! That was it. Not only did they have the best mac and cheese but an excellent wine selection and a beautiful interior. Bistrot Cinq is fine dining, so this was the most expensive meal I had in Antigua but I still only spent about $26 including entree, wine, water, and tip!

La Cocina Del Obispo

Technically this gem of a restaurant is not in Antigua but in a village about two miles from Antigua, and I was lucky enough to be taken by a local, the housekeeper of my Airbnb. However, it had the best Guatemalan food I had while I was there. You can get there by taking a chicken bus to San Juan del Obispo, which is about $.50 each way! Get off the bus at the entrance to the village. Right after you walk into town, there is a house on the right, and it is La Cocina Del Obispo. They are only open on weekends for breakfast and lunch. My recommendation is the Chile Rellenos. You should also know that the menu was only in Spanish, so get your translation book ready. To get back to Antigua you can catch the bus outside the entrance to the village or walk up the hill towards the big church and the bus leaves from there also. The driver may not speak English, but you can tell him Antigua, and he will make sure you get out where you need to.

Roots

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Good food comes to those who wait! Roots prides itself on making everything fresh when you order it so if they are busy, you may have to wait a bit for your food. However, the food is totally worth waiting for. I ordered the Santa Fe Chicken Bowl. I didn’t expect the chicken to be the star of the dish, though. The chicken was so flavorful! Plus it came with about half an avocado! You can’t go wrong there. They also have some delicious looking smoothies.

Las Antorchas

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

Las Antorchas is primarily a steak restaurant, but I am not a big meat eater. However, I really wanted to eat there because the inside looks so pretty. I went during the week and fairly early in the evening, so there were not many other people there, so I had some fantastic service. I order the stuffed chicken with mushroom sauce. It came with rice and vegetables. The chicken was so good I ate everything else first so I could finish with the chicken. Later I was told this is a place that big tourist groups come so it may not be a good idea to go here if you want a quiet dinner.

Apetito

Here is another recommendation from another traveler I tried. She raved about the courtyard and the wine they had. I had wanted a pizza because sometimes you just do! I did have to wait a while as I ate there during Semana Santa and they were swamped. They did tell me in advance, so I wasn’t bothered by it. Apetito offers many different kinds of pizza and has several crust options. The pizza is cooked in a wood-burning oven giving it extra flavor. They also had a fantastic wine list. Eat outside to enjoy the magnificent courtyard. There is no picture of the pizza because it was too dark.

Yzote Kape

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala

This tiny food bar is located in the same courtyard as Apetito. They serve traditional pupusa. A pupusa is like a tortilla stuffed with ingredients. You can get plain cheese ones as well. You can get two pupusas here with a drink for 25 Queztals. Locals eat the pupusa with pickled cabbage and salsa. They are a filling inexpensive eat!

La Bruja

La Bruja is also in the same courtyard as Apetito and Yzote Kape. It serves vegetarian and vegan food. I was eating lunch with a vegetarian friend, so we want to try somewhere new. La Bruja has a huge menu, and you can build your own vegetarian/vegan burger! I went with the eggplant empanadas, and she had a vegan burger. Both were amazing! The burger was huge and came with fries. La Bruja service was also outstanding, and the prices were reasonable.

I hope this list of where to eat in Antigua Guatemala helps you give you a start to finding excellent food there. Have you been to Antigua and recommend a place I haven’t included on this list? Share with us in the comments!

Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala