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Life in Greece at This Time

March 22, 2020
Sailing the Greek Islands

Update March 23, 2020 – Greece is now under lockdown until at least April 6. 

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No one wants to read another article about the horrible c-word, I know! However, many of my readers only read my content here and not on social media. This includes many of my friends. So in an effort to make sure you know I am all okay, I thought this would be a much simpler option.

Greece Precautions

Greece is not in total lockdown yet. The government has been proactive in trying to stay ahead of this virus. Three weeks ago, Carnival was canceled as I was on a ferry to Naxos to celebrate it. Then last week, they asked us, in an emergency alert, to stay home as much as possible.

Two weeks ago, I had been out at a crowded bar thinking this was almost over. China had it under control and many other Asian countries did as well. By that weekend, everything had changed. Bars, restaurants, clubs and many other social establishments had been ordered to close.

When it got serious in Italy, I knew Greece was also going to get serious too. This week has brought more and more measures. All shops except for grocery stores, pharmacies, bakeries and banks are closed. You can get food to go or coffee and delivery though. Although, I think some food places have opted to close altogether.

Friday, they announced that ferries to the islands will only carry island residents and cargo. Many islands do not have a hospital and some only have small clinics so they are trying to limit the possible transition from the mainland. Anyone getting the virus there would be in greater danger due to a lack of medical resources or would have to be sent to Athens or Thessaloniki.

Every day brings a new challenge for me. Fortunately, I already work at home so that isn’t a big deal. I do have asthma, although it isn’t severe, I am being extra careful. I don’t go out every day. I have washed my hands a million times and on Friday, I wash my groceries off before putting them away. I also don’t have a washing machine so I will be hand washing many things in my future as I am not really wanting to risk the laundromat right now. These are all small things though and I will figure it out.

Expat Decisions

The biggest issue for me was when there were rumors on the media of the airport closing. This meant if there was an emergency at home I wouldn’t be able to fly home to my family.  My parents are in their 70s and relatively healthy but still a concern. My nieces also live with them and if my parents were ill then they would be alone.

I am sure friends and family would help but I couldn’t ask them to step in for a long period of time. Plus, I would need to be there to make decisions for my parents. All of this is theoretical obviously, but it is the thing that keeps me up at night and me yelling at my parents to stay home.

On Thursday, the US State Department asked Americans not to travel and to return home. This made me pause a bit because they said we might be stuck abroad for a long period of time.  However, this has been my plan for a while. I was not planning on returning to the US until December for Christmas. But it is scary when you realize you may not have the option because the borders are closed.

The situation the world is in right now is almost unprecedented. Only World War II seems to be similar and most of the people that lived through that are now gone leaving us without their knowledge of how to survive this. I just keep remembering that we at least have the internet and television now. We can do this. Life may never be the same and maybe that is a good thing.

Be safe everyone! Stay home!

 

Greece, Travel

What to Pack for Greece

February 17, 2020
What to pack for Greece

Visiting Greece is on many people’s lists but what to pack for Greece is one of the most frequent questions that I see and get. For the most part, packing for Greece is pretty easy. However, there are things you should keep in mind with packing for a trip to Greece. This list what to pack for 10 days in  Greece.

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Most people will visit Greece in summer so this Greek packing list is a summer list.

What to Wear in Athens

Almost everyone that visits Greece will spend at least one day in Athens. Athens is an old city and many of the sidewalks are in need of some help. They are also often made of marble which is slippery even on a dry day!

Stick with flat shoes and sneakers for lots of walking. Many of the ancient sites are within walking distance and it isn’t worth getting on the metro to reach them.

People dress up in Athens but not so much as say in New York City. Dinner out can be formal or casual depending on where you want to go. I would also say that darker colors are favored amongst the Athenian crowd so dress similarly if you want to blend in with the locals.

Make sure to keep valuables near your person in Athens because like in many big cities pickpocketing can be an issue at tourist sites and the metro.

What to Wear on the Greek Islands

Dressing on a Greek island is less formal than in Athens. You will see everything as well. Shorts during the day are common and even at night on most islands. I like to wear a casual dress on the islands for dinner though. However, no one will care if you wear your nice shorts for the restaurant though.

Even in the summer months, it can get cool at night on the islands so you may want a light jacket or cardigan for the evenings. Also a pair of pants. Take an umbrella or a rain jacket in case it rains.

The pants are also good for taking the ferry where the air conditioning can be intense!

Light colors are best for the islands since the heat and the white of the buildings can make it seem hotter than it is. Choose cotton clothing that is breathable and dries fast.

Packing List for Greece

Three Dresses –  One nice dress for a nice dinner out. The others can be a casual dress for walking around in the day or used as a swimsuit cover-up.

3 Shorts  – It gets hot in Athens in the summer. Bring ones that are cotton and easily washable. I love linen shorts for all my hot weather travels, such as these.

Pants – One should be fine unless you are in Greece in September. Then you might want it for the evening. Jeans are an option as well.

5 Shirts – Make sure the colors match all your bottom pieces. These should be cotton or lightweight material. You will feel cooler this way.

One pair of walking sandals – Athen is very hilly and as mentioned the sidewalks are made of marble. I have fallen in Toms walking in Athens. You will need something with a good grip on the sole. I love these closed toed ones from Keen. You might be more comfortable in sneakers for the traction.

Dressy sandals – You will want something nicer for dinners out but make sure they have a good grip as well.

Flip flops  – Flip flops are essential for visiting a Greek beach. The sand can be hot and you won’t want to use your nicer sandals since the sand will come back to hotel with you.

Light cardigan – Nights can be chilly here even in summer since it is close to the sea. You may want a light layer to take with you at night. This cardigan is similar to the one I have.

Tesalate Beach Towel – You will need to bring your own beach towel as you can’t rent them on the beach and the hotels usually don’t let you take theirs to the beach.

This beach towel is the best beach towel I have found to date. The towel repels sand which is great when you are on a Greek beach! Your hotel will be sand free thanks to this beach towel. The Tesalate towel is compact and comes in tons of beautiful patterns.

You can even get a double for a couple or families. I also liked it because it is quick dry meaning it could be used as a travel towel. (I was gifted a Tesalate towel but all opinions are my own.)

Tesalate Towel on a chair near the sea

Beach bag – A bag to take your towel, sunscreen and book is necessary since you will not want to take a nice handbag to the beach. I like to bring a reusable tote bag that can double as a grocery bag or laundry bag. Like many countries in Europe, Greece grocery stores charge for using plastic bags.

2 Swimsuits –  You will want to swimsuits even for a short trip since it can be really humid in Greece in the summer. It might take a day to dry out and no one likes putting on a wet suit.

Sunglasses – The Greek sun is intense and even more so when it is being reflected off the white buildings of the Cycladic islands. Pack at least one pair and bring backup in case you lose yours in the sea.

Pajamas – Obviously you will want something to sleep in. This can be tricky in Greece as many hotels will only offer a sheet on the bed. I think this is because Greeks don’t sleep with the air conditioning on so you won’t want a heavy blanket. However, you may want the air conditioning on so bring the PJs you will be comfortable in.

Camera – You will want a camera for all the beautiful scenery you will be seeing in Greece. I used a Sony A7rii camera, which I love. However, it may be more than you want. Here is a good Sony camera alternative to it if you are looking for a good camera that is easy to use.

Laptop or Tablet – Most you won’t need a laptop on vacation but you may want it for entertainment on the plane or in the hotel in the evening. A few times I have been in Greek hotels without any English channels. A tablet is also a good option and may offer you a way to read some books on your beach vacation.

Packing cubes – Want to pack a bit more without having to bring a bigger suitcase? Consider using packing cubes to compress your clothes.  I use them on every trip and prefer the Eagle Creek brand packing cubes.

Water bottle  – Water on the islands is not drinkable but you can refill a water bottle at some city water fountains on the Greek islands. They look like fancy places to wash your hands or feet but they are actually potable water. It is a good place to fill up rather than having to buy plastic water bottles all the time, plus its better for the environment.

Toiletries  – Bring the minimum you will need to survive a night or two. After that, you can purchase larger toiletries in the pharmacy in Athens or the islands. Some of my favorite Greek cosmetic brands are found in the pharmacies and not in the grocery stores. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

This will save you weight and space in your toiletry bag plus you get a useable souvenir if you don’t use them all.

Backpack or Suitcase

Personally I think this is a matter of preference but many people will want to know what kind of suitcase to bring to Greece. If you aren’t island hopping then a rolling suitcase is fine in Athens since you will most likely check in to one hotel and not move around.

If you are going to an island after visiting Athens you might want a backpack as it will make walking to the ferry or your island hotel much easier since the sidewalks can be uneven on the islands as well as in Athens.

I personally take a rolling suitcase on almost all longer trips. It makes getting on the Greek ferry easier for me and saves my back. I also arrange transport on the islands with the hotel or take a taxi for arrival.

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. This is a sponsored post.

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.

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.