Top Travel Memories From 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to share some of my top travel memories, via photos.  I went to some pretty amazing places this year, and had some fantastic experiences.

Walking along the old city walls in Chania, Crete

Elafonisi Beach, Crete

Climbing the rock cliffs by the Akatori Lighthouse, Santorini, Greece.

All of the “city dogs” everywhere in Greece

Waking up to this view every day for a week in Catalonia

Our rental home in San Pere de Ribes, Catalonia

Attending Buona Festa Major in San Pere de Ribes, Catalonia

Exploring the Monistraki Neighborhood of Athens

So what does 2019 hold in terms of travel? Well, that’s to be determined! Probably some more local places, possibly a road trip, maybe organizing some yoga retreats (once I’m certified), who knows, I’m still determining. Whatever it involves, I’ll be documenting it. In the mean time, stay tuned in early 2019 as I count down some of my favorite cities, towns, adventures, hotels, and tours from over the years, plus, new adventures!

Until then, happy new year, and happy travels!



Catalonia – Beyond Barcelona

This past summer, we vacationed in Catalonia. If you’re unfamiliar with Catalonia, it’s the region of Spain in which Barcelona sits, and one of the country’s 17 autonomous regions. While each of Spain’s regions is distinct, Catalonia is especially independent – in addition to having its own customs and culture, it has its own language (though we got by decently well with limited Spanish).  If you’ve watched the news at all in the last year, you’ve probably seen reports on Catalonia’s attempt to separate from Spain all together, and the political upheaval that its caused. Given this, it might seem like a less than peaceful destination. But having been there twice in the past year, I can decidedly say that I felt completely safe, and that the house we rented outside the small town of San Pere de Ribes was one of the most peaceful, idyllic spots I’ve ever stayed.


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“San what de what?”, you might say. If you’re not familiar with this town nestled in the mountains about an hour outside of Barcelona (with traffic), you’re not alone. It’s not particularly a tourist destination, nor does it have any major “must see” sights.  It’s mountains overlooking farmland, with a (comparatively) small town center that boasts a surprising number of cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. It sits on the edge of Garraf National Park, as 12,820 hectare park that is popular with hikers, is about fifteen minutes from the well-known seaside resort town of Sitges, and if you’re looking for a quieter spot where you can enjoy nature and relax, yet not be completely isolated, it’s an ideal location. Not to mention, the day trip possibilities for those who want to get out and about in the region are numerous.

The house we rented was approximately a mile from the town center, and sits perched up in the hills with a view of the entire valley below. This house was, in a word, perfection. If you’re interested in doing Catalonia and staying outside of the city, I highly recommend renting a house (this one if it makes sense for your group/budget), renting a car (definitely would aim for an AWD/SUV), and doing day trips from the countryside.  While there is so much to do in this region it’s near impossible to describe it in a single post, here were the highlights from our trip.

  • Montserrat:  Montserrat is a region, and a famous monastery, about one and a half to two hours drive north of San Pere de Ribes. The drive itself is gorgeous, if not for the faint of heart in some places. You drive along the windy roads and hairpin turns,  that traverse up the mountains, jagged peaks on one side, steep drop into the valley below on the other (let me note here, I was not the driver). Once you get to the abbey, or near it, there are several parking lots (they do charge, and you pay on the way out) at the base. You have to walk a bit uphill to reach the area where the abbey is, but it’s nothing horrendous. From here, you have the option to go into the abbey and, if you choose, stand in line to see/touch the Black Madonna – it’s only open at certain times, and the line is literally out the door, so we did not take this option. We did wander through the abbey, which is gorgeous in and of itself.  In addition to visiting the monastery, you can take one of several funiculars, or mountain trains, to either reach the cave of Santa Cova, for general viewing points, or to reach walking/hiking points in the area. Had there not been a group of about 15 and had it not been past lunch time when we got out of the abbey, we may have done this. You can learn more about them here. Montserrat is definitely a place worth visiting, and we absolutely could have spent time there hiking and seeing more. There’s also a boys choir that’s quite renown, but they were on holiday when we were there. Montserrat is absolutely the visit, but definitely do your research and have a plan before you go.

*A note: Montserrat is not a place for super little kids. Partly because it’s on the side of a mountain and walking can be strenuous. More because there’s someone that understandably but obnoxiously walks around overtly “shushing” people in the abbey literally every five minutes, if not more frequently. If he hears a peep, you get shushed. While I understand the need for quiet respect, his efforts were to the point of distraction and honestly took away from the experience, since the loudest sound I heard the whole time we were in the abbey were his shushes. So I’d steer from taking little kids who you think might not be able to stay basically silent during the whole visit.  


Montserrat abbey and Mountains


Inside the Montserrat Basillica


View looking down from Montserrat


The mountains


  • Sitges. Sitges is about 15 minutes by car from San Pere de Ribes, and is well known for its beaches and promenade, it’s pedestrian shopping and dining town center, it’s mansions/expensive real estate, and as an LGBT-friendly destination. If you were to picture an upscale, Spanish (Catalonian), beach bustling beach resort city, that’s Sitges. For dining, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan, or looking for a variety of ethnic cuisine (in addition to Catalonian/Spanish), it’s the place to dine out. There are bakeries and coffee shops every five feet, and it even has a couple of breweries. A note about Sitges beaches: many are topless optional, and a few are clothing optional. If you are adverse to this, or have little kids that you are averse to being on a topless/clothing optional beach, it may not be the place to visit for beach time. You can certainly still enjoy the town and all it has to offer, but you may want to head somewhere else for the family beach day. That said, a large number of Spain’s beaches (and really Europe’s) are topless optional, so if this is a concern, you’ll have to plan your beach time carefully.


Believe it or not, these narrow streets of Sitges are not pedestrian walkways. But there is a large pedestrian area in the city center.


  • Villanueva y Geltrú: This town gets my vote for a beach day hands down. This beach is significantly more local than Sitges. It began as a fishing town, and still operates as an important fishing port today, though the town has grown up around it. The beach here is wider, less crowded, and the water is gorgeous. Plus, the town of Vallanueva y Geltru itself is worth the visit. It has a La Ramblas, much like Barcelona’s (but smaller), plazas surrounded by restaurants and shops, architecture worth noting, and it’s known throughout the country for its unique and copious festivals and celebrations.


Beach goers enjoy the water at Vallanueva y Geltru


Beach at Villanueva y Geltru


Square in Villanueva


Villanueva’s Las Ramblas


  • Tarragona: About an hour-ish drive from San Pere de Ribes,  Tarragona is a port city known for its Roman ruins and its human towers. We combined it with Vallanueva y Geltru, due to time constraints, but it absolutely could be a full day trip on its own. It’s amphitheater, adjacent to the coast, archeological museum, and  the Pretori i Circ Romans – home to chariot races in the last 1st Century, and the Pretori tower, are all relatively well-preserved remnants of it’s Roman past. The city’s Cathedral is also magnificent, and absolutely worth the visit. Outside of the city center, you can find the Aqueduct and the Necropolis museum, if you have more time.  As for the human towers, or castells, we sadly were not there during prime “human tower season”, but if you’re planning trip to Tarragona, or Catalonia in general, this fall, you might be in luck, as the Human Tower Competition is Oct 6th and 7th this year!  Tarragona, like basically every coastal city, has its beaches – I just did not make it to them.



  • Garraf Beach: If you’re looking for a particularly local beach, and a beautiful drive, head to Garraf beach. Even if you aren’t really in the beach mood, the windy road that traverses along the coast from San Pere de Ribes is worth the drive. The beach is not super large, but the surf is a bit more intense for those looking for waves, and it definitely has a local feel. A few notes for heading here: 1.) There is a parking lot, but you need to drive over a curb to get there, as there’s literally no actual entrance, and parking is rather haphazard – people just squeeze their cars in where they can, with no real order. 2.) It is indeed topless optional. 3.) While at other beaches I didn’t see much lifeguard presence, Garraf beach had  both lifeguards seated in chairs, as well as patrolling the beach. Between this and the surf, this leads me to believe that swimming here could be a little trickier (we just hung out on the beach, not in the water), so if you have little kids or are not a great swimmer, this might not be the ideal beach for you.


Garraf Beach


Beach at Garraf


  • Catalonia’s festivals: I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure Catalonia’s towns have festivals at least once or twice a week, especially in the summer. I’m not joking. The region is filled with festivals and celebrations, some of which are unique to a specific town or province, some of which are over-arching across the region with each town having their own version on a specific day.  If you’re there around the time we were (last week of June), you may get lucky enough to experience Festa Major. Festa Major is a huge festival across Catalonia, with numerous towns holding multi-day events that include parades, fireworks, music, dancing, food, drink, and more. It’s extremely “Catalonian”, and was such a unique experience. If you happen to be there during this time of year, I highly recommend you check out the festivals that are happening during your visit, and head to at least one. These are the types of local experiences that you can’t recreate in a photo (though I tried) or a guide book/article/blog, but you truly have to experience for yourself.


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Of course, we also went into Barcelona, but as I blogged about that in posts from my trip last fall, I wanted to focus more on Catalonia, outside of its capital city. There was so much more to see and do in the area. I could have easily spent a few additional weeks. We could have hiked Garraf park, headed to Girona, spent time on the Costa Dorada and Costa Brava. There were so many smaller towns we could have explored. We could have visited the region’s wineries. We could have gone to the Dali house and Dali museum (several of our group did visit the museum, though I was not among them). There is truly so much to explore in this region of Spain.

My takeaway suggestion is this: Go to Catalonia. Get outside of Barcelona (but do visit it!), rent a house/apartment/flat whatever works for your group and your budget, rent a car, and see as much as you can. Bring your beach gear and your hiking shoes (if you’re able to physically hike). Take day trips where you simply go from town to town, wandering for a while and having a coffee or gelato or snack, and then head to the next town. Let yourself explore as much as you can. But also give yourself some time to take in the views, the mountain air, the tranquility, and relax.

Crete: A Walk on the Wilder Side

Crete, I discovered this past April, is one of my favorite places on earth. At least from what I saw, and there is so much more to see there. We only had three full days in Crete, and I could have probably spent three full weeks easily. Crete offers everything I could want in a destination. Cities, beaches, mountains, history, wineries and breweries, fantastic food, friendliness, scenic beauty, art, and culture. But what I loved the most about Crete was the slightly wild feel of the island (to clarify, wild as in less polished, not as in “big party” type of wild). Now this doesn’t mean that it’s uncivilized or third world or anything like that. It’s absolutely not. But the island is just such a presence in and of itself.  It’s hard to describe.


The mountains that make up much of the Cretan landscape. 

These are the type of cliffs that hubs had to K-turn at the edge of. 

That tunnel is a curvy, incredibly narrow one lane tunnel for two- way traffic. 

Crete is green, mountainous, and appears to be generally under-explored, apart from the major cities and some of the more popular sites. But it has so much possibility. As we didn’t have enough time there, I certainly can’t list all of the “must do” items. So instead, I’ll go with the places that we experienced, and give my thoughts on each.


Chania: Chania, roughly pronounced “ha-knee-uh”, is located on the northwestern coast of Crete, and it’s known for its Venetian-style harbor. The old city does, in fact, feel like you’re walking through a Greek version of Venice. The streets are narrowed, many cobblestoned, with restaurants and stores on the ground level, and apartments or small rooms for rent on the upper floors. The harbor itself features restaurants with outside dining all along the perimeter, and a large open walkway for pedestrians. Like Venice, no cars are allowed into the old section of the city.  I’d say give yourself at least a day to explore Chania itself.

Chania’s Venetian port


Chania’s port at night.


Street’s of Chania’s Old Town


Along the edge of the harbor is a large stone wall that leads to a lighthouse. Climb the stones, walk along the wall. To me, it’s an absolute must in the city.  It’s a nice walk and gives you great views of the harbor.  But mostly you get to feel like a little kid climbing along the walls.


Wall/walkway to the lighthouse


View along the wall/walkway


Chania port from the wall.


I rarely give restaurant recommendations on my blog, mostly because I have a hard time remembering them, but I will say this: eat at Tamam in the old section of town. It’s located in a building that dates back to the 15th century and was once used as the Venetian Baths.  We ate here at the recommendation of our hotel (more on that in a minute) and ended up going back a second time for dinner, even with the variety of restaurants nearby.  It’s that delicious.

Hotel wise, we stayed at the Casa Delfino. I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s a little pricier, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s the former home of the Delfino family, completely refurbished with a mix of both modern and classic decor, and has remained in the family for the past six generations. This hotel is boutique – only 24 rooms and suites – and has a central courtyard where you can eat breakfast, and enjoy a little bit of a quiet oasis from the city. My only cautions are these:  I did not see a lift, and a lot of the rooms are up numerous flights of stairs. So if mobility is an issue, you may want to check with the hotel before booking. Also, the “one bedroom apartments” vary in style and setup. Ours was a modern-looking loft with a staircase up to the bedroom. My parents was a more classic style room that was basically just a very large hotel room. So if you have a preference, you may want to check with them about the type of room you’re getting. But the hotel was great – especially helping us when we arrived late, in the dark, with an overloaded rental car. We parked as close as we could to the pedestrian zone, walked to the hotel, and told them where we were parked, and they brought us back in a golf cart, helped us find an approved parking lot, and proceeded to drive us and our luggage back to the hotel in the golf cart. Breakfast was homemade every morning, and the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly.  


Not the greatest picture, but the courtyard of the Casa Delfino at night

Now, for the rest of Crete. First of all, rent a car. It’s an absolute must. And you will need an international driver’s license. Driving in Crete is an experience – the roads are narrow and curvy. They also do this super polite thing where if they want you to pass them (or realize you need to), they pull to the side and let you go around them. So the roads are basically a constant stream of what looks to be people impatiently weaving in and out Mario Kart style, but it’s actually how they drive – I presume to help with traffic so everyone isn’t stuck behind some really slow driver or tourist unsure of where they’re going.  If you drive, STAY ON THE MAIN ROADS! I’m completely serious. Our GPS tried to take us down an incredibly narrow, rocky dirt “road”, which was basically like a path that led to someone’s farm on the side of a mountain. At one breathtaking point, all of us passengers had to get out of the car while my husband perilously had to K turn an SUV on the edge of an extremely narrow cliff. It is a moment that I never want to experience again. So please, please do yourself a favor, no matter how much you like off-roading, and stick to the main roads.


On our second full day, we drove to Heraklion (Iraklion) and Knossos. It’s about a two hour drive from Chania to Heraklion, so this was a full day excursion. If you’re unfamiliar with Knossos, it’s one of the most famous Minoan archaeological sites. One of the most famous sites that I will say I was “meh” about. Now, let me add that we did not do a tour or have a guide, and that might have made all of the difference. And I think in part, having seen the Minoan site in Santorini that we’d not even known about, we figured this, being so much more well-known, was going to wow us. I’ll also admit that I’m travel-spoiled. I was picturing something along the lines of Chichen Itza or Machu Picchu or even Pompeii. It was not. I think what was most disappointing about is that, while the site at Akrotiri was excavated as-is, for lack of a better phrase, much of Knossos was based on what one particular archaeologist (and I am guessing honestly on his career) thought it had looked like. Now he didn’t just make it up – he did a lot of research of course. But basically, most of what we saw at Knossos was rebuilt structures based on what one person thought it looked like. We weren’t seeing fully excavated sites or even sites someone had walked up upon, like Machu Picchu. They were rebuilt, much of them in entirety. So while it was interesting, it wasn’t all that impressive, if that makes sense. As for Heraklion itself, we didn’t get to explore a ton, but it looked like a pretty cool city, and I’d have liked to have a little more time there. We also went to the Archaeological Museum, but it was overrun with teenage tour groups, and I honestly think by that time we were kind of Minoaned-out.





For our third and final day, our destination was Elafonisi Beach. Elafonisi is in the southwestern corner of Crete. It’s not a short drive (probably about an hour and  a half or more, though ours also involved the back road detour and cliff-side K turn described above, which added to the transit time). On the way, we passed through tiny towns of the Crete countryside, one of which we stopped in for lunch on the way back. I love seeing the way people really live in a country, and especially away from the cities, so this drive, despite terrifying moments, was really worth taking. The beach itself was absolutely gorgeous. Blue-turquoise waters gently rippling across sandbars, so that you could walk way out into the water and onto the rocky outcrops that looked out over the beach. Probably the prettiest beach I’ve ever been to, and that’s saying a lot.


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On the way back we stopped at the Cretan Brewery (it never got old calling things “the Cretan xyz… because we’re ridiculous like that) and got to sit outside enjoying some very generous beer flights – so generous that I couldn’t actually finish mine,and I’m pretty used to beer flights. The beer was decent, and sitting out on the deck in the sunshine was really the perfect way to end our time in Crete.


Cretan Brewery – Decent beer, great outdoor space, questionable logo…


There’s so much more to explore in Crete – hiking trails, monasteries, other beaches, the city of Rethymno (about half way between Chania and Heraklion) and its surrounding area, wineries, other archeological sites, just to name a few things.


If you’re headed to Greece, Crete is an absolute must.  Give yourself at least three days, but I’d say five or more is optimal. I also highly suggest heading there around April when we did – it’s warm enough, but not high tourist season, which means driving isn’t as bad (every person we met in Greece warned us about driving there), and you can enjoy the island as it should be – without a bunch of tourists. That said, even in high season, Crete isn’t like Santorini or Mykonos when it comes to tourists.



Santorini: Picture Perfect, Or Tourist Trap?

Santorini is viewed one of two ways: one of the most beautiful spots on earth, or a sell out to tourists.  But as a travel planner, and it being one of the most requested honeymoon destinations in Europe, I had to see for myself before forming my opinion. And my opinion is, it’s both.

So before you Santorinians (is that a word?) have my head, let me explain. The island is breathtaking. The views, the buildings, the landscape, everything. The food is delicious. Despite everyone saying that it was horrendously it expensive, it just, well…. wasn’t. I mean, it was more expensive than the little mountain villages on the mainland, but it wasn’t outrageous by my standards. For four people, we never paid more than 90 Euro for a meal, and that included appetizers, salads, entrees, drinks, dessert, etc. Which means that for a quality, filling meal with multiple courses, we were averaging under 23 Euro per person. I’m sure there are pricier places, but we were staying in Fira, so were right where the cruises dock, and therefore in the more touristy, AKA pricier, area. But I digress. My point is to say that, while touristy in the main towns, there are ways to work around this and to completely enjoy the island.

So, how to get there? If you’re a non-cruiser like me, you can take a flight from Athens that’s less than 45 minutes. By the time you get your beverages, they’re starting descent. No lie. You can also get there from numerous other Greek Isles, though it may require a stop/connection in Athens. If you don’t like huge ships but don’t mind smaller ones, there are ferry options. However, they can be several hours long and if the water’s rough, very choppy. My suggestion is to take the quick flight if time (and not getting seasick) is of the essence. It maximizes your island time.

We stayed in Fira. I knew it was the cruise port, but I also knew it had the most options for dining and served as a good home base for excursions. So I opted to deal with the tourists and busy-ness on the days that cruises docked. Our hotel, the Panorama Boutique Hotel, was in an absolute perfect location. It had a glass enclosed balcony that overlooked the water, with picture perfect (literally) views of the sunset. It was a cute hotel with a boutique atmosphere, and the staff was wonderful – they basically helped us plan all of our excursions, while not pressuring us to partake in any one particular activity, tour, etc. They also had a rooftop restaurant bar with breakfast, cocktails, snacks, and the like, where you got fantastic views out over the water.  This said, the room was relatively small, and from the balcony, we could literally call into my parents’ room next door. We could also hand things to each other easily across balconies. So if you’re looking for a private, romantic escape like a honeymoon… well, don’t go with your parents, I suppose. But more to the point, you may choose a hotel that’s not right in the center of Fira’s action. Still, for our purposes, it was ideal.



Now, for the island itself. Here are my best words of advice: get out of town. Rent a car, and travel the island (note: you need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Greece. Or at least you’ll need one if you get pulled over, which luckily we didn’t, so it’s highly recommended). Getting one is super easy from the U.S. – you can go to any AAA store, as long as you’re a member –  I can’t speak for if you’re not but it’s worth a try. From Fira, you can reach anywhere in about an hour or so, maybe a little more with traffic. I’d say you can easily take two days to explore the island, possibly more.

Here are some suggestions from our explorations:

  • Akrotiri Minoan Site. It’s an excavation site of a Minoan settlement from the Bronze age. Before visiting, I highly recommend going to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. It’ll help provide a much better understanding of the site.






  • Just down the street from the site, there’s a beach. It’s a local beach that’s primarily  black sand. If you turn to the right once you reach the beach and walk a few minutes, you’ll come to a restaurant called Melinas Taverna, where we ate. It was the perfect setting for a more local lunch right on the beach.


Black sand beach at Akrotiri

Melinas Taverna, Akrotiri


  • The red beach and the black beaches. The black beach is more pebbly. The read beach is too, but not quite as much – the red sand beach was particularly impressive to me. You can walk there from the beach at Akrotiri by continuing along past Melina’s Taverna, heading up a flight of stairs to the main street, and basically following the signs. Once you get to the Red beach area, you’ll have to climb up a bit of a pathway and over some rocks, but I did it in sandals so it’s not overly difficult. An important note about Santorini and its beaches: If you are imaging the soft, wide stretches of sand where you can stroll for miles, lay out and sunbathe, or splash in waves, you’re going to be disappointed. Sorely. These don’t exist on Santorini, really. If you want pure “beachy beaches” (i.e. what Americans tend to view as beaches on our coasts) go… to just about any other coastal area in Greece. But not Santorini. Yes, you can lay out, technically, but they’re pebbly, thin strips of beach, with rocky waters, and they’re not right in the towns. So if you imagine walking down from your hotel on the edge of the cliff to the beach below and spending the day there, that’s not likely to happen. (Hint: check out my upcoming post on Crete for some information on a more traditional  type of beach. 


Panoramic view of Red Sand Beach from above.


  • The Akrotiri Lighthouse. You have to kind of climb up a path and over some rocks to get there – notice a theme among these sites? – but it’s not overly dangerous, and it offers incredibly views of the island. This was probably my favorite thing we did in Santorini.




Selfie at the top of the rocks by the Lighthouse


View from the top of the rocks where the lighthouse sits


  • Go to Oia. Sunset there is supposed to be the best in the world, but it also gets very crowded. I’m told you have to get there over an hour prior to get anywhere near the town. We didn’t do this, but the town itself is wonderful. Not quite as touristy as Fira, and gorgeous views.


Oia’s famous blue domed roofs.

Panorama of Oia.


  • Visit a winery. There are plenty to choice from. We went to Artemis Karamolegos, not far from the town of Pyrgos in Exo Gonia village. It has its own restaurant,  as well as a rather secluded terrace overlooking the countryside that makes it ideal for getting away from the busy-ness of the more touristy areas.


  • If beer is your thing, visit the Donkey Brewery. It’s the island’s only brewery, and while it’s a tiny operation, it’s always fun to try local beer.


So yes, Santorini is touristy. But it also has some really enjoyable and interesting places to visit. I’d say three days there is about enough, though there was definitely more we could have done – like the walk along the coast from Fira to Oia, which is supposed to be gorgeous, or head into the town of Pyrgos and see the old Venetian Castle.


Fira coast from our balcony


View from one of the highest points in Santorini. 


My take: visit Santorini. But make sure you rent a car and get out and explore. Drive the island, find the small little cafes that aren’t so touristy, and enjoy the surrounding beauty.


Walkway in Fira heading toward Oia


Fira at night


Exploring the Mountainous Peloponnese

On our first full day in Greece (because we had to work with the conference schedule for our time in Athens), we booked a private tour into the mountain villages of the Peloponnese, with Eudaimonia Tours. Our guide, Nikos, picked us up at our hotel in Athens at 7:30AM. Our first stop was a small town where we stopped and had a real Greek coffee. We sat in a little square outside, in the center of the town, surrounded by snoozing dogs of the town (who appeared very well-fed, and did not bother us), and sipped our coffee.




From there, we headed up the windy roads of the Greek countryside to the Open-Air Water Power Museum in the town of Dimitsana. If you’ve never heard of this museum (or town), don’t worry – neither had I. While the name is a bit of a mouthful, if you break it down, it describes exactly what the museum is all about. First of all, it’s an open-air museum, so while there are what I guess you’d call “out buildings” for each section, you’re primarily outdoors. In a nutshell, the museum demonstrates how the communities used water to power the important tasks that made their village run – for instance, there is the a building that includes the fulling mill and flour mill. There’s also a tannery, where animal hides are processed (I couldn’t go in there, personally), and a gunpowder mill. The staff demonstrates how each of these would have been used in its heyday.


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Open Air Water Power Museum

During our stop, here, we came upon a tiny church, with a couple outside shaking out the church’s carpets. Nikos explained that they oversaw that particular church, and were responsible for its upkeep. He further explained that it was a church solely used for “Name Day” worship. In Greece, there are larger churches where everyone can go for weekly services, and then there are churches only used for their name day. So, for instance, if it was the church of St. John, and the day for St. John was June 24th (I actually googled this so I hope it’s correct), then anyone nearby with the name John would go on June 24th to that church. I thought this was fascinating. In the days of megachurches and such, these tiny little churches, chapels really, are no bigger than, say, someone’s kitchen, and are used for only people with that particular name on their name day. While I’m not an overly religious person, the history of religion and each country’s traditions surrounding it fascinate me. I love finding local customs that open your eyes to a completely different way of practice/observation/worship.


From the tiny church and the museum, we headed to Emyalon monastery. A note here: this is an active monastery, that, while welcoming of tourists interested in truly seeing the monastery, is not a “tourist location”. So it’s important to dress respectfully – think “going to church with your grandmother” type of dress. I’d say knees and shoulders covered, no plunging neckline type of attire. When we arrived, the monk who let us in informed Nikos that a local family was holding a mourning service for a loved one who had passed away. Nikos explained that this particular service taking place wasn’t done immediately after someone passes, but after a period of time (I want to say a couple of months, but that might be quite inaccurate). We were invited to quietly stand at the back of the tiny monastery chapel and listen to the service. It was absolutely beautiful, if such a thing can be said of a mourning service. Then, the family that was mourning invited us to join them for coffee and cookies. Which we did. It was one of those experiences you absolutely could never plan, and it was incredible to experience something so local, so personal.




From there, we proceeded to the St John Prodromou Monastery, a significantly more touristy monastery, but still highly impressive. We had a “15 minute easy hike” (it was longer, I’d say) to reach the monastery, which was built directly into the side of the mountain and overlooked the river. Nikos explained that the monasteries started out as tiny caves where people could hide during the war, and eventually, some of these caves expanded to become monasteries.



We ended our time in the mountains with a lunch stop in the village of Dimitsana .  We ate outside on a covered terrace on the edge of the hills. Due to my being in the travel industry, Nikos introduced us to a friend of his who ran a local hotel and gave us a quick tour – completely unplanned stop for all involved, but that’s how things are down there. Friends help each other out, try to help you out, and everyone is just so friendly about it!

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Dimitsana, where we ate lunch.

On our way back, we took a detour to the Corinth Canal, where we got to walk over and alongside the canal. Again, it was an impromptu stop, but it’s an important piece of the region, and was definitely worth getting back a little later.

If you have the opportunity to go into the Peloponnese and the mountain towns, I highly suggest you do so. Eudaimonia Tours offers options for single and multi-day tours, private and group, active and more like ours. The region is beautiful, and this trip into the lesser explored mountain towns stood out as entirely unique through the rest of our trip.

Athens – More Than Just A “Big City”

I went to Athens for a conference. Technically. It was honestly an excuse to go to Greece, though the conference was fantastic. When I told people I was going to Greece and starting in Athens, everyone told me Athens was just “eh”. Big dirty city, was basically the description they all gave it. Well, I’m from a “big dirty city”, and I happen to love it. So that’s not much of a deterrent. Still, I went to Athens with mixed expectations. I expected for it to not be as “eh” as everyone described it as. But I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.


The best way I can describe Athens is that it’s basically a giant open air museum with a whole bunch of funky modern thrown in, surrounded by mountains and the sea. Speaking of which, let me back up for a second. I did not realize it was so closely surrounded by mountains. I knew there were mountains nearby (we booked a mountain villages tour after all,) but I didn’t know they were right there. I love mountains. Mountains are my happy, free place. So the backdrop in and of itself basically took it out of the “just a big dirty city” category right there. The sea would also be a giant check mark, if it wasn’t on a cruise port, so I was meh about the water. No offense cruisers. I’m just not one. But I digress. Back to my trip.


Acropolis 2
View of Acropolis form the Temple of Zeus

Herodion Theatre, during conference opening ceremonies


The Conference was held at the Hilton Athens. I was skeptical because 1.) It seemed a bit outside city center and 2.) I’m not one of those ‘let me fly for 9 hours so I can stay at a big chain American hotel’ people.  But I was incredibly surprised. Yes, it was a Hilton. It looked and felt like a Hilton (which I’m not knocking, I like Hiltons!). But the rooms were large, modernized, we had a big balcony with a chair and table where I could sit and write in the mornings while I watched the sunrise. It had a massive buffet breakfast included (woo free food, the way to my heart!), a rooftop bar where you could see the whole city, including the sunset over the Acropolis, and a  large pool where we held our opening night reception (to clarify, on the deck, not in the pool itself). Plus, the conference center part was super convenient, so if you’re an international events planner, it’s definitely a place to take a look at. Additionally, the Hilton, if you don’t mind walking a little, wasn’t that far from the center, and particularly wasn’t far from the metro. Not right next door, but a pretty easy walk.


So Athens itself. I feel like I can’t really convey it in a good description, so instead, I’m going to list my must dos, and picture of course.


  • Do a walking tour, especially for the ancient sites – the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Arch, the Panathaneic Stadium, Hadrian’s Arch, Temple of Zeus, etc.  I’d highly suggest a private one, or small group if you have to.  We did a private walking tour through PK Travel, with Michael as our guide. It was fantastic. I can’t recommend him enough.


Palaka arch
View through Hadrian’s Arch

Theater of Dionysus

  • Walk the Plaka. It’s a pedestrian shopping and dining area, and it is a bit touristy, but it’s still worth it. It’s basically in the heart of the city, near the Acropolis and a whole host of other historic sites.


  • Go to the Monastiraki neighborhood. We walked along a pedestrian street all the way from the Acropolis to Monastiraki. We took that stroll on a Wednesday evening, and there were vendors selling all sorts of goods, musicians out playing, people having “early drinks” (it’s a thing in Greece, and it’s exactly what it sounds like) at sidewalk restaurants and cafes. It was my absolute favorite part of the city (excluding historical sites, but of the city itself).





  • Be on the lookout for random ancient ruins. They weren’t random when built of course, but the city’s basic rule is that the ruins were there first, so they build around them. So you’ll be walking down a modern street and “oh, look, Ancient Agora.” In some areas, they found ruins when they dug for the subway. So they just left them. In the walls of the subway halls. There aren’t huge signs pointing everything out. They just are there.


  • If you’re able, climb up the Areopagus, also know as Mars Hill. It sits between the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora and offers a good view of the areas surrounding both.


View of the Ancient Agora

  • Go to the Acropolis Museum, ideally with a guide. I’m one of those people that can generally spend an hour, tops, in a museum. This place was amazing, and I understood so much more of the story of the Acropolis having gone here first.


  • Take some day trips out of the city. Not because Athens isn’t worth seeing. It is, 100 percent. But it’s also a great jumping off point to head into the surrounding area. Greece is gorgeous! In my next post, I’ll about the day trip to the Mountain towns that we took.


  • Eat. Eat eat eat eat eat. Food is amazing. And healthy. And they usually give you free mini desserts and ouzo after dinner (Ok that’s not that healthy, but the rest is).


A couple of other things we did:

  • We went to the War Museum. It’s ridiculously affordable, and if you’re interested in this type of thing, it’s pretty interesting. That said, it was all Greek to me (sorry I couldn’t help myself). Literally, though, much of it’s written only in Greek.


  • We went to the Athens National Gardens and the Zappion (we actually had a conference event there).


  • We saw the Changing of the Guard.


  • We did the touristy big bus hop on hop off tour. It was fun, and we got to see a lot of the sites that we may not have had the chance to otherwise.

All were worthwhile if you have the time.


A few more things to note about Greece in general.

  • Greeks, particularly in Athens, are vocal about the economic struggles the country has faced, and their opinions on the handling of these struggles by the government. They won’t hold back, but they aren’t yelling or raging or anything like that, and do seem to enjoy educating people on it. Everyone has a slightly different view, some more optimistic than others. But the Greeks are very friendly, warm people and will talk with you at length about this if you’d like.


  • There are stray dogs. Everywhere. But, some good news! They aren’t exactly stray. Greece doesn’t allow euthanization simply because a dog can’t find a home. These dogs have been spayed/neutered and given all of their vaccines by vets , declared in good health, and then, if they do not find their forever home after a year, become “city dogs”.  They have collars and tags and everything.  There are food and water bowls out all over the place, and they appear happy and well-nourished!  They lounge in the middle of historic sites,  outside of stores, by cafes and restaurants, not being shoed away from anywhere by employees or visitors.


  • Nearly everyone speaks some English, and many are fluent. Communicating was significantly easier than I expected. Still, it can’t hurt to learn a few basic words (hello, thank you, etc).


  • Greeks opinions about their favorite part of the country are as varied as their opinions about their political state. The only thing they pretty much all seem to agree on is that Santorini and Mykonos have sold out to the tourists and, in particular, the cruise lines. More on that in my Santorini post, because despite popular Greek opinion, I did go, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


  • You can drink the water in Athens. You can probably drink the water in the islands, technically, but they give you bottled water. It’s fine for teeth brushing, showering, etc, at least where we went.


Next up: the mountain villages.

A Look Back on Kenya & Tanzania – Part 1

Just over a year ago, I headed to Kenya and Tanzania. I had a conference in Nairobi, and from there we went to the Masai Mara, the Serengetti, and the Ngorogoro Crater. I had been to Southern Africa, but never to East Africa. I have to say, after my trip in 2009 to Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I didn’t think any trip could measure up. I was wrong. While Botswana still ranks up near number one in terms of destinations, Kenya and Tanzania are right there with it. I am 100 percent sure that in very large part, this was due to my fantastic guides and accommodations throughout my trip. I’m going to make this a multi-blog theme, so part one here is a general overview of the highlightsw in each stop.



I was told by several tour operators that Nairobi was “a big dirty city with nothing to see.” I didn’t believe them, for two reasons:  1.) ASTA would not have picked “a big dirty city with nothing to see” for their featured location. 2.) Even big, dirty cities offer something if you’re willing to explore. I reached out to a private, independent tour guide located in Nairobi. He took us on a full day tour, part walking, part by car. We saw local parks and monuments, walked through food and goods markets, drove through neighborhoods to see how those in Nairobi live. Absolute must sees:

  • Nairobi National Museum  – everything from the history of animals in Kenya to the bones of early hominids found in the region. One could easily spend half a day there.
  • Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – visiting hour for the public is from 11AM- 12PM (get there early to wait in line!), and you get to watch baby elephant orphans feed and play. Also, if you want to be part of this awesomeness and cannot visit Kenya, you can adopt an orphan elephant (monetarily, not physically!) at the link provided above. If you have adopted and do get a chance to go, there’s the option for  a private meet and greet with your orphan! It has to be arranged well in advance, so plan ahead. 

Tip: Nairobi is, in fact, a big city, and even the hotels warn you not to walk around alone at night. During the day, as long as you’re in the central hotel and tourist area, it’s easy enough to walk if you’re aware of your surroundings and know where you’re going – which is good, since traffic in Nairobi is the worst I’ve ever seen anywhere. That said, don’t flaunt fancy jewelry, cameras, or anything else that might entice opportunists.






Masai Mara

The Masai Mara is the Kenyan side of the Serengeti. It’s smaller, which means that the concentration of animals is higher – it’s virtually impossible not to see a large number and variety. The Mara boasts the big five, though Leopards and Rhinos can be pretty elusive, due to their large roaming area and healthy vegetation in which to hide. We saw neither of them in the Mara. 




  • Take the sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Mara. Our company provided a “breakfast in the bush” afterwards – a full buffet breakfast on the plains, complete with china and wait staff – all while zebras and giraffes wandered in the background.


  • You can visit a traditional Masai village. It’s an interesting experience, but understand that it is not a free one. They charge a per person entry fee ($30 per person), and once in, other experiences cost too. The money (we were told) goes to the community and the local schools, and we have no reason to believe otherwise – they live a very simple life in huts, so don’t seem to be spending it elsewhere. This isn’t an experience I can really vouch for or not. It was interesting, so I guess I’m glad I did it.


Hot air balloon filling up before flight


Picnic in the plains of the Masai Mara



I have to say, of all of the things we saw on our trip, the biggest surprise was the terrain of the Serengeti. We stayed in the northern region, and it looked nothing like I anticipated. When you think Serengeti, you think vast open grassland. And vast it was. But the northern portion is lush and rocky. Our (luxury) tented camp sat among huge boulders, originally formed from volcanic activity. Rivers wound their way through, and portions looked almost forest-like. Despite the fact that our region wasn’t technically “where all of the animals were” during the time of our stay (their location changes based on the time of year), one night we had two Cape Buffalo standing about 10 feet from our tents, and we could hear lions roaring through the dark. There was no shortage of animals even in “low” season.


Our tented camp in the Serengeti  – Cape Buffalo stared us down one night just past that big tree in front. 

As our guide drove us through the Serengeti, the landscaped changed drastically. We did, eventually, come to those open grasslands. But not before passing through marshes and almost desert-like environs.


Just lion around….



  • Make sure to drive through each portion of the Serengeti. It may take close to a full day to venture from one end to the other, but you’ll be rewarded. Not only will you see the greatest variety of animals, but you’ll get the full expanse of what the Serengeti itself looks like.


  • If you like birding, the Serengeti is for you. We saw some in the Masai Mara, but not nearly as many. Unless you’re incredibly familiar with African birds, I suggest getting a book in advance. They move quickly (as one would expect), and it can be tough to get a good look, and therefore to remember them all.


  • When they say “we require one of our staff to walk you to and from your tent in the dark”, listen. Having two giant buffalo staring at us in the dark with the guard next to us was an amazing experience. But they’re not joking when they say that animals will be right there, and if you startle them (because suddenly buffalo are staring you down and it alarms you) it could be trouble. It might have been a very different experience had we not had a knowledgeable staff member with us.


Ngorogoro Crater

First, if you’re going to the Ngorogoro crater from the Serengeti, drive. Or better, have your guide drive you. Roads can be tricky, but the beauty of the constantly changing terrain – from grassland to desert to rain forest – is worth it.  Also, a stop at Olduvai Gorge along the way is a must.


Olduvai Gorge

Ngorogoro crater is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Technically, it’s a caldera, if you’d like to be exact about it, and it’s the world’s largest.  What was the base of the volcano now forms the walls of the crater/caldera, impressive in size at 14 miles wide. It’s home to animals difficult to find elsewhere, such as the endangered black rhino, and home to one of the world’s largest concentration of lions. During the Great Migration, many animals – zebras and wildebeest in particular, have their young in the crater, waiting there until the young are strong enough to move the distances required by the migration.  

Looking out over the Ngorogoro Crater at dusk, from our hotel


At the crater, you can of course go on a game drive. You can also hike down into the crater, via a trail created for that purpose (we did not have the timie to do this, unfortunately). When you’re standing at the top looking into the crater, it’s almost like you have a birds-eye view of the world, and know, though can’t see, all that’s happening below. It is one of the most mystical places I have ever been. Even the most beautiful pictures cannot do it justice. 


Sunset over the lush terrain that makes up the Ngorogoro Crater


In my next post – how to stay luxuriously in Kenya and Tanzania.


A Little TraveLuxe Q&A

As I prep for my next trip to Greece (GREECE!!), it’s been a while since I posted. And I’m going to do some past travel posts soon. But I thought it might be fun to do a little meet the TraveLux-er Q&A. These are questions that people ask me often, and it seemed worth sharing.

Q: What’s your favorite city in the world?                                                                                A: Paris. It’s cliche, I know. And at the same time a controversial answer. People either love or hate Paris. Rarely are they “eh” about it. But I can’t get enough of it.


Place de Concord, Paris


Q: What’s your favorite country to travel to?                                                                        A: This is a really tough one. I can tell you that my favorite part of the world to travel to is Southern/Eastern Africa (full disclosure: luxury travel, I’m not roughing it there).  It’s tough for me to choose between Botswana, Kenya, and Tanzania. After this region, I’d have to say, New Zealand and Jordan. Possibly not in that order.


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Q: What country surprised you the most?                                                                       A: Tossup: Peru and Jordan. For different reasons. Peru because of the absolute variety of landscapes (and types of potatoes! kidding, kind of) – cities, mountains, salt planes, grand canyon-esque canyons, the Amazonian rain forest, the highest lake in the world in, Lake Titicaca (it’s OK you can laugh too, it never gets old). Jordan because I learned how much I didn’t know – about the culture and the part of the world and the people and… basically everything about the country. Slovenia is up  there as well. Again, the variety of landscape, and the pure… green-ness of it!

Boats on the Amazon in Peru

Q: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done when traveling?                                                     A:  Probably riding a bucket sheep in Australia.  If you don’t know what this is… it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bucket, suspended from the ceiling by ropes, made to look like a sheep, and you ride it while people pull on the ropes to get you to fall off. Think barn-style mechanical bull, homemade (I don’t have a picture of this sadly).

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened while traveling?                                            A: First off, let me state that ALL THREE of these happened with when traveling with my cousin Lauren, who blogs over at The BuffaLo Venture. Give her a shout. I know these were kind of “had to be there” moments, but none-the-less:

1.) Upon checking into our hotel in Amsterdam, we went to separate the beds (they’d pushed two double beds together) and there, on the floor beneath our beds, was a wig. After quite a bit of “omg what the hell is that!?”, we had to explain to the hotel manager, who did not know what “wig” meant.  When we finally convinced him it was OK to come into our room to see (he was trying to be “appropriate”), he saw it and replied, “Oh! Well, you didn’t expect that, did you?!” It was hands down the best response he could have given.

2.) We accidentally ended up in a window in the red light district in Amsterdam. It was made even funnier by the fact that we were standing there in winter coats and boots looking as confused as the people on the street staring up at us. It’s a long story, but let’s just say the Red Light District Museum sets you up pretty good.

3.) We had to furiously strip down in a waffle shop in Ronda, Spain. More on that here.

I don’t have a picture of these, thankfully.

Q: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten while traveling?                                               A: Being a vegetarian, it’s kind of hard to find weird foods. So I’d have to say Durian. (If you aren’t familiar with this fruit, it smells so bad that hotels don’t allow it inside, and you have to eat it wearing plastic gloves).

Q: Have you been anywhere that you wouldn’t recommend going?                                    A: You mean besides the window in the Red Light District?  No. But I have been places that I think once is enough. Like Las Vegas (though oddly I’ve been four or five times for conferences), or Dubai (though I liked it more than I thought I would).

Q:  What country is number 1 on your bucket list?                                                                   A. Everywhere? I’d probably say Namibia. But there are so many it’s difficult to pick just one.

Q: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done while traveling?                                 A: Probably bungee jumped in New Zealand and Australia. Or Skydiving in NZ. Or hiking a glacier in NZ. NZ is basically one giant adventure. I was also part of an unintentional right-of-way battle with a gigantic male elephant in Botswana, and almost had to share our luxury tent with two water buffalo in Tanzania. But those weren’t planned adventures.

Q: What’s something “odd” that you like to do/see while traveling?                                   A: Visit cemeteries. To clarify, not visit the graves of people I know. I’m talking about the cemeteries with massive gravestones that look like works of art. Pere LaChaise in Paris for instance, where Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and others are buried. Or Recoletta in Buenos Aires, where Eva Peron’s grave sits. These cemeteries are beautifully manicured, designed, as they should be, to honor those who have come before us. People walk through quietly, peacefully. It’s a break from the noise all around you. And quite frankly, some of these monument-like graves are more impressive to me than statues in galleries.



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Q: What’s the most unique border entry/experience you’ve had?                                      A: Probably having to walk across the border from Zimbabwe to Botswana. The closest airport to our Botswana lodge was in Zimbabwe. It is, or at least was at the time and may still be, a $10,000 fee to drive across the border. So we had to get out in one country, walk across, through a trough of…. muddyish water??…as “hoof and mouth protection” and then get into another vehicle at the other side.

I also had a border agent in Dubai ask me to “remove my hair”, which was pretty confusing, until I realized he meant “move it out of my eyes because it’s a retinal scan”.

Q: What’s the most  exotic place you’ve been?                                                                        A: Bora Bora.  I mean, even the name sounds exotic. I stayed in an over-water bungalow with a glass table, so you could see the fish and rays and such swimming below.

Have more questions? Fire away!

Cows in the Catskills

Until I travel to Greece in April, I’ll have to do a little reminiscence blogging here on TraveLuxe. By which I mean blogging about (more in the past) trips.  For this one, I’m going a bit more local, and focusing on the accommodations.

In August, one of my closest friends got married in the Catskills where, surprisingly, I’d actually never been. Most of our trips to New York State have been to one of three places: Buffalo area (due to lots of family up there), New York City, or more recently, the Finger Lakes region. But I’ve wanted to check out the Catskills, so I was pretty excited for the opportunity.

We decided to stay at a Bed & Breakfast, because the region is filled with them and, believe it or not, I’ve never stayed at a true B&B. (Note, not an AirB&B, as I have my issues with them, but a good old fashioned B&B). Having never been to the area, I began my search the good old fashioned way – searching among B&Bs through various sources. I looked at picture after picture, mentally making a list of the ones that I wanted to revisit. And then, I came to one that’s first picture was…. a Scottish Highland Cow!


One of the three cows at Brookfield


I love Scottish Highland Cows. Cows in general, but especially the long haired variety. Upon further inspection, the B&B, called Brookfield Farm B&B, got rave reviews, had just three rooms, which was exactly the size I was looking for, and had three highland cows on site (in a farm area, to clarify – not IN the B&B). And, the rates, even in tourist season, were quite affordable, as far as I was concerned. I emailed immediately.

Within an hour or so, Caroline Murphy, one of the two owners (Michael Murphy being the other), answered me back.  Quick replies always strike me as a good sign, and we booked. They even allowed us to check in early, since the wedding was the same day we were arriving, and we needed to get ready in time to head over – considering that means they had to be there at a time they usually weren’t, I was pretty impressed with that.

Brookfield Farm B&B has three rooms: the Garden Suite, the Meadow Suite (the one we chose) and the Highlander Suite, which is a two-room suite with a large deck that’s located in a converted barn. All three have en-suite bathrooms, a sitting area, a fridge, coffee, and a microwave, to name some of the features. You can see pictures of each suite on their website.


Dark picture, but the room was nice and bright.

We had a little table, fridge coffee maker. Perfect!


Upon arriving, Caroline and Michael Murphy greeted us at the door, welcomed us, and showed us to our room. We absolutely loved the Meadow Suite – nice size, big king sized bed, located at the back of the house. Perfect for our stay. Naturally, after setting our things down, the first thing I did was go outside to find the cows – Nessie, Beckah, and Uly. They did not disappoint. There they stood/laid/walked in all their hairy glory. Adorable! They also have chickens on the property, in a coop on the side of the the barn-turned-suite.





Fast forward to the next day (the wedding, by the way, was super fun and the catskills made the perfect location). We had arrived at the Breakfast part of the Bed & Breakfast.  We opened our door to find a handwritten note and a picnic basket, filled with fruits, homemade muffins, breads, and cones, and various jams and spreads. Delicious!!  We took our picnic basket outside to a table on the pool deck and enjoyed the peacefulness of eating freshly made food looking out over the farm (and the cows, also enjoying their breakfasts!).





The property has a garden area on site, and if you wander the path that goes around the cows’ area, you’ll come to a lake with some chairs. It was muddy when we were there, but I can imagine in the spring it’s beautiful.





This little B&B, tucked away down a long drive off of a side road, was so peaceful and relaxing. I could practically feel my stresses melting away for the two days we stayed here. And the service couldn’t be beat. Personal welcome, customized notes each day, hand made breakfast… what’s not to love! I truly cannot wait to go back there again and explore the area more.



Old Arab Baths/Furiously Stripping Down In A Waffle Shop

After the sunrise hike and breakfast/coffee, we had the rest of the day ahead of us. We planned to wander through town, see what else we could find, and souvenir shop. We had a day and a half left in our trip, and were seriously lacking in the souvenir department. We often don’t tend to have a specific destination when we wander, and the lack of maps that had any actual streets on them made this pretty much our only option for the afternoon’s adventure. We knew there was more to discover, we just didn’t know exactly what, or where. So we walked.

Eventually, we came to a sign indicating the “Conjunto Historico” or, roughly translated, historic center. I realize this might not be a direct translation, but it gets the point across. Ronda has a rich history of Islamic influence, particularly from the early 700s to the end of the 1400s AD, and the architectural evidence of this can be seen in the historic center.  This section of town was actually relatively close to our hotel, but we’d done a bit of winding in and out of streets and up and down hills, before we come across it. We wandered across the Puente Arabe, or Arab Bridge, through the Arco de Felipe V (I think this translation is self explanatory), and eventually stumbled, almost literally, upon the Arab Wall. You’d think the walls would have some giant sign or arrow, but we found them up a crumbly stone staircase off to the side. You can walk along the top of the wall, which naturally, we did at length. The view is spectacular, and I can’t recommend this enough.  


Start of the Historic Center


Arab Bridge

Steps up to and along the Arab Wall

Ronda is one of Spain’s “White Villages”, named such because virtually every building is white. Which doesn’t sound all that impressive – it sounds rather bland actually – but when the sun is shining and you’re looking over the expanse of the hills filled with pure white houses, is quite stunning. I feel like saying “It’s so pretty there are a bunch of white houses on a hill” doesn’t really do it justice, like basically everything else in Ronda, and so I’ll let some pictures speak for themselves.


Looking down at the Arab Bridge, Arab Baths, and farm land from atop the old walls

Looking out over the farm land below

Taking a break on the Arab Wall

View of the white houses of Ronda from atop the wall


Once we’d had our fill of walking along the tops of the wall, we went back down the crumbling stairs and turned right to continue along our initial path. Shortly after, we came to the Arab Baths. If you just want a quick peek, you can view a portion of the baths for free from the top. But if you want to wander down inside of the baths, you can pay a small fee – I think it was three euros. It’s not a huge area, but it’s worth a look. They do pipe in some kind of cheesy water sounds, I suppose to give you the feel of being in the baths, but it’s still interesting, and only takes maybe 15 minutes or so to wander through, though I suppose you could spend more.  


Arab Baths from above

Inside the Arab Baths


From here, we made our way back across the Arab Bridge and the Arch of Felipe V, and found the Jardins de Cuenca, or Basin Gardens (I’ve also seen it called Terrace Gardens). Seeing as it was December, there weren’t a ton of gardens to be seen, though I was impressed by a few hearty plants still in bloom. This is definitely a site I’d want to revisit in a more garden-friendly month, as I can imagine it’s quite impressive.


Jardines de Cuenca


Back at the hotel, after siesta, we did the super touristy thing, and sipped wine on the hotel terrace overlooking the Ponte Nuevo. And it was totally worth it. You basically have to do this, right? So we did.




And then, it was time for…. waffles! Now, we knew from the day before that we had to eat dessert before dinner. Around 6PM, we set out in search of a dessert shop. We came upon a particularly crowded one, where we saw waffles galore, and took it as a sign. After getting what seemed to be the last available table and ordering our nutella topped waffles, we noticed something unusual – it was really, really, really warm. First, we thought maybe it was because we were walking briskly and the place was wall to wall with people. We took off coats and hats. But it was still alarmingly hot. We pulled our hair back to cool off. Still so, so hot. At this point, we began furiously tearing off layers of clothing, to the point where we were sitting there in tank tops, sweating, not able to take off anything more because we would have most certainly been kicked out. Except for one woman fanning herself in the corner, nobody else noticed how freaking hot it was. They all sat there in their winter jackets, hats, scarves, eating their desserts, as we threw off as many clothes as possible in what must have looked like some sort of SNL skit over at our table. We noticed that the windows of the cafe were completely fogged up. It clearly wasn’t just us… except that apparently, it was.  We ate our waffles, which were absolutely delicious, as quickly as we could, grabbed our layers of clothes and jackets, and sprinted out the door, literally panting. Finally, after being outside for a few moments, we were able to begin putting some clothes back on, while laughing hysterically at ourselves and wondering, how could nobody else in the entire place been sweltering? My cousin actually asked, “Were we on some sort of hidden camera show that they were all part of?” It seemed the only plausible explanation.

Cooled off, finally, we went in search of dinner. Which was significantly less adventurous.