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Europe, Netherlands, Travel

Visiting Amsterdam at Christmas

January 27, 2020

I have only spent Christmas alone once before at that was in Rome. When spending Christmas alone, it is important for me to have something to do on Christmas morning.

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Amsterdam at Christmas was a perfect place because almost all the museums are open on Christmas day. Plus there are tons of things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas time.

Christmas Markets

There are Christmas markets all over Amsterdam and most are open up until Christmas. One I found was even open on Christmas Day. Here are some of the best Amsterdam Christmas markets to explore.

Ice Village

This Christmas market is located in the Museumplein right behind the Rijksmuseum. The market has a variety of stalls that sell handmade items such as jewelry, postcards and hand knits. There are also a variety of food stalls selling everything from BBQ to stroopwafels. Drink options included beer, mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Ice Village skating rink

The market also had a large outdoor ice skating rink. The rink was filled with kids and they even offer chairs to help you skate if you are out of practice!

The Ice Village was open Christmas day as well making it an ideal place to visit after visiting a museum or two beforehand.

Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt

This mostly indoor Christmas market is located in Westergas, Amsterdam. Westergas used to be the city’s gas works and now hosts creative activities throughout the year.

Outside the market are the food stalls, a small ice rink and even a carousel. Inside, there are plenty of vendors to shop from. I saw homemade products such as jewelry, art and food. There was even a Lush stall!

Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt inside

Bingo was being played on the day I went inside. There were some food stalls inside as well with places to sit.

Some of the small buildings in the Westergas complex had shops inside them as well.

Funky Xmas Market

Also held at Westergas, the Funky Xmas Market is held the three Sundays leading up to Christmas day. This market features items from local artists and fashion designers.

Amsterdam Winter Paradise

This market as all the traditional things you would find at the other Amsterdam Christmas markets but also includes a ferris wheel! You can also go tube sliding on real snow. The festive spirit continues into the night at this market with live music.

Museums, Museums, Museums

Almost all the major museums in Amsterdam are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. This was the main reason I chose Amsterdam for my Christmas alone. I love museums and Amsterdam has some of the best ones in the world.

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum cannot be missed when you arrive at the Museumplein area. It is the large castle-like structure that dominates the area.

The museum is home to over 1 million artifacts! It has a variety of objects on display including paintings, Delftware, ship models, clothing and dollhouses. It is probably one of the most eclectic museums I have ever been inside.  The only museum that I can compare it to would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The museum is open on Christmas Day and has plenty of things to keep you busy for the entire day if you want. You can also get a good meal at the Cafe or the Rijks Restaurant.

Be sure to check out the Night Watch, which is Rembrandt’s most famous painting. Starting in 2019, it underwent a yearlong restoration in the public eye. Depending on when you go, you may still be able to check out the restoration process live.

Anne Frank House

Visiting the Anne Frank House while in Amsterdam is a must for most visitors. My advice is that no matter when you are visiting Amsterdam is to book your ticket to this immediately. I booked my ticket about three weeks before I arrived and the only option I had was Christmas Eve at night.

Needless to say, the visit was worth it. The museum has been kept pristine and much of that is thanks to Otto Frank, Anne’s father. He kept it as it was when he was freed from the concentration camps. Even the original bookcase that blocked the secret entrance is still in place.

It isn’t an easy place to visit and even on Christmas Eve it was crowded. However, the magnitude of hiding in a place for two years only to be discovered after the war was officially over and then to be sent to the camps is shocking. The house is a moving experience.

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum was my choice to visit on Christmas Day in Amsterdam. I thought it would be a popular place to visit on a regular day but it was even packed on Christmas Day.

Van Gogh's Sunflowers

It was worth seeing the Sunflowers though on Christmas morning. My advice would be to book an early morning ticket so that you might avoid some of the crowds.

I also recommend the audio guide to help you understand some of the paintings and to better understand Van Gogh’s life.

Book your Van Gogh Museum ticket here.

After leaving the Van Gogh museum, you can walk down to the Ice Village Christmas market for some poffertjes. Poffertjes are similar to an American pancake but are made with buckwheat and yeast. They are small and puffy served with butter and powdered sugar. Some stalls will let you add Nutella or chocolate.

Stedelijk Museum

If modern art is more your thing, you must visit the Stedelijk Museum.  The Stedelijk is open Christmas Day as well. It features artists such as Jackson Pollack, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol. The Stedelijk is not on the Museumplein but is accessible by public transportation.

Light Festival

While the Amsterdam Light Festival starts well before the Christmas season, you can easily add it to your Christmas activities list while in the city. The Light Festival is an art installation that happens every year and each year is a different theme.

Light Festival installation of sinking city

Many of the installations are located in or near the canals. This makes it a great opportunity to take a canal cruise and see the lights at the same time.

Book your canal cruise here.

The art is from artists all over the world and the installations must be able to withstand the wet Dutch winter.

Food and Drink

Of course, you will want to sample all the food that Amsterdam as to offer at Christmas. I already mentioned the poffertjes and of course, stroopwafels. But to really get a taste you need to head to Foodhallen.

Pulled pork sandwich from Foodhallen

Foodhallen is a food hall with lots of options. What I liked about it was that you order food in one place and then there is community seating so you can sit anywhere. There are also several bars with beer, wine and a gin and tonic bar! There was even a small Christmas market here too.

The Netherlands is known for its tulips and windmills. Since it wasn’t tulip season, I decide to visit a microbrewery in a windmill! Ok, it is actually next to it in a former bathhouse, but it is still pretty cool. The beer was excellent as well. The windmill is the DeGooyer windmill and the brewery is the Brouwerij ‘t IJ.

Beer at Windmill brewery Amsterdam

Where to Stay in Amsterdam at Christmas

There are tons of hotel options in Amsterdam but I prefer to be near the museums and not in the city center. My recommendation is Park Centraal Amsterdam. It is right near the Museumplein and close to public transportation. Check rates here.

Public Transportation at Christmas in Amsterdam

The public transportation ran on Christmas Day. The schedule was a Sunday schedule but seemed pretty regular to me. There were times it was more crowded though. You can buy a ticket on the tram in the back of the tram. My advice is to purchase a pass for the amount of time you will be there as it saves you money and time.

Have you been to Amsterdam at Christmas? Share your experience in the comments.

Greece, Travel

4 Islands You Don’t Want to Miss While Yachting in Greece

January 13, 2020
Sailboat masts

Resort holidays are a thing of the past, or at least they should be. The new generation of travelers are using their vacations for experiences that were once only available to an exclusive elite class of travelers. Now, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of the opportunities we have available to us at astonishingly low prices. Holiday experiences don’t get much better than island hopping in your own rented yacht around Greek islands.

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But which ones to choose? The first thing to accept is that you’ll never get to them all, there are simply too many. And that’s Greece’s biggest advantage – one overarching culture, but countless islands that thrill with their quirks and nuances, yet still provide all the highest quality Greek wine and olive oil with every meal.

Though this quick guide offers reasons to stop by at the most well-known as well as the least visited Greek islands, it’s just a tiny appetizer to whet your Greek palate.

Tinos

Tinos

Tinos is an island in the Cyclades Archipelago with a cozy population of around 9,000 people, situated just North of one of Greece’s most famous islands – Mykonos.

It’s a minor haven for architecture and history aficionados who come to marvel at the Our Lady of Tinos shrine, said to be the major Marian shrine in Greece. It is a Christian site believed to be the source of numerous miracles. From its hilltop perch, you’ll be able to embrace the majesty of creation with a tremendous view looking over towards Mykonos and around the Mediterranean. It is one of the founding structures of the modern Greek state, making the Lady of Tinos the patron saint of Greece.

Of course, islands of Greece are never lacking in stunning beaches for you to drop anchor at. Many beaches on Tinos island are “untouched” as far as Greek islands go, especially compared to neighboring Mykonos.

Kolimpithra beach is a small cove with a few restaurants that only ever attracts modest crowds. Kavalourko beach is barely accessible by road, so it’s a perfect destination for the kitted-out yachtsman. There are no restaurants except in the nearest town Panormos, so bring your own food and drinks and enjoy picnicking with other sailors at this untouched haven.

Mykonos

Mykonos, Greece

Although Mykonos is very heavily touristed, it still retains its charm, and there’s a reason people keep flocking back: its beaches are simply to die for.

But one of the major draws of Mykonos is how accessible it is, it’s a great destination to start off the trip, simply fly-in, charter a yacht and set sail to other destinations. Because of its popularity, it’s a great place to get chatting with other people who are sailing around the islands and get some first-hand tips for some restaurants, beaches and anchoring spots around the islands. Enthusiastic travelers are sure to overhear and join in on offering some advice over a glass of Greek wine.

Hydra

Hydra, Greece

Leonard Cohen has captured the hearts of millions worldwide, and Hydra is the Aegean island that pulled at his heartstrings and became his spiritual home. He wrote many of his songs in the house he bought here in 1960. Here, you can walk in the footsteps of Greek and musical legends!

Now, Hydra – named after the Greek word for water because of the islands numerous natural spring waters – is a tourist’s paradise without the over-tourism of Santorini. Small, uninhabited islets still sit off the shores of the main island of Hydra.

It is a picture-perfect island of narrow stone streets leading to plazas dotted with tables for outdoor dining, perfect for enjoying the cool evening breeze after sunset in summer. Prepare to sink into your thoughts uninterrupted, as you won’t hear much English from the tables beside you.

This island is really most popular with Athenians looking to get away for a bit, meaning the standards of food and wine are kept extremely high for the Greek national tastes.

For daytime exploring, there are tons of beaches, ruins, fortresses and history to absorb, dating from antiquity through to the Ottoman era and right up to the Greek War of Independence. 

Oh! And prepare to walk, cycle or ride donkeys… cars are banned on this island!

Elafonisos

Elafonisos, Greece

This little-visited tiny island just to the south of the Peloponnese peninsula boasts the world’s oldest submerged town called Pavlopetri. Its shallow submersion of only 4 meters means it can be easily snorkeled to gaze down at the ruins of Greece’s mini Atlantis.

Visiting islands as small as this means you never have to worry about fussing over restaurant choices, there aren’t many, and the ones you do find will all be great quality, serving some of its 600 locals and tourists alike. This is one island to make you feel like you’re part of something, rather than just an observer.

Sailing Season

The sailing season in Greece happens twice a year starting in May and June. Then again in August and September. Anytime outside this time is possible, but you should keep in mind the wind and the temperature of the water.

Greece, Travel

Best Things to do in Milos

October 14, 2019
Things to do In Milos

Milos is the southwesternmost island in the Cyclades island group in Greece. Milo is also a volcanic island and you can see the shape of it when looking at the map. If you arrive by ferry, you will arrive in the ancient caldera that has created a natural harbor. Despite the island’s small size, there are plenty of things to do in Milos.

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.

Visit the Fishing Village of Klima

The village of Klima clings to the cliffsides of Milos and it one of the first villages you might see when entering the harbor. It is a fishing village. The little houses with boat storage underneath line the beach. All of the houses are brightly colored making for a colorful photograph. It is a great way to see how fishermen lived. Nowadays, many of the houses are not used or are used as vacation rentals.

Klima Milos

The only direct way to get to Klima is to rent a car and drive. During the high season, you could get the bus to the Catacombs and walk down from there. Please note, there is limited parking at Klima and the road it narrow to get down. There is a restaurant as well if you want to eat and watch the boats go by. It may be closed during the off-season though.

See the moon beach of Sarakiniko Beach

Many people have seen pictures of the stunning white beach of Sarakiniko. Some people liken it to the moon. It is unlike anything I have seen before. The turquoise and blue water next to it make for a striking combination. I probably could have walked around this beach for hours taking photos. However, the white makes it really hot to walk around for long without getting in the water.

Sarakiniko

Sarakiniko

There are two ways to get in the water, jump in from the cliffside. Most of them were not too high, just make sure there are no rocks below you. The other way is to walk around to the inlet where there is a small beach. You can see how in this video.

If you go in the high season, I recommend getting there early as it will be crowded if you wait till the afternoon. During the high season, the bus goes there regularly. If not, you will need to rent a car or arrange for a taxi. It is only about a 15-minute drive from Adamas.

Walk the Quaint Streets of Plaka

Plaka is the capital of Milos. It is located up on a hill overlooking the harbor near the entrance. I can only imagine this was done on purpose to be on the lookout for any invaders. Plaka is one of those Greek villages you see in photos stuck in another time. The views from Plaka are stunning. Be sure to see the view from the Catholic Church in Plaka, Milos.

Plaka Milos

Due to its location and age, you cannot drive very far into Plaka. There is also limited parking so taking the bus is a good option.

Eat at Marianna in Adamas

Unlike many of the Greek Islands I have been to, the port area of Milos is on the small side and only offers a few restaurants. The best one we ate at was Marianna. It serves traditional Greek food. The restaurant faces the water and offers a nice view.

We ate there twice it was so good. I love eggplant and they make the best imam I have ever had. Imam is a roasted eggplant dish that has onions, tomato sauce and feta cheese on it. At Marianna’s, it was fire-roasted and you could taste it in the flavors. I ordered it both times I went to eat there. Panos was our waiter both times and he was great!

Visit the Village of Pollonia

Another great village to visit is Pollonia. It is quiet and has a small beach in town. Many people opt to stay here instead of Adamas. You can catch the ferry to the island of Kimolos from here. I would say this is a good place to stay if you want quiet and a calm beach.

The bus goes to Pollonia and there are plenty of restaurants so you could just walk everywhere in town.

Enjoy the Waters at Achivadolimni Beach

The waters are so clear at Achivadolimni beach, you would think you were in the Caribbean. The sand is deep and soft even into the water. The water was even warm by my standards. It would be a good beach for kids as well as you can walk out a way before it gets really deep. The beach is opposite of Adamas and offers good views of the port.

Explore the Milos Catacombs

How the ancient citizens of Milos dug these catacombs into the side of the hill in Milos is beyond me. However, they are amazing. you can’t go through them all because they have not all be excavated and it is a safety issue. The guide takes you down with a flashlight. There is some lighting down there so don’t be concerned. It was interesting to see how these catacombs are similar to other ones I have seen, although without bones. There were very few bones when the catacombs were discovered and they have been removed for their preservation.

Milos catacombs

Swim at Platheina Beach

This secluded Milos beach was visible from the Catholic church in Plaka and we knew we needed to visit it. Again we found a beach with Caribbean colored waters. The best thing was that there was almost no one there! I think there were ten people total on the beach. The bus does not go to this beach though so rent a car, trust me it is worth it!

Platheina Beach

We were only in Milos for two days but there are over 70 beaches on Milos so you could stay for a long time just exploring beaches. Milos was different than many Greek islands and at first, I was disappointed but once I saw the amazing views and waters, I was in love. Maybe one day, I will go back and explore them all!

Where to Stay in Milos

Looking for a Milos hotel? Here are three I recommend in Adamas, Santa Maria Village, Arco Solium Suites and Milos Bay Suites. If you are looking for something outside of Adamas, click here to check rates and locations.

How to Get to Milos

Milos is accessible by ferry or by airplane. The ferries run from Athens and many other islands. If you arrive by ferry you will arrive in the Adamas port, which is the main town. If you arrive by airplane you will be a short drive away from Adamas. Depending on the time of year you go to Milos island, there may be several flights and ferries a day. Please check the schedules in advance.

If you have any questions, please ask me in the comments. Also, have you been to Milos? Let me know what else you recommend.

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Greece, Hotel/Accommodation, Travel

Santa Maria Village Milos, Greece

October 7, 2019

Finding a place to stay on a Greek Island is pretty easy especially during the off-season but finding a place that is comfortable, has an incredible view with amazing staff is more difficult to find. This is what I found when I stay at Santa Maria Village in Milos, Greece. Please note that this stay was complimentary but all views are my own.

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.

The Location

Normally in one of these hotel review posts, I don’t cover the location first, but the location made this hotel. Not because it was close to anything but because of the views from the hotel. From the pool, the hotel faces west and you can see the port town of Adamas, Milos. It also means the sunsets from here are stunning. Watch the sunset till it gets dark as it changes as the sun dips further down.

Sunset from the Santa Maria Village Hotel

Milos is a narrow island at some points and because of Santa Maria’s location, you can also see the sunrise. The best place to see the sunrise is from right in front of the door to reception.

The hotel is a short drive away from the port and you can walk it if you don’t mind a small hill. One night, after we had dropped off our rental car we walked back and it was pretty easy and most of the path was lit.

View of Adamas from Santa Maria Village Hotel

The Room

The room size was good. My friend and I shared a room and they had set it up with two twin beds. It even had a twin bed that acted as a sofa. I ended up sleeping on the sofa as it was a bit softer than the regular bed. While the room wasn’t updated, it was comfortable and there was a new air conditioning unit. There was plenty of space for two people.

Santa Maria Village

Our room overlooked a garden area and had a patio to sit on. It was very quiet, which I loved. Our room was across from the pool so we had easy access to it without the pool noise.

The Facilities

All of the Santa Maria Village hotel was beautiful and the pool was outstanding. It was large and very clean. There was plenty of poolside seating. Even though the hotel did not have a restaurant, the poolside bar offered sandwiches and pizza.

Pool at Santa Maria Village Hotel

Breakfast was served in the lobby area with seating outside under the pergola. It was a lovely setting. The breakfast itself was great. Lots of options including eggs, pastries, deli meat and cakes. We had to leave before breakfast was served but it was ready and they welcomed us to take some things with us.

There is also a spa, which we did not have the chance to use the spa but we spoke to someone who used it and they said it was great. They mostly only offer massages but you could also get your nails done.

You need a car to properly explore Milos and you would need one to get to and from this hotel. However, the quiet location and views made it worth it to me and I would definitely return.

Want to book the Santa Maria Village hotel, click here for rates.

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Sunset over the pool