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England, Europe, Travel

London from the River: A Photo Essay

May 1, 2017

London from the RiverThis last weekend in London, I spent much of my time on or near the Thames River. Viewing London from the river gives you a different perspective of the city, especially at night. Many of these photos were taken on a river cruise from the Thames barrier to Westminster, but you can also enjoy walking along the Thames to enjoy the same views by walking on the Thames Path.

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London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

London from the River

Europe, Georgia, Travel

10 Fun Things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia

April 3, 2017

Things to do in Tbilisi

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Going to a city where you have done very little research in advance is sometimes an advantage. This was the case for me in Tbilisi, Georgia because I was going on a student field trip and we had a tour guide. Most of the itinerary was planned by the students and the tour guide.  However, I found joy in learning about everything in the moment. Here are my ten things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia.

1. Eat a Churchkhela!

Things to do in Tbilisi

This is the traditional Georgian sweet you will see hanging outside of many shops in Tbilisi. It is made of nuts, usually walnuts; then it is dipped in a mixture of grape juice and cornmeal. It sounds a bit strange, but it tastes good. It isn’t too sweet, and it keeps for a long time. I ate mine over three days!

2. Take the cable car

Things to do in Tbilisi

The cable car is meant to take you to the Narikala Fortress, but the view of Tbilisi from the cable car is not to be missed. And this is coming from someone who is afraid of heights! Best of all it is 1 Lari.

3. Climb the Narikala Fortress

Things to do in Tbilisi

For an even better view of Tbilisi, climb the fortress once you are up there. On one side is Tbilisi and the other is the botanical gardens. This was one of the best things to do in Tbilisi.

4. Visit the Mother of Georgia

Things to do in Tbilisi

You will see this metal statute from just about everywhere in Tbilisi, and while you are up visiting the fortress, you can walk down the path to see her up close. She was once made of wood.

5. Visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

Things to do in Tbilisi

This ancient looking cathedral was actually finished in 2004! The architecture is amazing, and the inside is still being finished. However, I found the inside fascinating as you can see what is planned and if you stay for a while, you might be able to see how much progress happens.

6. Try the local wine

Things to do in Tbilisi

Georgia is known for having a huge wine culture. It was everywhere. Since I was on a student field trip, I could not partake, but I hear it’s great.

7. Walk across the Bridge of Peace

Things to do in Tbilisi

This pedestrian bridge links old Tbilisi to the new district of Tbilisi. It offers great views of the Kura River.

8. Eat a traditional Georgian meal

Things to do in Tbilisi

The food in Georgia was so fresh and most of it homemade. Try the bread they eat for breakfast; I can’t seem to find the name of it. It is a long strip of bread and is baked over a fire. Eat the lobio, which is a bean soup and will probably be called that in English. The Georgians are also whizzes at dishes with nuts and potatoes, get the roasted ones. My favorite thing was the eggplant slices with a walnut filling! If you have a nut allergy, be careful in Georgia as even salads had nuts on them.

9. Explore old Tbilisi

Things to do in Tbilisi

The architecture in old Tbilisi is so odd and interesting. Some building looked like they would fall down at any moment and some, especially the churches, looked like they would last another 500 years. The bricks are also very different from what I am used to seeing and I loved them.

10. Visit Metekhi Church

Things to do in Tbilisi

Sitting across the river from old Tbilisi, it overlooks the whole old city. The view is great, and you can get up close to the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali.

There are tons more to things do in Tbilisi, but these are the things I really enjoyed. Most of these things were inexpensive or free as well making Georgia a great place to spend an extended amount of time in.

Have you been to Tbilisi? What was your favorite part?

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

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

March 1, 2017

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

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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

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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 has been good. Santorini is the exception to this. I didn’t fall in love with Santorini as so many people do, 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. This was after the summer crowds have left Santorini.

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 high 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 overpriced designer beachwear. 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 whitewashed 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 what 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 number 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?